Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Across the Board

A collection of mock drafts might offer some clues as to the weekend’s proceedings, but they don’t reach much of a consensus on the Buccaneers’ leanings

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There's not much consensus among mock drafters on where Ohio State CB Chris Gamble will go

This just in: With the 15th pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to select Oregon State running back Steven Jackson.

Unless, of course, they tab Oklahoma State wide receiver Rashaun Woods.

Or Ohio State defensive end Will Smith. Or any one of a number of men from the informal Williams family of the 2004 draft.

It all depends on whom you believe. Or, rather, whom you believe is the best prognosticator of these things. You see, we've recently been taking stock of the mocks.

This time of the year, first-round mock drafts are more prolific than daffodils, and even easier to cultivate. All one needs is a spreadsheet with 32 rows, a few dozen scouting reports, an opinion on NFL teams' deepest desires and, hopefully, an audience (though mocking one up for yourself is a pretty satisfying solo enterprise, as well).

By next Monday, all the mocks will be utterly forgotten, replaced by the real list, which may resemble the average mock draft for about 10 or 15 picks before, most likely, veering off in its own direction. At this moment, however, the mock draft is endlessly fascinating. That's why every publication and, especially, every sports web site is in the business.

There's no shame in putting together a mock that might itself be mocked after the real thing. It's almost impossible to make a high number of accurate predictions. There are too many early-pick variables that affect those that come later, like falling dominoes. There is also the very real matter of the very unreal 'info' floating about, the product of the disinformation campaigns waged quietly by many teams.

In short, mock drafts let us dream of adding any number of potential blue-chip players to our favorite teams' rosters, but they're rarely on the mark. Analysts are competing against too many different NFL personnel minds, and are hamstrung by too many tight lips, to know everything that's going on behind the scenes.

For example, NFL.com's own astute analysts – Vic Carucci, Pat Kirwan and Dave Richard – all mocked up their own first-round predictions last year and printed them side-by-side-by-side on the same web page. And their thoughts were representative of what many pundits believed before the weekend of April 24-25, 2003.

But when it was all said and done? Not even close (again, there's no shame in that). Judged against the real results of which players were picked from one to 32, none of the three got more than five exactly right. Carucci and Kirwan each got the first five right, then were victimized by a long string of trades between, among others, Arizona, Baltimore, Chicago, New England, the New York Jets and Philadelphia. Richard got the first three right then added number nine, where he had pegged DT Kevin Williams to go, if not necessarily to the team that ended up actually picking ninth.

Of course, these same pundits knew going in that there would be trades that would affect the order, just as there will be this year. If one forgets the order and judges whether those three NFL.com analysts predicted the right players going to the right teams, the results are similar. Carucci got six right, the latest being S Troy Polamalu to Pittsburgh, though the Steelers felt they had to trade up 11 spots to get him. Kirwan stayed with his score of five. He predicted Baltimore would take QB Kyle Boller at number 10; instead, Baltimore couldn't pass up DE Terrell Suggs when he fell to the spot, but then traded for another first-round pick to get Boller, too, at number 19. Richard again got the first three right.

In many cases, those three writers should get credit for getting the idea right, if not the exact execution. Carucci slotted safety Mike Doss to Indianapolis at pick number 24. The Colts instead went for TE Dallas Clark at that spot, but still managed to get Doss in the second round at pick 58. Kirwan though the Jets would want DT Johnathan Sullivan at pick 13, but New York dreamed bigger, trading up to pick four to get DT Dewayne Robertson, who they obviously had ranked higher at that position. All three pundits correctly thought Cleveland would target the offensive line, though none expected the choice to be C Jeff Faine.

On the other hand, there were some picks that virtually no one saw coming. The Kansas City Chiefs had MVP candidate Priest Holmes at running back, and thus shocked the audience when they selected RB Larry Johnson. Arizona was all but married off to Suggs, but choose to multiply their picks and get both a receiver (Bryant Johnson) and a different defensive end (Calvin Pace). Most analysts thought Jacksonville would be in search of defensive help; instead, the Jags ushered in the Byron Leftwich era, possibly disappointing some quarterback-hungry teams later in the round.

So can we learn anything from mock drafts? After the fact, not really, which is why they're quickly forgotten. In the days leading up to the big weekend, however, it's reasonable to believe that the collective hours of research and logical thinking that have gone into the amassed mocks have uncovered some truths, or maybe just some clues to the truth.

In that spirit, we have gathered together 12 mock drafts from reputable sources. All but three were posted or modified in the last few days, and all were posted or modified in April. Ten of the 12 are from national sources such as ESPN.com, and two are local efforts (TBO.com and Pewterreport.com). All were readily available to the public; none were taken from premium sites or sections of sites.

