Outfoxed by the master poker player
One of the annual traditions of the NFL draft is for draft experts to publish their predictions a few days before the event. I have noticed that very few of the experts ever go back after the fact to review how well they did. Analysts who publish re-draft pieces more often than not tend to shy away from discussing their own predictions or player rankings published ahead of the draft they are second guessing. When I recently attempted to do some retrospective analysis of expert prospect rankings, I discovered that, with some notable exceptions, draft experts’ big boards tend to disappear from public view a year or so after the draft is over.
There is a reason for that. As we are about to see, the NFL draft is inherently unpredictable. Revisiting predictions after the fact tends to make the person making the predictions look stupid more often then it makes them look like a savant.
One of the major exceptions to the generalization is one of the original independent football websites, WalterFootball. WalterFootball draws a lot of criticism, some of it well-deserved, for its many quirks, such as the retro website design, injecting extreme political opinions into its football content, continuing with the Redskin name, holding a high opinion of Bruce Allen and being not very good at predicting player outcomes.
Nevertheless, I’m willing to put up with their nonsense because of the things they do right, including their Why the Slide (featuring our own Sam Howell) and Why Undrafted series, which provide informative insights into how NFL teams frequently see draft prospects very differently from fans and media analysts. Another thing I like is that Website founder, Walter Cherepinsky, makes a regular habit of revisiting his past predictions whenever he makes new ones. His candor, in this regard, allows readers to calibrate their expectations regarding the predictions, which I find commendable.
It is very clear to me that there is a general tendency to overestimate the success rates of everything associated with the draft as a result of a well-documented psychological phenomenon known as Survivorship Bias. This is the tendency to remember successes and forget failures. The best way to combat Survivorship Bias is to review the outcomes early and often.
Taking inspiration from WalterFootball, I have therefore decided to make an annual tradition of reviewing my Dozen Bold Draft Predictions after each draft.
2022 Bold Predictions Revisited
1. At least 2 QBs will be taken in the top 10.
Wrong. The talk about the weak QB class appears to have been based in reality among NFL draft rooms. Only one QB was drafted in the entire first round, Kenny Pickett selected 20th overall by the Steelers. The last time that happened was the 2013 draft, which was the last draft in this last decade to not produce any long term starting QBs. That does not bode well for my next prediction. No QBs were selected in the top 10 and the second QB off the board was Desmond Ridder, selected 74th. Oof.
2. Two QBs in this draft class will go on to become long-term starters.
This is a long-term prediction. We aren’t likely to have much clarity on how well it is holding up for at least two or three years. I will call your attention to this part of my prediction: “Two of the top five QBs in this class will find good landing spots at the NFL level, allowing them to develop into at least decent starters.” At the close of the 2022 draft, this seems particularly applicable to two of the QB draftees, with one dark horse. Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh) and Malik Willis (Tennessee) have both landed on very good teams with veteran starters in place, which will allow them time to develop without the pressure to start prematurely.
Surprisingly enough, Washington’s fifth-round draft pick, Sam Howell rounds out this group. While the Commanders have less to offer than the Steelers and Titans with regard to overall franchise environment and quality of supporting casts, Howell does have the luxury of slotting into third place in the QB lineup. He will have the opportunity to learn and develop for at least his first year without any pressure to start before he is ready. He has also landed on a team that has only made a one-year commitment to its current starting QB and has a long history of churning through starters.
Unless Carson Wentz ushers in a miraculous transformation of the Commander’s fortunes, Howell is well placed to vie for starting opportunities within the next two to three years, provided he can rise to the challenges of playing in DC.
3. Seven wide receivers will be drafted in the first round.
Missed it by one. I was also pretty close to the mark regarding the record run on wide receivers that did occur in the first round. 2022 marked the first time in the common draft era that six wide receivers were taken in the top 20. So there was a record haul of wide receivers taken in the first round, just not quite the one I predicted.
My prediction was also at least partially prophetic. I predicted that, in addition to the five first-round locks, some team would reach on Jahan Dotson. Little did I realize that team would be the Commanders. I will quantify how much of reach this pick was in my next article. For now we can be content in the knowledge that it wasn’t one of the top ten reaches in the draft.
4. WR Wan’Dale Robinson will outperform his draft status.
The Giants turned this prediction on its head by picking Wan’Dale early in the second round, about two rounds ahead of where he was generally expected to go. Had he gone off the board in the fourth round, then simply earning a starting spot or becoming a regular contributor as a role player would have satisfied this prediction.
In one of the more controversial reach moves in the draft, by teams other than Washington, the Giants raised the bar on this prediction significantly. For me to get it right now, he would have to start more than seven games as a rookie or achieve an Approximate Value (Pro Football Reference) greater than 4.08, on a par with rookie seasons by Elijah Moore, Dante Pettis, Anthony Miller, Christian Kirk and Dorial Green-Beckham. I still think he’s up to it. We should know in a year or two. Now I find myself in the curious position of betting against my own prediction.
