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24 Apr 2006

Draft Position

Guest column by Tim Murray

Last April, Paul Tagliabue walked to the podium at Madison Square Garden and let the cat out of the bag. "With the tenth pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions select Mike Williams, wide receiver, University of Southern California." Tagliabue is a pretty straight-laced guy, and a certain businesslike demeanor is probably a prerequisite for the Commissioner position, but you have to wonder how much Tags had to fight the urge to preface the pick announcement with, "You're not going to believe this."

It wasn't the "Mike Williams" part of the announcement that was so surprising -- Williams was generally regarded as a top five talent in the draft and draftnik extraordinaire Mel Kiper, Jr. had spent the first few hours of the draft on ESPN talking him up as the top talent. Rather, it was the "Wide Receiver" part of the announcement that got everyone so hot and bothered. The Lions were, and by all counts still are, an awful team with gaping holes at just about every position that had used top ten picks in each of the previous two years on the wide receiver position.

Several hours later, the New York Jets provided another surprising announcement from the MSG podium by using their initial pick, a second-rounder, on kicker Mike Nugent. There was somewhat less initial surprise at this pick than that of Williams, but it did provide material for roughly half of the jokes in Pro Football Prospectus 2005. Again, the question is not Mike Nugent's ability as a place kicker, but rather whether using an early draft pick at that position was an efficient use of team building resources.

The central point in both instances was the position of the player being drafted. There is an oft-repeated draft cliche that could be called the "Best Available Player Theory." If I had a nickel for every time I heard Charley Casserly explain his draft decisions while Redskins General Manager as "we picked the best guy on the board," I might be able to afford the ridiculous price of parking at FedEx Field next year. And he's just one of many GMs who use the standby line somewhat compulsively. The theory basically says: always pick the best player available, regardless of position. Picking the best player regardless of position was exactly what the Lions did, and exactly not what the Jets did. Both were extreme interpretations of the value of the Best Available Player Theory, and neither proved to be a wise decision.

Clearly there is a point between the two extremes where optimal adherence to the Best Available Player Theory exists. Having a remarkable collection of wideouts does you no good if there is no competent quarterback to throw to them or an offensive line capable of protecting the quarterback long enough for them to get open. On the other hand, grabbing a place kicker with your first pick because you believe that is your biggest need exhibits a complete disregard of the need for roster depth in the injury-laden NFL.

So how should GMs navigate the grey area in between? In practice, most seem to rely on their gut. The magnitude of influence the head coach wields is often a factor as well, typically pushing away from best available and toward greatest areas of need. The bottom line is that it's probably a more subjective than objective process. And for us numbers geeks, that just won't do.

One way to improve decision making would be to acquire knowledge of the "opportunity cost" (to borrow a term from economics) incurred by any team that chooses to ignore a position of need in order to take the best available player. More simply put, if a team's positions of need can be addressed later in the draft (or even with an undrafted free agent) then the team can afford to go with the best available talent. In an effort to provide a cursory understanding of opportunity cost at each position I have compiled histograms of the round in which each starter on all 32 NFL teams was drafted. For each position we can see if certain positions can be addressed later in the draft than others, and identify where the real drop-off in talent seems to occur.

First, let's look at the distribution of starters at all positions, so we have an idea of how individual positions differ from the norm:

Percentage with the team that drafted them: 55%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 16%
Percentage with the team that drafted them: 53%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 16%

The blue bars represent the percentage of league wide starters drafted in that round. The red bars represent the percentage of league wide starters drafted in that round that are still with the team that drafted them.

Both bars show a steady decline in the probability of players drafted in each subsequent round becoming starters, but with a somewhat unexpected rise between the sixth and seventh rounds. This is likely skewed by the fact that the NFL awards a lot of compensatory picks in the seventh round, so there are a few more seventh-rounders floating around than sixth-rounders. However, that shouldn't be enough to cause an increase, so we can probably presume that there is little to no talent drop off between the sixth and seventh rounds. One might also presume that this trend continues past those players selected in round seven, which would mean that there is very little difference between sixth and seventh round picks and "priority" undrafted free agents. In other words, don't get excited when your teams lands a sixth round pick in a trade, it is only a small upgrade over signing a guy that went undrafted.

Another point of note is that the drop off between round one and round two is significantly larger than that in any other round. Does this mean that there is an added premium between rounds one and two? It probably does, but this effect may also be skewed by the enormous contracts handed out to first round picks which often force teams to give starting roles to their top picks whether they have earned them or not.

All of this is mildly interesting and useful, but the real value to draft strategy lies in the positional analysis. The individual position histograms can generally be grouped into four categories: top heavy, normal distribution, early round peak, and flat. Based on these categories we can make some general assumptions as to when it becomes too late in the draft to confidently address an area of need.

(Note: click here to download a list of the players considered at each position, and when they were drafted.)

Top Heavy

"Top Heavy" are those positions which are almost entirely addressed in the early portion of the draft, mostly via the first round. The inference is that these are positions that need to be addressed very early in the draft. This group includes quarterback, running back, #1 wide receiver, defensive tackle, and offensive tackle.

Essentially what we see encompassed here are high-profile skill position players (QB, RB, and WR) and guys with exceptional athletic ability for their size (DT, OT). These are the types of players that are hard to miss when evaluating talent. Even a small college skill position player who puts up eye-popping statistics will grab the attention of scouts, so exceptional skill position players will rarely get overlooked. Those that do slide will 1) have durability (or "character") issues that have kept them off the field, 2) be somewhat raw in terms of technique, or 3) have been misfit to their college offensive system. Meanwhile, the "Planet Theory" guys that you'll find excelling at offensive and defensive tackle are also going to make extra large blips on scouts' radar screens. (The Planet Theory is Bill Parcells' philosophy that there are so few men both large enough and athletic enough to be NFL linemen that they are intrinsically valuable.) They may not have impressive statistics to shed light on their talents, but their "measurables" will make them very hard to miss.

Percentage with the team that drafted them:53%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 16%

The quarterback position is especially top heavy. Exactly half of the starting QBs in the NFL (when this data was collected) were drafted in the first round. For whatever reason, the sixth round has been fairly lucrative, but pretty much anything after round one is a long shot. Interestingly, some of the better signal-callers have not been selected in the first four rounds: Tom Brady, Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck, Marc Bulger, Trent Green, and Jake Delhomme. But only Brady has been productive for the team he was originally drafted by. (If the Saints had recognized the potential in either Bulger or Delhomme, they would have been a much better team the last few years. At least the Packers got some compensation for Brunell and Hasselbeck -- and seemed to have a pretty productive guy at QB anyway.)

The QB position is by far the toughest to fill, and most teams are (and should be) willing to fill it by any means necessary. First round QBs are no sure thing, but anyone picked after the first round appears to be a very long shot that will require several years of development. And even those late round guys that do work out will probably have to move to a new team to be successful. The bottom line here is that until you've found your guy you should jump at any opportunity to acquire a quality starter, be it early in the draft, late in the draft, via trade, or through free agency. Don't pass on a QB early in the draft because you also like a guy that could be had later. If you are really in need of a QB you should probably draft them both.

It's less imperative to grab a runner in round one, but the well appears to dry up after round four. It doesn't appear that you have to use a top pick to get one of the better runners, but it certainly improves your chances of success. Alternatively, you could just wait for the Broncos to get tired of the one they happen to have at the moment.

Percentage with the team that drafted them: 66%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 6%
Percentage with the team that drafted them: 58%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 14%

Wide receiver is the only position the NFL lists on depth charts with a corresponding number one and number two. All the other positions with multiple starters are designated via left or right. This allows us to differentiate between the premium players and the secondary one on each team (more or less, that is. There are a lot of number twos that would be number one on another team. And occasionally the designations seem a bit off -- Terrell Owens was listed as number two by the Eagles in deference to Greg Lewis.) The histogram for WR1 is nearly identical to that of running backs. There's not much available after round four, first-rounders have a significantly greater success rate, and stars can be had in all of the first four rounds. As is the case with running backs, if you have a need here you'd better plan on addressing it in round one or with multiple picks in the first four rounds.

Percentage with the team that drafted them: 42%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 19%
Percentage with the team that drafted them:66%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 8%

The defensive tackle position is heavily weighted toward the first round, but fairly flat thereafter. This seems consistent with the Planet Theory explanation. The DTs with truly freakish abilities aren't plentiful enough to occupy most of the 57 starting DT positions in the NFL (there are not two per team because of the many 3-4 alignments in use), so once the elite guys are taken at the top of the draft the talent pool evens out quite a bit. The late round picks and undrafted players are almost entirely one-dimensional players that can occupy multiple blockers but aren't much of a threat to rush the passer. The lesson here appears to be that you're not going to have many opportunities to find a two dimensional DT, so don't pass on a guy like that lightly. Alternatively, if you are just looking for a big guy to occupy blockers on first and second down, that need can wait.

The offensive tackle histogram actually does not look particularly top-heavy, but a closer look reveals that most teams fill at least one of their tackle slots with an early round pick. Generally the top guy mans the left side, but that is not always the case. The key is that you need at least one guy on the edge who can be left in one-on-one situations and not need help. Those guys are rare, and are pretty much always picked early. Below are histograms which break down the position into "T1" and "T2". This is not a reference to Schwarzenegger films or high speed internet connections. T1 is the starter for each team who was drafted earliest. T2 is the starter drafted later.

Percentage with the team that drafted them: 78%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 0%
Percentage with the team that drafted them: 56%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 13%

That's quite a difference. So we see a dichotomy similar to that of the defensive tackle position. You'll need at least one elite guy, and you are going to have to find him early. Another point of note is the high percentage of T1s that are with the team that originally drafted them. This is probably a function of the particularly high success rate of early picks used on OTs and the tendency for teams to hold on to them. So the opportunities to find a top OT outside of the early part of the draft are extremely limited. If you don't already have a guy you can trust in one on one pass blocking situations, you'd better have a good reason to pass on one, no matter how early in the draft.


Normal Distribution

"Normal Distribution" describes those positions where the histogram follows the pattern similar to that of all positions in aggregate. Normal Distribution includes defensive ends, cornerbacks, linebackers, tight ends, and number two wide receivers. These are positions where it's best to look for value. There are starting caliber players to be had at these positions throughout the draft, but there is definitely a drop off in success rate with each successive round.

Percentage with the team that drafted them: 58%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 9%
Percentage with the team that drafted them: 59%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 6%

At defensive end and cornerback you pretty much get what you pay for. The elite players are usually gone by the end of round two, but there are plenty useful players available after that. These positions are somewhat intertwined in that a good pass rush can help mask poor cover guys and vice versa. As a result, most teams tend to spend early picks on either one spot or the other according to their defensive philosophy. Teams that neglect both positions are those that either use a 3-4 alignment where linebackers and safeties provide most of the pressure (like Pittsburgh) or have a defense that routinely gets lit up like a Christmas tree (like Arizona and Green Bay).

(Note: R.Bartell and E.Hobbs have been fixed in cornerback graph.)

