Will Desmond Ridder Go in the First Round?
NFL Draft - Welcome to, as Luke Braun of ZoneCoverage.com and Locked on Vikings called it, the month of overthinking. Prospects who have been in the public's consciousness for almost a year suddenly don't shine as much as they used to, while others who people feel they may have overthought or overlooked begin to look a little better in retrospect. Either way, it's a perfect time for a Part 2 of risers and fallers, where we use data from my Grinding the Mocks project to take a data-driven look at who is climbing the mock draft data boards and who is falling. Grinding the Mocks uses mock drafts, the wisdom of crowds, and data science to predict the NFL draft.
Using Grinding the Mocks' Expected Draft Position (EDP) metric, we can estimate a player's range of outcomes when it comes to their draft status and get a sense of not only where their stock is but also how it's trending. With the draft less than two weeks away, we can use the change in this metric (weighting earlier picks higher than later picks using a logarithmic transformation of EDP ranks) from one week ago to now to discover which players are seeing increases in their mock draft stock going into the draft and who is on the way down.
The last time I wrote this column was after the combine, when Georgia ER Travon Walker had put on an athletic testing performance for the ages. That performance at the combine pushed Walker into the discussion for the top five, if not the top overall pick. Who will be the star of this column and have their stock continue to rise all the way through to draft night? Find out below.
As always, Football Outsiders' 2022 NFL draft coverage is presented by Underdog Fantasy!
Kayvon Thibodeaux, ER, Oregon
What's new is old! Kayvon Thibodeaux started out the draft process as the second-ranked player in the Grinding the Mocks Preseason Top 32 (and the ER1) behind former Oklahoma and current South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler. Since then, he has been overtaken by Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson as the top edge rusher in the 2022 NFL draft, and then recently by Georgia's Trayvon Walker. Perhaps draftniks are having some mocker's remorse about Walker after further examination of his collegiate production relative to the other members of the ER class.
It didn't help that draftniks didn't like Thibodeaux's confident attitude, his self-comparisons to Jadeveon Clowney, and his early exit from the NFL combine's athletic drills. However, draftniks have taken a new liking to Thibodeaux, returning him to his pre-combine status as ER2 and the top five of mock drafts. Whether this is regression to the mean for Thibodeaux after draftniks returned to film-watching after focusing (probably too much) attention on combine results, or just a flash in the pan as draftniks solidify Trayvon Walker into the ER2 spot is yet to be seen.
Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
The conversation around Jameson Williams' draft stock would be a lot more simple if he hadn't torn his ACL while playing in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game against Georgia. He would likely be the WR1 instead of the WR3 (who sustained a less gruesome injury earlier in the college season) if that injury had never occurred. I believe this rise up the Grinding The Mocks rankings is in some part due to the "Christian Kirk" effect—basically, the inflated values of wide receivers, both in the outlandish contract Kirk signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars and also in the high trade value that elite players at the position such as Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams commanded this offseason.
Combine that with the impact of rising stars such as Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase and it makes sense that NFL teams might be reassessing the value of drafting wide receivers higher, especially ones with the skills that Williams has. To think, to get playing time, Williams had to leave Ohio State, where he was behind current WR1 Garrett Wilson, WR4 Chris Olave, and likely future WR1 Jaxon Smith-Njigba. It doesn't hurt that Williams himself has said that he is ahead of schedule on his rehabilitation from ACL surgery.
Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
I couldn't have a risers and fallers article without mentioning a quarterback, and in this case it's Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder. In a quarterback class that (if Football Outsiders' QBASE projections are to be believed) isn't all that special, but in a league where there are still plenty of quarterback-needy teams, it makes sense for another quarterback to emerge alongside the two that seem like Round 1 locks (Pitt's Kenny Pickett and Liberty's Malik Willis). Having three quarterbacks drafted in the first round in a class like this seems like more of a possibility than four, and it seems like draftniks are beginning to prefer Desmond Ridder to Ole Miss' Matt Corral in that regard.
