The ESPN Draft Challenge is back for 2021!
What is ESPN Draft Challenge? It's a free-to-play game in which you answer a series of questions related to the upcoming NFL Draft, which kicks off on Thursday, April 29 and ends Saturday, May 1. You can play against your friends and try to climb the overall leaderboard to win your share of $10,000 in guaranteed prizes. A perfect score could make you $100,000 richer!
Down below is a list of the 20 questions (and a bonus question) you'll need to answer in order to participate. Also included is some background information ESPN researcher Kyle Soppe and I dug up on each topic. It should help guide you through your decision-making process, but we did not supply our pick. Why? Well, we're fantasy players, too, and we're here to win this thing (even if we're not eligible for the prize money).
I'll be referring to a variety of resources throughout, highlighted by Todd McShay's mock draft from April 5 and his Big Board, Mel Kiper's mock from April 13 as well as his Big Board, and the latest odds from our friends at William Hill.
Note: William Hill sportsbook odds are as of 4/15/21.
1. Who will be the 1st overall pick?
Trevor Lawrence (CLEM)
Any Other Player
You all play ESPN Streak, right? Of course you do. At the beginning of each month, you get a "free win" in ESPN Streak and this is basically that. Lawrence is -10000 to be the first-overall pick over at William Hill, which means you'd need to bet $100 to win $1.
Yes, you'll need to pick a few spots to be contrarian in order to win this thing, but this is not the time.
2. Who will be the 2nd overall pick?
Zach Wilson (BYU)
Any Other Player
Wilson is -3000 to be the second pick, which means you'd need to bet $30 to win $1. Mel Kiper and Todd McShay both have Wilson going second overall to the Jets (as does every other self-respecting mock). We know the Jets are drafting a QB (they traded Sam Darnold to Carolina) and it would be a shock if that pick wasn't Wilson. This isn't the place I'd choose to get cute, but that's just me.
Okay, so the first two picks were layups, but this is where it gets tricky. The 49ers traded up for this pick, so we know it will be one of the three listed QBs. The question is: which one? The great Adam Schefter believes Jones will be the pick and both Mel and Todd (who both have Fields ranked higher than Jones) predicted it would be Jones in this spot in their most recent mocks. Of course, the 49ers' have since attended Fields' (Justin, not Yates) Pro Day and perhaps haven't made up their mind. Jones is the safe pick for now but keep an eye on reports leading up to Round 1.
Mel and Todd's latest mocks both have Pitts going fourth overall and both have the Florida tight end ranked second on their Big Board. Over at William Hill, Pitts is -130 to be selected in the Top 5, Chase is -160 to go Top 6, Smith is -125 to go Top 11 and Waddle is +105 to go Top 11. For you non-gamblers, this means Pitts is the favorite to come off the board first, but Chase is close behind. For what it's worth, the Falcons (picking fourth) are more likely to go tight end over wide receiver, though if a QB comes off the board here (to Atlanta or via a trade up), the Bengals could go a variety of directions, including tight end, wide receiver or even offensive tackle.
Over at William Hill, Surtain is +130, Parson is +170 and Farley is +2500 to be the first defender off the board. Surtain and Parsons are the heavy favorites, with Kwity Paye (+550), Jaycee Horn (+750) and Jaelan Phillips (+1200) joining Farley as longshots. Both Mel and Todd have Parsons has their top-rated defender, but whereas Mel has Parsons coming off the board first (Broncos at ninth overall), Todd went with Surtain (Giants at eighth overall). Interestingly, Todd has Horn going 10th to Dallas, which adds a little intrigue to the "any other player" possibility. Farley's back procedure may knock him down a bit, so perhaps he's a name to avoid here, but this one is very much a toss-up.