Percentage with the team that drafted them: 69%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 9%
Percentage with the team that drafted them: 44%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 26%

Linebacker is a position where there never seems to be a shortage of talent. It's kind of the anti-Planet Theory position. I'm not saying there are 6-foot-2, 230 pound guys that can run a 4.5 on every street corner in America, but there seem to be 10 to 20 in every draft class. The elite guys are set apart by instinct, desire, and hard work. That's not always easy to identify, so there will be some bargains late in the draft and even some that don't get drafted. The gifted guys who were extremely productive at the big time programs are the ones that go early and seldom disappoint, so there's no reason not use an early pick to fill a need at linebacker -- just don't do it at the expens of filling a need at a top heavy position. There will be good players available later if you know how to find them. OLB bargains are often undersized college defensive ends who make the transition to "playing in reverse" well (like Clark Haggans and Adalius Thomas). ILB generally requires more football intelligence than OLB, so the bargains are in the form of guys with relatively average athletic skills but great football minds (like Zach Tomas and Antonio Pierce).

Percentage with the team that drafted them: 56%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 16%
Percentage with the team that drafted them: 69%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 13%

Tight ends and number two wide receivers are usually the guys that keep defenses honest. Roll coverage toward Marvin Harrison and away from Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark at your own risk. Top notch TEs and WR2s are luxury items. They're great to have if you can afford them. Most teams can't, because they've got bigger needs elsewhere and wisely choose to address this one later in the draft. Every so often a superstar TE like Tony Gonzalez or Jeremy Shockey comes along with the kind of ability that allows them to be focal points of an offense, so they're worthy of an early to mid first round pick. Vernon Davis is probably one of these guys. But for the most part, TEs and prospective number two wideouts only slip into the back end of the first round when teams are looking to compliment an already strong roster.

Early Round Peak

"Early Round Peak" includes only safeties and centers. In both cases the number of starters is at a peak after the first round (2nd round for safeties, 3rd for centers) and then reverts to a fairly normal distribution. The most likely explanation for this is that the top athletes usually get pushed to other positions in college and high school, so there just aren't many that are talented enough to warrant first round consideration.

Percentage with the team that drafted them:45%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 28%
Percentage with the team that drafted them:47%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 22%

Take a look at the former first round picks playing at safety. Other than Troy Vincent, who is a cornerback who moved to safety after slowing late in his career, you've got some pretty heavy hitters and exceptional ballhawks. But there have also been plenty of great players available deep into the draft. I think most of the guys with exceptional speed and the size to play safety get moved to wide receiver in high school and college, so the freakishly talented athletes are rare at this position. The type of guys that succeed here are similar to inside linebackers: guys with great football instincts that don't shy away from collisions. Those qualities can be tough to identify, especially with a lack of statistics to help identify the standouts. This is a position that can be addressed late in the draft if need be, but you'll be hard pressed to find a good one after the fifth round.

Centers taken in the first round don't seem to be consistently that much better than guys nabbed in rounds two or three. There's also plenty of solid guys who were available deep into the draft pool. Teams looking to address their offensive line early in the draft would probably be better off looking at the tackle position.


"Flat" histograms are found at guard, fullback, and special teams. These are the positions where starters have been found with similar success in all rounds of the draft as well as via undrafted free agents. These are the positions where teams would clearly be better off filing needs with a training camp battle royale of sixth and seventh round picks and UFAs.

Percentage with the team that drafted them: 47%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 20%
Percentage with the team that drafted them: 38%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 34%

The guard position has produced a number of quality players in round one like Steve Hutchinson and Alan Faneca. Teams with power running games probably need at least one power blocking guard they can run behind, which they'll probably need to find in the first three rounds. The successful zone blocking teams (Denver, Atlanta, Indianapolis), on the other hand, seem able to find solid performers amongst guys picked in round five or later.

Fullback is a position where there's just no reason to use an early round pick. The histogram is actually somewhat misleading, as most of the early picks are guys who are not true fullbacks. Rather, they are either H-Backs (Chris Cooley), players used often as featured runners (Greg Jones, Mike Alstott), or players who may be featured at fullback on the official team depth chart because the head coach has been joining them for recreational activities (Ricky Williams).

Percentage with the team that drafted them: 41%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 37%
Percentage with the team that drafted them: 59%
Percentage of Undrafted Free Agents (or 8+): 22%

Special teams are important. It is an area which teams cannot ignore and expect to be successful. But it should never be treated as more than an afterthought in the draft. Neither quality return men nor quality kicking specialists are more likely to be found earlier in the draft than late. In fact, most of the better special teamers do not find success with their original employer. If you need to improve your special teams, find a good special teams coach and pay close attention to the waiver wire. On draft day: fuggetaboutit.

Putting It Together

So what does this all mean when April 29 rolls around? First, let me point out that this is nothing more than a snapshot of history. 832 data points represents a lot of information, but it's still relatively small as sample sizes go. As further disclaimer, the past is not a perfect predictor of the future, although it's usually the best information we've got. Then again, a few years ago there were no data points telling us to go look for the next great tight end on Kent State's basketball team.

With that said, I believe there are some draft strategy guidelines that can be gleaned from the data:

1) Address your needs at "Top-Heavy" positions first and foremost, particularly QB, DT, and T1.
2) Look for value at the "Normal Distribution" spots. Many of the best value picks come from guys at these positions who slide into rounds two through four.
3) Immensely talented safeties are rare, but you won't have trouble finding a quality safety in rounds two through five. A talented RB like DeAngelo Williams is probably a better use of resources than someone like Donte Whitner if you've got a need for both.
4) Wait until at least the end of round one to fill a need at center. Nick Mangold is awfully talented, but not worth a top pick if you've got needs elsewhere.
5) Spend late-round picks and undrafted free agent bonuses to collect prospects on offensive line, one dimensional defensive tackles, fullbacks, and special teams. A few of these will work out, and allow you to use your more valuable resources elsewhere.

At the end of the day, every team has pretty much the same arsenal of resources with which to build their roster (although some may have a little more cash for signing bonuses than others). The teams which can manage to use those resources most economically will ultimately field the most talented teams. It's not just about player evaluation; it's also about knowing how and when to address your specific needs.

Tim Murray works for an investment advisory firm in Bethesda, Maryland. He's been an ardent NFL draft observer for the past fifteen years. If you have an idea for a guest column, something that analyzes the NFL from a distinctive point of view, please email us at info@footballoutsiders.com.

Posted by: Guest on 24 Apr 2006

136 comments, Last at 04 May 2012, 4:15pm by rajwoodson


by bowman (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 5:03pm

You didn't mention the key component of the "Best Available Player" philosophy: if the BAP at your draft position isn't an area of need - TRADE DOWN!

by Sean D. (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 5:11pm

So wait, let me get this right. The Lions don't draft well?

by Tracy (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 5:12pm

Good article, and very interesting. The way you have chosen to break up the tackle distribution is self-selective, though, and therefore may have led to a false conclusion. Can it really be said that every team's best OT was drafted before it's second best OT? One could break up the guaurds, safeties, cornerbacks, DEs, DTs (for a 4-3), OLBs, ILBs (for a 3-4) in the same manner, and probably get similar results. A better approach would have been to try to separate each team's elite OT from its non-elite OT, but that would have required knowledge of each team's starters. In the alternative you could have listed the tackle on the quarterback's blindside as the more premium position, or used all left tackles. This would have been much more instructive.

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 5:22pm

That's odd. There are more offensive successes in the 7th round than in the 6th round.

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 5:31pm

What a great article!

You just owned Mel Kiper Jr.

by underthebus (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 5:47pm

“You’re not going to believe this.� Priceless.

by rk (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 5:48pm

Some of the info from the appendix is wrong. Ronald Bartell and Ellis Hobbs are listed as UFA, but each was drafted last year: Bartell in the 2nd and Hobbs in the 3rd. I haven't looked at the lists that closely, so there could be more errors.

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 5:49pm

However, that shouldn�t be enough to cause an increase, so we can probably presume that there is little to no talent drop off between the sixth and seventh rounds.

What's the statistical significance of the rise? What's the # of 6th rounders and percentage, and # of 7th rounders and percentage? I could look it up, but don't have the time right now. :)

The way you have chosen to break up the tackle distribution is self-selective, though

Er? Not really. If a team would've had two 6th round draft picks as their two tackles, you would've had one in T1, one in T2. It does bias the T1 distribution upward, but since teams don't *have* to have a high drafted tackle, it's not that bad.

It's really surprising that every team in the NFL has at least one tackle drafted earlier than the 4th round. That really just bashes the 'offensive lineman are found in every round' theory into the ground.

by Tracy (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 5:56pm

It is interesting that every team starts at least one tackle that was drafted in round three or higher. It doesn't follow, though, that these are the best tackles on each team. That's why the distribution is self-selective. It assumes what it's trying to show. In this instance, quality of play is defined by draft position, and then, surprise, the higher quality players were drafted earlier!

by Josh (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 5:57pm

One of the best articles ever on this site! Tim pwned Mel. (insert obligatory Lions draft joke). I was suprised to see the WR distribution--the draft is somewhat of a crapshoot for the team that drafts a no. 1 WR. See Dyson, Kevin. See Williamson, Troy. See WR, Lions. Many teams draft questionable talents at WR because of their combine or workout numbers. Give me a guy with goods hands who will run his damn routes the right way!!

by Tom (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 5:59pm

Could the 7th-round over 6th-round number have anything to do with the fact that the 7th round is the round with the most players in it? Look at recent drafts, 7th round v. 6th round:

2005 41 v 38
2004 54 v 36
2003 48 v 41
2002 50 v 39
2001 46 v 37

With these numbers, the better question seems to be why defenses can't draft better in the 7th round.

by Ilanin (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 6:08pm

The histogram is actually somewhat misleading, as most of the early picks are guys who are not true fullbacks. Rather, they are [...] or players who may be featured at fullback on the official team depth chart because the head coach has been joining them for recreational activities (Ricky Williams).

I'm glad I'd finished eating by the time I read this article. Classic.

The non-joke content was pretty darned good too, but I'm sure lots of other people can express that better than me.

by CA (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 6:09pm

Give me a guy with goods hands who will run his damn routes the right way!!

You mean like Mike Williams?

by Tracy (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 6:13pm

One specific example of the self-selection phenomenon: Matt Lepsis is the Broncos' T1, but he was a UFA. George Foster is their T2, but he was drafted in round 1. The way this article differentiates the tackles, Foster would be categorized as a T1 and Lepsis as a T2. With only 32 members of each group, it would only take a handful of mis-categorized tackle pairs to completely skew these findings.

by CA (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 6:25pm

Tim, I would say your analysis and recommendations apply as tie-breakers more than anything else. You write,

1) Address your needs at "Top-Heavy" positions first and foremost, particularly QB...
3) Immensely talented safeties are rare, but you won’t have trouble finding a quality safety in rounds two through five. A talented RB like DeAngelo Williams is probably a better use of resources than someone like Donte Whitner if you’ve got a need for both.

