In reviewing data for the past 10 drafts, it is evident that there are differences among the NFL teams when it comes to drafting tendencies. How much of this a matter of circumstance and how much is a matter of strategy is impossible to determine, barring insight from a team’s decision makers.
I know some would argue that this analysis is best done at the level of individual General Managers or other appropriate decision maker on draft day. I will get around to doing that one of these days but I’m still sorting through some of the issues in such an article.
In this article, I will identify the teams that diverge from “the norm” along with some related anecdotal information. For purposes of this article I looked at draft rounds 1-3 as one group and then rounds 4-7 as a second group. Initially, I determined those norms for the 10-year study period. The following table presents that information. The first part of the table shows the percentage of draftees by playing position (e.g., 5.55% of all players drafted in the first three rounds were quarterbacks). The second part of the table shows the sources of the players that were drafted, with colleges divided into the same three categories that were used in prior articles.
The remainder of this article is divided into three sections for the purpose of discussion:
• Differences by Offensive/Defensive Splits
• Differences by Playing Position
• Differences by Source of Draftees
Differences by Offensive/Defensive Splits
My analysis shows that, on average, there are slightly more defensive players selected in the first three rounds and then an almost exactly even split in rounds four through seven. While only one team (the Bills) was perfectly balanced (same number of offensive and defensive players drafted), most teams are relatively balanced over the course of the entire draft during the 10-year study period. The 12 teams that are outside the norm and show a moderate preference for offense or defense for the entire draft during the study period are listed below:
• Offensive Preference
- Broncos (+11), Steelers (+9), Chiefs (+8), Ravens (+8)
• Defensive Preference
- Falcons (+13), Jaguars (+11), Titans (+11), Lions (+10), Browns (+8), Patriots (+8), Seahawks (+8)
Some teams show a preference either within the first three or final four rounds, but not when considering the draft as a whole. Four teams showed a net preference of seven draftees in the first three rounds. The 49ers were the only team with a significant offensive preference while the Jets, Patriots and Saints all had a defensive preference.
Eight teams showed a modest preference in rounds 4-7, evenly split between offense and defense. These teams are:
• Offensive Preference
- Jets (+13), Chargers (+11), Bengals (+8), Ravens (+8)
• Defensive Preference
- Browns (+12), Titans (+10), Falcons (+9), Jaguars (+8)
Differences by Playing Position
NFL teams also show differences in drafting players by playing position. These differences are discussed below. Before getting into a discussion of these differences I have to comment on what I consider to be the most surprising draft factoid that I came across in connection with this article. Jimmy Graham is the only tight end the Saints have drafted in the last 10 seasons (I didn’t check to see if it went back further than that). Talk about quitting when you are ahead!
• Only four teams (Bears, Cowboys, Saints, Texans) did not draft a QB in the first three rounds during the 10-year study period
• The Broncos drafted three QBs in the first three rounds and seven overall
- Their apparent strategy is to draft a QB in most years
• The Cowboys and Jaguars each drafted only one QB in the last 10 years
• The Broncos and Lions each drafted five RBs in the first three rounds
- Both teams apparently believe if you want a RB grab one early as Lions only drafted two RBs in rounds 4-7 and Broncos took three
• Half the teams drafted two RBs or fewer in the first three rounds of the 10-year study period
• Bears and Saints took the fewest RBs overall, with three each over the 10 years
• Redskins were the only team who didn’t draft a RB in the first three rounds but had only 20 selections
• Giants were in the “early or not at all” school of thought regarding WRs
- They drafted seven in the first three rounds and only one thereafter
• The Ravens and Bengals loaded up on receivers with 17 drafted by Ravens and 16 by Bengals
- 23 of the 33 were drafted in the final four rounds
• The Jets drafted only one receiver in first three rounds, lowest of any team
• The Browns, Chargers and Redskins drafted the fewest WRs overall with six each
• 24 of the 32 teams drafted two TEs or fewer in first three rounds of the study period
• The Chiefs drafted four TEs in the first three rounds, highest of any team
• The Jaguars drafted only two TEs, one in the first three rounds
• The Ravens and Eagles tended to load up on offensive linemen
- Ravens drafted 21 in 10 years, eight in first three rounds
- Eagles drafted 20 in 10 years, but only four in first three rounds
• The Titans opted to go late for offensive linemen as they used only 2 out of their 35 picks on offensive linemen in the first three rounds
• The Raiders only took offensive lineman early, drafting nine in first three rounds and only one afterwards
• The Jaguars drafted the fewest offensive linemen with only eight in 10 years, with five in rounds 1-3
• The Eagles and Packers drafted the most linemen in the last four year with 16 and 14, respectively
• The Giants, Lions, Panthers and Titans all drafted nine defensive linemen in first three rounds
- Titans loaded up in last four rounds as well with 11 selected
• The Raiders and Redskins drafted only one defensive linemen each in first three rounds
- The Redskins also drafted only five in last four rounds, so maybe they do not highly value the position
• The Titans and the Seahawks drafted the most defensive linemen with 20 and 19
- 13 of the Seahawks draftees were in last four years, most of any team
• The Bills and the Jets stayed away from defensive linemen in later rounds with only three each
• The Ravens drafted significantly more linebackers (19) than any other NFL team
- 13 of those were selected in the final four rounds
• The Chargers, Cowboys and Steelers drafted the most linebackers in first three rounds with seven each
- The Bears, Browns, Dolphins and Vikings had the fewest with two each
• The Chiefs and the Jets drafted the fewest LBs overall with six each
• The Bears were the only team not to draft a corner in the first three rounds
- They selected nine in final four rounds
• The Falcons, Rams and Vikings drafted the most in first three rounds with seven each
• The Titans drafted the most corners overall with 14, but only four were in the first three rounds
• Eight teams (Bengals, Broncos, Cardinals, Chargers, Dolphins, Falcons, Rams and Vikings) all selected more corners in the first three round than in the final four rounds
• The Dolphins are the only team not to draft a safety in the first three rounds
• The Patriots and Saints drafted the most safeties in the first three rounds with five
• The Lions did not draft any safeties in the final four rounds
• The Saints drafted only one safety in final four rounds
• The Cardinals drafted only two safeties overall
Differences by Source of Draftees
In any earlier article I reviewed the success rate for major college teams versus all other colleges. In that article I made the case that major college teams were more successful than other teams from automatic qualify BCS conferences, but about equally successful with all other colleges.
In this section I reviewed the sources of draftees for the NFL teams, both for the first three rounds and then for the final four rounds. A high reward/low risk strategy would be to select more players from Major Powers and Others. A lower reward/higher risk strategy would be to take more players from the 32 AQS colleges. The following table shows the teams with the highest and lowest risk strategies for the first three rounds and final four rounds. The percentages shown for the lowest risk strategy is the combined percentage of Major Powers and All Other draftees. The percentages shown for the higher risk strategy is the percentage of draftees from the 32 AQS colleges.
Low risk, of course, does not necessarily equal high rewards as you can see. The Broncos and Patriots, for example, both chose a more risky path in the first three rounds of the draft over the past 10 years and still managed to make it into the 2013 final four playoff teams.
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