In my last post, we talked briefly about how positional value can lead to elite players at particular positions falling during the draft. In this article, let’s talk about what happens if that happens when we pick. Be honest — as a Jaguar’s fan, there’s got be a part of you that just knows… that somehow, while Jaguars fans by the millions (hundreds?) will be praying for Morris Claiborne, Justin Blackmon, Quinton Coples or whoever else tickles your fancy to fall to pick 7, the highest rated player left at 7 will be a running back… or a linebacker… or a guard – arguably our three strongest positions. What the heck does Gene do now?
While wondering how I could justify to my readers a backfield duo of MJD and Trent Richardson, I wondered about the cause of this predicament we’d find ourselves in, and I found myself asking life’s ultimate question: Does overdrafting (“reaching”) at premium positions allow for high impact/elite players to be scooped up later in the draft? To answer this question, I decided to do a little draft history analysis.
First, the Parameters:
- Scouring Picks 1-15 from 2005-2009 for Pro Bowlers: I didn’t use any drafts after 2009 because two years isn’t enough to account for player development. Two years usually isn’t enough time to determine whether a player is a bust or not. Also, admittedly, being named a pro-bowler isn’t synonymous to being an elite player, but we’ll consider them close enough to analogous for our research purposes.
- Filtering list of Pro Bowlers to a list of High Impact / Elite Players: Besides a few exceptions, high impact / elite players were defined as players that had 3 pro bowl and/or all-pro years. I wanted to highlight longitudinal high impact play – and be able to exclude one-year type wonders like Braylon Edwards. The only three players I added to the list of impact players were Vernon Davis, Matt Ryan, and Jerod Mayo. One (VD) had abnormally slow development; the other two were more recent picks (2008) who play at positions with high name value (and therefore make cracking the pro bowl a bit more difficult).
- Uncovering what positions these players play and where they were picked. Any player who switched positions before their Pro Bowl seasons was considered to have been drafted at that position (eg: Antrel Rolle). Also, Players picked at positions 1-5 were compared against players picked at positions 6-15. The assumptions here is that projected-elite players at premium positions (QB, LT, DE, and these days WR) would most likely be drafted in the top-5, while projected-elite players at non-premium positions (least of which are RB, OG, LB) and projected non-elite players at premium positions would most likely be drafted at positions 6-15.
Your 2005-2009 High Impact Draftees:
- Mario Williams, D’Brickshaw Ferguson, Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Jake Long, Matt Ryan:
Note the positions: 3 LTs, 1 WR, 1 DE, 1 QB. In the new-age, pass-happy NFL, these are arguably your 4 most premium positions.
- Antrel Rolle, Demarcus Ware, Shawn Merriman, Jamaal Brown, Haloti Ngata, Vernon Davis, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Darelle Revis, Ryan Clady, Matt Ryan, Jerod Mayo, Brian Orakpo, Brian Cushing:
Note the positions: 3 OLB/DE, 3 LB, 1 FS, CB, DT, LT, RT, TE, RB. You’ve got 3 Pass Rushers and a LT. The other 9 players come from non-premium positions – 4 of which at the least-premium positions in today’s game (RB, LB, OG).
Picks 1-5: 6 QBs, 5 LTs, 5 RBs, 4 DEs, 2 WR, 2 LB, 1 DT. Note, three of these RBs came in 2005.
Picks 1-5 Premium Position Pick Rate (PPPR = # of QB,DE,LT,WR Taken / Total Number of Players Drafted) = 17/25 = .68 = 68%
Picks 1-5 % Premium Position Pro Bowl Rate = # of Pro Bowl QB,DE,LT,WR / Total QB,DE,LT,WR) = 6/17 = .35 = 35%
Picks 1-5 % Non-Premium Position Pro Bowl Rate = 0/7 = 0%
Picks 1-5 Elite Player Hit Rate (EPHR = # of 3x Pro Bowlers or All-Pro / Total Number of Players Drafted) = 6/25 = 0.24 or 24%
Picks 6-15 Elite Player Hit Rate = 13/50 = 0.26 = 26%
What Does This Tell Us
Nothing conclusive. This is data on 75 players without any corrections for draft/positional trends or trends in offensive/defensive team philosophies.
What Does this Suggest?
It has some interesting suggestions. First, it suggests that elite players at “premium positions” do seem to be picked fairly often at picks 1-5. No big surprise there.
However, it also suggests that these players are more likely to be Pro-Bowlers, versus the seemingly elite players at non-premium positions (68% vs 0% — disclaimer: small sample size). Are these players safer? Are they easier to evaluate? Does college success at these positions have a higher predictive value for pro success than at other positions? What do you guys think?
Lastly, I was surprised that the elite player hit rate for picks 6-15 was the same (actually slightly higher) as the elite player hit rate for picks 1-5. If you were to take this draft as an example, your favorite draftnik would probably say that there are five “elite” prospects in this draft. While I imagine that varies by a prospect or two every draft, every year the draftniks probably say the same thing. This leads us to three possibilities. First, the draftniks are stupid and even General Managers don’t have a good consensus for the elite prospects in the draft – possible. Second, the elite prospects are simply not turning into elite players at any better rate than non-elite prospects. It’s a crapshoot in that it depends on so many other factors – Ryan Leaf anyone? Third, elite prospects are falling out of the top 5, due to a reason such as overdrafting at particular positions (Picks 1-5 Premium Position Pick Rate = 68%).
What this All Means for Gene Smith at Pick 7?
Don’t reach homie. Scoop up the elite talent other GMs are leaving behind and laugh as we run this sucker to the ground!
- Zain Gowani