Fontana: Mock draft missteps underscore NFL front office challenges

Former NFL head coach John Fox, left, advises participating media members during an April 11 mock draft at NFL Experience Times Square.
Former NFL head coach John Fox, left, advises participating media members during an April 11 mock draft at NFL Experience Times Square. Photo Credit: Lavanya Sunkara

If there’s one thing I learned while participating in an NFL mock draft alongside other media members, it’s this: Don’t let those in the media draft for your team.

Granted, Mel Kiper Jr. and Mike Mayock weren’t in attendance at Mock Draft X — a media-only event held earlier this month at NFL Experience Times Square. These guys make following NFL prospects a round-the-clock commitment, and they certainly can speak authoritatively on the bulk of potential draftees. Not true for the rest of us.

While NFL front offices spend months upon months of time scouting and evaluating talent, we learned which teams’ first-round selections we’d been assigned just hours before the mock draft. It’s not as if we spent a ton of time prepping in the interim, either, as we toured the NFL Experience’s interactive attractions and picked the brain of longtime head coach John Fox, who accompanied the group throughout the evening.

Fox has witnessed the NFL Draft process firsthand for more than two decades, coaching the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos to conference championships and most recently helming the Chicago Bears before being fired after last season.

While our evaluation materials consisted of a couple packets provided by the NFL Experience outlining available prospects and team needs, that’s nothing compared to the thoroughly debated draft boards NFL teams finalize internally ahead of draft day.

“When they go into the draft, that board’s set,” Fox said. “… When that name comes off, they’re staying true to their board.”

So how did Mock Draft X fare? Compared to what the top talking heads say, not well. Just about everyone made a questionable pick or two, but I’ll stick to my own draft gaffes.

I drafted for the Jets at No. 3, and it didn’t go as planned. Josh Rosen went first to the Cleveland Browns, followed by Sam Darnold to the Giants. Although it’s clear the Jets didn’t trade up a few weeks ago to not take a quarterback, my personal top two passers were gone. As someone who doesn’t believe in Josh Allen as a future NFL star QB, I went a different way and gave Gang Green edge rusher Bradley Chubb from N.C. State.

For my other two picks — Arizona Cardinals at No. 15 and Carolina at No. 24 — I tried to fill needs with some of the best receivers in the draft. Courland Sutton went to Arizona and the Panthers took James Washington. At the time, it seemed reasonable. Yet, according to ESPN’s ‘Grade: A’ three-round mock draft by Kiper, both players are second-round talent. Maybe there are NFL general managers who would confidently take Sutton in the top 15, but I can’t say I feel great about it right now.

Fox said teams don’t fret much over media mock drafts, putting their faith in all of the in-house scouting they’ve done.

“You can’t get caught up too much in what the media says,” Fox sad. “You have your own people’s opinions, your own people’s evaluation.”

Good advice for NFL executives. Not so helpful if you’re me, with nobody to blame for potential first-round busts but myself.