A week ago, the 2020 NFL Draft was held over the course of three days to rousing success. To the league’s credit, they successfully pulled off the first virtual draft event that took us everywhere from Roger Goodell’s basement man cave to Jerry Jones’ $250M mega yacht; from Kliff Kingsbury’s palatial bachelor pad to Mike Vrabel’s menagerie for his parade of human oddities; and even direct to the dining room table domain of Bill Belichick’s dog, Nike.
Indeed, it was a unique peek behind the curtain separating the fan and the NFL’s elite. It was also an intimate look at what will soon be considered the humble beginnings of the league’s next generation of superstars.
But, far from the limelight of the ESPN and NFL Network simulcast, it was also a crowning moment for yours truly, as my 2020 NFL Mock Draft: Final Edition emerged victorious in both The Huddle Report Mock Draft Scoring competition and The Mock Draft Database HERC Score competition.
Among an increasingly competitive community of established and self-proclaimed experts, I certainly did not expect to earn the mantle of mock draft champion.
Yet, here I am.
And as much of a curiosity it is every year as to how the most renowned names in the business can miss the mark by a considerable margin, I venture there are people who wonder how a veritable unknown like me came away with the most accurate mock draft of the season according to both The Huddle Report and The Mock Draft Database.
So, as part of my self-scouting efforts in closing the book on the 2020 NFL Draft, I thought I would provide my own peek behind the curtain, examining how my aim to compete, to increase the exposure for my brand, and to present a good accounting of myself and my work actually became an exercise in building a winning mock draft.
“But, ultimately, there are still the same, two distinct paths to complete this final exercise as there are every year for a one-man war room like me—playing for field position with the consensus until contacts and clout inevitably win out, or launching a 50/50 ball on 4th down on the off chance that chaos becomes chalk.”
This is quoted directly from the introduction to my final mock draft. And I think it’s entirely appropriate considering the outcome.
Once final mock drafts start flying in the days before the NFL Draft, it’s generally easy to find the trends and see where insider information from anonymous or protected sources is coming into play. We saw that this year with a number of high-profile analysts making late switches on early picks, such as DT Derrick Brown becoming the favorite over CB Jeff Okudah to go to the Lions at #3 and OT Tristan Wirfs becoming the popular choice to go to the Giants at #4. However, the most egregious example occurred with the Dolphins at #5, as there was a tangible swing to QB Justin Herbert over QB Tua Tagovailoa, and not only Herbert being locked in as the pick, but perhaps being the target of a trade up.
When these eleventh-hour tips start factoring into mock drafts and you have yet to complete your own, you have a choice—proceed to follow the crowd or pass in favor of forming your own opinions.
I personally don’t see anything wrong with taking the word of an analyst you trust. If you are someone like me with no contacts in the league and no connections with the NFL Draft media who do have them, that data could make the difference between the right pick or the wrong pick for a selection that has you on the fence. However, in doing so, you are also basing your work on third-party information that you cannot confirm is true and sources that you personally have no way of knowing are credible.
It’s up to you to decide whether to believe the hype and risk being duped by a smokescreen—or carve your own path and be willing to crash and burn on your own merits. That being said, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can even weigh the option pick for pick. But, ultimately, the choices you make will affect the success of your mock draft.
In the end, going with the flow is just fine if your goal is a respectable score. Just like when drafting players, there’s no shame in going the route of the high floor. But, understand, that at some point, the more established and well-connected experts will probably come out ahead. You also have to consider that the more your mock draft resembles theirs, then the less authentic your effort appears in comparison.
That’s why I would say I am firmly on the side of forming your own opinions about who you expect to go where. If anything, use the general consensus as a form of confirmation bias. If you believe in a projected pick and it lines up with the field, you have validation. If it’s contrarian, be it as a calculated gamble of going against the grain or a personal conviction in your own process, and you’re correct?
Well, there’s the secret to creating separation or making up ground in mock draft competition.