5. WR Treylon Burks will be a stud in the NFL.
By all rights, this one should have become “Treylon Burks will be a stud for the Commanders”. The 21st consensus ranked Burks was on the board when Ron and the Martys selected 31st-ranked Jahan Dotson instead. Burks went two picks later to the Titans, where he will be catching passes from Ryan Tannehill to start his career and perhaps Malik Willis in time. He will pair nicely with Derrick Henry to give Tennessee one of the finest pairs of physical offensive playmakers in the NFL. If they keep making moves like this, the Titans could overtake Baltimore as my favorite AFC team; Or maybe not.
6. LB Devin Lloyd will be a stud in the NFL.
Devin didn’t find the ideal landing spot to help him on his way to deliver the goods for me. I was convinced he would become a Raven, but Baltimore opted instead for another Ravensy player, S/LB Kyle Hamilton out of Notre Dame. Part of my thinking is that I didn’t even consider the possibility that Hamilton would still be available at pick #14. Instead, Lloyd was drafted 27th overall by the Jaguars. Nevertheless, he is talented enough to stand out no matter where he plays, so I’m not worried about this one yet.
7. The Commanders will not draft Matt Corral, Treylon Burks or Devin Lloyd.
As usual, the Commanders did an excellent job of avoiding the marquee players near the top of my Little Board. At least Burks was not drafted by Dallas, who were rumored to have had interest. Lloyd will be playing for Jacksonville and Matt Corral will be in the mix to compete for the starting QB position in Carolina. Hopefully they give him a year of intensive development before thrusting him into the starting role.
8. The Commanders will draft a running back.
The Commanders granted my wish by drafting Alabama RB Brian Robinson in the third round. This is what Lance Zierlein had to say about the Commanders’ new power back:
Robinson is an absolute physical unit with good feet and power to add yards after contact, but his running style is predictable and somewhat indecisive between the tackles. Building and maintaining momentum doesn’t always come easily. He’s more fight than flight, but delays in processing and a lack of second-level creativity turn him into more of a road-grader than he needs to be. He is a linear runner who is likely to be utilized as a complementary bulldozer to help wear down defenses, but Robinson might have more potential from sideline to sideline than he receives credit for.
Robinson has good speed for a bulldozer (4.53s 40 time), and averaged 5.0 yards/carry throughout his career at Alabama. A lesser-known aspect of his game is that he adds value in the passing game, with 35 receptions for 296 yards and 2 TDs in 2021. This pick makes me feel a little better about missing out on Rhamondre Stevenson last year.
9. The Commanders will draft a linebacker.
As noted in my predictions, former linebackers Rivera and del Rio seem curiously indifferent to the state of the Commanders’ linebacking roster. Perhaps they have seen a side of Milo Eifler that has yet to be revealed to the NFL. Or, more likely, they will plug in a passable third starter at roster cutdowns. There were certainly a lot of points in this draft where a linebacker might have been a better choice than the Commanders’ pick from a best-player-available perspective:
Pick 16: LB Devin Lloyd vs. WR Jahan Dotson
Pick 47: LB Chad Muma vs. DL Phidarian Mathis
Pick 98: LBs Leo Chenal or Channing Tindall vs RB Brian Robinson (what am I saying? I love Robinson)
Pick 113: LB Brandon Smith vs. S Percy Butler
I am still shaking my head that I got this one wrong.
10. The Commanders will make more than seven selections in the 2022 draft.
The Commanders entered the first round with six picks. Marty Mayhew made good on his plan to add more picks by trading down in the first round. The Commanders dealt the 11th overall pick to the Saints in exchange for picks 16, 98 and 120 to give them a total of eight picks. The fourth-round trade with the Panthers was a pick for pick swap and did not change total number of picks.
11. The Commanders will not add any day two picks.
I was absolutely convinced the Commanders would make a move for a player that Ron Rivera coveted with the 11th pick. I have to admit, the crafty riverboat gambler took me for a ride, along with most of the mock drafters in the blogosphere. I never saw the trade coming. Ron and the Marty’s added picks in the 3rd and 4th– round in the trade with the Saints.
I owe Ron Rivera a big apology for suggesting that he is prone to showing his cards in my Tea Leaves article. He fooled me, and much of the draft intelligentsia, with his crafty gamesmanship. Ron Rivera, you are the master Riverboat Gambler.
12. The Commanders’ first-round pick will be one of the two Ohio State wide receivers.
This one seemed written in stone. Ron Rivera fooled everyone, by trading back to add more picks and selecting WR Jahan Dotson 16th overall.
Summary and Conclusions
How did I do overall? Of the eight predictions that can be evaluated immediately after the draft, I got three correct and five incorrect. A 37.5% correct mark would not be a passing grade on a math test, unless the professor is grading on a curve. But this is the NFL draft we are talking about. If the Commanders do as well at finding starters with their eight selections in this draft as I did with these eight predictions, 2022 would be one of their best drafts in the last decade (tied with 2020, 2015, 2014 – technically 2015 had four starters, but Austin Reiter didn’t start for Washington).
Four of the predictions pertain to player outcomes, which can take anywhere from one to four years to become clear. I am hoping to eventually be wrong about prediction four, at least within the duration of Wan’Dale’s Robinson’s rookie contract.
My biggest wish regarding the 2022 draft class is that prediction number two ultimately proves to be correct as it pertains to QB Sam Howell.
Acknowledgement: Thanks to James Dorsett for skillful editing as usual, and also for pointing out how close I was to getting prediction three right (and for reminding me how far off I was on prediction one).