To draft well in the NFL, teams have to read the room. It doesn't just matter how well front offices evaluate prospects or wheel and deal with opponents while on the clock. They also need to know when players are going to come off the board so they don't unnecessarily miss out on the ones they want or -- and this is critical -- take a player before they need to, wasting valuable draft capital.
Enter ESPN's Draft Day Predictor, a statistical tool that produces a range of selection outcomes for prospects in the NFL draft. It uses expert mock drafts, Scouts Inc. grades and team needs as inputs and helps us answer questions about how things could play out. It gives percentage chances of each prospect being available -- and being selected -- at each draft slot, which of course leads to a likely range of picks in which he could realistically come off the board.
For the first time, the Draft Day Predictor is a publicly available tool. It will update on Thursday morning as final mock drafts come in and then update live during the draft Thursday night. But for now, let's break down some of the storylines of the 2022 draft, with the Draft Day Predictor serving as our crystal ball. Remember: This tool does not operate in certainties because there are no certainties when it comes to others' decision-making. But it does produce probabilities, and we'll use those to guide us through eight big questions.
Do the Steelers or Saints need to trade up if they want Malik Willis or Kenny Pickett?
If the New Orleans Saints are hoping to select Liberty's Willis or Pitt's Pickett, there's a 64% chance that one of the two quarterbacks will be there for them at No. 16, per the Draft Day Predictor. Even though it would make for an uncomfortable wait with no guarantees it will pay off, they probably can afford to sit tight. Probably.
But if the Pittsburgh Steelers are in the same boat -- wanting either Willis or Pickett -- there's a 38% chance that at least one is on the board by the time No. 20 comes around. So it's a question of whether Pittsburgh is feeling lucky and how much it is willing to pay for the assurance of getting one of those two QBs.
Let's say each team has its eyes set on only one of those quarterbacks, though. If it's Willis, there's no perfectly safe spot to trade up to (besides No. 1) since the Detroit Lions are a potential landing spot for him at No. 2 (5% chance). Staying put is risky for both teams if they are targeting Willis; the Draft Day Predictor gives the Liberty QB a 32% chance to still be on the board for the Saints at No. 16 and a 16% chance to still be there at pick No. 20 when the Steelers are set to draft.
But if either team is willing to make a move up to No. 10 in a deal with the New York Jets, there's a 53% chance Willis makes it there. It would mean needing the Lions, Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks to all pass on him -- and no other team trading into the top 10 to get him. But it would slide either team ahead of the Washington Commanders at No. 11 and Texans at No. 13.
Pickett's median landing spot is a little lower, though the Draft Day Predictor thinks there's a pretty strong shot he goes off the board at No. 6 to Carolina (28%). There's a 47% chance he makes it to the Saints at No. 16, so if he gets past the Panthers, and Willis is gone, Pittsburgh might be wise to move ahead of New Orleans if it's targeting him. Not trading up gives the Steelers a 26% chance to land Pickett if they desire, per the Draft Day Predictor.
How far do the Packers or Chiefs need to move up for a top-tier receiver?
The Green Bay Packers' first pick is at No. 22, but none of the top four wide receivers -- Ohio State's Garrett Wilson, USC's Drake London, Alabama's Jameson Williams or Ohio State's Chris Olave -- have more than a 30% chance of falling to that spot, and the top three are all actually below 20%. The Packers might be able to land Arkansas' Treylon Burks by sitting still, but he is only slightly better than a coin flip (55%) to be available. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs' best hope of the five pass-catchers is Burks, and there's only an 18% shot he slides to them at No. 29.
If either team has their eyes set on one of those first three wideouts, they will likely need to make a move -- and certainly so for the Chiefs. How far up the board? For Wilson, the Draft Day Predictor thinks there's an 89% chance he goes in the top 10. London should go slightly later, but even by pick No. 12, there's only a 27% chance he'll still be available.
What about Williams? He could conceivably go as high as the Jets at No. 10, but if the Packers or Chiefs strike a deal with the Baltimore Ravens to move up to No. 14, there would be a 79% chance Williams makes it there. And such a move would put the Packers/Chiefs ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles and Saints at Nos. 15 and 16, respectively, where Williams' highest probabilities to be selected fall.
If Kansas City looks at Olave and Burks as the targets, it would need to get to pick Nos. 18 or No. 22, respectively, to have a better than 50% chance that those players would still be on the board.
