Baltimore Sun April 23, 2008
No formula for becoming an NFL draft expert
Draftniks have emerged from diverse backgrounds,
but whose mock drafts are the most accurate?
6:50 PM EDT, April 22, 2008
They are stressed out professionals
looking to soothe themselves on sleepless nights or recent college
graduates trying to hack out work in the new media world.
Some do it the old way, staring at game film, attending workouts and
picking the brains of scouts. But others simply watch a lot of
college football and fire from the hip, just like their buddies who
think the Ravens need a quarterback right now.
In the past decade, we have become a nation of
NFL draft experts.
A job once reserved for a few hundred team employees and a handful
of media obsessives is now shouldered by thousands of fans, their
predictions flying as quickly as their fingers on the keys of their
A database of mock drafts at
HailRedskins.com features 243 entries, up from 30 seven years ago.
Draft-specific Web sites, run by guys with no formal background in
scouting or coaching, receive 60,000 unique visitors a day.
These new experts are men like Scott Wright, who started his Web
site, NFL Draft Countdown, as a high school junior in Minnesota and
now makes a living at it. He's projected the first round better than
ESPN draft guru (and Baltimore native) Mel Kiper Jr. since 2005.
"I've almost gotten too good at it," he says. "I gather so much
information that I overthink it."
Others are like Drew Boylhart, a former aide for New York Gov.
George Pataki, who discovered scouting college football players was
the best counter to his insomnia. He learned to read body language
in his first profession and believes he can see past 40-yard dash
times and college completion rates to the souls of the best
He says he has gotten calls from NFL owners who wonder why he's in
love with a player who's low on many draft boards.
"I think it's comical," he says. "I just don't think my opinions are
Several factors explain the draft's popularity boom. It provides an
interface between two of the country's most popular sports, pro and
college football. But more than that, sports fans love a chance to
pick the results of a complex exercise. Just look at the fervor
NCAA tournament brackets. Better still, the paid experts mess it
up enough that they give average football fans plenty of chances to
The widening and deepening draft obsession never ceases to amaze
Mark Buterbaugh, a Pennsylvania resident who maintains the mock
draft database at Hail Redskins.
"I get e-mails from people saying, 'I don't know what I'd do without
it,'" he says. "And I think, 'I don't know ? live.'"
"It gives everyone a chance to be the general manager of their
favorite team," says former Evening Sun writer Clark Judge,
who covers the NFL for CBSSportsline. "I think it's that simple.
Most of us can't own teams, and few of us get a chance to work for
them. But there's always one weekend in every year when we can rent
them and run them as we'd like. Who doesn't find that appealing?"
According to rankings of mock drafts assembled by
TheHuddleReport.com, Judge, 56, has been the second-most accurate
prognosticator of the first round over the past three years.
Along with his buddy, Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News,
he represents the establishment wing of the mock drafting community.
Judge has covered the NFL for 25 years and prepares for his
projections by talking to scouts and executives around the league.
"You have to go with the evaluations of experts, and you have to
remember that the experts aren't us," he says.
For decades, fans, and even many team executives, paid the draft
little mind. It wasn't uncommon to see a general manager flip
through a Street & Smith's magazine when the time came to
make a late-round pick.
The 1970s saw the rise of a small but fervent wave of writers, known
to many as draftniks.
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