Now, taking the road less traveled does not come without risk. But, as you may have discerned, my personal approach to building my final mock draft is generally to go boom-or-bust. Not only is it more fun to write, I feel it’s more enjoyable to read. But, even more importantly, I feel like the high-risk/high-reward nature provides the best opportunity to win.
There are two frameworks for constructing a final mock draft—with trades or without. I’m not necessarily an advocate for either, as they both have their benefits. It’s really just a matter of preference and how much thought you want to put into moving pieces up and down the board in terms of teams and players.
Per my previous point, I do think incorporating trades does make the exercise more fun, both as a writer and a reader. But, I also think there is a higher probability of missing on individual picks and making of a mockery of your mock draft as a whole when trades are involved.
But, as I said… boom-or-bust.
If your goal is to build a winning mock draft, I think you have to make an earnest run at predicting the unpredictable and not be afraid of having it all fall apart. You don’t have to go wild, but if you think a team will want to move up or down the board, or if you can only reconcile a particular player-team fit from a different draft position—then go for it. Incorporating trades is also a way to squeeze in a player who you think will go off the board in the first round, but who doesn’t have a natural home with the draft order as it stands.
Now, you could just as easily slot the player to the team that you expect to trade out, but in doing so, you’re also likely conceding points if you’re correct. So, if you are committed to making the pick, you might as well swap out the teams and shoot for the higher score, right?
Whether you choose to work in trades or go without, being a little bolder with your player selection is also advisable if you are aiming for peak accuracy with your mock draft. I wouldn’t expect anyone who has ever topped the annual leaderboard to have played it safe with every pick. You have to be willing to yield to BPA (Best Player Available) when applicable and step outside of the comfortable box of projecting players to teams solely on need and personal rankings. Because you have a league of 32 teams who are all competing with each other for talent and who all have different philosophies for team building, projecting picks is simply not matching your top player at a position on the board to the next team with that need. Their evaluations are different, their boards are different, and their draft tendencies are different. Fits are fine, but the nuance of value is what really determines the way the board falls in your mock draft.
Per The Huddle Report scoring system, a perfect score would be a 96. Per The Mock Draft Database scoring system, a perfect HERC score would 100.
While an admirable goal, a perfect mock draft is effectively a unicorn. With my mock draft, I tied for the highest mock draft score of the past 10 years per The Huddle Report with a 53 and I set the new HERC score record as calculated by The Mock Draft Database with a 58.13.
So, if you think that I think that I have the secret to building a perfect mock draft, I don’t. But, I think it would be interesting to look at the thought process I outlined above in execution and show you how effective it was in practical application by reviewing my winning mock draft.
Here’s the breakdown:
1. BENGALS — Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
2. REDSKINS — Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State
Hit & Hit. These were locks. Nothing to see here.
3. LIONS — Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State
Hit. As much as the Lions reportedly liked DT Derrick Brown, an elite CB like Okudah is by far more difficult to come by. And I did not see Detroit’s defensive line as being as deficient as their secondary. Apparently, neither did they—they didn’t draft at DT until Round 6.
4. GIANTS — Jedrick Wills Jr., OT, Alabama
Semi-Hit. The Giants selected OT Andrew Thomas. OT Tristan Wirfs was a popular pick in most final mock drafts, but I projected Wills, who actually went #10 to the Browns. Between Wills and Wirfs, I think most expected New York to draft a right tackle by trade. But, Thomas was also an All-American at right tackle his freshman season at Georgia. I personally did not take that into consideration, instead seeing Thomas as the safe, plug-and-play left tackle option who would probably go second, third, or fourth among the tier-one tackles.