Take the Raiders. QB and safety are both big needs for the team, and let's assume that the Raiders want to address them both in the draft. The 7th pick rolls around, and the Raiders are waffling between Jay Cutler and Michael Huff. Your analysis tends to suggest go for the QB, since it's a lot harder to find good QBs late in the draft than it is to find good safeties late in the draft. Fair enough.

But what if Cutler, Young, and Leinart are all off the board by the time of the 7th pick? Now, if the issue is QB v. safety, it has become Croyle/Jacobs/Whitehurst/etc. v. Michael Huff. None of the QBs really is a first-round caliber talent in many people's eyes. Are you suggesting that the Raiders fill their need at QB when those are the choices simply because there are likely to be good safeties available later? If the Raiders were to reach to draft the QB, perhaps following your advice, that act alone would not make the QB a first round caliber talent, despite the fact that he was drafted in the first round.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 6:39pm

#14: I agree completely, there has to be a better way to differentiate while still being able to sort a sufficiently large sample size.

#15: I think in that situation you look to trade, at which point you trade down for some picks and use those guidelines there. He didn't really touch upon trading picks, since he wasn't dealing with that kind of data.

by SJM (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 6:40pm


Your criticism is fair, but you can't just take all the LT's as T1's and the RT's as T2's because some QB's are left-handed, and some RT's are better than LT's. You'd have to examine each pair individually, and even then it would still be subjective.

by Jerry (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 6:42pm

Nice work. The one factor you touch on but don't fully address is teams that run "different" schemes; if only a couple of teams run a 3-4, prototypical 3-4 DEs and LBs can be drafted later because of lower demand.

by SJM (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 6:43pm


I think you misunderstood. Tim isn't saying "reach for the player at the premier position just so you can say you got him in round 1," he's saying "you better get a guy who grades as a first rounder or don't bother."

by Rollo (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 6:45pm

Great article. This kind of value analysis is invaluable before our enthusiasim as fans gets the better of us on draft day!

by Erasmus (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 6:53pm

Remember the good old days when a WR did not have to produce in his 1st season to already be called a bust. Then freaking Randy Moss came around and now if you are not catching 80 passes and 10 TDs you are a waste of space at WR.

Rookie WRs hardly ever produce, guys like Moss and Boldin are the exception not the norm. Not saying drafting Mike Williams was smart, especially with other holes and the fact that they drafted 2 WRS the year before. But lets not already label Mike Williams a bust because he did not catch 90 passes either.

of course I wish the Lions never drafted Mike Williams either.

by Shelley (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 6:53pm

A great article. I'm sure I'll be sitting in front of my television on Saturday yelling at the teams using their early picks on a guard or kicker (well, I did that last year, too).
I do have to nitpick one thing. You've got Ellis Hobbs listed as an undrafted free agent, but he was a third round pick. I think you're confusing him with Randall Gay. Not that it really effects the outcome of the histograms.

by mattman (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 7:23pm

An excellent article, one of the best of the offseason. But I thought there were some flaws in the study/data pool. One is that the data pool is merely a one-year snapshot of 32 starting lineups, rather than drawn from, say, a ten-year period. The other, and probably biggest, issue is that the study assumed all starting players to be equal. Sure, the chart looks like linebacker and guard talent is equal across four rounds, but how many of those guys are stars, how many are productive starters, and how many are bums that start only because the team's other options are even worse? Adjusting the study to accomodate this would be difficult, it would almost require a subjective player-rating system to be created, then incorporated into the study.

Still, very enlightening information. It's seemed to me that the first round of the draft is dominated by QB, DE, DT, CB, and OT. This study would suggest that CB doesn't belong in that group, and the DT should hold priority over DE.

by JRM (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 8:25pm

I'll catch hell for this, but I'll stick up for the Lions selecting Mike Williams. At the time I thought he was by far the best player on the board and a steal at the #10. Drafting WRs three years in a row isn't necessarily a bad thing, as having threr really good WRs will help your team win games.

The problem hasn't been Detroit drafting WRs, it's been that the WRs haven't panned out particularly well.

It's too early to write Mike Williams off, but I'm a lot less enthusiastic about him now than I was a year ago.

by Milton (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 9:01pm

George Young deserves the credit for the planet theory, not that dude who coaches the cowboys.

by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 9:15pm

Why are "skill positions" called "skill positions?" I can see QB, but does a running back or a wide receiver really possess more "skill" than a lineman or a linebacker? If so, why do many rookies enter the league at RB and WR and immediately do well, while many lineman become NFL quality only after a few years of playing (learning the game, honing their skill, perhaps?) I really dislike this terminology, I think it denigrates the real skills that are necessary to play any position in the NFL--and no, I wasn't a high school lineman, I was a skinny kid on the cross country team!

by BigBlueBill (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 9:31pm

Quote: "The Planet Theory is Bill Parcells philosophy that there are so few men both large enough and athletic enough to be NFL linemen that they are intrinsically valuable."

Good catch, Milton! I second the motion. "The Planet Theory" was actually the late, great George Young's idea.

by admin :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 9:31pm

CB graph now fixed.

by CA (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 10:25pm

Re: 26

"Skill positions" stand in contrast to "power positions." Players at skill positions concentrate more on developing and enhancing their agility more so than strength relative to players at power positions. Skill positions generally refer to receivers and offensive and defensive backs except for fullbacks, while power positions generally refer to offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers, tight ends, and fullbacks. Sometimes linebackers, tight ends, and fullbacks are referred to as "large skill positions" or "larger skill positions."

"Skill positions" and "power positions" are simply relative terms, and I don't consider one any more complementary than the other. One could just as easily as you be offended that running back is not considered a power position, on the grounds that the role of running back also requires strength and force.

by Stepen Greenwell (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 10:45pm

Wow, great and detailed study, I enjoyed reading it. Also funny, so kudos. Are there any plans to now try to do a "mock draft" based on each team's needs? Maybe a FO roundtable mock event? Could be fun.

by Todd T (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 11:27pm

Fun article. Along with the other suggestions people have made about adding years etc., I do think it would be useful to normalize these based on how many players were selected at each position in each round. If, for example, there are far more QBs selected in the first round than any other (I don't know), then the meaning of the preponderance of starters from that round changes. I'm sure the FB graph is driven by this. Some of the statements about where teams have *success* may be exaggerated if what we're really seeing is simply where they pick the position.

As you point out, teams must consider depth whenever possible. Maybe this was the Lions' excuse, and if so, maybe M. Williams made sense, since Rogers is never on the field ;-)

One of the things I found most interesting was the success teams have had finding undrafted starters. (It's not emphasized, but look at the data under the graphs.) At every position, a greater percentage of starters went undrafted than were picked in the lowest rounds, often in several low rounds put together. In a few cases, the share of starters is up there near those from the top rounds. I wonder why this would be.

by ZH (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 11:30pm

The first two rounds of the annual FO Reader Participation Mock Draft were held yesterday and today. Too late to join up for this year. You can access the discussion thread, should you want to check it out, by clicking on the open discussion link at the top of the page and scrolling down to the thread.

by ZH (not verified) :: Mon, 04/24/2006 - 11:37pm

Most NFL GM's are football guys, not economists. If they were, they would be running the business end of the show and not the football end. Unfortunately, NFL GM's often get blinded by a desire for a specific player and pick early. Then again, sometimes those picks do pan out (Osi Umenyiora for example).

by Devin McCullen (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 12:15am

Speaking of Mike Nugent jokes...as much fun as they are, I don't think it's unreasonable to ask that, now that a year has gone by since the pick*, can we have a moratorium on out-of-context Mike Nugent jokes? Not that it shouldn't be mocked, but just when it's actually germane to the conversation. Of course, I'm still bitter because when I tried to do a Mike Nugent joke at my fantasy draft this year, I got crickets. In New Jersey! Granted, I'm the only Jet fan, but still...

(*The draft's a week later this year.)

by Matt (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 1:10am

Re: 31 "At every position, a greater percentage of starters went undrafted than were picked in the lowest rounds, often in several low rounds put together. In a few cases, the share of starters is up there near those from the top rounds. I wonder why this would be."

I think it's simple numbers. Teams typically bring like 25 or more undrafted rookies to training camp, as opposed to 2-4 players drafted rounds 6 and 7. If you assume the talent pool flattens out somewhere during the 5th round, (and the charts back that idea up pretty well,) then the 2-4 players a team adds in rounds 6 and 7 are a drop in the bucket compared to the undrafted pool.

by Why not? (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 2:01am

Isn't all this what fantasy football has already discovered? The more I study how to pick right in the draft the more parallels I see with how to draft well in fantasy football by knowing where the different drop off points are in a position. I think "starts" is not a great way to judge draft picks. There are David Carrs who start and there are Peyton Mannings who start. There's Thomas Jones and there's Shaun Alexander. It says what you should expect from that round but not what you should expect from that player. I think these charts may tell you when to "beat the trend", you don't want to follow the trend or you may not get the best player at that position. As an example, I used to do this in Madden during a fantasy draft. Come round 15 or so, the game would start picking TEs because that was the value it assigned. I just picked one in 14 instead to beat the curve(Mr. Gates or Mr. Gonzalez). You don't want to get stuck with the pack in any draft, you want an edge and then hope your scouts find some gems or bluecollar guys later on.

by HoppySon (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 7:29am

Extremely articulate and informative article. Tim has obviously researched every aspect of the NFL draft process to death. Rather then look back to see the validity of his charts and explanations, I'm going to see how it applies to this weekend's draftees and drafters and continue watch those players' careers and teams' successes/failures in accordance with Tim's analysis.
I like these in-depth articles. I hope Tim becomes a frequent contributor. Again, great article.

by Ed (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 8:57am

Great article!Brilliant mind! Great insight! Of course, Tim is actually my son & learned everything from me.
All kidding aside, it is a very interesting & insightful approach (& he didn't get any of the jokes from me)

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 9:18am

One specific example of the self-selection phenomenon: Matt Lepsis is the Broncos’ T1, but he was a UFA. George Foster is their T2, but he was drafted in round 1.

Wait, isn't this just you recategorizing tackles via some other arbitrary standard? Why is Lepsis the 'first' tackle and Foster the 'second' tackle? Because one's a left tackle, and one's a right tackle, and left is more important, and therefore Lepsis is better?

Note what Tim's saying above: the teams need one guy who can be left one-on-one. Doesn't matter where he is, left side or right side. Probably most teams choose the QB's blind side, but I could understand teams wanting to assign multiple blockers to a QB's blind side as well.

Of course, there's another possibility here as well: Lepsis is a 10-year veteran. Foster's a 4-year veteran. It's possible that 1) teams are shifting to younger tackles, or 2) it's simply too expensive to have two early-round tackles on a team. Draft picks in their rookie contracts tend to be affordable, so you have one high draft pick who's young (still on his rookie contract) and one tackle who's proven himself, acquired through any random method.

