NFL Draft 2011: Are Top Ten Picks Already Set?

Which player the Cowboys will end up taking with the number nine pick, or whether the Cowboys trade down, will ultimately depend on who gets picked in the first eight spots.

This week we introduce you to the concept of swarm intelligence and take a look at which players are projected to go where in the top ten of the 2011 draft.

If you believe in the concept of swarm intelligence (the collective behavior of self-organized systems without a centralized control structure that can lead to the emergence of "intelligent" global behavior, unknown to the individual agents), then you must assume that the predictive value of multiple mock drafts is greater than that of a single mock.

After the break we look at 25 different mock drafts and how they collectively predict the top ten draft picks will play out.

Here's how it works: I awarded a player one point each time he was picked by one of the top ten teams in each of the 25 mock drafts I looked at. The "Consensus Pick" is the player getting the most points at a given spot. In the example below, Blaine Gabbert was predicted to be the number one pick in 11 out of 25 mocks (frequency of  44%), which is more than any other player in the first spot, so he is the consensus No. 1 pick according to the 25 mocks evaluated.

Pick Team Player Frequency

1

Carolina Panthers

Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Also picked: Cam Newton (7), Marcell Dareus (5), Patrick Peterson (1), A.J. Green (1)

11 (44%)

2

Denver Broncos

Marcell Dareus, DL, Alabama
Also picked: Da’Quan Bowers (3), Nick Fairley (3), Patrick Peterson (3)

14 (56%)

3

Buffalo Bills

Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Also picked: Blaine Gabbert (6), Von Miller (5), Patrick Peterson (4)

7 (28%)

4

Cincinnati Bengals

A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Also picked: Blaine Gabbert (5), Cam Newton (5), Julio Jones (2)

11 (44%)

5

Arizona Cardinals

Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Also picked: Cam Newton (3), Blaine Gabbert (2), Patrick Peterson (2)

17 (68%)

6

Cleveland Browns

Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Also picked: A.J. Green (8), Marcell Dareus (4), Patrick Peterson (2)

8 (32%)

7

San Francisco 49ers

Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Also picked: Prince Amukamara (7), Robert Quinn (3), Nick Fairley (2)

11 (44%)

8

Tennessee Titans

Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Also picked: Da’Quan Bowers (3), Robert Quinn (2)

16 (64%)

9

Dallas Cowboys

Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Also picked: J.J. Watt (5%), Prince Amukamara (4), Da’Quan Bowers (2), Patrick Peterson (1)

13 (52%)

10

Washington Redskins

Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Also picked: A.J. Green (5), Robert Quinn (5), Jake Locker (2)

11 (44%)

There's an interesting dynamic going on in these 25 mocks. The top eight picks in the table above all appear in the top 10 in almost every mock. There is a noticeable drop after the top eight prospects: Tyron Smith, Julio Jones, Robert Quinn and Prince Amukamara all appear in the top 10 in only about half of the mock drafts surveyed. The table below shows the 'top eight' players (> 19 picks in the top 10) in the left column, and the 'borderline top ten' picks (<13 picks in the top 10) in the right column.

Player Top 10 Picks Player Top 10 Picks
Blaine Gabbert 25 Tyron Smith 13
Marcell Dareus 25 Julio Jones 13
A.J. Green 25 Robert Quinn 12
Von Miller 25 Prince Amukamara 12
Patrick Peterson 25 J.J. Watt 6
Nick Fairley 24 Jake Locker 2
Cam Newton 23 Cameron Jordan 1
Da'Quan Bowers 19 - - - -

Importantly from a Cowboys perspective, these 'top eight' appear to be the blue chippers of this draft (perhaps with the exception of the QBs), and are almost always gone when the Cowboys are on the clock in these mock drafts. If these mocks are anything to go by, the top eight prospects are fairly set - there might be some changes in the order in which they are drafted, but it looks like there is a strong consensus about who the top eight players are going to be.

There are two players in the 'top eight' that the Cowboys likely have a heightened interest in, Miller and Peterson. In the 25 mocks, Miller makes it past Arizona at #5 only once, Peterson makes it past the 49ers at #7 only twice. Here's how all the picks played out:

Player #1 CAR #2 DEN #3 BUF #4 CIN #5 ARI #6 CLE #7 SF #8 TEN #9 DAL #10 WAS
Gabbert 11 - - 6 5 2 - - 1 - - - - - -
Dareus 5 14 1 - - - - 4 - - 1 - - - -
Newton 7 - - 7 5 3 - - - - - - - - 1
Green 1 - - - - 11 - - 8 - - - - - - 5
Miller - - 2 5 - - 17 1 - - - - - - - -
Bowers - - 3 1 1 - - 8 1 3 2 - -
Peterson 1 3 4 - - 2 2 11 1 1 - -
Fairley - - 3 1 1 - - 1 2 16 - - - -
Smith - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 13 - -
Jones - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - 11
Quinn - - - - - - - - 1 1 3 2 - - 5
Amukamara - - - - - - - - - - - - 7 1 4 - -
Watt - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 5 - -
Locker - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2
Jordan - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1

What remains a little troubling in this final table is that while Tyron Smith is the consensus pick for the Cowboys at number nine, he is not mocked higher than the ninth spot in any of the 25 mock drafts, an indication that the pick might be a reach. If the Cowboys were to judiciously trade down, they might still be able to grab their targeted player and get an extra pick in the process, but there's also a risk attached to such a move: all these mocks could, and probably are, way off base.

These are the 25 mock drafts that contributed to the "swarm intelligence": Nolan Nawrocki (Pro Football Weekly, 3/25), Wes Bunting (Nat'l Football Post, 3/30), Dan Shonka (Ourlads, 3/26), Scott Wright (Draft Countdown, 3/21), Mel Kiper (ESPN, 3/9), Todd McShay (ESPN, 3/16), Drafttek (3/30), Walter Football (3/29), Russ Lande (Sporting News, 3/22), Draft Season (4/1), Great Blue North Draft Report (3/14), Mocking The Draft (3/31), Draft Ace (3/28), Don Banks (SI.com, 3/30), Chad Reuter (NFL Draft Scout/CBS, 3/28), Rob Rang (NFL Draft Scout/CBS, 3/28), Pat Kirwan (NFL.com, 3/28), Pete Prisco (CBSSports, 3/29), Clark Judge (CBSSports, 3/29), Steve Wyche (NFL.com, 3/29), Brian Galliford (SB Nation, 3/28), Evan Silva (Rotoworld, 3/28), Al Fronzak (East Coast SportsNews, 3/29), Doug Farrar (Shutdown Corner, 3/28), MyNFLDraft.com (3/31).

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