5. DOLPHINS — Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
6. CHARGERS — Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Hit & Hit. The Tank for Tua campaign came to fruition in a roundabout way despite late-breaking reports that the Dolphins were all in on drafting QB Justin Herbert, perhaps even exploring a trade up to #3. I’m not sure exactly where the information initially came from, but what proved to be a bit of a bait-and-switch did appear to throw off a lot of media mocks. For the record, I started out projecting the Dolphins trading up to #3, but it was going to be for Tua. When the Herbert reports broke, I thought about revising the stretch of picks between #3 and #6, because it seemed like there was high level of confidence that it was going to happen. But, in the end, I couldn’t bring myself to buy into it and just decided to stick with my original picks—only wiping out the projected trade. I did get it right, but I thought that if I was wrong, at least it wouldn’t throw off my mock as much if I just played the order straight. As for slotting Herbert to the Chargers, I came to the conclusion that the Chargers would try to inject some energy into their franchise by taking the QB that Miami didn’t, rather than attempt to build around journeyman veteran Tyrod Taylor.
7. PANTHERS — Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
8. CARDINALS — Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
Semi-Hit & Semi-Hit. I had these picks in reverse of how they went, as Brown ended up going to Carolina and Simmons to Arizona. Brown was certainly a consideration at #7 for me, but I thought Simmons might be a more natural fit and a better value as a Swiss Army knife defender. Now, even if I had slotted Brown to the Panthers, I never really considered Simmons as the pick for the Cardinals. I would have had them pick an OT there, probably Tristan Wirfs. To that end, I think this swap actually worked in my favor.
9. JAGUARS — C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
Hit. Initially slotted in the Top-20 range, Henderson’s draft stock caught fire in the weeks leading up to the draft to the point where he was considered a lock Top-10 selection. I could have seen him being drafted as high as #7 to the Panthers. With Brown off the board in my mock draft, I thought this was an easy call because of Jacksonville’s situation at CB. Now, there was buzz that the Falcons would make a play to land Henderson, but I didn’t think it was plausible that 1) the Jaguars would pass on Henderson or 2) the Jaguars would trade away from Henderson, meaning Atlanta would likely have to pay a king’s ransom to jump up into the Top-8 to snag him. I didn’t think the Falcons would do that and they didn’t.
10. BROWNS — Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
Semi-Hit. Thomas went #4 to the Giants, while Jedrick Wills Jr. went #10 to the Browns. Much like the decision at #4, where I had Wills as the plug-and-play right tackle for the Giants, I had Thomas as the plug-and-play left tackle for the Browns. But, while I did not score direct hits on these two picks, it still worked in my favor because, again, I simply had the players swapped between the same two teams. More importantly, I had the same 10 players go in the Top-10 of my mock draft that went in the Top-10 of the actual draft, which meant I still had the whole board in front of me. With that, I was not only going to be in the hunt for an accurate mock, but right on track to make a run if the picks between #10 and #20 fell in my favor.
11. JETS — Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
Hit. Despite having their pick of wide receivers here, I thought the depth at the position would have the Jets leaning tackle. And my feeling was that they would prefer Becton to Wirfs, which they did.
12. BUCCANEERS — Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
Hit. Now here is where I introduced my first projected trade. I did not see any course of action for Tampa Bay other than taking a tackle. My assumption was that once the third went off the board, they would make a play for the fourth, whoever it may be, provided the jump was reasonable. In my mock draft, they traded with the Raiders to jump from #14 to #12 to take Wirfs. In the actual draft, they only needed to move up one spot to #13, trading instead with the 49ers. To be fair, I could have had the Buccaneers stand pat at #14 and still had the same outcome in my mock draft, but I was correct in them being compelled to trade up.
13. BRONCOS — Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
Hit. Again, another projected trade here, with the Broncos swapping their #15 pick for the 49ers pick at #13. My logic was that the Broncos were going to be targeting a receiver and that they might have to jump the Raiders to ensure they could land the one they were after. In the actual draft, they didn’t have to move to get Jerry Jeudy, but like the Buccaneers and Wirfs, I still earned maximum points for the match.
14. RAIDERS — CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
Semi-Hit. The other half of the projected trade with the Buccaneers, the Raiders ended up staying put at #12 and drafting WR Henry Ruggs III, while Lamb went #17 to the Cowboys. Which again, was another player swap that still worked in my favor while being a miss on the match.