It'd be interesting to look at the age distribution of the 'T1' and 'T2' tackles that Tim classified to see if the higher draft pick tends to be much younger than the later-round draft pick. My guess would be yes.

by Led (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 9:24am

Interesting article. It seems to me that one small problem with using starts as a proxy for quality is that there will be a natural bias toward first rounders, particularly with the top heavy "franchise" positions. Teams invest a lot of money in these players and at any one time there will be a number of such players starting because of that huge investment (and potential upside) rather than their actual NFL performance. I'm not sure how significant this bias is, but I'm sure it's there.

by MyrAn (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 9:25am

Great article. I agree with one of the previous posts that say that adding talent level to the data would be very valuable.

As a proxy for actual talent evaluation, you could use number of Pro Bowl appearances so that you wouldn't have to be subjective.

by J (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 9:51am

good stuff.

There were 13 starting, interior Olinemen drafted in first round...3 of the 13, Faneca, Hartings, and Simmons, started for Steelers.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 9:53am

Not enough people make the pro bowl for that to be a useful measure without a gigantic sample size.

You could try to use the FO stats, perhaps. DPAR for skill positions, ALY for the lines, and then... uh... make something up for DBs. Pro bowls might work for them, since they take enough and there is a smaller number of really good DBs compared to, say, linemen.

by CA (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 10:02am

Re: 41

As a proxy for actual talent evaluation, you could use number of Pro Bowl appearances so that you wouldn’t have to be subjective.

Tim Murray wouldn't have to be subjective, but the Pro Bowl selectors still would be. Pro Bowl selections are influenced highly by media hype, name recognition, performance in past years, politics, popularity, and other factors unrelated to current quality of play. Pro Bowl selections are flawed enough to be largely irrelevant, and I think any study would suffer by using Pro Bowl selections as a criterion of player performance. Pro Bowl selections are a good proxy for SportsCenter-level conventional wisdom, and nothing more.

People often default to judging power position players by pro bowl selections, since those players are difficult to judge through stats, but Dr. Z and others who watch such players closely will tell you that it is by no means the case that the best power position players tend to make the Pro Bowl.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 10:26am

The other problem with Pro Bowl appearances is that it's quantized: there's only a fixed number of people who can make it, and it's very small.

Starts is a much smoother variable, at least.

Yeah, there's going to be a bias there, but *any* measure of performance is going to have a similar bias: because if the player doesn't play, you can't measure his performance. :)

by Drew (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 10:53am

Is this the place to nitpick at the appendix? OK, good. Bob Sanders was a 2nd rounder; he's listed as a UFA.

Great article though. I'll be keeping my eye on Mangold. He makes me think of Jeff Faine. I thought that was a stupid pick by the Browns at the time, and I still do for the most part.

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 10:58am

"George Young deserves the credit for the planet theory, not that dude who coaches the cowboys."

Wow, he produced all AC/DC's best albums and came up with informative theories about talent distribution in the NFL draft? What a guy!

Pat, the ascription of "T1" status to Lepsis over Foster is entirely subjective, but I don't think it's one that anyone would actually disagree with, Broncos coaching staff included. I think the point is more that certain schemes probably have different rules in the same way that the 3-4 does - Buc-2 probably doesn't require such athletic corners as systems that routinely ask them to go man, and Gibbs-derived offensive line schemes can acquire T1s later in the draft (or as UDFAs, in the case of Lepsis).

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 11:09am

and Gibbs-derived offensive line schemes can acquire T1s later in the draft

If that were true, then why do all offensive lines (including the Gibbs-derived ones) have at least one 3rd-round or higher tackle of the two?

They clearly still need a high-drafted tackle. They all have one.

by Josh (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 11:11am

I think the most interesting part of the aticle is what it says about QBs, that after the 1st round QBs taken late have just as good a chance as QBs taken in early or middle rounds. Should be a warning to teams considering taking a Croyle, Whitehurst or Clemens around the 3rd round this year - chances are pretty low that the QB will turn into an eventual starter, still can get quality players at other positions at that point.

by MyrAn (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 11:33am

I realize that Pro Bowl appearances are both hyped by media and limited to small number of players. The better measure would be career DVOA or peak DVOA or some similar measure. Starts would definitely NOT do it, because it doesn't inherently measure ANY form of comparative talent. I don't like Pro Bowl selections much either, but they are are not totally invalidated by the media, and barring that, there really is no way to measure.

by DD (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 11:33am


I find no need to criticize minor points because this is the most interesting article of this offseason!

No offense to regular contributors, of course!

by DD (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 11:44am

I'm sure that you could endlessly revise this article using pro bowlers, and DVOA, and just about everything else under the sun.
However, you have to begin somewhere, and that is with who actually makes it on the field for each team. I think we can at least assume that each starter at each position is probably the best player at that position for their particular team. And since each team needs to field their best players, hence we graph who 'starts'.

But the concept of the article is great and lends itself to revised versions, perhaps our guest writer will continue to expand his article in the future! That would be cool!

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 11:46am

I very much agree with this statement, pertaining to qbs....

"If you are really in need of a QB you should probably draft them both"

.....and it makes me wonder why teams in need don't select qbs more frequently. Perhaps they fear a pr and coaching problem, if the guy selected in the sixth round out-performs the guy selected in the first or second, which is a legitimate concern. How many coaches have the courage to stick with a Brady over a Bledsoe, absent a Super Bowl to legitimate the choice? The role of coaching, in both getting potential out of players, and in making the right selections, is probably larger in the NFL than any other major American sport.

by bowman (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 11:47am

Aren't 1st round WR2's considered to be a "bust"? It seems that most 1st round WRs are drafted to be the game-changing speedster, and being the 8-year curl guy is not the expectation of the drafting team.

Great article!

by dryheat (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 12:04pm

Well, it was an interesting article, and a provocative read in an otherwise banal landscape of draft articles. And the graphs were nice. However....

Is it just me, or is the whole logic.....circular? (I don't think that's the appropriate word). Self-fulfilling, perhaps?

Because 0-1 centers are drafted in the first round each year, it's a wasted pick to draft one in the first round, because most current starters at the positions weren't?

Isn't that rather like saying that it's a waste of money to spend $50 on dinner, because last night most people ate on $20 or less, and they haven't starved?

by dryheat (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 12:06pm

re #53:

Heath Shuler, meet Gus Frerotte.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 12:14pm

Yeah, but didn't Shuler's injury problems really preclude any buergoning controversy? I just don't remember.

A nice companion piece to this would be a "bust-rate" analysis, where it could be determined whether certain positions represent a significantly greater chance of near-total failure in the first and second round, defined as a pick who never develops into a starter anywhere, unrelated to injury.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 12:23pm

Make that "never develops into a player who starts for several seasons (3?,4?, I don't know...), unrelated to injury." A fair number of first rounders get a couple of season's worth of starts, despite being lousy, due to the money invested in them.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 12:27pm

Because 0-1 centers are drafted in the first round each year, it’s a wasted pick to draft one in the first round, because most current starters at the positions weren’t?

Nono: look at the blue-vs-red lines on that plot. About 10% of the starting centers in the NFL are former first-round picks. But probably only 1 of them was a first round pick by the team that they currently play for.

It's a wasted pick because chances are that even if he does develop, you will have given up on him already by then. Or he'll be too expensive for you to justify keeping.

Most likely the latter.

by Drew (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 12:30pm

Re 54

Aren’t 1st round WR2’s considered to be a "bust"?

I had the same thought. I suppose it depends. I don't consider Reggie Wayne a bust. He's exactly what the Colts wanted when they picked him -- a legitmate 2nd option to keep teams from triple-teaming Harrison all the time.

As for the other 1st-round WR2s on the list, I'd consider Jenkins, Lelie and Stallworth to be letdowns up to this point in their careers. Evans, Keyshawn, Walker, Wayne, and Clayton (TB) are good players who have justified their draft positions to various degrees. Still too soon to tell with Clayton (BAL).

I'd say the real busts are the 1st-rounders who can't manage to crack the starting line-up, like Reggie Williams or Freddie Mitchell.

by Erik (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 12:30pm

Very interesting article. Another, interestng way to look at the data might be to find out how many successful picks there have been for each position in each round of the draft. This would give us a sense of the risk of each position. For instance, 50% of the starting QBs were taken in the first round, but how many first round picks have actually produced? Are first round QBs riskier than first round offensive tackles or defensive tackles?

by Theo (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 12:54pm

This throws another interesting view at the latest 1st and 2nd round picks made by the Steelers:

G, WR3
WR2, T

by Tracy (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 12:55pm

Pat, you have not yet leveled any valid criticism of my point, let me restate it for clarification: Tim starts with an assumption about tackles not made about any other position that has a pair (guards, cornerbacks, safeties, DEs). He assumes that a team needs to get their elite player early, and illustrates this by showing that each team has a player starting at tackle that was drafted on or before the third round. Then he concludes that a team needs to draft their elite tackle early. The conclusion does not follow from the analysis, it follows from the assumptions (every team has an elite tackle, and a team's elite tackle is the one picked earlier in the draft).
What if I applied this reasoning to cornerbacks? I'll assume that every team has a C1, who is relied upon to play man-to-man coverage against the oponent's top WR. Then I'll plot the distribution of higher drafted starting cornerbacks. Is there any possible way that this would demonstrate a need to get a cornerback earlier? Tim's statement about the existence of T1s and about drafting a T1 early may be true, but that's not relevant to my criticism. My criticism is that the way he's categorized T1s does not match his description of a T1.
As for my specific example: I'm sorry that I offered it. Instead of helping to make my point, I gave you a red-herring to attack. In any case, Lepsis is a T1 not because he plays LT or because he's a 10 year vet. He's a T1 because he fits Tim's description of a T1 better than Foster. Th

by dryheat (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 12:57pm

Nono: look at the blue-vs-red lines on that plot. About 10% of the starting centers in the NFL are former first-round picks. But probably only 1 of them was a first round pick by the team that they currently play for.

Well we could figure that out easy enough. I guess Faine, Hartings, and Bentley? I was going to say Woody, but the remembered that he's a guard now, which opens up a whole other can.

It’s a wasted pick because chances are that even if he does develop, you will have given up on him already by then. Or he’ll be too expensive for you to justify keeping.

A center signed in the first round will be cheap for five years. Then he'll move on if he's been a good player. I hardly think 4-5 years of starting on the OL (which you have to figure a 1st round center will give you) is a waste of a first round pick.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 1:30pm

Then he concludes that a team needs to draft their elite tackle early. The conclusion does not follow from the analysis, it follows from the assumptions (every team has an elite tackle, and a team’s elite tackle is the one picked earlier in the draft).

Er? Define "elite tackle" as "one picked on the first day". Then the conclusion "every team has an elite tackle" isn't an assumption. It's a conclusion.

That's all I'm saying.

by CA (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 1:38pm

from triple-teaming Harrison all the time.

That just doesn't happen.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 1:38pm

A center signed in the first round will be cheap for five years.

