Michael Nania analyzes the productivity of each position throughout all seven rounds of the NFL draft.
I recently concluded a series that dove into the numbers behind each position’s success rate throughout every round of the NFL draft from 2010-19. You can find each of those breakdowns here:
Having collected all of the data from the past decade, I put together a few different charts and tables that summarize what we can expect from selections made throughout the duration of the draft.
Value hotspots by position
This chart gives us a glimpse of the best places in the draft to find value at each position.
Displayed is the average amount of AV (approximate value) accumulated per season for each position in each of the seven rounds. Shown beside each AV average is how the position’s productivity in that round compares to its AV average across the other six rounds. That number is compared to the average differential across all positions in the same round to showcase whether that position is a comparatively strong or weak investment in that round.
For example, let’s take a look at the quarterback position. Quarterbacks taken in the first round since 2010 have averaged 5.62 AV per season. The quarterback position’s average rate across the other six rounds is just 1.61. The first round average is 3.49 times better, which is the highest differential of any position in the first round (average differential: 2.93). So, unsurprisingly, the quarterback position is the most important one to take in the first round. The difference between its productivity in the first round compared to the rest of the draft is more substantial than any other position.
As you move through the rest of the draft, the quarterback position’s value progressively declines, suggesting that taking one early is extremely important to get the position right and that taking one in rounds five through seven is a lost cause.
Defensive tackles are the antithesis of quarterbacks on the above chart. While the position has been relatively unproductive early in the draft, it has been by far the most productive on Day 3 (rounds 4-7). Unless your team has a dire need for help there, history says that the smart approach is to sweep the defensive tackle position under the rug on Days 1-2 while making it a top priority on Day 3.
Offensive linemen have been very reliable in the first round, but a lot of success stories at this position have come out of rounds six and seven, making it a great position to target as the draft nears its end. Jason Kelce, Kelvin Beachum, Trent Brown, Matt Paradis, and Ryan Jensen are just a few of the longtime starters that have been taken in one of the final two rounds.
Some other notes on this chart:
- Defensive back trails only quarterback in first-round importance, but hits a dry spell over the following three rounds. It then becomes one of the best values over the final three rounds.
- Running back has been a gold mine in the third round, as the only position in that round to accumulate more value than it has in the second round.
- Linebacker is the steadiest position of the bunch, hardly straying off of the typical path in any round.
This chart gives us a look at how picks in each round have been distributed according to position. It shows the percentage of picks in each round that have been allocated to each position, along with the difference between the portion of picks used on a particular position in that round versus the other six rounds.
* – Kicker, punter, and long snapper picks are not listed but their data is included in the rounds where at least one was selected
What pops out when you look at the above chart is that the first round is colored more vibrantly than any other, as every position sees a relatively large difference in emphasis compared to the rest of the draft. It appears that teams have stuck more strictly to their guidelines and philosophies regarding positional value when using their most premium picks compared to the rest of the draft.
Quarterback is the most important position in football, and thus, teams have been smart enough to emphasize taking quarterbacks in the first round more than they have emphasized selecting any other position in any round. Following closely behind is the defensive end/edge rusher position, widely considered to be the second-most important spot after quarterback.
Teams have the right idea here. Our first chart suggested that quarterback and defensive end are the two of the three most important positions to take in the first round based on their productivity declines over the rest of the draft. Front offices have accordingly put those two positions at the top of their first-round priority lists.
Offensive line follows those two positions in first-round emphasis. In particular, teams have focused on taking tackles early. Of the 60 first-round picks spent on offensive linemen, 38 were used on tackles (63.3%), a greater portion than in any other round. Meanwhile, running backs have been devalued in the first round more than any position in any round.
It seems that teams have generally had their heads in the right place when it comes to first-round positional value.
Here is a look at the average amount of AV accumulated per season by picks made in each round, regardless of position. This gives us a good idea of how stark the talent dropoff is from round-to-round.