15. 49ERS — Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina
Hit. The other half of the projected trade with the Broncos, the 49ers actually ended up trading one spot back from #13 with the Buccaneers and drafting Kinlaw at #14. While the 49ers were expected to strongly consider a receiver here, I thought they might seek to fill their DT need first to keep their strength strong and then pursue a receiver later, either with their pick at #31 or perhaps with a trade down scenario into the second or third round. Suffice to say, I chose wisely.
16. FALCONS — K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU
Semi-Hit. I thought Atlanta’s top three options were Henderson, Kinlaw, and Chaisson. By process of elimination, the pick here was Chaisson. The Falcons ended up drafting CB A.J. Terrell, who moved into the first-round conversation late and was expected to go in the Top-20 range. I simply didn’t think Atlanta would pass on Chaisson in favor of Terrell. I was wrong, but I had the general range right for Chaisson, who went at #20 to Jacksonville.
17. COWBOYS — Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
Semi-Hit. If you read my mock draft write-up, then you know I fully expected to get this pick wrong for the Cowboys. I didn’t think they would take a receiver, but I couldn’t force myself out of them picking Ruggs. Had it been Lamb or Jeudy in my mock draft who was available, the third receiver still would have been the pick. Lo and behold, CeeDee Lamb was the last of the three on the board and the pick for Dallas at #17. And fortunately for me, it was another simple swap of the picks for the Cowboys and the Raiders that kept my mock in lockstep with the actual draft in terms of who was left on the board.
18. DOLPHINS — Josh Jones, OT, Houston
19. RAIDERS — A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson
Miss & Semi-Hit. I had the positions right, but not the picks. The Dolphins went with OT Austin Jackson, who I had slotted to the Jaguars at #20, and the Raiders went with CB Damon Arnette, who I don’t think was in the first round of any mock draft, let alone the Top-20. As for my picks, the league was apparently much lower on Jones, who slipped to the third round, while Terrell went at #16 to Atlanta.
20. JAGUARS — Austin Jackson, OT, USC
Semi-Hit. Jackson went at #18 to the Dolphins, while the Jaguars landed Chaisson at #20. But, looking at the bigger picture, my mock draft was once again a closed loop here. I had no Top-20 picks who slipped later into the first round, nor any players selected between #21 and #32 who snuck in. Even the whiff on OT Josh Jones at #18 was offset by the surprise selection of CB Damon Arnette at #19.
21. EAGLES — Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
Semi-Hit. I think an overwhelming majority of mock drafts had slotted WR Justin Jefferson to the Eagles at some point, even right up the very end. I was contrarian, projecting Queen to Philadelphia despite strong evidence that they simply would not take a LB. They didn’t, instead they selected WR Jalen Reagor. Meanwhile, Queen went at #28 to the Ravens.
22. VIKINGS — Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
Hit. While I didn’t follow the trend at any point of mocking Jefferson to the Eagles, I didn’t see him making it past the Vikings at #22. It was the right call.
23. PATRIOTS — Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
24. RAVENS — Cesar Ruiz, OL, Michigan
Semi-Hit & Semi-Hit. This was a fascinating coincidence as I had the correct players going at #23 and #24, but I missed on the teams. First, the Patriots traded out of their pick with the Chargers, who moved up to draft Murray. Then I projected a trade between the Saints and the Ravens that saw Baltimore move up to draft Ruiz, but instead the Saints stood in and made the same pick.
25. VIKINGS — Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
Miss. This was the biggest disappointment for me personally of my mock draft. I had the Vikings drafting CB Jeff Gladney in both my Mock Draft 1.0 and my seven-round Super Mock because I loved the fit. Then I shied away from Gladney in the final mock because I bit on reports of the league being higher on Fulton than the media was and thought maybe Minnesota at #25 would be where that would materialize. The Vikings ultimately picked Gladney at #31 after trading back with the 49ers and I left points on the board with the big whiff. Here’s an example of needing to trust your process.