Depends on how you structure the contract. A center signed in the first round will definitely be cheap for the first year. After that, it's up in the air.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 1:42pm

I hardly think 4-5 years of starting on the OL (which you have to figure a 1st round center will give you) is a waste of a first round pick.

I guess the other thing you could conclude is that there simply haven't been enough 1st-round quality centers in the past, say, 5 years (i.e. there's been 1).

Then again, that should make you really carefully think about that first round pick of a center. So describing it as a waste is probably wrong - more like 'very risky'.

by NickW (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 2:08pm

Hate to say it but I have to agree with #55, the analysis is interesting, but extremely self fulfilling. Practically nbody picks fullbacks in round 1, so of course there are few starters from that pool.

Wouldn't this be best if adjusted for the mix or players selected in each round.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 2:15pm

Yep, without a "bust-rate" analysis, telling us whether certain positions are riskier to pick in the first two rounds, in terms of picking guys who never become reliable starters, one doesn't have enough to do reward/risk analysis.

by GaryS (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 4:12pm

Let's see how this theory would be applied for the Bills, who need OT and DT first and foremost (assuming of course either Lossman or Nall can play QB, which is not a sure thing). They have a RB in McGahee and WR in Evans, so those are fuilled too.

If Ferguson somehow slips to #8, you take him. If not, draft Ngata, as those are the two "planet theory" linemen in the draft. If you draft DT in the first, go OT in the second (Winston, who will probably be gone, or McNeil who may still be there).

In Round 3, I have two picks and I need a TE and a C. At TE, if you are lucky, maybe Fasano of ND is there at the top of 3, if not David Thomas, although not a top blocker, can be a playmaker at TE and should be available in the third. Eslinger of MN, should be there in the 3rd, so take him.

In rounds 4-7, look at Gs and Safeties, who might not be able to start for a year or two, but might be valuable on special teams while they develop. Setterstrom of MN and Boothe from Cornell should be there at G in the 4-5 area, and we'll look for a safety in 6-7 area.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 4:55pm

RE: 67

I don't get this comment at all. If the price of the player hinges upon "how you structure the contract," then what is your point by saying that the player will only be cheap the first year? Wouldn't the way "you structure the contract" determine the salary for the player for the remaining years of the contract?

If your point is that a player can hold out after the first year and demand more money, then the issue of how the contract is structured is irrelevant anyway.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 4:58pm

First year contract amounts are capped because teams have a fixed amount that they can spend on draft picks, and they can only be prorated for 5 years.

If Bush holds out until after all the other draft picks that Houston has are signed, he's absolutely locked himself into stone as to what he'll get guaranteed the first year.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 5:19pm

RE: 73

I'm still missing your point on this issue. I interpreted the comment in 64 to basically mean that if you draft a center in the first round, the odds are that you will get at least a serviceable player for 5 years that you can plug into your line and use right away. While you can debate whether that is right or not, I generally agree with it. I think that the comment about centers being "cheap" was in reference to the fact that a center chosen in the first round is going to receive a significantly smaller signing bonus and contract than Reggie Bush is going to get. So I agree that centers drafted in the first round are "cheap" picks and are likely to result in a starting player being drafted.

I agree with that logic. So, the comments about how a rookie center's contract is structured, in my opinion, misses the point. Regardless of how it is structured, a rookie center is virtually always going to be paid less than a "skill position" 1st rounder.

by teamplay (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 5:28pm

I was also fascinated by the article but feeling dubious of the logic (#55). The "bust-rate" comment (#70) is dead-on. What's interesting is that that data is readily available: average the draft by positions over the past 5 years or so, and benchmark starters against that baseline. In any event, thanks for a savvy contribution.

Here's my own intuitive model: Most essential tier: QB (get a good one any way one can); Second tier: Defensive front 7 (mayhem and game control diminishes need for top offense); Third tier: Offense line & TE (ability to run block and give QB time to thrown); Four tier: Secondary, WRs, & RBs (if the other 3 tiers are weak, you don't win; if the other 3 tiers are strong, average players will suffice here). It's the old "win in the trenches" theory.

by Falco (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 6:12pm

Overall, great job. Excellent graphs, and tons of useful info. It shows how teams are built and what positions are considered important by NFL teams.

I do disagree with the following statement and do not think it is supported by the facts:

This is probably a function of the particularly high success rate of early picks used on OTs and the tendency for teams to hold on to them.

I think this opinion is wrong factually because OT have no higher success rate than other positions among early picks (paging Tony Mandarich and Dean Steinkuhler). If we use starts as a criteria, they may get a few more, because unlike QB or RB, (with 1 starter), a disappointing OT drafted to play LT can be moved to RT or G and still get some additional starts (I'm talking to you, Mike Williams). The recent first round OT's do not strike me as high success rate--you would have to go back to the Pace/Jones draft for a stellar draft class at the position. In a previous extra points thread, the argument of Bush vs. Ferguson came up.

It's hard to compare these positions, because RB is stats based and OT has few if any. To try to compare, I looked at team performance (wins, playoffs, advancing in playoffs) over the next 5 seasons after a team drafted a RB top 10 vs. an OT top 10, going back to the 1978 draft. The results were one-sided in favor of the running back teams. Year 5 was the first year that OT teams had a higher % of teams finish over .500.

Using the draft history website, I also looked at the offensive positions drafted over the last 10 years by round. Not surprisingly, a higher percentage of QB's and OT's were drafted in the first round (19.5% (24) of all QB's drafted and 17.5% (34) of all tackles drafted were drafted in the first round). RB's and WR's were about average (14%) and the other positions were all below 10%, most well below.

Comparing the ratio of % of starters to % of draftees, First Round OT's are actually below average. Of course, teams will continue drafting a higher number based on perceived importance of the position, not lower risk.

The best offensive positions in the first round in terms of ratio of draftee % to starter % were TE, followed by RB. QB was 3rd, followed by WR, C, OG, OT, and FB. In round 2, TE and QB led the way. There was a big dropoff between round 2 and rest of the draft for both of those positions. (Only 7 QB's were drafted in round 2 last 10 years, compared to 24 in first round, also see the QB article by David Lewin). Offensive tackles and Centers are actually better relative picks in round 3, compared to other positions.

Also, the player lists are great. Running the offensive lines, there is absolutely no correlation between draft rounds of the combined linemen and adjusted line yards or sack rate (coefficient = +0.02). In fact, counting free agents as 8, and adding total draft rounds of each linemen, the 8 highest offensive lines (thus, more later round picks) for 2005 were Baltimore, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Buffalo, New England, San Diego, Denver, and Kansas City. San Diego and New England are the only teams to have no 1st or 2nd rounders at OT. I think they did okay without any last year on offense.

by jebmak (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 6:50pm

Re #29

Until I read your comment, I had never heard the term 'power positions', and I watch a decent amount of football (and scour this site all offseason). I had always assumed, like a large number of fans I would bet, that the contrast was skill and non-skill. What you say seems very plausible, but the term power-position is drastically underused.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 8:05pm

Regardless of how it is structured, a rookie center is virtually always going to be paid less than a “skill position� 1st rounder.

Is that true? I was always pretty much of the opinion that total value of contracts for rookies are pretty much set by draft position, regardless of position.

You could make a center cheap by shifting most of that value to the later years, and then (likely) cutting him afterwards, or even before.

You could do this with any other skill position player, too, sure, but the team'll be hurt a lot more by losing a WR or QB than it will by losing its center.

by jebmak (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 8:06pm

Oh, outstanding article!

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 8:14pm

Running the offensive lines, there is absolutely no correlation between draft rounds of the combined linemen and adjusted line yards or sack rate (coefficient = +0.02).

Well, you're forgetting age, as well. A 40-year old offensive lineman who was drafted in round 1 might have about the skill set of a 1st year 5th round draft pick. Those numbers were made up, mind you, but you get the point. It's too simplistic to just say "hey, I've got an all-1st round draft pick offensive line, so they must be great!" Age matters.

Unfortunately, you wouldn't know the derating coefficients (i.e. year 1 is 50%, year 2 is 75%, year 3-6 is 100%, etc., etc.) a priori so you'd have to fit them to maximize the correlation - you'd also have to make some assumptions in order to reduce the space that the fitter would run over.

by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 8:59pm

Re 29: Sorry to keep harping on this, and I know it's off-topic, but "skill" doesn't sound much like what you call a "relative term" to me. If you agree that "skill" is something that can be developed over time, I still think it is foolish to characterize positions often mastered by rookies (receivers, defensive backs) as being so marked by "skill" that the term may used to classify them uniquely, while other positions which often take a number of years to master (offensive linemen come to mind) by implication are not particularly demanding of "skill." Again, I know it's just a terminological dispute and that I'm riding a hobbyhorse, but it's just the wrong word. And whether or not the other positions are "power" positions, you hear "skill positions" or even "skill players" 95 times for every one use of "power positions," as jebmak suggests in number 77.

If your boss tells you, "you don't have much skill at your job," do you take any comfort in thinking "well, it's a relative term, I do bring a lot of power to my work."?

by michael (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 9:37pm

i never hear people talking about charlie whitehurst he is a very good player very underated in my opinion he should go in the 2nd round not the 3rd or 4th like ive heard. any thoughts on this.

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Tue, 04/25/2006 - 9:54pm

Well, David Lewin's analysis apparently liked him.

Any Bronco fans out there, help me out. Who did Foster replace on the Broncos' O-line?

by emcee fleshy (atl) (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 1:08am

In defense of the Mike Williams pick: say you're the Lions and, having drafted two WR's in the two previous first rounds, you realize that Roy Williams might be a little fragile and Charles Rogers is a steaming pile of Charles Rogers.

Bad news: You still need a WR! and when pick 10 rolls up, there's Mike Williams, who should have gone much earlier. The sunk cost makes it look silly, but the pick isn't insane.

by Bronco Jeff (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 3:48am

Foster replaced the immortal Ephraim Salaam, I believe--who was only there for one year. I have no idea when he was drafted.

I'll just say that Foster is both the highest draft pick on the line and the weak link in it, I believe. Last year he split time with journeyman Cornell Green, and often struggled in pass protection. His presence skews the data for the Broncos O-line, which is comprised otherwise of lower than 5th round draft picks if I'm not mistaken.

by dryheat (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 8:31am

#76, Matt Light was a second round pick by New England, although he was hurt for most of last year.

#64 (me) Cheap is a relative term to begin with, and I could have made my point clearer: Using Mangold as a model, we have to assume that a GM (let's say Belichick) believes that the difference between him and the next center on the board (let's say Chester) is two full rounds dropoff, as currently projected.

Now, Center, by nature, is a safe pick. It's fairly easy to project an NCAA center into NFL performance, unlike a QB or RB who was surrounded by superior talent or played inferior competition, or played in a funky offensive system. There's no way to hide the guy who starts the play. If he dominates in college, he will be, at worst, a functional NFL player, even if he has to move to guard.

