There has been plenty of discussion in my recent articles regarding the probability of drafting an NFL starter. What has not yet been addressed, though, is the time element. That is, how long does it take a player to achieve starter status? (As a reminder, my definition of starter status is that a player must start at least eight games in an NFL season to earn a “starter year”.)
This article addresses “Starting Velocity”, which is my term for how long it takes a player to achieve the relevant starter metric. Starting Velocity is expressed in terms of years. For example, if the time required for a player to start his first season is the relevant metric, a player who starts as a rookie has a Starting Velocity of 1.0, a player who reaches starter status in his second season has a Starting Velocity of 2.0 and so forth. I do not attempt to pin it down to the exact game the status is achieved, so no fractional numbers are used, except in the calculation of averages. Averages exclude players who never achieve starter status.
Only the time required to reach the first starter year is discussed in the article.
My analysis shows the following:
-Players who go onto to become five-year starters tend to start sooner than those that do not
-The Starting Velocity is 1.84 for future five-year starters only and 2.57 for other starters
-Players selected earlier in the draft tend to start sooner than those selected later
-There are minor differences in Starting Velocity by playing position
-There are only minor differences in Starting Velocity in players from major college football programs as compared to other college football programs
Each of these highlights are discussed in more detail below.
Five-Year Starters versus Other Starters
While the magnitude of the difference varies by round, future five-year starters earn their first starting year, on average, about one-half a year faster than players who never become five-year starters (average of 2.57 years versus an average of 1.84 years). The distribution by group is as follows and shows that the biggest difference is in rookie starters:
Future five-year starters
Start as rookie = 49.6%
Start in 2nd year = 29.8%
Start in 3rd year = 11.3%
Start after 3rd year = 9.3%
Start as rookie = 30.3%
Start in 2nd year = 29.2%
Start in 3rd year = 17.2%
Start after 3rd year = 23.3%
Differences by Draft Round
From this point forward the discussion focuses only on players who became five-year starters. The study shows that first round selections tend to start, on average, between their first and second year (1.41 years). The time taken to start grows by round with seventh round draftees having a Starting Velocity of 2.70 years. A first round pick, then, tends to start about twice as fast as a late round pick..
Distribution and Starting Velocity by round are shown in the following table.
Differences by Playing Position
Then differences in Starting Velocity by playing position were pretty minor. The two extremes were at quarterback (with an average Starting Velocity of 2.31 versus the overall average of 1.84) and Offensive Tackle with a Starting Velocity of 1.56. This means, of course, that Quarterbacks take the longest time to find their way into the starting lineup and Offensive Tackles the shortest time. Both of these are within one-half year of the average, though.
The experience by position is summarized as follows:
-Average is 1.84 seasons
-Starting Velocity >1.95
-QB (2.31), C (2.07), DE (2.06), DT (1.97)
-Starting Velocity 1.75 to 1.95
-TE (1.94), CB (1.93), S (1.85), WR (1.80). RB (1.78), OLB (1.75)
-Starting Velocity <1.75
-ILB (1.68), G (1.63), OT, (1.56)
Comparing Major College Football Powers to Other Colleges
The proxy used for Major College Football Powers are the 37 college teams identified in my previously published article titled “Which Colleges Produce the Most NFL Talent?”. Those 37 teams accounted for about 57% of 2013 NFL starts.
While the Major Powers have an advantage over the other colleges, the difference is not that great (1.78 for Major Powers and 1.93 for the Other College).
There are six playing positions where there is more than a one-quarter season difference between in the two groups of colleges. The biggest difference is at Defensive Tackle with the Major Power draftees tending to start about three-quarters of a year sooner. The Major Colleges also have an advantage with Running Backs, Offensive Tackles., Tight Ends and Wide Receiver. Cornerback is the only position where the draftees from Other Colleges have an advantage over the Major Powers.
If time permits I am hoping to publish an article comparing major colleges with other colleges before the draft, so I will defer further discussion on these differences until then.
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