No two of the 12 are the same; in fact, none are the same beyond the first six picks, though they often match up later down the line.

And what did we learn?

Well, as we said above, the Bucs wouldn't surprise anyone if they took Jackson, Woods, Smith or Washington WR Reggie Williams. Of the 12 mocks, three paired the Bucs with Jackson and two gave them Williams. Tampa Bay was also matched up with Auburn LB Karlos Dansby, Wisconsin WR Lee Evans, USC DE Kenechi Udeze and LSU WR Michael Clayton.

Of course, all but two of the 12 mocks have Udeze going well before the 15th pick, even as high as sixth in one instance. Smith, given to the Bucs by Kirwan, was one of the most interesting cases. He ranged anywhere from 13th to 24th on 11 of the 12 mocks and was left completely out of the first round by CBS Sportsline's Pete Prisco. Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman, the predictor who saw the Bucs nabbing Evans, didn't include Dansby in his first round. Woods, the Buc choice by Carucci, didn't make the top 32 of four of the other analysts.

Let's not forget the other 31 teams in the draft. Though consensus is much stronger near the top of the draft, not one slot was the same across the 12 mocks, not even the first overall pick. Though QB Eli Manning is the guess for nine of the 12, SI.com and USA Today each went with Iowa T Robert Gallery and TBO.com thinks it will be Pittsburgh WR Larry Fitzgerald. Manning, Gallery and Fitzgerald all appear in the top four of all 12 mock drafts, however.

And what of Ben Roethlisberger, the strong-armed passer from Miami of Ohio who is clearly both intriguing but worrisome to analysts? Seven of the 12 mock drafts predict the fourth overall slot for Roethlisberger, but he goes as low as 13th on the charts by Prisco and the Pewter Report. According to this dirty dozen of mocks, he could end up a Giant, a Brown, a Cardinal or a Bill.

What may be most interesting is where the 12 analysts reach some sort of consensus later in the round, if not on a particular player then at least on a position. For instance, 10 of the 12 believe Miami will go after some sort of offensive lineman, whether it be Arkansas' Shawn Andrews, Miami's Vernon Carey or USC's Jacob Rogers. Similarly, seven of the 12 mocks send a running back the Cowboys' way, whether it be Florida State's Greg Jones or Michigan's Chris Perry.

In the second half of the first round, a one-third agreement of the 12 mocks is pretty strong. Four analysts sent Miami LB Jonathan Vilma to New Orleans, four saw Seattle snapping up Maryland DT Randy Starks and four believe Carolina will end up with Florida TE Ben Troupe.

A few other notes of interest from the compilation of mock drafts:

  • There are a number of players that only appear on one or two of the mock drafts, most near the bottom of the round. For instance, Oregon DT Igor Olshansky sneaks onto Prisco's board at the final pick, to New Orleans, but isn't considered a first-rounder by the other 11. Which player makes the highest appearance on one of the mocks without appearing on any of the others? That would be Ohio State WR Michael Jenkins, one of the many potential blue-chip receiving prospects. Despite the common belief that up to seven pass-catchers will go in the first round, only Zimmerman puts Jenkins in the first round, to Seattle at pick number 23. * Roethlisberger may have sparked some differences of opinion, but not as much as Ohio State cornerback Chris Gamble, who, apparently, is appropriately named. Gamble gets as high as 11th on one board (USA Today) and 12th on two more (SI.com and CBS Sportsline), but also falls to 30th with TBO.com and 28th with Zimmerman. That's the widest range of predictions for any player who appears on all 12 prediction sheets. Miami LB Jonathan Vilma has a split of 12th (three different mocks) and 32nd (TBO.com) but also does not appear on the FOXSports.com list. * Miami TE Kellen Winslow, Jr. may not know where his NFL destination is going to be but, if these gathered analysts are to be believed, he should find out within one very specific 45-minute window. All 12 of the mock drafts believe Winslow will be selected either fifth, sixth or seventh. Half of the analysts think Washington will snap him up at five, but the ones who see the 'Skins passing on Winslow don't think Detroit and Cleveland will also let him slide.

So take from it what you will. Choose your favorite analyst and go with his opinion. Or weigh all the information and make up your own mock draft. Chances are, you'll do just as well as the experts.

(NOTE: You can try your hand at predicting the first 10 picks of the draft in Pick10, the Buccaneers.com Draft Central contest. Winners receive Buccaneer-related prizes. Click here to check it out.)

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