As a GM, you're hopefully going to sign your pick to a five year deal, assuming he's in the lower half of the first round. Let's say you were to draft Jay Cutler. Will he be able to start immediately? Does he have a chance to become the next Joey Harrington or Kyle Boller, or shudder Ryan Leaf? Of course he does. What about DeAngelo Williams or Santonio Holmes? Do they have a greater or lesser bust potential? Greater, by far. With any of these guys, there's a good chance that they won't be productive for the full five years. They may take a year or two to learn the offense and adjust to the pro game, or sit behind an established starter, and give you three years of productivity.

But let's say they boom. What if Vince Young starts from day one and does to the QB position what Mexico was supposed to? What if Maroney leads the league in rushing two out of his first four years? What if Manny Lawson sets the single season sack record and makes the Pro Bowl in his first three seasons? These players then hold out, because they're underpaid under their rookie deal.

If Mangold excels his first five years, say year one as primary backup to three positions, and starting center for the next four, he hits UFA. He's not underpaid, because his salary would be better than most NFL interior linemen by virtue of being a first round pick. He then signs a huge contract and leaves for Woody, Mawae, or Bentley money elsewhere. The team that drafted him got a great center for below market value for four years.

In badly-needed summary, for the investment made into a first round pick, the center a) has the lowest 'bust' potential, and b) will give you more productivity for dollar invested than most other first round draftees.

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 9:18am

Young curmudgeon (#81, et al )--

You are probably correct: "skill" positions are meant to be contrasted with "unskilled" positions. This is also why effective, hard-working lineman are complimented as "blue-collar" or "lunchpail" guys -- not the usual terms-of-art for skilled professionals.

There is one point to that distinction, however: size matters most to linemen, and least to receivers (and defensive backs). Relatively little guys, like Steve Smith or Deion Branch, would have zero chance to start on the offensive line. Whereas big guys can catch passes, even really big guys like Julius Peppers.

The counter-counter argument is that speed and "soft" hands are talents rather than skills, natural abilities that can be improved through work, conditioning, and training, but not simply learned. (Like size and power, in fact.) Relatively little guys like Steve Smith or Deion Branch would have zero chance of starting as receivers, either, if they couldn't get open and catch passes. And Julius Peppers gets to play occasional WR, because he can run fast and catch the ball.

Which brings us full circle: players in both the speed and the power positions are all highly skilled at the NFL level, but the big guys don't get the pretty name for it.

by Yakuza Rich (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 10:16am

Really just an awesome article, extremely informative. However, as a Cowboys fan, since they are probably going after an OLB instead of a OT, that has me immediately concerned.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 10:16am

RE: 78

I do not think that all first round picks are created equal. A QB selected with, for example, the seventh pick is going to make more than a center chosen first overall. That is just because certain positions are valued more than others, and center is a spot where teams are generally not willing to tie up a lot of cap room. The best example I can think of was when the Raiders selected Janikowski in the first round. While he received a good contract by kicker standards, I think that he was paid substantially less than the other players taken later in the first round. That is because kickers make less, generally speaking, than "skill position" players. Further evidence for that can be seen by comparing the contracts of Vinatieri and Vanderjagt with a middle-tier talent guy like Antwaan Randel-El. El, as an average-above average WR makes a lot more than the best kickers around. The same reasoning goes into how teams pay their draft picks. Some positions just get paid more. I'm not saying that is necessarily right, because I think you could craft a good argument that of all positions (even kickers) rookie WRs should receive substantially less in rookie signing bonus and salary than others because they are such huge gambles. So called "can't miss" WR prospects frequently do miss, and by a large margin. But that is a different argument.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 10:17am

There really needs to be a positional study done regarding "bust probabilities" in the first two rounds, with particular emphasis on top-ten or top-five picks. The sample sizes might be unworkably small, however. I guess I'd go back to the 1978 rule changes in an attempt to overcome this.

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 10:36am

Further evidence for that can be seen by comparing the contracts of Vinatieri and Vanderjagt with a middle-tier talent guy like Antwaan Randel-El.

That's a free agent deal. That's a totally different world than the draft.

Regarding draft pick salaries, I dunno. I'm not sure I'll believe anecdotal evidence about that. Reggie Brown (WR, $4.7M) was picked just a few picks (like, 3) after Mike Patterson (DT) - and Patterson made more ($6.625M).

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 10:57am

RE: 91

The Randle-El deal was a free agent signing, but the reason he got a bigger contract than the kickers was simple: Teams are willing to pay more for certain positions than they are for others. That same reasoning is used by teams in paying their draft picks as well. A center chosen in the first round is not going to receive even Aaron Rogers money. Indeed, teams apparently think so little of the center position that they do not often even spend a first round pick on them. Same is true for kickers, and it used to also apply to a lesser extent to guards, safeties and tight ends, although that has changed in the past few years.

As far as your example with Brown and Patterson, if memory serves Brown was not even chosen in the first round. IT is worth noting, though, that Chris Spencer was chosen at 26 and only received slightly less than Aaron Rogers at 24 and Jason Campbell at 25, so your belief is supported by the contracts given in that draft. At the same time, though, Marcus Spears received slightly more money than Alex Barron, who was chosen one pick ahead of Spears.

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 11:26am

Teams are willing to pay more for certain positions than they are for others.

In free agency. That's not the same as in the draft.

If you want to pay less for someone in the draft, you draft them lower. If you draft a kicker first overall, they're going to demand first overall money.

As far as your example with Brown and Patterson, if memory serves Brown was not even chosen in the first round.

Read it again: Patterson and Brown were separated by 4 picks (so I was off by one). Patterson was the second last 1st round pick, Brown was the second 2nd round pick.

by Disco Stu (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 11:34am

L-o-v-e this article. Hopefully now people will stop making ridiculous stetements like "You can always wait to pick a rb, since Terrell Davis was a sixth rounder" or "Tom Brady was a seventh rounder, so you don't need to use a high pick on a qb". This always sounded foolish to me, and now there's some statistical evidence to back me up.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 11:40am

I acknowledged that the Randle-El signing was in free agency. I only noted that as an example to show, however, that teams will pay more for certain "need" and/or "skill" positions than they will for others. I noted that this is true in the draft as well, as can be seen by the money paid to Janikowski and those drafted after him. While a free agent contract is obviously different than a rookie contract, the point is the same: TEAMS PAY MORE FOR SKILL POSITIONS. The same is true for BOTH free agency and the draft. Simply saying that the Randle-El contract was "in free agency and free agency is not the same as the draft" misses the point entirely.

I'm not sure I follow your point on Brown and Patterson. Are you saying that it is indicative of something that Brown, who was chosen in the 2d round, was paid less than a DT taken in round 1? That does not seem particularly surprising to me. Brown was, at best, the fifth or sixth WR taken in that year's draft. Patterson was the second or third DT taken. I would expect Patterson to receive more money than Brown. I'm not sure that has any bearing upon whether it is accurate to say that it is a waste to spend a first round pick on a center.

by bengt (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 11:42am

I'm missing the Defensive Ends in my list of players. And Jeff Reed, Place Kicker for the Steelers (a UFA if memory serves me well).

Shouldn't the histograms (plus the UFAs) add up to 100%? At least for Kickers&Punters and first Tackles this is clearly not the case.

I think the question of whether the study is self-fulfilling or not is not all that important: Basically the study doesn't show you what you should do, it shows you in the first place what the other teams do. And isn't it critical to know how likely it is that a player you would like to take is snagged away from you? Here you more or less have it!

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 12:07pm

The same is true for BOTH free agency and the draft.

And I'm saying I don't agree. And everything I've seen at a quick glance after looking around seems to say that I'm right. Nugent, a placekicker, was signed with a 4 year, $3M contract, with about $1.6M guaranteed. A LB taken later in that round signed a 5 year, $3.2M contract with $1.25M guaranteed.

Ronald Bartell, a CB, was signed three picks later with $1.5M guaranteed.

It doesn't look like Nugent got significantly less than if he had been any other position.

Are you saying that it is indicative of something that Brown, who was chosen in the 2d round, was paid less than a DT taken in round 1?

Round 2 versus Round 1 doesn't mean much when they're 4 spots apart. I don't think playing position means much in terms of how much a rookie contract is worth. At least, not nearly as much as where the person was drafted.

I'll state it again: a first round center won't sign for less than a first round WR at exactly the same spot.

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 12:18pm

So, Foster, the clear exception in over a decade of Bronco OL drafting (only first round pick) was drafted to shore up a position that was seen as needing an immediate upgrade, with no long-time incumbent, but then got injured on the first day of training camp and missed essentially his entire rookie season. So, perhaps the reason Shanahan deviated from his normal practice in this case was that while starters can consistently found on the second day and as UDFAs, such players need a year or two to develop and learn the system, which for an established playoff team was not going to be good enough in the circumstances. A short-termist pick of the sort a 2-14 team should not be making.

by rk (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 12:21pm

Janikowski got just less than the guy picked in front of him and just more than the guy picked after him. I don't know the numbers or anything, but there was a thread last month maybe in which this argument started. MDS jumped in with the figures, and I think Janikowski actually made a little more than expected. Bottom line: on the field position does not matter, only draft position does in determining rookie salary.

by TGT (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 12:32pm

I'm sorry if this was already mentioned, but I just couldn't get through all 100 messages.Where is the mention of total number of players at each position drafted in each round? Tim mentions that you'll have better luck getting an xx player by round yy often, but never backs it up. We need graphs of what % of players selected at each position in each round turn into starters (or better objective measure) as well. If a draft has 5 defensive linemen go in the first round, but only 2 go in the second, then you'd expect there to be more defensive linemen starting from the first round than the second. That doesn't mean that there was less a chance of a second round defensive lineman succeeding than a first round defensive lineman.

by Tim Murray (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 1:01pm

A couple of issues have been brought up that I wanted to address:

1. The T1 vs. T2 breakdown being "self-selective": This is certainly true, and not something I was unaware of. I suppose I should have noted that in the article. The real point of that portion of analysis was to point out that every team in the NFL has at least one starter at the OT position that was drafted in the 3rd round or earlier. That is not the case with any other position, and I think it is more than just coincidence. All of the positions which have 2 starters show a similar dichotomy when broken down using the same methodology, but none were as extreme as the offensive tackle position. No one wants to find themselves in the position the Cowboys were in this past season, starting UFA Torrin Tucker and 6th rounder Rob Pettiti at OT after Flozell Adams was injured. The result was pretty ugly as it’s kind of hard to complete a pass before you get to two Mississippi.

2. Possible improvements such as including an element of player quality with more of a gradient than the binary starter vs. non-starter designation used in this study, or adding an element to account for how often picks at each position are successful: All of these are very good suggestions which I have given some thought to in the past, but run into issues such as time constraints, avoiding subjectivity, and the availability of data. To that end, anyone who can suggest a particularly useful resource for draft data (other than the deep dark chasms of Mel Kiper’s frontal lobe) or historical NFL player data (particularly games started), please do.

Lastly, thanks to all who have had nice things to say about the article.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 1:08pm

Well, we'll have to agree to disagree then. Charlie Frye, a QB, was selected in the third round with the 67th pick. He got a four year deal worth $5 M. (as reported at http://www.fantasysports.aol.com/fb/playerProfile.cfm/pid.3444).