As noted, edge rusher Paye is +550 to be the first defender picked (third-best odds) and he's also a heavy favorite to be the first defensive lineman picked (-180, compared to +200 for Phillips and +2500 for Perkins. Ojulari is +800 to be the first LB picked). Mel (18th to Miami) and Todd (21st to the Colts) both expect Paye to be the guy and both have him highest on their Big Board. Paye seems to be a strong bet here.
Any of these fellas could be the first receiver off the board and it will really come down to team preference. So, while you can feel free to get cute here, it's worth noting that Bateman is +3000 to be the first WR selected, whereas Marshall is at +4000 and Toney +5000. Toney is the highest-rated player in the rankings of both Mel (24th) and Todd (20th), but while Todd has Toney coming off the board first (20th to Bears), Mel predicts Moore (22nd to Titans).
8. Over/Under 6.5 offensive linemen picked in Round 1?
William Hill has set the line at 6.5, with +120 on the over and -150 on the under. Of course, this means that the book and/or sharps are leaning under. How about some history? Counting back from last year's draft, here are the number of offensive linemen picked in Round 1 over the past decade: 7, 6, 6, 2, 7, 7, 5, 9, 4, 8. The mocks of both Mel and Todd predict five linemen in the first round, so that's a pretty strong case for the under, especially since Mel has one and Todd two projected to go during the first 10 picks of Round 2.
9. How many Alabama players will be picked in Round 1?
5 or Fewer
8 or More
Mac Jones, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith and Patrick Surtain II are all but locked in, which already has us at four. The tougher calls are RB Najee Harris, C Landon Dickerson and DT Christian Barmore. Todd's big board has six in the top 32 (though Barmore barely makes it at 32) and Mel has five in his Top 25. Todd has five in his mock (Harris is the fifth), whereas Mel has six (Harris and Barmore).
We can head back to William Hill for this one. Harris (-145) is a heavy favorite, but Etienne (+180) is the preferred choice by many analysts and Williams (+475) can't be overlooked as a potential surprise. There is a clear "Big 3" this year, so the like of Kenneth Gainwell, Michael Carter and Trey Sermon (all +4000) are very much longshots and should rule out "Any Other Player" as a choice. Todd has Etienne as the favorite (23rd to Jets), but Mel has Harris (both have him 24th to Steelers).
11. Which of these schools will have a player picked first on Day 2? (Rounds 2-3)
Mel's mock suggests Clemson (Etienne at 34th overall), whereas Todd says Notre Dame (Liam Eichenberg 34th overall). However, with Alabama's Barmore and Dickerson ticketed to come off the board near the top of Round 2 (if not late in the first), this is a tricky one. Neither Mel nor Todd project an Ohio State player to be selected in the second half of the first round or at all in the second round.
12. How many wide receivers will be picked on Day 2? (Rounds 2-3)
7 or Fewer
10 or More
Counting back from 2020, here are the number of wide receivers selected on Day 2 over the past decade: 10, 11, 8, 11, 5, 7, 11, 8, 9, 8. That's an average of 8.8 per season (9.0 over the past five years) and "10 or more" has hit three of the past four years. Mel's mock has eight coming off the board in Round 2 alone, whereas Todd is at four in Round 2. This is yet another very strong and deep WR class, so a big number seems likely (this is also a good time to remind fantasy commissioners to add an extra WR slot to your league ASAP. Thank me later).
Only one of these four players is projected to be selected in the first two rounds by both Mel and Todd: Samuel. Todd has him going 40th to Denver and Mel sent him to Tennessee at 53rd overall. As for their place on Todd's Big Board, Samuel is 40th, Holland 57th, Werner 98th and Moses 115th. It's safe to say Asante Samuel Jr. will be selected with an earlier pick than Asante Samuel Sr. (120th in 2003).
Mills seemed to be a riser on a lot of April big boards and checks in at 51 overall to Washington in Mel's mock. Of course, Todd, on the other hand, has Mond to Washington with Pick 51. Mel has Mills as his seventh-rated QB, with Mond (eighth), Newman (ninth) and Ehlinger (unranked) trailing. Todd prefers Mond (No. 88 on his overall big board), with Mills (116), Newman (137) and Ehlinger (248) well behind. Two clearly stand above the rest here, with the recent Mills hype suggesting he's the favorite.
