Michael Nania analyzes the success rates of each offensive and defensive position in the fifth round of the NFL Draft.
As Joe Douglas and the Jets ponder over positional value in preparation for the Draft, it is interesting to look back at the past and examine which positions have yielded the most value at each point of the draft.
After digging through the fourth round, we move on to the fifth. I charted the career production of each fifth round pick from 2010-19 (366 players) to get a sense of how successful draft selections at each position have turned out to be.
Various measures of productivity are listed for each position, as well as its rank in those measures among all positions. The positions are ranked by their percentage of games played out of possible games. Once this point of the draft is reached, nothing is handed to any prospect. Whereas earlier picks will usually get an ample amount of time to show what they are capable of, the later picks need to prove themselves to get on the field at all. Every game played is earned. For that reason, I believe this is the best way to measure success on Day 3.
Which positions have proven to be the worst investments during the fifth round? Let’s start with the most successful positions and work our way towards the least fruitful of the bunch.
#12 – Kicker and punter (73.0% of games played)
Possible seasons: 58
Games played: 677 (73.0% of possible games – 1st)
Approximate value: 88 (1.52 per season – 6th)
First-Team All-Pro seasons: 1 (1.7% – 1st)
Pro Bowl seasons: 1 (1.7% – 5th)
Seasons as primary starter: 42 (72.4% – 1st)
First-Team All-Pro players: 1 (7.1% – 1st)
Pro Bowl players: 1 (7.1% – 4th)
Only four specialists were taken in one of the top-four rounds throughout the 2010s decade. The fifth round is where things begin to pick up.
The 14 kickers and punters taken in the 2010s have been a primary starter for their teams in 72.4% of possible seasons, a rate that is more than double the second-ranked position (center, which only had four picks) and nearly triple that of any other position. It should be noted that the rate dips to 56.9% if we only counted seasons logged for the team that drafted the player, but that would still be tops among all positions.
In terms of effectiveness, the story is very different for the two sides of this group. Of the six kickers, just two own a career field goal percentage higher than 84%, which is the approximate league average over the past five years. Austin Seibert made 86.2% of his attempts for the Browns in his 2019 rookie season, but he missed five extra points. Jake Elliott has been extremely average over three seasons with the Eagles, making 93.9% of extra points and 84.1% of field goals, both marks dead-on with the league averages. In addition, none of the four kickers drafted in the fifth round from 2010-18 lasted with the team that drafted them beyond two seasons.
To sum it up, none of the six kicker selections have proven to be above-average players.
Punters have been more successful. While three of the eight are no longer in the league (Zoltan Mesko, 2010, Jeff Locke, 2013, and Johnny Townsend, 2018), the other five have been consistently good. Seattle’s Michael Dickson is responsible for the only First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl nods. Jake Bailey had a great 2019 rookie season for New England. Bradley Pinion (Tampa Bay, 2015), Sam Martin (Detroit, 2013), and J.K. Scott (Green Bay, 2018) have combined for 14 consecutive seasons with the teams that drafted them and have mostly played at an effective level.
Those are small sample sizes, but history seems to agree that punters have been more reliable draft selections. Of the top-20 kickers in AV throughout the 2010s, 13 were undrafted (65.0%). Just eight of top-20 punters were undrafted (40.0%).
If your team desperately needs a new kicker or punter, the fifth round is the first point of the draft where it is acceptable to consider one, but it can be argued that the hit rate (in terms of finding above-average players) has not been quite good enough to be worth passing up on substantially more valuable offensive or defensive positions. There is not much evidence to suggest that drafting a specialist gives your team a better chance of finding a solution than simply bringing in an undrafted player or two.