In the bestseller, The Wisdom of Crowds, author James Surowiecki argues that in certain circumstances, collective intelligence can outperform expert intelligence. The group or public can, in fact, be smarter than the smartest individuals in the room.
I've wondered about Surowiecki's ideas the last couple of years as I've put my draft pieces together. No single member of the football following public has the same degree of skill or access to coaching tapes or personal interviews which professional scouts and personnel directors possess. Yet, we have an ever increasing data base upon which to draw. Can our collective observations carry value, at least in the early rounds, where most prospects are well known and where modest amounts of videotape exist? Maybe one of us would put together a crazy mock, but if you put enough informed people together, and this is the key, might our consensus get the job done?
At the very least, is anybody studying the different NFL personnel hierarchies to see if some teams are foregrounding the collective wisdom of their scouting and coaching staffs better than others, and whether these organizations are doing a better job of drafting? If Surowiecki or Malcolm Gladwell don't want this topic as a chapter in their next books, I volunteer for the job.
These questions came into greater relief this weekend, when Dave and I debated which players to take in a BTB two-round mock draft, which will be published soon. I've been playing at mocks for 21 years now, buying books, studying experts, talking to sources and trying to get a better understanding of how the Cowboys and other teams do their business.
I figured I had a solid handle on value, and where the Cowboys could get an edge. And I figured that in an amateur setting like this, I would see some decent players drop to my spots.
I was wrong. And yet, I was right.
The selectors for the other teams were thorough. There were some surprises, but all within a round; I didn't see guys pushed a full round ahead of where you might expect them. Every pet player on my Cowboys short list had evaporated by pick 27. Earl Thomas? Gone. Maurkice Pouncey? Gone. Jared Odrick, Mike Iuputi, Kyle Wilson, Dez Bryant, Anthony Davis, Gone.
No players at positions of need fell down to pick 27. No ridiculous talent bargains like Bryant slipped though the cracks. (I'll leave discussions of his head for another time.)
And yet, when Dave and I talked it over, we had a dilemma. The two best players on the board were DE/OLB Jason Pierre-Paul and CB Devin McCourty. We went one direction, then the other, then announced for Pierre-Paul. I've had some misgivings since then because I prefer the corner, but since this a mock, I haven't exactly lost sleep over it.
The bigger point is that both players had value. And if a team in the 15-26 range had taken Pierre-Paul or McCourty, a guy like Jared Odrick or Anthony Davis would have shaken loose.
Seeing both logical picks producing value raises a second, important point. Good teams, which select late in each respective rounds, take a let-it-come approach. You notice how teams like the Ravens always seem to have a good player fall to them, no matter where in the round they pick?
I have it on good authority that the Cowboys are taking a more take-what-comes-to-you approach this year. And the real guys could be pleasantly surprised with this philosophy, as we were. In the 2nd, we watched good players, pet cats for many of our regulars, drop off the board. Nate Allen, Demaryus Thomas, Golden Tate, Vlad Ducasse, Roger Saffold, Jared Veldheer, slowly left the menu. Morgan Burnett lingered tantalizingly, then was snatched up just a few picks before ours.
But neither of us complained because when pick 59 rolled around there, to our amazement, sat Arrelious Benn. It took about two seconds of thought before we selected him.
This is a testament to the depth of this draft. Brian Price, a DT many mocks have sent to a team in the 20-25 range, lasted until pick 46 here, and I can't say a parade of reaches preceeded him. I was impressed by the overall quality of the selections up and down the rounds.
These are the types of results you can expect when a draft is truly deep at the top, and this one seems solid, at least into the 3rd. Good players will come to you, and as long as you don't over-think the process, you'll raise your talent level.
I'll admit, if the real Dallas Cowboys leave the 2nd round two weekends from now with Devin McCourty and Arrelious Benn, I'd still be looking for a guard or center. At the same time, I'd be excited about these players. They're both guys I rate in the 25-35 range. One of them may even have one of those 25 first-round grades on Dallas' board.
This mock has shown me that good players will be around at 27 and 59. It's hard to predict which ones, harder than just about any draft I've broken down. Paradoxically, that uncertainly leaves me calm. For Dallas, the questions in the early rounds should be which good players to select, not whether they can.
From now until next Thursday, sing these words of wisdom: let them be.