Understanding How Prospect Rankings Relate to NFL Draft Position

Maybe I’m the only one who struggles with this, but lately I’ve felt conflicted about which NFL Draft prospects to write about.

If you’ve been keeping up with my work, it’s basically focused on studs, like Jaelen Strong, and super-sleepers, like Rasheed Bailey, with not much in between.

Part of the reason for this middle-ground void is because, before researching this article, I had no concept of what writing about my 15th ranked receiver, or ninth ranked running back, actually meant in terms of NFL Draft viability. Obviously, if I just started off with “hey this article is about my 15th ranked receiver”, that might sound kind of boring. However, if I started off with “hey this guy is probably going to be a top 100 pick”, that might sound kind of interesting. In reality, those mean the same thing.

The purpose of this article is to determine:

  1. How many players from each fantasy relevant position get drafted each year.
  2. Determine an expected draft position for each slot within a positional ranking, i.e. the 15th WR drafted will, on average, go as the 102nd pick in the draft.

To begin, let’s look at how many players we can expect to be drafted from each position. For the duration of this article, I’m going to focus on data from the 2006 – 2014 draft classes. Besides the ease with which I can access this data, the time frame intuitively makes sense to me because it captures the last decade in football, which is timely enough to account for advances in the game, but also a large enough data set to drown out the noise associated with a bad class (2013 QBs, for instance).

PositionAvg # Drafted since 2006% of 255 picks53 man roster spots% of 53 man roster
QB11.74.635.7
WR31.812.5611.3
RB18.97.447.5
TE13.25.235.7

Interesting finding: Although it makes perfect sense, it hadn’t really occurred to me that the league drafts position players in proportion to the number they keep on the typical 53 man roster. For quarterback, running back, and tight end positions, they get drafted slightly less than average 53-man roster, which might indicate an adequate supply of veteran talent available. Meanwhile, the wide receiver position is drafted more often than is proportional to a 53 man roster, which possibly relates to the short shelf-life of the average NFL receiver.

Quarterbacks

Note that in the following tables, I didn’t list positional averages if that position’s quantity of draftees happened in less than two-thirds of the drafts. For instance, it doesn’t make sense for me to list the average draft pick of the 13th quarterback drafted, since there were only two drafts when 13+ quarterbacks were selected. Hope that makes sense.

QB OrderAvg Overall Pick#Draft with count
13.39
216.89
332.39
449.29
576.49
6106.69
7122.19
8159.19
9179.89
10202.18
11211.07

Interesting finding: The turn between round one and two is a hotbed for QB-related activity. I think it’s a curious dynamic of teams with the #1 overall pick having many holes to fill and passing on QB at #1 overall, but still acknowledging the need to take a QB with the first pick of the second round. Knowing this might happen, it’s fun to think about which teams might trade up to 32 to snipe the falling QB, like the Vikings did in 2014 with Teddy Bridgewater. Considering this data, it will be fascinating to see what happens with Brett Hundley, who is widely considered to be the number three QB in this class, but currently carries a 54.7 valuation in the PlayTheDraft.com stock market. If he’s really the third-rated passer, here’s guessing he goes sooner than 54.7 based on the historical trends in QB drafting.

If you want to take your NFL Draft experience to the next level (and turn a profit on Brett Hundley?), try PlayTheDraft.com for free and you can win a free annual subscription to Rotoviz. Join the Rotoviz Radio league, place in the top 10 and a subscription is yours!

Wide Receivers

WR OrderAvg Overall Pick#Draft with count
112.29
218.49
327.69
436.79
543.99
651.19
757.39
862.09
969.79
1075.29
1180.49
1286.19
1393.09
1499.29
15102.99
16108.29
17119.89
18130.99
19138.69
20144.79
21153.79
22163.19
23171.89
24182.79
25196.69
26206.39
27217.99
28221.68
29220.86
30231.26
31237.86
32239.86
33245.36

Interesting finding: I’m amazed by the sheer volume of receivers who get picked. As mentioned in the intro, it doesn’t sound very interesting to write about the 14th or 15th best receiver in a class (I’m looking at you Ty Montgomery, Rashad Greene, and Tre McBride) but when you consider that they’re likely top 100 picks, the paradigm shifts a bit. Moreover, it’s fascinating to think that UDFA receivers, who have had successful careers (Victor Cruz, Doug Baldwin, Miles Austin) were valued lower than 30+ other players in their respective rookie classes.

Running Backs

RB OrderAvg Overall Pick#Draft with count
117.39
228.69
340.29
449.39
556.09
669.89
789.09
8106.29
9116.89
10135.69
11145.79
12154.29
13166.69
14180.48
15183.77
16190.67
17202.77
18213.07
19218.06

Interesting finding: 28 and 56 are popular places for running backs. Teams drafting in this range usually have quality offenses and can send a rookie running back’s value soaring. Think Mark Ingram to the Saints in 2011 (28th overall), Carlos Hyde to the 49ers  in 2014 (57th overall) or Eddie Lacy to the Packers in 2013 (61st overall). For 2015, the Panthers (25 & 57) and Cowboys (27 & 59) could make for interesting landing spots.

Tight Ends

TE OrderAvg Overall Pick#Draft with count
124.09
248.19
373.19
484.39
594.89
6109.69
7119.29
8141.19
9173.89
10188.28
11189.17

 Interesting finding: That the third and fourth rounds are popular places to go after a TE. In recent years we’ve seen less-heralded tight end prospects blossom into stars after being drafted in this range. Think: Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, Dennis Pitta, Aaron Hernandez and Jermichael Finley. In a way, I think going in that range is great for the development of a young player, since the pressure to make an instant impact is lower, but the investment from the team is still reasonably high. In 2015, Jesse James is a tight end I really like, who could get picked in that range. He’s not a flawless prospect (none of the success stories I named were), but he’s got a long of encouraging data points.


Jon Moore is a contributor at RotoViz and a cohost of Rotoviz Radio – A Fantasy Football Podcast.  Continue this conversation with him on TwitterGoogle+ or Facebook.

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