ESPN's Mel Kiper published his first mock draft of the year this week to much fanfare and much ridicule. Among a large percentage of discerning football fans, it's chic to ridicule mock drafts and the draft analysts who publish them. Yet it's those very same draft analysts and the big boards and mock drafts they produce that drive a large part of our overall perception of the value and ranking of the 2016 draft prospects.
Yet as much as we collectively ridicule and mock those draft analysts, almost our entire outraged or thrilled evaluation of a given draft is based on where others ranked the players our team picked.
Why are we talking so much about Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch (and perhaps Carson Wentz)? Because draft analysts have told us that they are the best of the bunch, or at least have some traits that make them stand out over other QBs. But did you go and do a comparative film study of all draft-eligible QBs in this year's draft class to arrive at your own uninfluenced and unbiased conclusion about how the QBs rank in the 2016 draft class? Of course not.
One of the reasons we are so wary of mock drafters and draft analysts is that most of their predictions for the draft inevitably look silly once those predictions are compared with the actual draft results. But that applies to all draftniks, and odds are that the one draft analyst you trust above all others is just as inaccurate as all the other draft analysts you dislike so much.
Two of the biggest in the mock draft business, ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, have been dominating the mock draft headlines for years, so today we ask ourselves what would have happened if the Cowboys had followed the pair's mock draft suggestions in each of the last six drafts.
In the mock draft world, there's only one mock that ultimately counts: the final mock draft published before the actual draft. That doesn't stop mock drafters from inundating us with countless mocks before that final one, but none of them carries any real weight. Which is why today we'll look at Kiper's and McShay's final mock drafts from 2010-2015. Before we go there though, here is a summary of the last six Dallas Cowboys first-round picks, along with some metrics we'll use to evaluate the picks.
Overall, that's a pretty impressive haul. Nine Pro Bowl seasons, 18 out of a maximum of 21 starter seasons, 276 starts and a very strong Approximate Value (AV) of 176. And all of that despite Morris Claiborne failing to live up to his draft pedigree.
Over the last six years, only two teams have had more success with their first-round draft picks (as measured by AV): The Rams accumulated 195 AV points, though they did that with eight first-rounders versus six for the Cowboys, and the Texans have 184 points, helped by the massive 88 AV points J.J. Watt adds to their total. Here are the total AV points for all first round picks of the last six years by team:
|First-round AV points by team, 2010-2015|
|Rank||Team||AV Points||Picks||Rank||Team||AV Points||Picks||Rank||Team||AV Points||Picks|
Note that the AV numbers are allocated to the team drafting a given player, and not to the team the player eventually moved on to. The Cowboys' Rolando McClain for example has accumulated 12 AV points in Dallas, which in the table above still count in favor of the Raiders, the team that originally drafted him. Similarly, Sam Bradford's nine points earned in Philly last year are included in the Rams' tally in the table above.
Overall, the table establishes that the Cowboys have gotten more from their first-round picks over the last six years than most other teams. With that, let's turn to Kiper and McShay to see how their picks for the Cowboys hold up in this comparison. Here are the players Mel Kiper had the Cowboys picking in his final mock drafts of each of the last six years:
That would not have been a good draft haul for the Cowboys. Kiper would have had the Cowboys drafting solid starters, so there's that, but the players he picked lack the postseason accolades the Cowboys picks garnered, and the combined AV points would rank this collection of picks in the bottom 10 of the league.
On to McShay's final mock picks for the Cowboys:
McShay's picks get a healthy boost from the J.J. Watt pick, but this would have been a very impressive haul for the Cowboys. McShay let himself be suckered into the ridiculous Manziel hype in 2014, and the Shane Ray pick in 2015 doesn't look that great either, but that's complaining on a very high level. It may be pure luck, but McShay's collection of picks for the Cowboys over the last six years would have beaten every single NFL team in terms of AV points.
Also noteworthy: McShay's picks have accumulated 109.5 sacks since they were drafted. If the Cowboys had followed McShay's picks, their defensive line would easily be the one of the very best in the league today. At the same time, if the Cowboys had listened to McShay, their offensive line would likely have ranked near the bottom of the league for the last five years, and Tony Romo's career would have been over a while ago.
What all the numbers above show is that the draft can be a precarious proposition, even in the first round where the best available talent is supposed to be found. Over the last six years, the Cowboys have been one of the most successful teams at mining this resource, while other teams have not. But even for the worst teams in the league, there is some hope, as they could have drafted much worse, just as there is reason for the best teams to improve their efforts, as they are still far away from realizing the maximum potential possible.
Here, for your pre-draft delectation, are the best and worst first-round picks from each of the last six drafts and what their AV would add up to:
|Best picks||Worst picks|
|2010||DET||Ndamukong Suh||DT||65||2010||DEN||Tim Tebow||QB||12|
|2011||HOU||J.J. Watt||DE||88||2011||GB||Derek Sherrod||T||3|
|2012||CAR||Luke Kuechly||LB||57||2012||SF||A.J. Jenkins||WR||2|
|2013||CHI||Kyle Long||G||30||2013||MIA||Dion Jordan||DE||3|
|2014||STL||Aaron Donald||DT||31||2014||PHI||Marcus Smith||LB||1|
|2015||TB||Jameis Winston||QB||13||2015||- -||Four players||- -||0|