Breaking News! Mock Draft Kingpins Addict The World!

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I'm powerless! I can't stop! Night after night, bag of Cheetos after bag of Cheetos, I play this little Mock Draft game Brian H. and Mike Burns concocted to bring people everywhere to their knee. Yup! Mike and Brian are gonna take over the world while we trade draft choices, and make picks in a variety of scenarios. I'm talking about First-Pick.com, and it should have a warning label:

THIS SITE MAY CAUSE LOSS OF THE FOLLOWING: SLEEP, APPETITE, JOBS, WIVES, AND ALIENATE YOU FROM THE FAMILY DOG.

It's interwebs crack, or really bad scotch if you're super thirsty. Either way, it's fun. It may cause the people you tell about the site to hate you, but they're probably the same ones who borrow your power tools and forget to return them - so no loss, right?

I reached out - between mock drafts - to the co-founders of First-Pick.com: Mike Burns and Brian H. (The "H" stands for "Hooked"... or "Humphrey", I'm really not sure which? Mike will be a guest tonight on Turf Show Radio, so be sure to tune in and ask him loads of questions. Brian teamed up with me for a little interview to let you know more about their site...

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Brian, how about a bit about you and Mike, and a little background on your site - First-Pick.com?

Mike and I are friends and former roommates. We cofounded First-Pick.com about 3 years ago after we brainstormed the idea of an automated NFL mock draft. The two of us are obviously big NFL fans and every April, and the months leading to it, we have become increasingly interested in the annual amateur draft. The NFL has done so well promoting and showcasing the draft and with more and more rookie players making instant impacts to the rosters, the draft has become the most important offseason event for NFL teams. As fans we love it.

The months leading to the draft are packed with combine events, pro days, and speculation. We love the speculation! We found were going to the "experts" on a daily basis to see who was projecting what in the upcoming draft. But we found the mock drafts were pretty varied depending on where you went, only to increasingly converge as the draft neared. As we were going to all of these static pages we thought we could create a more interactive way for us to engage in the NFL Draft speculation. So the original idea was mapped out and we created a beta version of a mock simulator. We tested it for about a year, but honestly it worked so well and was so fun to play we knew pretty quickly we had to do something with it. We turned the simulation into a game because 1) games are fun, and 2) we could automate scoring and grading similar to the way the experts do but in real time. So we created the site last year (February 2013), opening it up to the fans. The feedback has been tremendous, overwhelmingly supportive. Mike and I both work on the project as a hobby but it is becoming time-consuming to keep up with the demand… in a very good way!

Your amazingly addictive Mock Draft site - First-Pick.com - isn't listed in the DEA's top 10 drugs? Why is that? It cracks me up when I think of the number of times I've popped in to do a "quick Mock Draft". I've started to warn people I tell about First-Pick that they'll hate me for turning them onto the site; which they all laughingly remind me of as they're throwing things at me days later...

That is really funny, we a similar response the fans we turn on to the site! We didn’t realize just how much they would be interested in the game aspect of the site, and the competition for high scores. By far the most emails we receive at First-Pick have to do with questions on how fans can score better, that and emails about how users can get around blockages at work so they can access the site more often!

So how did you decide on your player prospect metrics, vis a vie team needs and position round ratings?

Player rankings and team needs are the backbone of the game and we put tremendous efforts into maintaining these aspects of the site. We use a lot of sources to create our own rankings and needs, we compile lists from these sources and then attempt to create a consensus to try to encompass all of these sources into our game. Some users are frustrated because we don’t release our rankings and we don’t use a single source, but we feel if we did either of those things it would give too much away and water-down the game. Our sources include ESPN, Yahoo!, SBNation, CBS, Rotoworld, OurLads,NFLDraftDiamonds, BleacherReport, SI, and WalterFootball. We try to cast a pretty wide net!

I've noticed you rank running backs universally as "Day 2" prospects, and quite a few of them at that?

So far that is the consensus. Last year a similar thing was happening, everyone was devaluing the RB position. We didn’t think that was going to be the case, but it turned out to be the first time in almost 50 years that a RB did not go in the first round of the NFL Draft. When we were putting together static mocks for First-Pick.com in 2013 we had Giovanni Bernard going to Denver late in the first round, he ended up slipping to the second and he has been a great talent. Will something like that happen again? No idea. Is it becoming a trend in the NFL where RBs will slip in the draft? Some seem to think so. Here is an interesting article from the National Football Post that breaks down some of the recent history:

http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/Has-the-RB-position-become-devalued-in-the-NFL.html

With the two-back systems becoming more popular (and more frustrating for fantasy football users!), it may be the case. Regardless, these RBs are still very very talented and it is great news if your team can get them at a discount.

Is it true Ryan Van Bibber - Senior NFL Editor for SBNation, and founder of Turf Show Times - scored a -12 in one of his Mock-s at First-Pick? Can you give him a little draft wisdom to up his score?

