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NFL Draft Boards Take on Lives of Their Own

AP Photo

It has been more than three months since the last meaningful college football game, but N.F.L. prospects have kept busy. They have been working out, attending pro days for scouts, meeting with teams and climbing up and down the draft rankings like children on a jungle gym.

Much of the perceived “rising and falling” is the predraft equivalent of Brownian Motion, the unpredictable, chaotic byproduct of prospects colliding with public expectations. The draft rankings used by news media outlets are not curated by teams or the league, but by draftniks, a legion of analysts, reporters and fans for whom no prospect is too obscure, no detail too trivial.

Some draftniks diligently base evaluations on careful research and tape study. Others blend workout results,...

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