NFL Mock Draft: Using wisdom of the crowd to predict the first round
Over a century ago, Sir Francis Galton observed that over 700 participants guessing the weight of an ox at a county fair in England were near perfect in getting the exact weight when the group was averaged. More recently, James Surowiecki wrote a book on the concept of “Wisdom of the Crowds,” the idea that large groups of people are collectively smarter than an individual expert.
If you want a recent sports example that the concept works, look at individual predictions for the 2019 NCAA Tournament bracket. The Bracket Project tracked the individual predictions of 195 entries. If you took the average across all those entries, you would have been more accurate than all but six of the individual ones. That’s right, taking the collective wisdom outperformed all but 3 percent of the individual expert opinions.
I am bringing that same philosophy to this mock draft. I have reviewed 18 different mock drafts from national sites and experts (the full list and links to those mocks are at the end of this post). This mock draft presents that collective wisdom, by looking at both where players were being drafted on average, and what positions the experts were predicting teams would focus on.
One thing that can hurt a wisdom of the crowds exercise is if there is too much groupthink. However, in this case, there is plenty of variation and individual opinions. Sixty-four different players appeared in at least one of the mock drafts reviewed. So what is the consensus on how the first round will go? Let’s take a look at our mock draft.
1. Arizona Cardinals — Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
Will Arizona really move on from Josh Rosen after one season? Right now, the consensus guess seems to be that Kyler Murray will in fact be the choice, and he will follow in Baker Mayfield’s footsteps in becoming the first overall pick at quarterback out of Lincoln Riley’s offense. Arizona has no incentive to show their Cards yet (pun intended) since they can influence trade offers both for the first pick and for Rosen by remaining publicly non-committal.
2. San Francisco 49ers — Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Nick Bosa is the preferred choice among a quartet of defenders who almost universally go in the top five in mock drafts. Bosa also thinks he is likely heading to the Bay Area, as he acknowledged toning down his political talk in anticipation of moving to California.
3. New York Jets — Josh Allen, EDGE, Kentucky
Josh Allen was a huge reason why the Kentucky program was ranked in the top 10 at one point last season, and the athletic pass rusher fills a clear need in New York, where the Jets’ leaders a year ago topped out at seven sacks, and the team was in the bottom ten in sack percentage.
4. Oakland Raiders — Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama
The Raiders, who were dead last in points allowed and in sacks in 2019, need help everywhere on defense. They will gladly take whichever of the top prospects falls to them. For now, that looks like it will be Quinnen Williams, but any of the guys going in the top five would make sense.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Devin White, LB, LSU
Devin White is the clear top choice at the inside linebacker position, and it is also a position of need after Kwon Alexander moved on to San Francisco. This one seems likely also if the first four picks go as expected.
6. New York Giants — Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State
The Giants pick is where it gets interesting. The next group of 6-8 guys generally fall in the same average pick range. I’ll reluctantly put Dwayne Haskins here, even with the rumors that he could fall, though opinion is all over the place on where the Giants go. If David Gettleman is not going quarterback here, the smart move is to trade down, but as I noted earlier, that’s not exactly how Gettleman does the draft. If they stick and don’t take a QB, a left tackle or Montez Sweat as a pass rusher are the other options.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars — Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida
The Jaguars spent lots of money on Nick Foles at quarterback, they are pretty strong along the defensive line positions, and have a need at offensive tackle. That makes Jawaan Taylor the clear choice unless someone jumps in front of them to nab the local product and consensus best offensive lineman on the board.
8. Detroit Lions — Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan
Detroit is likely to address the defensive line here, and there are several options, with Rashan Gary, Ed Oliver, and Montez Sweat all being picks that could easily occur. Gary had the largest variation in where he is expected to go of any of the guys in the consensus top 12. He was off the board in over half the mock drafts before pick 9, but was still available in most of the others at pick 13 or later.
9. Buffalo Bills — Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
Ed Oliver is an athletic, quick defensive tackle who will draw comparisons to Aaron Donald. That puts some lofty expectations on him. Nearly half of all mock drafts have him going to Buffalo, though he could certainly go sooner. It would be a shock if Oliver were available for long if he slips past this spot. He is not getting past Atlanta at 14.