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Swarm Intelligence: What 25 Mock Drafts Tells Us About 1st-Round Pass Rushers

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We review 25 of the latest mock drafts and look at where the various mock drafts are slotting which pass rusher and what that could mean for the Dallas Cowboys.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency has slowed down to a trickle, so it's time to turn our attention back to the very serious business of mock drafting.

For that, I'm going to introduce you to the concept of swarm intelligence, which suggests that the collective behavior of self-organized systems without a centralized control structure can lead to the emergence of "intelligent" global behavior, unknown to the individual agents. The concept of swarm intelligence suggests that the predictive value of many mock drafts is greater than that of a single mock.

Which is why we'll look at a summary of 25 mocks below and see what they collectively have to say about the pass rushers in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft. We'll do that by looking at where the various mock drafts are slotting which pass rusher, but we're leaving two pass rushers out: Myles Garrett is the number one pick in every single one of the 25 mocks below, and Solomon Thomas drops out of the Top 10 in just four of the 25 mocks, and never lower than 16th. The rest of the top pass rushers, and where they are mocked in each draft, is summarized in the table below.

Source Date Derek
Barnett
Taco
Charlton
Takkarist
McKinley
Charles
Harris
T.J.
Watt
Tim
Williams
Carl
Lawson
Draftblaster 3-14 19 11 16 28 32 - - - -
Drafttek 3-13 11 - - 14 30 - - - - - -
Rotoworld 3-13 16 - - 7 - - 28 - - 30
CBS (Rang) 3-13 11 - - - - 31 - - 22 - -
CBS (Brugler) 3-13 11 22 - - 28 30 - - - -
SB Nation 3-13 11 - - 15 - - - - - - 30
B/R (Sobleski) 3-13 16 9 21 - - 29 - - - -
Walter (Charlie) 3-13 15 11 - - 22 - - - - - -
NFL (Jeremiah) 3-13 9 29 21 16 31 - - - -
Star-Telegram 3-13 11 17 - - 28 29 - - 31
Sporting News 3-13 - - 31 - - 28 - - - - 30
ESPN (Grossi) 3-13 16 19 - - 28 29 - - - -
NJ.com 3-13 8 19 30 31 32 - - - -
SD Union Tribune 3-10 8 22 32 28 - - 30 - -
Draft Countdown 3-10 22 21 - - - - - - 15 - -
Draftwire 3-10 31 32 - - - - - - - - - -
Cleveland.com 3-9 32 21 16 31 - - - - - -
CBS (Prisco) 3-7 15 22 32 28 29 - - 31
CBS (Brinson) 3-7 10 21 16 31 - - 30 - -
CBS (Dubin) 3-7 21 28 25 31 - - 32 - -
CBS (Wilson) 3-7 15 11 22 31 29 - - 28
NFL (Casserly) 3-7 8 - - 14 21 29 26 - -
USA Today 3-7 15 24 31 28 - - - - - -
SI.com (Kaplan) 3-7 9 16 22 31 30 32 - -
B/R (Miller) 3-7 28 11 30 15 - - - - - -
Source Date Derek
Barnett
Taco
Charlton
Takkarist
McKinley
Charles
Harris
T.J.
Watt
Tim
Williams
Carl
Lawson

On average, the mock drafts above have 6.2 edge rushers going in the first round, though that includes Garrett and Thomas, who are both out of reach of the Cowboys. And you can probably add Derek Barnett to that list as well, as he falls to the 28th pick just four times.

If the concept of swarm intelligence holds true, here are the odds each of the remaining pass rushers in the table above will be available for the Cowboys at No. 28:

Taco Charlton: 36%
Takkarist McKinley: 52%
Charles Harris: 84%
Tim Williams: 88%
T.J. Watt: 100%
Carl Lawson: 100%

Using the same 25 mocks above, I've reordered the data to better understand which teams the draft analysts think are in the race for an edge rushers. For the table below, I've listed all teams drafting from No. 15 to No. 32 and how often each team was mocked to pick a pass rusher:

Pick No. Team # mocks with pass rusher
15 Indianapolis Colts 7
16 Baltimore Ravens 8
17 Washington Redskins 1
18 Tennessee Titans 0
19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3
20 Denver Broncos 0
21 Detroit Lions 7
22 Miami Dolphins 8
23 New York Giants 0
24 Oakland Raiders 1
25 Houston Texans 1
26 Seattle Seahawks 1
27 Kansas City Chiefs 0
28 Dallas Cowboys 12
29 Green Bay Packers 7
30 Pittsburgh Steelers 10
31 Atlanta Falcons 13
32 New Orleans Saints 8

This table should be a pretty good indicator of which teams are likely to be in the hunt for a pass rusher in 43 days, and suggests an interesting dynamic, as there are two pressure points for pass rushers ahead of the Cowboys.

The Colts and Ravens at No. 15 and 16 could be looking for edge rushers, but then the interest in edge rushers dies down until the Lions and Dolphins are on the clock at No 21 and 22. After that, it's a free-fall zone for edge rushers again, all the way to No. 28 where the Cowboys can leisurely select their pass rusher of choice.

The problem for the Cowboys, at least according to the 25 mock drafts assembled here, are the teams lurking directly behind the Cowboys, all of which are looking for pass rushers too. The Packers, Steelers, and Falcons might all look to jump ahead of the Cowboys to grab one of those free-falling pass rushers (the Saints may not be as much of a threat as the table indicates, as they only acquired the 32nd pick from the Patriots on March 10,  and of the 16 mocks published since, only three have them taking an edge rusher).

Being jumped by a pass rush-needy team would almost certainly cause a lot of teeth-gnashing and broken remotes among the Cowboys faithful, but should the Cowboys trade up just as a precaution? That's not a great idea either.

If the mocks above are anything to go by, this year's draft is interesting in that there is an uneven distribution of need for pass rushers, clumped together at 15/16, 21/22, and 28-31.

Market anomalies/inefficiencies like that don't last long, and one of the teams sitting below the 28th pick might quickly try to exploit that. Oakland (#24), Houston (#25) and Seattle (#26) may easily begin soliciting offers from the Falcons, Steelers, and Packers to leapfrog the Cowboys (or the other teams) and get the pass rusher of their choice.

Should the Cowboys let themselves be dragged into a bidding war for a much-needed pass rusher, or should they sit back, trust their board and pick the best player available at No. 28 - even if that means no first-round help for the pass rush?