Yes, it is very likely true! You can score negative points in the game, but you have to do some pretty funny stuff to get there. Usually, taking a punter in the first round is a good start, and then trading future picks to get more punters should seal the deal to a negative score! Actually, the first time someone tried this it broke the game. In the design we didn’t think about people drafting an entire team of punters! Here are a couple of examples from last year:

User Display Name: SeattleTotems
Team: San Diego Chargers
Score: -71
PLAYER PICKS:
Round 1 Pick 11 (11) : Brad Wing, P, LSU (F)
Round 2 Pick 13 (45) : Taylor Accardi, P, Colorado Mines (F)
Round 3 Pick 14 (76) : Jackson Rice, P, Oregon (F)
Round 4 Pick 13 (110) : Dylan Breeding, P, Arkansas (F)

Round 4 Pick 14 (111) (MIA): Jeff Locke, P, UCLA (F)
Round 4 Pick 16 (113) (STL): Quinn Sharp, P, Oklahoma State (F)
Round 5 Pick 12 (145) : Ryan Allen, P, Louisiana Tech (F)
Round 6 Pick 11 (179) : Ryan Epperson, P, Texas A&M (F)
Round 7 Pick 15 (221) : Scott Kovanda, P, Ball State (E)


And our ultimate favorite is from a user playing as Buffalo, trading their entire draft from 2013 (including future picks), moving up to #1 and selecting a punter from the Colorado School of Mines. Imagine if that happened in the actual draft!

User Display Name: meowmeow1
Team: Buffalo Bills
Score: -353
PLAYER PICKS:
Round 1 Pick 1 (1) (K.C.): Taylor Accardi, P, Colorado Mines (F)

My advice for Ryan Van Bibber is to stay away from the kickers/punters until at least the 5th round. That should help his score!

Inquiring minds want to know: How in the hell does someone score a 7317 (Gary Steed)? He's cheating, right? He has to be! I can't seem to get a score of over 231?

231 is a gem! You should be very proud of that accomplishment. The top scores on the site are legitimate. A lot of users ask how they do it, or if we could post their drafts. We don’t post their scores. It may be a feature in the future (to allow users to selectively post), but as of now our users typically post on blogs, Reddit, or social media. I will tell you that the top scorers play the NFL Draft game a ton, and they have mastered it to a level that Mike and I cannot achieve. They accumulate picks in places in the draft where guys can fall and they recognize the fall and jump on these players better than anyone. A lot of users are getting very good at the game, and ultimately by becoming familiar with guys in the later rounds, guys they may not have every paid attention to.

In this way our game is doing exactly what we hoped it would: giving the fans more recognition of the players beyond the top 10, or first round, which ultimately gives them more insight into the actual draft when they follow it for their team. It has definitely worked for us. We follow the entire draft and since creating First-Pick.com we have much better insight all the way through the draft and into the undrafted FA signings. Guys like Christian Fauria, TE, Detroit Lions was on our radar well before he was signed as a FA. We were pulling for him and he had a tremendous season. A lot of fans thought he came out of nowhere.

I've challenged a friend of mine over at CBS Sports to gather his fellow NFL writers and face off against the very best in Mock Drafts here at SBNation. We'd be using First-Pick.com's Mock Draft game, and tallying the scores to find a winner. If we lose, Joe McAtee and Dan Kadar have to wear Tutu-s for a day. If we win, Jamey Eisenberg and Pete Prisco have to do a "LIVE" karaoke duet of "Wake me up before you Go-Go". Who will you be betting on to win?

Obviously I am pulling for you! I don’t think I am willing to place a bet b/c you don’t want to see me or Mike in a Tutu and you don’t want to hear either of us sing! Are these wagers going to be posted (pics or videos)? I think everyone’s fans would love to see the conclusions to the bets!

I will say this, to be fair I might wait a few days to engage in the competition as we are planning some changes to the scoring and trades for the NFL Draft game. As a result of user feedback we have decided to make the make the game, at least initially, more realistic in comparison to the actual draft. As of now, the user receives a great number of potentially crazy trades to make the game as much of a fantasy as the user desires. We changed this to more closely reflect a modified version of the NFL Draft pick comparison chart (original can be found here: http://www.draftcountdown.com/features/Value-Chart.php), we loosened the ability of users to trade up (propose trades), and we modified the grading. We are testing these changes now, but they should be incorporated soon.

The computer that runs First-Pick isn't really a computer at all, is it! Admit it! It's really you and Mike in a basement somewhere, eating Hot Pockets and watching Zena videos while you give honest, vastly intelligent guys like me bad scores on my Mock Draft...

Finally, you have shed light on our dark secret! We do live in a basement and eat Hot Pockets way too much. But, you have it partially wrong. We finished Zena last year and we have moved on to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Incredible show! Though the traffic to the site has really dampened our progress in completing the series.

9\ Have you used the data - if gathered? - to come up with a NFL Draft day prediction based on what the fans using your site think their favorite teams will actually pick? It might me an interesting thing to see, especially since fans who track their teams have a bit of position team insight that's usually quite different from a team's head coach and GM.

We really don’t use any user data on the site. We created the login feature to help with entry into the site and to track errors so we can fix them quickly. Occasionally we pull groups of games to see trends in drafting, but by and large the user data is an untapped resource. Draft day predictions based on user input is a great idea and something that is very viable. We have nothing in the works as of yet, but as long as our fans have interest, we will consider any project.

Based on the first round picks made on the site, can you see a trend or trends for prospects that are rising or falling in the eyes of NFL Draft fans?

Of the trends we have seen, from some data we have pulled, users are very interested in Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. He is often taken high and specifically targeted in trades. OTs are also a pretty hot commodity. In the later rounds, RBs and WRs are often targeted, irrespective of team needs. I think this partially due to the user recognition of players at these positions. The further you get in the draft the harder it is to know a lot of the players from their college days and offensive playmaker positions like QB, RB, WR are more recognized.

*****

I'd like to thank Brian for doing this interview, although the entire time he was answering my questions I was doing a few Mock Drafts at First-Pick.com. Yes, I have a short attention span, but I have a new high score: 232! So, there's that, eh?

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