26. DOLPHINS — Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama
Miss. The Dolphins traded back to #30 with the Packers and selected CB Noah Igbinoghene, who I did not project in the first round. I don’t think anyone else did either, which meant nothing was gained or lost with their pick. McKinney ended up going in the early-second to the Giants at #36.
27. SEAHAWKS — Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
Miss. Shockingly, the Seahawks stood in and made a pick at #27 instead of trading out of the first round, selecting LB Jordyn Brooks. Diggs, meanwhile, went at #51 to the Cowboys. This ended up being another wash, as Brooks was a relatively uncommon name among final mock drafts.
28. SAINTS — Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State
Semi-Hit. Finding a place to slip Aiyuk into the first round paid off. I thought he might be a good fit with the Saints in this projected trade down with Baltimore, but he ended up going to the 49ers at #25 in their trade up with the Vikings. As for pick #28, this was where the Ravens drafted LB Patrick Queen, my pick at #21 to the Eagles.
29. TITANS — Isaiah Wilson, OT, Georgia
Hit. I called this pick a foregone conclusion in my write-up. It just made too much sense.
30. PACKERS — Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
Semi-Hit. Reagor was another player who I wanted in the first round, but I didn’t see an obvious landing spot. I figured Green Bay would be as a good of a place as any since it seemed like they could use some juice at receiver. I was correct in projecting Reagor would come off the board early, only it was to the Eagles at #21. Meanwhile, the Packers traded up to #26 with the Dolphins to draft QB Jordan Love. I was contrarian in that I didn’t have Love in my mock draft, despite first-round buzz among the media throughout the draft process. I pegged him as more of an early-second round consideration. So, that ended up being a whiff on my part, but one I was content with because of my conviction in evaluating the player.
31. EAGLES — Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
Miss. I don’t know that Mims not going in the first round was a surprise, but I think him lasting until late in the second round was wholly unexpected. I thought he might round out the run on receivers there at the end of the night, maybe in a trade up scenario like this one I projected with the Eagles and 49ers. But, unlike Aiyuk earlier, my attempt to work Mims into the first round did not pay off.
32. CHIEFS — Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, LSU
The Knockout Blow. Talk about boom-or-bust — initially just a fun fit to close out my final mock draft, this bold projection turned out to be the 50/50 ball that connected for the win. I don’t think I was the only person who had the Chiefs drafting a back at #32, but here was an example of not just slotting the consensus top player at the position to the team with a need. I thought another team could possibly draft RB D’Andre Swift in the #25-#32 range, which would conceivably put Clyde Edwards-Helaire in position for a first-round selection as RB2 off the board. But, I also thought because of his all-around skillset, that CEH might actually be the first RB taken. So, instead of including Swift in my final mock draft, I decided to hedge my bets on the receivers, effectively being content to miss should he go in the first round. Meanwhile, I did not move away from CEH from being the pick at #32. It was offbeat, out-of-the-box thinking based in nothing other than my own impressions of need, fit, and value, and while I could have just as easily missed, it just so happened that fortune favored the bold.
Despite the hot and holier-than-thou takes, there’s no shame in doing a mock draft just as there’s no real right or wrong way to build one—it just depends on what you want to accomplish with it. If you want to present a scenario, put your personal rankings into practice, present what you would do if you were each team, or put whatever kind of spin you want on it, those are all valid exercises.
But, with a final mock draft, I do think the goal should be to predict the players who you expect to be picked and the teams that you expect to pick them as accurately as possible, over all else.
To that point, if your intent is not just to build an accurate mock draft, but to build a winning mock draft, I think I’ve hazily outlined a viable approach. You’re welcome to use it to support your own efforts to compete and, dare I say, even challenge for the throne. But, don’t think that I’ve shared all of my secrets… after all, I have two mock draft championships to defend in 2021!