Now that the New York Giants have raised the Lombardi Trophy and the NFL season is officially over, fans' attention will turn to offseason activities. The highlight of the offseason for many people will be the draft coming up on April 26th. Many fans get excited for this three day event. The excitement is understandable, because, unlike free agency, every team has the opportunity to participate (notwithstanding the teams that have traded a lot of their picks. I'm looking at you, Oakland Raiders). There is also the excitement for the potential that each draft class offers. The enthusiasm surrounding this event has spurred an explosion of mock drafts available online, where you can get predictions from any person with internet access and a working knowledge of football (note: working knowledge of football not always required).
And the best part is that you can get these opinions all throughout the regular and off-seasons! Before final standings are even set! Before team needs can be properly evaluated! Before teams start cutting players! Before a team's free agents are re-signed! Before teams start signing other teams' free agents! Before the college football season is even over! Before the college all-star games! Before the combine! Before pro days! And if you look carefully, you can find mock drafts for the following year's draft!
Do you see what I'm getting at? This phenomenon has spiraled out of control into a dimension of absurdity I can barely begin to explore. Mock drafts that occur before all of the offseason activities that affect a team's draft strategy can never be anything more than glorified rankings of who that person believes to be the best college players. Why? Because team evaluations of prospects are incomplete and teams release and sign veterans before the draft even occurs. The mock drafts you read now will probably be totally different a week before the draft.
The ranking of college players are fluid through the completion of pro days. When Joe Haden was coming out of Florida in 2010, he was considered the best cornerback prospect in the draft and a sure top ten pick. Then he ran a 4.57 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Suddenly, all of the draftniks on television and the interwebs started questioning where he would be drafted. He rectified that at Florida's pro day by running a 4.41 second 40-yard dash. The Cleveland Browns drafted him seventh overall that year and he anchored the secondary that had the second-ranked pass defense in the NFL this year. The weeks of questioning his speed were nothing short of a waste of time, because everybody was going on incomplete information.
Mock drafts that are published in the middle of the season are even more nonsensical. Remember when the Miami Dolphins were neck-and-neck with the Indianapolis Colts in the Suck For Luck race? How did that work out for the Fins? Once upon a time, Robert Griffin III was a middle-to-late first round prospect. Now he might cost two first round picks and then some to trade up in the draft to get. Those paragraphs predicting these results represent time the author won't get back from writing them and time the reader won't get back from reading them.
The examples I gave are just an incredibly small sample of what happens every single year. Anything can happen during the course of the college and NFL seasons that can affect which players are drafted. We always see college players enter the season as top prospects and by the time they go through the season, the Combine, and individual workouts, they're draft stock is completely shattered. Brian Brohm and Calais Campbell are perfect examples. Both entered their last season in college football thought to be top ten picks. Both fell to the second round.
So what is the point in paying attention to mock drafts so early? Everything about them is destined to change between September and April. I understand that it is fun to consider and debate who your favorite team will and/or should draft. I'm guilty of doing this and it has become part of the fan experience. All I wonder is why so many people devote so much unnecessary time predicting draft picks at such early dates.
Take the Dolphins for example. Mock drafts have them trading up to select Griffin, drafting a defensive end (mostly either Quinton Coples, Melvin Ingram, or Courtney Upshaw), drafting an offensive tackle (Reilly Reiff or Jonathan Martin), and even Trent Richardson and Ryan Tannehill have shown up as possibilities of wearing a Dolphins uniform next season. The problem with all of this is that we have no idea who the Dolphins will sign in free agency or who will be released as a cap casualty. Will they sign Peyton Manning (if he is released) or Matt Flynn? Will Kendall Langford be re-signed? Will the Dolphins pursue pass rushing free agents like Robert Mathis or Cliff Avril? How about an elite offensive lineman like Carl Nicks? Will either Yeremiah Bell or Karlos Dansby end up as cap casualties (there aren't any rumors surrounding Dansby yet, but he has a cap hit of $12.8 million and the Dolphins are currently projected to be only about $8 million under the salary cap. Do the math)? Until all of these questions and more can be answered in free agency, it is extraordinarily difficult to project what a team will do in the draft and will likely be a fruitless exercise.
So please, people, ease up on the mock draft obsession until early to mid-April. By that point, we should all have a clearer picture of our team's needs and we can actually have more productive discussions on the issue. Most of your time and energy spent discussing this now will probably be moot come April.