Playing time analysis

A round-by-round, position-by-position breakdown. Tony Villiotti

Print This March 07, 2014, 11:15 AM EST

This article reviews 2013 NFL playing time from two perspectives:

• Whether there are significant differences by playing position regarding the round in which “contributers” have been selected
• Whether there are significant differences by playing position regarding the experience level of “contributors”

The measure used to gauge playing time is the number of plays from scrimmage. The term “contributors”, as used above, refers to any player who participated in one or more scrimmage plays during the 2013 season.

The use of plays from scrimmages is deemed superior (though less widely available on a historic basis) to number of starts because it is a better indicator of how much time a player spends on the field. In reviewing the data, for example, there are many occasions where a fullback may start but ultimately sees the field less the third wide receiver.

Only 2013 scrimmage plays are considered in this article. It would be preferable to use multiple years but I have data only from 2012 and 2013 available to me.

The source of data for this article is the weekly “Game Book” published by the NFL. The Game Book information was used as the basic raw data and I then aggregated it into a form useful for this and other articles. Fullbacks are ignored for the rest of this article due to their minimal number of plays from scrimmage.

The following table reports the percentage of scrimmage plays by round for each playing position. For example, of all the scrimmage plays for centers, 19.7% were by first round draft choices, 42.3% by first and second round choices, etc.

Several things stand out in the table:

• It is no surprise that quarterback are the only position with more than 50% of scrimmage plays scrimmage coming from first round choices.
   -Defensive ends are next with nearly one-third
• For all positions except tight end and safety, at least half of the scrimmage plays come from players selected in the first three rounds.
   -Even the two exceptions are close to 50%
• Quarterbacks and linebackers have the lowest percentage of scrimmage plays from rounds four through seven
   -Tight ends have the most
Linebackers, safeties and running backs have the most scrimmage plays by undrafted free agents

The second part of this review accumulated scrimmage plays by both playing position and NFL experience. The purpose was to review (1) how quickly a player saw playing time and (2) career longevity. At some point, this data will also be useful in judging the degree by which the salary cap hurts veteran players.

Here is the summarized information by playing position.

Some of the key takeaways from this data are as follows:

• Players entering the NFL in the most recent five years accounted for 61% of all plays from scrimmage.
   -Defensive tackles and safeties were the highest
   -Quarterbacks and offensive linemen were the lowest

• Over 11% of all plays from scrimmage were by rookies.
• Safeties and tight end had the highest percentage of playing time by rookies.

   -Centers and defensive ends were the lowest
• Quarterbacks tended to have the most experience, with nearly 40% of plays from scrimmage generated by players in the NFL before 2006.
• Running backs in the league since before 2006 accounted for only 7% of plays from scrimmage.

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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