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Draft probabilities by position

All-pro, kick returner, or bust? A look at the odds. Tony Villiotti

Print This April 11, 2014, 12:00 PM EST

In an earlier article the probability of achieving certain milestones by draft choice range was reviewed. To refresh your memory, the seven draft choice ranges are (1) the first 13 draft selections, (2) draft selections 14-24, (3) draft selections 25-46, (4) draft selections 47-73, (5) draft selections 74-114, (6) draft selections 115-187 and (7) draft selections 188 and higher.

It only makes sense, though, that the probabilities are different depending on playing position. These differences can be caused by some combination of a varying level of injury or scouting risk and the number of available positions for drafted players. For example, there is only one starting quarterback but five starting offensive linemen. It makes sense, then, that offensive linemen have a higher success rate than quarterbacks, especially given that a disproportionate number of quarterbacks are drafted.

In this article I will review the probabilities by playing position. For purposes of this article, in certain cases, playing positions were combined and others were split into two. The position groupings are:

• Quarterbacks
• Smaller Running Backs (210 pound or less)
• Larger Running Backs (over 210 pounds)
• Wide Receivers
• Tight Ends
• Offensive Linemen

   -I do have individual data for centers, guards and tackles but the degree of position switching along the line makes it, in my opinion, more meaningful to report the information for the combined positions
• Small defensive ends and outside linebackers
   -Small defensive ends were defined as less than 265 pounds
   -This grouping acknowledges that defensive ends and outside linebackers are to some degree interchangeable, with a player’s professional position dependent on the type of defense his pro team plays

• Large defensive ends and defensive tackles
   -Large defensive ends are defined as weighing 265 pounds or more
   -This grouping acknowledges that 3-4 defensive ends are more like defensive tackles

• Inside linebackers
• Cornerbacks
• Safeties

Fullbacks and special teams players were excluded from the analysis due to the low number of draftees.

This article will address the playing position probabilities from two angles. First, I will address differences within the draft choice ranges for each of the first four ranges. This will take us into the beginning of the third round. Then, I will discuss observations by playing position. There may be some overlap between the two angles, but after much thinking about the subject I think it is the best way to proceed. The principle metric used in this review is the percentage of five-year starters, with the 1994 through 2008 draft classes used as the study period.

Selections 1-13
• Average % of five-year starters: 71.3%
• Among playing positions with at least 10 players drafted with these selections during the study period, the probability of drafting a five-year starter ranged from 60% to 95%
• Least risky: Offensive linemen (95%, or 20 of the 21 offensive linemen selected from 1994 through 2008 became five-year starters)
• Most risky: Large running backs (60.0% five-year starters), but quarterbacks (64.0%) and wide receivers (61.5%) were close
• Other observations:

   -Over 51% of drafted offensive linemen made the Pro Bowl at least once compared to the 43.5% overall average
   -80% of offensive linemen started as rookies compared to the average of 70%
   -178 of 195 drafted players had careers of five years or more

Selections 14-24
• Average % of five-year starters: 63%
• Among playing positions with at least 10 players drafted with these selections during the study period, the probability of drafting a five-year starter ranged from 36% to 71%
• Quarterbacks, small running backs, tight ends, safeties and inside linebackers had too few selections to consider as part of the discussion
• Least risky: Offensive lineman with 71% of draftees becoming five-year starters
• Most risky: Large running backs with 36% of draftees becoming five-year starters
• Other observations:

   -Biggest difference between 1-13 and 14-24 draft ranges is that 1-13 produces about 1.6 times as many Pro Bowl players
   -Despite their overall higher risk profile, 32% of wide receivers drafted in this range were selected to the Pro Bowl at least once (versus 27% average)
   -The outside linebacker/small defensive end group had only 16% of draftees selected to at least one Pro Bowl
   -30% of drafted offensive linemen were selected to at least one Pro Bowl

Selections 25-46
• Average % of five-year starters: 48%
• Among playing positions with at least 10 players drafted with these selections during the study period, the probability of drafting a five-year starter ranged from 17% to 77%
• Least risky: Inside linebackers (76.5%), outside linebackers/defensive ends (64%), offensive lineman (61%)
• Most risky: Small running backs (16.7%), large running backs (23.5%) and defensive tackles/large defensive ends (35%)
• Other observations:

   -Offensive linemen and inside linebackers were most likely to start as rookies
   -Running backs and defensive tackles/large defensive end were least likely to start as rookies
   -Only 58% of small running backs lasted five years in the versus the average of 73%
   -Inside linebackers, safeties and tight ends were the most likely to play five years or more

