Why This Year's NFL Draft May Be The Most Complicated To Predict In Years - And By How Much?

Apr. 19, 2017

The 2017 NFL Draft could be very different from recent years..jpg
The 2017 NFL Draft could be very different from recent years..jpg

This year's NFL Draft has a plethora of talented collegiate stars, as does every class, but this year has seen a lot less consensus than previous years in what are seen as "certain" picks, and what might have been considered certain are being docked with injury concerns. It seems to me that this NFL Draft has a lot more possibilities than previous years, and here are some reasons for that:

1. The Draft Class and Its Depth - There are many factors to consider here, but this is a very important one. Many teams may take an approach where they disregard what many think are top team needs because of the "depth" of this draft class. While some marquee positions like quarterback have weak classes, other positions boast large groups of Day-1 talents. This creates a problem for people trying to predict the draft because nobody but the teams know how they will approach this. Will teams jump at bad quarterbacks because there isn't much depth, or will they be scared off? Will teams draft questionable players over given talents because of depth? This makes it very hard to predict the position a team will go for, much less the player. Plus, this depth leads into questions on what kind of player a team requires. If they need a cornerback, they might go after a guy with some strengths that a more solid guy might not have, or whatever. This will make it difficult for many people to envision what will happen in this draft.

2. Character Issues and Injury Concerns - This year has a lot of these. Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon is seen as a top talent, but his domestic abuse charges have dropped him on many draft boards. The trouble is, nobody without inside access knows who these teams are if they haven't released a statement (like the New England Patriots, who said they will not draft Mixon). Many players have been given Day-1 on-field grades, but character concerns may or may not drop them in the draft. The trouble is, this makes us have to estimate where the threshold is where this player's talent overrules character concerns. Also prevalent are injury concerns with many players. Day-1 caliber players like Washington CB Sidney Jones, Washington WR John Ross, Alabama DL Jonathan Allen, and UCLA CB Fabian Moreau are among many players whose main concern in the draft is injury history. That, again, makes it difficult to tell where the threshold is for an appropriate draft position, and also obscures opinion in that teams who need talent at that position might pass them up while later-picking teams with no need might be across that threshold. Overall, these concerns make landing spots for many teams unclear.

3. Unclear Team Roster Needs - Many teams have big groups of needs for their teams, but have been seen going after many non-applicable players. With the high talent level of many players in this draft class, these needs make it difficult to know who a team would draft just based on the point where needs and talent might overlap. With a group very talented at some positions and less so at others, there are many questions mock drafts will have to answer based on how a team will address needs.

4. Intriguing Players on the Trade Market - Draft trades are incredibly hard, if not almost impossible, to predict because each trade could have its own terms. They could even involve players already in the league. If teams are interested in players like this, particularly at positions seen as weak in the draft class, then they will be likely to try to trade for them. Trades do a lot of things to the draft. First, they change the draft order and put a team with entirely different needs and wants in an entirely different draft position, to a point where they might draft high enough or low enough to go with a more talented player over a necessary one.

5. Top Prospects Not Defined - This is where it gets even harder to predict. With the huge depth in this draft class, where there would usually be a gap between each player in a position group, there really isn't this year past the no. 1 at defensive end. This means that teams will all prefer different players and grade players differently, making their draft choices vary from opinion to opinion. This is incredibly hard to predict, because it leaves multiple options for each team with each pick at each position. With this being more prevalent than in many previous drafts, it will lead to problems for so-called draft gurus.

Experiment: How Hard Really Will this Draft Be To Predict?

Well, let's take a look at the options that make the most sense, just for the top 5 teams.

1. Cleveland Browns: The Browns have declared themselves questioning the top overall pick, with their options being Texas A&M's Myles Garrett and North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky.

2. San Francisco 49ers: Obviously, if the Browns take Trubisky, Garrett would be a huge option. However, with the needs of this team, if the Browns take Garrett, the 49ers have a lot of guys to consider. They need defensive line help, and could take Stanford's Solomon Thomas or Alabama's Jonathan Allen. The team also has shown interest in building a defense with a pair of great safeties, so Ohio State's centerfielder-style free safety Malik Hooker and LSU's Jamal Adams could also be the pick realistically. If they also wanted to go for a top cornerback, Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore could be the guy. They could also consider Trubisky.

3. Chicago Bears: If the 49ers don't take any of those guys, the Bears are in a position of need to realistically get any of them. If the pick is anyone else, they could go for Thomas, Allen, Hooker, Adams, or Lattimore.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars tend to draft defensively early (as of late), but they also need help at some other positions. If any of these guys go even further undrafted, Thomas, Allen, Hooker, Adams, and Lattimore would definitely be considered. However, with this team's offensive needs, they would also need to consider LSU RB Leonard Fournette and Alabama TE O.J. Howard.

5. Tennessee Titans (via Los Angeles Rams): The Titans' real needs are at CB, WR, and ILB, so John Ross, Corey Davis, and Mike Williams will be considered here. So will top cornerbacks like Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore, if still available. O.J. Howard has also been linked to the team. So has Alabama ILB Reuben Foster. Get the point? This is a lot of possibilities.

So, according to these, which are all very realistic choices, there are over 3,000 different combinations of players who could be drafted just in the top 5. That's insane! Last year, many teams were linked to certain players and positions, and the number of realistic combinations was less than 20. That's a huge difference, and it goes to show how this draft due to its depth and the NFL right now will be much harder to predict than prior years.