If position had nothing to do with, then Frye would not have received more money than a kicker picked 20 spots ahead of him.

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 1:24pm

It's not a 4 year, $5M contract. It's a 4 year, $2.185M contract, with $800K guaranteed. See here. It, however, has an escalator in the 4th year, making it a possible $5M contract (which he will probably hit if he is the starting quarterback). Frye's contract is actually a little rare.

Hence the 'it depends on how you structure it'. The guarantee money is pretty independent of what position the player plays at. And it should be noted that this is higher than the expected salary at that point. I doubt you'll find a draft pick that goes for a contract that's lower than the expected salary.

So again: first round center, first round price.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 1:29pm

RE: 99

Seabass got a 5 year deal worth $6.05 M. The guy picked ahead of him was Julian Peterson, whose contract was good for $7.6M for six years, or $6.2 for 4. So, Peterson made quite a bit more than S.J. The player picked after SJ was Pennington, and his contract could have been worth as much as $23 M. His signing bonus was $4.1 M. The player picked after Pennington was Shaun Alexander, who also had a signing bonus of nearly $4 M but overall, his total contract was worth less than SJ's.

Plus, SJ only got a $2M signing bonus. That was less than what Rob Morris received, and he was picked 28th.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 1:46pm

RE: 103

Frye's contract was higher than you anticipated because he was a QB. That supports the idea that position impacts rookie contracts.

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 2:01pm

Yah. It went up, with an escalator in the last year that's completely controllable by the Browns. That's not really a contract. It's also rare, and required a long holdout.

Right now, Mike Nugent has more money in his pocket from the Jets than Charlie Frye does from the Browns.

I really, really doubt that a center drafted in the first round would get less money guaranteed than a WR or QB drafted at the same spot.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 2:08pm

I don't know why you would doubt that. Janikowski got substantially less guaranteed money (i.e., signing bonus) than the players drafted immediately after him. I have not yet been able to look at all the signing bonuses for 1st round picks that year, but from what I've seen SJ received the lowest signing bonus of ANYONE in the first round, with the odd exception of John Abraham, who also had a $2M bonus. It is also interesting to note that Abraham was picked ahead of Pennington, but his signing bonus was half what Pennington received. The only way to explain that, in my opinion, is that (1) Abraham negotiated a bad deal; and/or (2) Position impacts rookie contracts.

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 2:35pm

I'll go with (1). That's the only situation I've seen so far where a rookie contract's differed from what you'd expect given the draft position, and I don't know all the details there anyway. But everyplace else, linesman, wide receiver, QB, even placekicker in the case of Nugent - hasn't mattered.

The fact that Janikowski is, in fact, an idiot, lends support to that, as well.

by CA (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 2:42pm

Loki, a few weeks back, in the comments on a different article, I said that drafting a QB was more risky than drafting a player at other positions in part because QBs get paid more than players at other positions when they are drafted. Michael David Smith jumped in to say that that is not in fact the case. He said essentially that the slot at which the player is drafted, not the position he plays, determines how much money he makes (with some leeway for the efforts of agents). I deferred to him since he knows a lot more about these matters than I do.

I specifically asked MDS if that meant that Janikowski was paid about as much as any other player drafted at the #17 spot in the 2000 draft would have been. MDS responded with his contract numbers and said that they were actually slightly better than those of Julian Peterson, drafted one spot befor Janikowski. MDS, if you read this, please correct me if I've fudged any of the details.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 2:42pm

Here is the link detailing the 2000 rookie contracts -


I think you will find the Jets' contracts particularly interesting.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 2:48pm

RE: 109

An earlier poster mentioned that as well. I generally have the utmost faith in anything MDS says, but I disagree with him on this one. Peterson made more money than Janikowski no matter how you slice it, and Pennington (who was drafted after Janiknowski) did as well. Pennington's contract is somewhat different though, because the big money in his deal was in incentives.

For what it is worth, I believe your argument is valid. I think it IS far riskier to draft a QB in the early rounds, because they do make more money. That is not ALWAYS true, as is shown by the fact that Aaron Rogers did not receive much more than the guy drafted immediately after him.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 3:03pm

Also, this site has great links to rookie contracts from 2000 to the present. It is interesting to see the trends through the years, although I've only breezed through them. If anyone has some time to go through them and finds anything pertinent to add to the discussion, I hope you point it out to us.


by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 3:18pm

RE: 108

Pat, another reason why Abraham's signing bonus may have been so much less than Pennington's is that Abraham may have been one of the last to sign a contract, and the rookie pool may have already been eaten up by the other deals that the Jets did. Or, he is a bad negotiator, or Janikowski is an idiot. All of these options are equally credible in my view.

by Catfish (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 4:10pm

Re: 76
"I think this opinion is wrong factually because OT have no higher success rate than other positions among early picks (paging Tony Mandarich and Dean Steinkuhler)."

I remembered someone here (I think it was Hook), who did a study of the bust rate of top picks by position. LT was by far the least likely to bust.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 5:31pm

One thing I was thinking of earlier today is that breaking this down by round would be less statistically useful than breaking it down by, say, groups of 5 picks. That tells us more about position, considering there are at least 32 picks per round.

by MTR (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 7:10pm

Usually I like the work on this site, but I'm afraid this one is too flawed. Take the QB graph. Does it show successful QBs are usually drafted in round one? Or does it show lots and lots of QBs are drafted in round one? Is history littered with centers who were picked in round one and failed, or are they never picked in that round? Yea, I can guess what those answers are but you need that extra information to demonstrate anything.

by rk (not verified) :: Wed, 04/26/2006 - 7:45pm

Re: 110
I don't see where Pennington is making more than Janikowski in that link. They both got five year deals: SJ for $6M, CP for $5.775. Julian Peterson got more than both of them. The Jets structured the payments differently (most likely because they had to fit 4 1st round picks under the cap) so Abraham and Ellsi got smaller signing bonuses, but they also got advances on their salaries and guaranteed years. Kicker, quarterback, or lineman, you get what your draft position dictates even if there are fancy accounting practices that make it look otherwise.

by Mercury815 (not verified) :: Thu, 04/27/2006 - 8:42am

Re: 117

You are kidding, right? You really think that Pennington made less than Janikowski? Read the incentives and then check out Pennington's stats. Pennington earned the $1.9 M bonus based upon his playing time. His signing bonus/guaranteed money was more than twice what Janikowski got. As mentioned in #107, Janikowski's signing bonus was less than any other first round player. Janikowski's deal is not a very good one when it is compared with the deals the other players got, particularly the low signing bonus. WHy did he get a lower signing bonus than anyone else in the draft? Because he's a friggin' kicker.

I can't believe that there is an argument over this issue. Kickers make less money than QBs do. Is that such a hard concept to understand? This is not a case of "fancy accounting practices" anymore than the fact that Charlie Frye's contract will pay him more than Mike "Ted" Nugent's will over the course of the deal.

by Sidney (not verified) :: Thu, 04/27/2006 - 10:59am

This also doesn't take into account what position a guy was drafted to play. Pete Kendall and Jeff Hartings are both C's from R1 but neither was, as best I recall, a C coming out fo college. They're both basically failed OG's. Similarly, some guys like Victory Riley are failed OT's in the OG list.

by witless chum (not verified) :: Thu, 04/27/2006 - 1:12pm

"I’ll catch hell for this, but I’ll stick up for the Lions selecting Mike Williams."

Much as I hate to defend Matt Millen, I think this is right. Because of the appeals process, Millen would have known about Charles Roger's little four week vacation long before the public did, right? Roy Williams is a little fragile, so I can defend the pick.

The Lions had ended up with Az Hakin playing WR1 in 2004. That ought to be enough right there and Millen paying large amounts of money to unproven rookie recievers is an improvement over Millen paying large amounts of money to Bill Schroeder. I tend to believe that was less "to play reciever" than to "not release photos of Millen in compromising position."

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 04/27/2006 - 5:07pm

Janikowski was an idiot with his contract. He should've held out, plain and simple.

anymore than the fact that Charlie Frye’s contract will pay him more than Mike “Ted� Nugent’s will over the course of the deal.

If Frye's the starter in year 4. If not, there's no chance that Nugent won't get more money. Nugent will have more money from years 1 to 3 than Frye will, and if Frye flames out next year, Nugent'll always have more money.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 04/27/2006 - 5:20pm

And this is what I meant by "depends how you structure the contract". Janikowski's signing bonus was lower, but his salaries in each year were far, far higher. In terms of salary (+roster bonus) in the first year, he made over three times what Pennington did, and almost twice as much as Peterson did in terms of base salary.

Yes, they tack on incentives for certain positions - because those positions earn more in free agency, and so they'd prefer not to piss the guys off. But in Pennington's case, and in Frye's case - if they don't live up to those incentives, they get paid according to their draft position.

If Pennington hadn't had a monster 2002, and had ended up being a backup for a few years, he would've made less than a kicker drafted a spot above him.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 04/27/2006 - 6:02pm

Much as I hate to defend Matt Millen, I think this is right.

The problem I have with Millen drafting Mike Williams is that honestly, you would think that after two failures in the first round, they'd realize 'you know, maybe we're not the best at evaluating wide receivers'.

I agree they probably needed a WR, but I would've targeted one in free agency. Yah. You might overpay. But they already are overpaying because they're paying Rogers and Roy Williams. Better to not continue overpaying. But, then again, the most incompetent people are the ones who can't realize that they're incompetent. So I doubt Millen realizes that he's not the best at evaluating WRs.

by JRM (not verified) :: Thu, 04/27/2006 - 9:45pm

Let's say that on Saturday Detroit was on the clock in the second round and either Santonio Holmes or Chad Jackson were somehow still on the board. Would you select one of those players?

I would in a heartbeat.

Obviously, I'm a big believer in taking the best player on the board. Not to extremes- if I were Indy I wouldn't take a QB in the first- but if I could figure out a way to get a "draft steal" on the field, I would.

Re #123: I hate to defend Millen, but *everyone* was high on Rogers, Roy Williams, and Mike Williams. Besides, it's not like Millen has a stellar track record in evaluating non-WRs :D

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 04/27/2006 - 10:21pm

Re #123: I hate to defend Millen, but *everyone* was high on Rogers, Roy Williams, and Mike Williams.

Well, you don't know that. Draftniks were. But then again, most were surprised that Williams dropped that low.

The point here is: maybe the other teams didn't agree with the draftniks, which is why he slipped that low.

Everyone's 'sure' that Holmes/Jackson will be great. But - honestly - if he slips that far, then there are 31 other teams who passed on them, and several who passed on them twice.

Given Millen's track record, I think the safest thing would be to pass on them.