The allure of having the fifth-year option available for a cost-controlled rookie quarterback is also something to keep in mind. This was perfectly exemplified by the Baltimore Ravens' trading into the Philadelphia Eagles' 32nd overall pick to secure the services of Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson in 2018. Ridder is no Lamar Jackson, but has been commonly mentioned as a player that NFL teams like more than draftniks do.
|Grinding the Mocks Top Risers|
Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M
For Jalen Wydermyer, who started the 2022 NFL draft process as the preseason Grinding the Mocks' TE1, it has been a double doozy of a draft process. Despite finishing second in the voting for the Mackey Award, Wydermyer (and Texas A&M as a team) underperformed relative to expectations in 2021, and also did not test particularly well at the Texas A&M pro day after not doing much at the NFL combine either.
Pro days are supposed to be a more friendly environment than the unfamiliar confines of Indianapolis, Indiana, and players should in theory perform better than at the NFL combine. Wydermyer did nothing to silence his critics by running a 5.03s 40-yard dash and posting broad and vertical jumps that put him squarely in the bottom quartile of tight ends when it comes to athleticism. Even with the production he had as a sophomore that caught draftniks' eyes in 2020, it's getting harder and harder to see Wydermyer being taken before Day 3 of the draft, with noted draft analyst Dane Brugler of The Athletic leaving him out of his recent seven-round mock draft completely.
Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson
The case of Justyn Ross is a case of unrealized potential due to injuries. Ross exploded on the scene as a freshman when he led Clemson in receiving yards and to a convincing win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship game. He followed that up with a solid sophomore campaign and seemed poised to declare early for the NFL draft after his junior season. However, The real bombshell came in that offseason, when it was announced that Ross would have to miss the entire year due to a neck and spinal fusion issue that would require surgery.
It was unclear if Ross would play for Clemson again but in 2021, he was given the go-ahead to return to the football field. However, he looked like a shadow of his former self, and if reports are to be believed, he played through the pain of additional injuries that sapped even more of his playing abilities. On top of all that, Ross had another surgery after the season to address the injuries he accrued in 2021. It's possible that Ross could wind up playing in Jacksonville for the Jaguars alongside his former teammates in Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne, but he might not be drafted until Day 3 or at all depending on how his medicals are viewed by teams.
Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Kyle Hamilton is probably the king of the aforementioned "overthinking season." Hamilton played like a top-10 player during the 2021 college football season, then had a not-amazing combine followed by a fine pro day. Normally, that would be a perfect recipe for some positive regression to the top-10 status that Hamilton earned entering the draft process. But that's not happening. Why? It might be the opposite of the "Christian Kirk" effect that I mentioned earlier about high-end wide receivers. It all comes down to the positional value that teams have assigned to safeties in the free-agent market.
Drafting Kyle Hamilton in the top 10 makes a lot of sense from a pure football perspective. He has the potential to become an elite playmaker at his position if his skills can translate from the college level to the pros at a time where having elite safety play is probably more valuable than ever before. However, drafting Hamilton that high will likely make him one of the most highly-paid safeties in the NFL solely due to the slotted value of his rookie contract. Because of this, teams won't get as much surplus value in terms of Hamilton's value over that of a replacement player. Pair that with similarly talented prospects such as LSU's Jamal Adams and Florida State's Derwin James also falling in the draft relative to their perceived talent and maybe this isn't as much overthinking as it is draftniks reacting to historic trends? The NFL draft can't come soon enough!
|Grinding the Mocks Top Fallers|
|Jalen Wydermyer||TE||Texas A&M||136.9||185.7||-48.8|
|Kyle Hamilton||S||Notre Dame||8.6||11.0||-2.4|
Benjamin Robinson is a data scientist living in Washington D.C., and the creator of Grinding the Mocks, a project that tracks how NFL prospects fare in mock drafts. You can follow him on Twitter @benj_robinson and find the Grinding the Mocks project at grindingthemocks.com.