These mock drafts are hilarious, really. They're fun and they get eyeballs on the screen or perusing the newspaper, I understand that part. But they are seriously flawed from two important perspectives. First - the mock drafters put their draft together purely on the basis of the need of the team, or at least their perceived need of the team. The teams on the other hand, at least pay lip service to the philosophy of drafting the BPA, best player available. On the surface, these approaches directly conflict with each other. Occasionally at the top end of the draft, the team's needs coincide with the BPA and everyone is happy. On the other hand, I think the teams always tint their player evaluations with team need, or with some other subjective measure. For example, the best QB in the draft will be more important and will have a higher grade than the best LG in the draft. But player evaluations are more complex than that, because it is not only a question of who is the best player, or what is the ranking of all the players at a particular position. It is also a question of whether the player is NFL ready. In one year it could be a very weak draft for WR, for example. Obviously, the best WR in that draft may not warrant a high first round pick. Each team puts together their draft board based on quality of player, importance of position, overall grade compared to the ideal player at the position and they must sprinkle in at least some part of team need. In the early rounds of the draft, the contribution of team need plays less into the decision making, because the team really is looking for a star, regardless (almost) of position. In the later rounds, when the players are more bunched together in talent and the team is less likely to find a star, team need will factor more into the selection. If you believe the teams, they use these factors to calculate a score for each player and list them in order from highest to lowest. They take the best player left on their board whenever their turn comes up. Last year, Giants needed a S and they loved Collins, who was high on their board. It was a moment when need coincided with the draft board, so they traded up to get him in the 2nd round.
Two great stories about drafting BPA vs. team need.
In 1980, Giants were coming off an awful season and had the second overall pick in the draft, behind New Orleans Saints. The Giants were just an awful team, no offensive talent to speak of - they did have Phil Simms at QB, though he was going through his early career injury period, but their OL and skill position talent was really poor. On defense they had a player or two on the DL and in the secondary, George Martin and Mark Haynes to be specific, but that's it. What they did have was three outstanding LBs in Harry Carson, Brian Kelly and Brad Van Pelt, which was the only strong unit on the team. With that second overall pick, the fans, the TV/radio media and the print media were campaigning for the Giants to pick some offensive talent or perhaps some defensive players on the DL and in the DB-field, but not a LB. The first pick was by Bum Phillips, newly appointed coach / GM of the Saints and he took George Rogers, Heisman Trophy winner, RB out of South Carolina. George Young picked Lawrence Taylor and the rest is history. George Young said that the fastest he has ever run was to get the pick of Taylor up to the podium. LT was clearly the BPA and Young picked him despite having the only real talent on the team at his LB position. Phillips, on the other hand, made a need pick with Rogers - he believed that the RB was the most important position on the team, having just coached Earl Campbell in Houston. How'd that work out for those teams?
Second story is about the Dallas Cowboys and their legendary HC, Tom Landry. He was famous for drafting good players and for being faithful to the best player available philosophy. He said that he deviated from this strategy just once - in the 1979 draft - and it cost him greatly. He had an aging Roger Staubach at QB on the roster, who would retire after the 1979 season. He also had the QB in waiting, the QB of the future on the roster, a young good QB named Danny White. Consequently, he deviated from his BPA philosophy just this once and drafted some nondescript players in first few rounds. The BPA, the player he passed up because he had his QB of the future already on the roster was Joe Montana. 'Nuff said.