Besides, it’s not like Millen has a stellar track record in evaluating non-WRs

Well, true. :) But really, I'm not of the opinion that rebuilding teams can afford to take risks, and Millen takes too many. It might not look risky to us, but then again, the other teams are very likely snickering behind their backs.

by Mercury815 (not verified) :: Thu, 04/27/2006 - 11:23pm

122 - How do you figure that Janikowski made three times what Pennington did? Are you just completely throwing the signing bonus out the window? Pennington got a $4.1 M signing bonus. That is, as I'm sure you know, payable immediately. Janikowski got $2M. In terms of salary, Pennington made about $4.3M after his first year. Janikowski got $2.5M after his first year. Crafting your argument relying solely upon the annual salary while ignoring the amount paid in the signing bonus seems disingenuous. Plus, if you are going to incorporate Janikowski's roster bonus into your argument, don't you also have to give Pennington the $2M incentive he earned for playing for 45% of the offensive snaps and throwing for over 1,600 yards? That adds $2M to Pennington's deal, which makes his deal significantly more than Janikowski's. Plus, the link does not list what other incentives Pennington may have earned, but it does say that if additional incentives were met the contract would be worth $23M. I do not see that this type of contract was made for Abraham or Ellis. Or Janikowski.

Also, it goes without saying that Janikowski is not the brightest guy around. But your argument throughout this thread seems to assume that everyone just does their deal one after another. That does not happen. The first pick usually does sign first, and often has his contract worked out even before the draft, as happened with David Carr. But the next contract done might be, say, the 8th pick. The 8th pick would "set the floor" for all the preceding picks. The draft picks that fall between 2 and 7 then use those contracts as a basis to negotiate. In most instances, that makes sense because the players are all marquee guys, and play positions that are deemed worthy of significant cash by management types.

Janikowski's deal did not follow this pattern at all. His deal contains a significantly lower signing bonus precisely because his agent and Al Davis both recognized that a kicker is not worth a big signing bonus. That is why Janikowski was not guaranteed the money the other guys in the entire first round got. Everyone knew that, as a kicker, he was not worth a big signing bonus, he did not demand one, and Al Davis sure as Hell would not have given him one. Had Janikowski held out, he would have sat out that year, and faced the same dilemma when he re-entered the draft the next year. If you honestly think that Janikowski could have received a $4M signing bonus, then I can't prove your wrong, but I think it is a given. NOBODY was going to give a kicker a $4M signing bonus.

QBs get better contracts than any other position. Charlie Frye did as well. He got to hold a clipboard during the Trent Dilfer Experience, and made decent money. When he makes his anticipated move into the starting slot, he will make more than Nugent will. QBs get incentive laden contracts. It has nothing to do with whether the pick will get pissed when he becomes a free agent. If the player outplays his contract, he'll hold out and get a new one (for example, Antonio Gates).

by JRM (not verified) :: Thu, 04/27/2006 - 11:28pm

The point here is: maybe the other teams didn’t agree with the draftniks, which is why he slipped that low.

He only "slipped" just a few spots to #10. And Mike Williams was incredible at USC.

There's really no such thing as a completely "safe" pick. Heck, all three WRs looked relatively safe coming in.

There was an article posted here a few weeks ago that pretty much condemned Steve Mariucci for not making the players stay in top shape. Perhaps Martinelli can get one, two, or even all three of these guys headed in the right direction.

I'm hoping Jacksonville takes a WR in the first on Saturday. They took Reggie Williams in 2004, and he looks like a bust. They took Matt Jones in 2005, and he's a project.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 04/27/2006 - 11:55pm

122 - How do you figure that Janikowski made three times what Pennington did?

Because I said "in terms of salary+roster bonus".

Of course you're right that the signing bonus is payable immediately. But if you just look at signing bonuses, you don't realize that Janikowski's contract rapidly catches up to Pennington's after a few years...

... minus the incentives, that is.

because his agent and Al Davis both recognized that a kicker is not worth a big signing bonus.

Yet apparently the kicker is still worth well over half a million a year?

Plus, to compensate for the fact that it was a lower signing bonus, his first three years were actually guaranteed if he hit something like 100 or so points (which he did).

Yeah, it was a lower signing bonus. With a higher salary. It all worked out. Neglecting incentives is one thing, because you can not hit an incentive and still play well enough for a team to keep you.

But your argument throughout this thread seems to assume that everyone just does their deal one after another.

Nono - the deals are done based on previous years' deals at that pick, with the yearly increase given by the amount in the rookie cap assignment.

He only “slipped� just a few spots to #10.

Well, Williams was projected to go in the top 5. Slipping to 10 is 5 spots. That's a fair amount.

by JRM (not verified) :: Fri, 04/28/2006 - 12:10am

Well, Williams was projected to go in the top 5. Slipping to 10 is 5 spots. That’s a fair amount.

I have a different recollection- most mocks I saw had him going #7 to Minnesota. There were a few that had him going #5 to Tampa, but some had him going lower than #10.

There were hardly any trades in last year's first round, and I personally thought Mike Williams would go higher than #10 when a team moved up to grab him.

I have an odd theory that the worm has turned- more teams are looking to trade down than trade up, so there's value in trading up to snag the player you want, Dallas Chart be damned :)

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Fri, 04/28/2006 - 1:30pm


In reviewing the deals done over the past few drafts, I think that your view has a lot of merit to it. In most instances, I think you are right and where a player is taken will govern their signing bonus and base contract.

So, I agree with you for the most part. I disagree with you a bit in that I think that there are variances from the general rule based upon the player's position. QBs appear to be able to negotiate incentive clauses into their contracts, and I think that this also appears with WR and RB contracts. It may also be true of other positions as well, although I do not recall seeing any other positions that had incentives in their contracts except for Julius Peppers, and if memory serves, his incentives were not spelled out in the site I looked at. After looking at the data, it does appear though that the INITIAL contract, minus incentives, is based primarily on where the player is drafted. We can argue over the value of incentives, but I think it is fair to say that some players negotiate the right to earn more than what is given in the base contract, and if they hit their incentives, then the value of their deal changes accordingly. So, my final theory is this: Players' signing bonus and base contract is determined by where they are selected in the draft. The total value of a player's contract, however, needs to take into consideration any additional money that can be earned via incentives, and that money might push the value of the contract well past those who were drafted earlier. Incentives appear to be given to QBs, RBs, and WRs. Thus, the potential value of their deal is based upon incentives they are able to negotiate as a result of the position they play, although I'm sure the value of the incentives is also based in part upon where they were drafted. (I.E. a 7th round QB is not going to be able to negotiate the same incentives as a 3rd rounder might be able to).

I stand by my position, though, that Janikowski (or any other kicker) is not going to get the same type of money in a contract that other players receive.

I think that this is an interesting issue. I think that your position is one that is probably advanced by every agent, and mine is more of a team slanted approach. It will be interesting to see whether Bush gets more money than Williams if the Texans take Williams. I haven't seen any mocks that had anybody taking a kicker in the first round, and to my recollection I don't think any kicker is slated to go on the first day. So we won't get any more good data on that issue this year, and I guess we'll have to wait for another draft to get some more info on that.

by Loki9179 (not verified) :: Fri, 04/28/2006 - 3:26pm

John Clayton has some interesting comments regarding how position affects rookie contracts. See his second numbered paragraph in this article: http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/draft06/columns/story?columnist=clayton_jo...

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 04/28/2006 - 5:28pm

Incentives appear to be given to QBs, RBs, and WRs.

Exactly. The basic portion of the contract is pretty much set in stone by position (PFT had a good bit about this a few days ago) - in a large part due to the rookie salary cap, and now even more so due to the 25% rule.

The incentives get given to skill positions, but they're of course by no means guaranteed.

First-round contracts are already higher than the average veteran contracts for some positions, though: and those are the places where it's dangerous to pick that kind of a player early, because you're going to end up overpaying. As an example, the Eagles two centers have cap hits of ~$850K/year and $200-300K/year. If the Eagles sign a 1st round center, that won't give them a cheap center. It will give them an expensive one. And one that they don't even know will work out. Trying to convince a 1st round draft pick - *anywhere* - to drop their contract to significantly less than $5M total value? Yah. Right.

Dropping incentives into a first-round WR's lap isn't a big deal. He's so much cheaper than a free agent WR that it doesn't matter, and hey, they're almost certain to be NLTBE incentives, so they don't show up until next year's cap anyway.

by Ken (not verified) :: Sat, 04/29/2006 - 6:09am


I don't think the notion that the article's logic is somehow circular was ever sufficiently refuted. While the conclusions regarding the necessity of a first round OL are, regardless of the truth of the statement, not supported by the stated facts, the article in general avoids this problems. The graphs illustrate not the circular argument that "Because 0-1 centers are drafted in the first round each year, it’s a wasted pick to draft one in the first round," rather that because starting centers are usually drafted in later rounds, they can be drafted for greater value in later rounds. I.E. the article should not lead one to the conclusion that drafting a center in the first round must necessarily be a waste, rather to the more positive conclusion that drafting a center outside the first round can be extremely effective. The questionable component of the argument is not the so-called circular fallacy, but the efficacy of starts as a means of judging quality. As aforementioned in several previous posts, another more suitable stat may need to be found.

RE 116:

Problematically, your questions convolute two related but ultimately separate arguments against the article:

1 - The oft repeated questioning of starts as a proxy for sucess.

2 - The failure or bust rate of, using the example of your question, first round centers.

The first I choose not to exhaust any further. The second, though, remains outside of the scope of the article. Its thrust is seemingly not to delineate the nature or bust-rate inherent in choosing certain positions in certain rounds, but the value attendant on choosing certain positions in certain rounds. Therefore, bust-rate need not necessarily be in any way central to the posited argument. Bust-rate would illustrate, obviously, the percentage of (for example) OL that busted in the first round. This article seems to seek to make a more proscriptive argument regarding draft value and the likely success of positions in certain rounds viz. other rounds. Therefore, it is the RELATIVE presence of value (through the prism of starts) rather than the likelihood of a bust which the author seems to aim at.

by Matt (not verified) :: Thu, 05/04/2006 - 9:47am

The article is an interesting mix of data and unsupported conclusion. For example, "First round QBs are no sure thing, but anyone picked after the first round appears to be a very long shot that will require several years of development" is entirely Tim's opinion here. *No* data is offered to support it. It sounds reasonable, but so does the claim that teams tend to pick QB starters in the first round. Why does one conclusion require data and the other not?

by Phil (not verified) :: Sun, 05/07/2006 - 8:50pm

teams that had QBs who were drafted in the first round (using your list) went 121-135 last year

conversely the sixteen teams who didn't have first rounders as starting QBs last year went 135-121

I'm not saying I can't be made to believe otherwise, but the data in this article doesn't make me think that drafting a QB in the first round is a wise investment

QB is a highly dirivitive position, if a QB has good players around him he'll look better, if he has terrible players around him he'll look terrible

I think the model of looking for cheap QBs who were successful backups on other teams and investing the savings in talent to surround that guy has proven to be a pretty successful model

and I haven't seen anything in this study that makes me think otherwise

by rajwoodson :: Fri, 05/04/2012 - 4:15pm

Any chance we can get an updated version of this thru 2011