June 24, 2021

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Who had the most accurate NFL mock draft? Not ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.

6 min read

No one celebrated after the first round of the NFL draft Thursday like Josh Norris did.

He swigged from a bottle of prosecco and wore sunglasses indoors while doing a livestream.

“They put the best mock draft in Canton, don’t they?’’ Norris said, referring to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. “Am I going to get a bust?”

Like Jacksonville Jaguars fans cheered their team selecting quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall pick, Norris relished his unprecedented accuracy for NFL mock drafts scored by The Huddle Report.

The Huddle Report, a website run by onetime college scout Robby Esch, has been scoring NFL mock drafts for accuracy since 2002. It awards points for each player predicted to be drafted in the first round and additional points for each player predicted to be picked by specific teams in the first round.

“As someone told me once, ‘It’s Consumer Reports for people who follow the draft,’ ” Esch said.

Norris, who works for a sports website called Underdog Fantasy, accurately predicted which players would be selected by 16 teams in the first round. He also successfully predicted 27 of the 32 players picked in the first round.

“I’ve been obsessed with the draft since I was a little kid,” said Norris, 32, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, and previously worked at NBC Sports. “The stars aligned a little bit this year. It is research and luck.’’

Mel Kiper Jr., the noted ESPN draft analyst, successfully predicted the players who were picked by only five teams. Todd McShay of ESPN and Peter King of Sports Illustrated had nine matches.

NFL draft grades: Steelers’ selections leave a lot to be desired

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“I would never say a bad word about Mel Kiper,” Norris said. “Imagine how many draft analysts are out there. None of those would exist without Mel Kiper. Mel Kiper is untouchable.”

Ten years ago, Norris said, he was an intern for the St. Louis Rams and was granted access to the team’s war room on draft day. He said he was in communication with Evan Silva, who at the time was a draft analyst for Rotoworld and since then has founded EstablishTheRun.

Josh Norris celebrates his highly accurate NFL mock draft last week.

Josh Norris celebrates his highly accurate NFL mock draft last week.
Courtesy of Josh Norris

“I was huddled in the corner of the bathroom in Earth City, Missouri, in the St. Louis Rams headquarters texting (Evan) the Rams’ draft board, the top five players they were most likely to take,” Norris said. “For some reason I felt compelled to do it.’’

At the same time Norris was leaking the kind of information coveted by draft analysts, the mock draft hysteria was spiking.

“Everyone’s grandmother had her own mock draft back then,’’ said Walt Cherepinsky of WalterFootball.com.

Cherepinsky said his website’s mock draft database listed 613 of them in 2013 and the number dropped to 172 this year. While there are fewer mock drafts, however, there is evidence they’re no less accurate.

Norris received a record-breaking 59 points as determined by The Huddle Report’s methodology, which awards one point for a player correctly predicted to be taken in the first round and two points for a player correctly matched with a team in the first round.

(Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz of USA TODAY Sports finished tied for 17th among the 133 mock drafts scored by The Huddle Report, correctly predicting 10 players and the teams that took them and 26 players overall picked in the first round.)

The Huddle Report’s previous record of 58 points was held by Rick Gosselin, a veteran NFL reporter for The Dallas Morning News, and Nolan Nawrocki, who worked for Pro Bowl Weekly when the record was set in 2006. Nawrocki now works in the Las Vegas Raiders scouting department under GM Mike Mayock, another former mock draft maven.

Brendan Donahue, a contributor at Sharp Football Analysis, has the current top five-year average of 44.8 points. The wealth of information now available to the public has changed the game, according to Donahue.

Robby Esch, The Huddle Report
There’s a lot of information out there and if you can take it and discern what’s credible and what’s not, that’s the difference.

“It levels the playing field and gives people like myself the ability to predict what will happen on draft night with as much accuracy, if not more accuracy, than … Mel Kiper can,” he said.

Mike Band, who worked as a scouting assistant for the Minnesota Vikings from 2013 to 2015, was The Huddle Report mock draft champion in 2009. This year he finished tied for 43rd.

“All of the pieces of the puzzle are out,’’ said Band, now a draft analyst for Next Gen Stats, of information about the draft available to the public. “It’s about thinking non-linearly and then putting it into a linear fashion. So the idea is, can you understand what the Indianapolis Colts and (Colts GM) Chris Ballard, based off his draft-day tendencies, what’s the most likely pick or the type of player he’s going to go after?’’

Added Esch, “There’s a lot of information out there and if you can take it and discern what’s credible and what’s not, that’s the difference.”

The mock drafts scored by The Huddle Report this year included entrants from major outlets such as Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and NFL Network, along with lesser-known Deep Fried Draft, Fake Pigskin and Eat, Drink and Sleep Football.

Other notable scores: Lincoln Stephens made his debut at age 15 and finished 74th. That was 59 spots ahead of Rob Simpson, an NFL data and film analyst who works with former New York Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum at The 33rd Team and finished last among The Huddle Report mock draft scores.

“I did receive a little bit of ribbing,’’ said Simpson, who successfully predicted players selected by three teams. “I think next year I may take another shot at it.”

Mel Kiper Jr.'s mock draft this year may not have scored well, but he is held in high regard but fellow experts.

Mel Kiper Jr.’s mock draft this year may not have scored well, but he is held in high regard but fellow experts.
Steve Luciano, AP

Kiper and McShay’s mock drafts were not scored by The Huddle Report because they fail to meet the deadline – midnight before the day of the draft. (Kiper and McShay publish their final mock drafts hours before the draft begins.)

But their work was scored by other sites using different methodologies.

Kiper’s final mock draft finished 87th among 182 mock drafts scored by FantasyPros, which crowned Norris this year’s champion. Kiper also finished 32nd among the 38 rated by Grading The Experts, which scored Norris second behind Walter Football. 

Ted Lehr, a web developer in West Virginia who runs Grading The Experts, said he’s been rating mock drafts since 2018.

“Sometimes I saw some media that were putting out mocks that were just way off and I thought, ‘Someone should rate or grade these,’ ” Lehr said. “You know, insert a little accountability. Sports media are big on grading drafts on the teams they cover. This is just a little of the same for them.”

Esch said he accepts submissions only from people who have a website, podcast or other means to publish or disseminate their mock drafts. Twenty years ago, he said it scored 33 mock drafts. This year, he scored almost four times as many.

“It’s a testament to how the draft has grown,” he said.

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