The NFL draft kicks off Thursday night, and hopefully we hear Amani Oruwariye’s name called in the first round. He’s been described as a “polarizing” player that some teams love and some are not all that sold on, so we’ll have to see how that plays out. Right now he is the only Penn State player projected with a shot to be drafted in the first round.
Looking at the NFL draft as a whole, here are four charts to guide your viewing. All of these charts were based off of NFL Draft data from 1985-2015, which includes over 8,000 players drafted. In years where there were more than seven rounds (the amount this year’s draft has), only data from the first seven rounds was used. When necessary, rounds were normalized to 32 picks per round, since that’s also the current number.
DEs and QBs have the best median draft position through the first seven rounds. It’s a pretty gradual falloff up until TEs, where there’s a drop off of around 15 pick positions from Guards. FBs, Punters, and Kickers round up the field of lowest median draft pick.
Based on how many players of each position type a “typical” team has on their 53-man roster, we can compare the actual number of players drafted at each position compared to what we would expect. RBs and Tackles are the most over-drafted players. There are about 5 more running backs selected each draft than we would expect given that most teams have 4 running backs (which is combined with full backs in this dataset) on their 53-man roster. Defensive Tackles, Punters and Kickers are the most under-drafted. The last two make sense in my head, but the under representation of Defensive Tackles is surprising.
Naturally, even the GMs can’t help but get lured in by the flashy skill players and sometimes forget about the workhorses of the team in the defensive-line. But some of these moves are defensible if you consider the durability of different positions. RBs have one of the shortest average career-lengths of any NFL player, and they are also very injury-prone. It’s no wonder NFL teams like to scoop up some extra ones each year. Kickers and Punters have the longest careers, so it makes no sense to draft one every year.
How many picks per round go to each type of player? In other words, out of all of the first round picks, how many are running backs typically? Defensive Backs are the most often selected type of player in round one with about 5 of the first round picks going for these players each draft. They are also the most often selected player in the second round, with nearly 7 picks going for DBs on average. Defensive Ends get 4.4 picks in Round 1 on average, followed by WRs at 4 and Tackles at 3.7 picks in the first round. The biggest block of QB picks is in the first round (2.4 picks) while RBs have their most fruitful round in the 6th (3.5 picks).
This chart may seem similar to the one above, but it is actually addressing a different problem. It answers the question summarized on the y-axis: “What proportion of all of the Running Back picks that are going to happen take place in round 4? The answer is 14.4% of all RBs that get picked will be picked in the fourth round. You can fill in the italics with any position/round combo you want and the chart will give you the probability. Around 20% of all of the QBs that’ll be drafted get taken in round one compared to just 6.7% of centers.
This gives you an idea of how much value teams are putting behind a player. If they grab a RB before the 4th round, they have a lot of faith in him to be a big part of the team. If you see a TE get drafted in the 2nd round, you’re probably seeing a special player (or a colossal mistake by a GM).