Selections 47-73
• Average % of five-year starters: 34%
• Among playing positions with at least 10 players drafted with these selections during the study period, the probability of drafting a five-year starter ranged from 8% to 49%
• Least risky: Offensive linemen (49%) and safeties (46%)
• Most risky: Quarterbacks (8%), small and large running backs (combined percentage of 11%) and wide receivers (25%) 
• Other observations:

   -Offensive linemen were most likely to have five-year or longer careers
   -Large running backs were least likely to last five years
   -Offensive linemen and inside linebackers were most likely to start as rookies

The rest of the article discusses individual playing positions. The tables in each section include information about the probability of (1) a player having a five-year or longer career and (2) a player starting for at least five years. The table shows the average across all positions, the number of players drafted at that position from 1994 through 2008 (which is the same for both five-year careers and five-year starters) and the probability for that draft choice range.

Observations:
• 13% of players drafted with selections 1-13 were QBs with almost as many QBs taken with those selections as with selections 14-73
   -If a team wants a top rated QB it better take him early
• The small number of data points makes it difficult to draw many additional conclusions
• The number of All Pro QBs is very low because Peyton Manning “hogged” most of those honors, holding down the total number of QBs to earn All Pro honors

Observations:

• Not many small running backs are taken with early selections
• There is a low likelihood of grabbing a starter at any point in the draft but players in this group often return kicks
• The probability of drafting a five-year starter is lower than the average for each draft choice range

Observations:
• Drafting running backs is a risky propositions and the percentage of five-year starters is below the average in every data choice range
• Only two of the 92 large running backs selected after the 114th pick ended up as a five-year starter
• The probability of having a five-year career is considerably lower for large running backs than the average of all positions

Observations:
• There is virtually no difference in the results of drafting wide receivers between draft selection ranges 1-13 and 14-24
• Despite having one of the lowest percentages of five-year starters with selections 1-13, wide receivers have the third highest number of rookie starters
• There is a large drop-off in the percentage of five-year starters after selection #24 but wide receivers taken with draft selection ranges 25-46 and 47-73 are about the same
• Selections between 115 and 187 have probably the lowest probability of success across the board


Observations:
• Only 10 tight ends were selected in the first 24 picks over the 15-year study period
• Out of those 10, nine became five-year starters
• There is a higher percentage of drafting five-years starters at tight end than the average of all positions through the 114th selection

Observations:
• The % of offensive linemen who end up as five-year starters exceeds the average in all seven of the draft choice ranges
• The probability of an offensive lineman earning Pro Bowl honors at least once is significantly higher than the average through selections 46, but then drops below the average
• Offensive linemen, when all performance measures are considered, are probably the list risky position to draft regardless of draft position
• One-third of all five-years starters from picks 188 and higher are offensive linemen

Observations:
• The probability of drafting a five-year starter is pretty much the same through the first 46 selections of the draft
o The chances of drafting a rookie starters are about the same as well
• The probability of drafting a Pro Bowl player does drop off considerably after the first 13 selections
o The probability for selections 14-46 is below the average of all positions
• Outside Linebackers/Small Defensive Ends have the highest percentage of five-year careers with selections 115-187

Observations:
• 40 of 54 draftees with selections 1-13 were rookie starters, the most at any position
o This is based on a 1994-2013 study period
• There is a big drop-off in the probability of drafting five-year starters from choices 14-24 to 25-46
o 14-24 was exactly at average while 25-46 was considerably below average
o Defensive tackles/large defensive ends had the lowest percentage of five-year careers from selections 14-24
• There is another drop-off from 47-73 to 74-114, with 74-114 being considerably below average
• There is a better than average chance of drafting a five-year starter late in the draft (after selection 114)

Observations:
• Drafting inside linebackers has been a very safe selection pretty much anywhere in the draft
• All 10 selections in the first 24 picks became five-year starters and practically all have earned Pro Bowl honors
• None of the 32 inside linebackers selected after the 187th pick have become five-year starters


Observations:
• There has been very little difference between cornerbacks selected 1-13 and 14-24
o 14-24 has a higher % of five-year starters while 1-13 has a higher % of Pro Bowl selections
• Cornerback selections after the 73rd pick have not done well
• As a general rule, take cornerbacks earlier rather than later

Observations:
• Teams tend to stay away from safeties early (although that has been changing in recent years)
• Safeties have been a low-risk pick
• The probability of drafting a five-year starter has been higher than the average of all draft choice ranges in all groups except the 74-114 draft selections
• Safeties have the highest percentage of players with five-year careers from selections 188 and higher

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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