Draft Analysis by Position

It’s draft season again, and one of the most important aspects of draft strategy is assessing the value of players taken at the various spots throughout the draft. How well to 1st round QBs pan out compared to 2nd or 3rd rounders? How sure can a team be that the 1st QB taken will in fact turn out better than the 2nd QB taken? Can a team really find good RBs in the 3rd round compared to the 1st? Do some positions tend to be gambles compared to others which may tend to be sure things?

The purpose of this analysis is to quantify the scarcity of quality players in the various positions and the ability of scouts to actually identify who the better players are going to be. Knowing these things, teams can construct better draft strategies. For example, if the better RBs actually come from the first few taken each year and generally can’t be found in the later rounds, then teams looking for a RB need to plan accordingly. Additionally, if it’s found that top RB draft picks tend to be ‘sure things’ compared to other positions, then teams may prefer to fill other needs with ‘known-quantity’ veterans rather than relatively uncertain draft picks.

Last year I looked at most of the skill positions because they tend to be the focus of the most attention and they provide easier measures of performance with their stats. My analysis of each position usually follows a similar pattern.

I looked at how likely players taken in the various rounds would attend one, two, or three or more Pro Bowls. Although Pro Bowls are an imperfect measure of a player for several reasons, they do signal a player’s overall achievement in ways that individual performance stats cannot capture. Pro Bowl appearances also indicate whether a player was a ‘home run,’ something GMs are certainly looking for in the early rounds.

I also looked at other indications of a successful draft pick, such as numbers of years in the league and number of years as a team’s primary starter. Although a player may never make a Pro Bowl, he may still be a solid above average player, and that’s certainly of great value to the team who drafts him.

For positions like QB or RB that offer obvious performance measures such as yards per attempt (or even DE with sacks per game), it’s very helpful to look at those distributions too. Plus, a good measure of how well scouts can predict the better prospect is the likelihood that an earlier pick will actually turn out better than the subsequent pick at the same position.

Each one of these measures is imperfect for measuring the value of a draft pick in some way, but together they give us a very good idea of how scarce the various positions really are and how well scouts identify the better players.

One more thing I’ll point out is that draft round doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s also important to look at the overall order a player was taken within his position. In other words, not all first round picks are the same. If 3 QBs were taken in the first round, they’re going to have very different likelihoods of becoming a top passer.

I’ll recycle the positions I analyzed last year, partly because there are so many new readers this off-season compared to last:

QBs Part 1
QBs Part 2

Next, I’ll be looking at defensive backs, but I’ll also tie in an interesting observation about how career success is distributed among NFL players. And if anyone is waiting for part 2 of the Passing Predictability article, I’m going to put that on hold until after the draft.

Lastly, I’ll mention that most data comes from Pro-Football-Reference.com’s draft database, which is complete with great career data and features a great query tool.

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2 Responses to “Draft Analysis by Position”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Is "years started" alone a worthwhile metric? I imagine that teams are more likely to give unsuccessful first day picks more chances than unsuccessful second day picks; the latter will not see the field, while the Rex Grossmans of the world will keep getting their chances.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Wow, Ruth. What part of the blog do you like the most? What makes it different from the 10,320 other blogs with an identical comment?


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