There is a terrific book available by James Gleick, called “The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood” and it is a fantastic, if dense read.

For our purposes we’ll be talking about some themes from the first chapter of this book, where James discusses the drum speech of the Africans and how via drumming, people could communicate over long distances. Drumming resembled spoken African words, pared down until the only component left was the change in pitch. Drum language therefore resembled tonal languages such as Mandarin, where the spoken pitch of the phonemes carried as much information as the actual phoneme itself. You can see in English, too, how context can provide information in situations where the words are incomplete, such as in this example:

f y cn rd ths, y r smrt

For a mock draft enthusiast, the information you want, deep down, is the actual ratings of players by the football teams themselves, and their actual needs. Since that information is unavailable, to solve this problem, an estimation of the value of players is needed, and some reasonable inference about each teams needs. I say this because a mock draft where everyone follows your estimation of best players ends up being identical to the estimate (and thus boring), and a mock draft based on need tends more to resemble an actual believable draft.  So a group of pundits has arisen, fan scouting services, bureaus such as Ourlads, or people such as Mel Kiper, who supply scouting information to  fans. Scouting info plus team  needs equals mock draft. It’s a straightforward combination.

Note that Joe Fan,  the guy who doesn’t care about mocks but cares about the results of the draft, is interested in something else entirely. He wants to know who his team is going to draft. Over time, it’s become pretty clear that the best path to the information Joe Fan wants is via traditional reporting skills, of the kind Rick Gosselin displays. Rick has no skills at analyzing football  talent. He simply asks people who team X is going to draft. Once he’s asked enough questions and  gathered enough information, he puts together a list of who will be drafted. His list comes out late in the draft season, and it is notably accurate, because Rick doesn’t pretend to analyze anything. He simply reports what he’s been told.

So, in this arena, there are two bodies of information, both quite different, and both valuable. The  mock draft enthusiast needs in essence, a group of people who perform and behave like scouts, and whose opinions are based on  their ranking of the player’s ability and fitness to play football. Not only the individual opinions, but also the distribution of player estimates is valuable. With that distribution, you can do Monte Carlo simulations (pages 685-686 of this book) of a player’s worth, push those simulations against the set of team needs, and figure out the possible range in which a player can be drafted. Those unadulterated opinions are extremely valuable information.

Diagram from Numerical Recipes. This technique is very powerful in mock draft analysis.

However, people who sell draft information have an issue. In November, December, January or so, the teams themselves have not begun rating players. Once the NFL teams do, even if the scouting services sell themselves as unbiased marketers of information, they can’t help but hear rumors, tips, etc, of teams interest in particular players. By March, top 100 lists are getting adjusted, player rankings are being shuffled in response not to scouting information, but to the news, the reporting of particular  team’s interest. In the  process, the information about player ranking is systematically destroyed, in order to create a list that more closely resembles how players might actually be drafted. And this phenomenon is a consequence of the mixed character of fan oriented scouting services. They aren’t just scouts. The market expects them to act in the role of reporters as well. To someone like Mel Kiper, having an interesting, changing, varying product guarantees interest, and guarantees that people will come  back to his web site, and purchase his draft products.

Now I’m, picking on Mel in this example, but to note, Mel comes closer to being a scout than many.  He’s truer to his valuation, and less interested in slotting a player to a team than most. And in providing real scouting information, he often gets criticized for not being a reporter.

What it means to people like me, is that I don’t trust valuations around late March and April. Scouts become reporters this time of year, so that they can claim accuracy in their “predictions” of the draft. They want to be scouts and the reincarnation of Rick Gosselin as well. And it devalues the product for the mock draft fan.