On Thursday night, Roger Goodell could walk across the Radio City Music Hall stage for the first time, step up to the microphone and say, "With the first pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans select… Aaron Donald, defensive tackle from Pittsburgh."
This isn’t likely, but it’s possible. The Texans need some players at the defensive tackle position, specifically nose tackle. Currently, they have none on the roster. Granted, Louis Nix might be the better fit in the Texans 3-4 scheme, but that’s not the point I’m trying to illustrate. The point: the NFL Draft is extremely difficult to predict (but you already knew that).
How difficult? Let’s look at the first round. If we assume there is a pool of 50 players available in a 32 player round, here is the possible number of outcomes (permutations):
That’s a lot of room for chaos.
But that’s not really how teams and analysts tend to look at things. If you heard Howie Roseman speak this week, you know that the Eagles, like any good fantasy team owner, organize their big board into tiers. We can do the same. We can make a really good educated guess that for every four consecutive picks in the draft, there is a pool of 7 players that could be selected. Even with those lower numbers, there are still 840 possible outcomes. If you multiply that by 29 (the number of times there are 4 consecutive picks in a single round), you get 24,360 possible outcomes (multiply that by seven rounds and there are 170,520 possible outcomes). And that’s only if our smaller tiers of players are grouped correctly and represent what will actually happen (most likely they won’t be). Does a team select a player to satisfy a need? Do they strictly select the best available. Do they do a combination of both? These questions are tough to account for. And so the number of possible outcomes continues to creep towards that really large number up there.
That’s why looking at the draft probabilistically is a cool way to go.
Last month I posted my chaos theory-inspired draft simulation, version 1.0. Admittedly, it was flawed. Team needs were provided by our SB Nation sister sites, but the simulation required each team to share a common big board, that is, a ranking of prospects gleaned from CBS Sports. Ideally, this model would require 32 big boards, but that’s unrealistic. Instead, I teased a plan to improve the use of prospect rankings in this second version.
Rather than use CBS’ list of prospects, I incorporated Brent Cohen’s Total Prospect Rankings (TPR). If you’re unfamiliar, Brent’s TPRs are derived by compiling rankings from several sites, then applying systematic risk and positional value factors in order to produce a better, value-based grade for each prospect. Please read more if you’re mathematically inclined. It’s really great stuff.
The results of the simulation are even more interesting, and quite different from the results in version 1.0. Below is a list of the most probable players the Eagles could select if they stick to their "best available" mentality. Use the interactive tool to see more (note there are two tabs: Mock Draft and Dig Deeper).
|1||22||Ryan Shazier, OLB||23.24%|
|2||54||Austin Seferian-Jenkins, WR||16.50%|
|3||86||Jeremy Hill, RB or Loucheiz Purifoy, CB||14.82%|
|4||122||Devonta Freeman, RB||14.17%|
|5||162||Antone Exum, CB||16.09%|
|7||237||Rajion Neal, RB||14.26%|