If the Jets want Ahmad Gardner, can they wait until No. 10 to take him?
No. I said the Draft Day Predictor doesn't work in absolutes, and that's true. But this is as strong as it gets: According to the model, there is roughly a 99% chance Gardner is off the board by pick No. 10, though obviously a healthy chunk of that (33%) is the Jets selecting him at No. 4.
The reality is that Gardner is the fifth-best prospect in the draft, per Scouts Inc., and is usually long gone in mock drafts by the time the Jets come around the second time at No. 10. In fact, the real question might be whether the Cincinnati cornerback makes it to the Jets at No. 4? Per the Draft Day Predictor, there's only a 55% chance of that happening.
What's the floor for the top three offensive tackles?
The Draft Day Predictor thinks the floor is probably No. 9 for both NC State's Ikem Ekwonu and Alabama's Evan Neal. They could slide that far if a quarterback goes in the top 10 and a team like the New York Giants or Falcons select someone like Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton and/or LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (players who aren't top 10 locks).
As for Mississippi State's Charles Cross? He has a larger range that ends all the way in the 20s. But there's an 81% chance he's off the board in the first 17 picks.
OK, how about the floor for the top pass-rushers after Aidan Hutchinson?
The Draft Day Predictor is all-in on Georgia's Travon Walker as a top-three selection. In fact, the latest it sees him going is No. 5. And Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux is 50-50 to be a top-four selection, according to the model, with a 98% chance that he's gone in the top seven picks.
Jermaine Johnson II's range starts shortly after Thibodeaux's ends. The first real spot the Florida State edge rusher could go is at No. 7, and there's an 83% chance he's off the board by pick No. 15.
Will the Bengals take an offensive lineman at No. 31?
Cincinnati spent enough in free agency to make its offensive line much less of a glaring need now than it was, say, right after the Super Bowl. But it could still use some help, and there may be some interior linemen on the board for the Bengals when they're on the clock.
There's a 22% chance that Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum is available at No. 31, and the chances are even higher for Boston College guard Zion Johnson (42%) and Texas A&M guard Kenyon Green (48%). And because of the combination of availability, quality of prospect and the Bengals' need at guard, there's no player more likely to be selected at No. 31 than Johnson. But it's just an 8% chance.
In addition to the other interior offensive linemen mentioned, other strong possibilities, per the Draft Day Predictor, include: Georgia defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt (7%), Clemson corner Andrew Booth Jr. (6%) and Minnesota edge rusher Boye Mafe (6%). Just because an interior offensive lineman is available doesn't mean that's definitely the direction Cincinnati will go.
Which fringe player could sneak into the first round?
Far more than 32 players end up getting face time in Day 1 mock drafts, so it always feels like there are a few guys who were destined for the first round but end up available in the second. Here are a few fringe first-round prospects who stood out to me, along with their chance to go in Round 1:
North Dakota State receiver Christian Watson (49%)
Penn State edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie (49%)
Baylor safety Jalen Pitre (33%)
Washington cornerback Kyler Gordon (21%)
Georgia safety Lewis Cine (18%)
Iowa State running back Breece Hall (16%).
Watson's stock has risen as the Draft Day Predictor has been updated with mocks over the past couple weeks -- he went at No. 22 in Mel Kiper Jr.'s and Todd McShay's tandem mock last week -- and could make sense for any of the WR-needy teams in the back half of the first round.
Will Desmond Ridder, Matt Corral or Sam Howell be selected in the first round?
There's an unusually large range for the quarterbacks in this year's draft. Think about last year, when the floor for the five top quarterbacks was probably the Patriots at No. 15 (and it ended up being true). This year, we could easily imagine someone like Ridder going either in the first round or well into the second.
Here's how the Draft Day Predictor sees things for this next tier of quarterback prospects, with the caveat that if there are any numbers that may shift significantly by draft day, it's these right here:
Ridder has the best chance to go in the first round (37%).
Corral comes next at 25%.
Howell is the least likely of the three at 16%.
All three should be second-round picks if they don't go in the first, though. Howell has the highest chance to still be on the board at pick No. 65 at just 7%.
The pick where Ridder is 50-50 to still be available is No. 36. Corral's midpoint is No. 39 and Howell's is right around No. 42.
For more, check out our Draft Day Predictor.