Mel has Sermon fourth on his RB board, whereas Hubbard (ninth), Patterson (10th) and Hill are well behind. Todd has Sermon 73rd on his overall big board, whereas Hubbard (151), Patterson (207) and Hill (219) are well behind. William Hill has Sermon +4000 to be the first RB selected and while that's a longshot, his odds are better than those of Hubbard (+6000), Hill (+7500) and Patterson (+7500). This may not be a bad area to get creative, but there's a clear favorite in Sermon.
16. Which of these conferences will have a player picked first on Day 3 (Rounds 4-7)
We're now into the late rounds, so get that dart board ready. A good idea here may be to chase volume based on recent history, so let us look at fourth-round picks by conference over the past decade. The ACC leads with 55, which is just ahead of the Big Ten at 53. The Pac-12 (39) and Big 12 (35) are well behind. During the same stretch, the ACC has had 12 players selected by Pick 105, with the Big Ten next with seven. Of course, it only takes one player to make the difference here, so pick your poison.
17. How many Ohio State players will be picked in Round 4?
3 or More
The fourth round includes Picks 106 through 144. Todd's Big Board has two Ohio State prospects in this range (Baron Browning and Tommy Togiai), but he also has three ex-Buckeyes in the 98-to-105 range and one more at 146th overall. Starting with last season, here is the number of Ohio State prospects chosen in Round 2 by year over the past decade: 0, 2, 1, 0, 2, 1, 0, 1, 0, 1. That's an average of 0.8 per season, though we've hit '2' twice over the past five drafts.
18. Will Ian Book (ND) be picked?
Over the past decade, an average of 11.7 quarterbacks have been drafted (12.4 over the past five seasons). Book checks in right in that 11-to-13 range on most Big Boards, so this is obviously a tricky one. Book is the 10th-ranked QB and 222nd player overall on Todd's board, which would position him as a "Yes" to be selected.
19. How many quarterbacks will be picked in Round 7?
3 or More
Couting back from 2020, here are the number of quarterbacks selected in the seventh round over the past decade: 4, 0, 3, 1, 1, 1, 0, 4, 2, 1, 3. That's an average of 1.8 per season, though "3 or more" hit four times. That includes two of the past three drafts, which happen to be the two most recent drafts with four-plus quarterbacks drafted in the first round. In fact, over the past five drafts, when quarterbacks are more prevalent in the first round, they've been more prevalent in the seventh round. With five quarterbacks considered first-round locks, recent trends would suggest that the final round will also have a run on the position. It's a small sample, but it's something.
20. Which conference will "Mr. Irrelevant" (last pick of draft) come from?
Any Other Conference or Independent
The last six to earn the distinction were Tae Crowder (SEC) in 2020, Caleb Wilson (Pac-12) in 2019, Trey Quinn (AAC) in 2018, Chad Kelly (SEC) in 2017, Kalan Reed (AAC) in 2016 and Geron Christian (ACC) in 2015. Incredibly, the last Mr. Irrelevant from the Big Ten was Michigan's Matt Elliott way back in 1992.
That's not too helpful, so how about a look at overall draft selection volume by school. Last season, the SEC paced the field as usual with 63 picks. The Big Ten was next with 48 and the ACC had 27. That works out to 138 selections (of a possible 255), which leaves 117 (45.9%) for other conferences and independents.
Tiebreaker: What number pick will Kyle Trask be selected?
Todd has Trask 103rd on his big board, but has him headed to Chicago at 52nd overall. Trask is QB6 on Mel's Big Board, which suggests a selection in the third or fourth round (aka between pick 65 and 144). This is the toughest question in the contest (and the tiebreaker for a reason), so get that dart board out and hope it takes you to the Promised Land.