NFL Draft Probabilities by playing position

In our last article we presented the probabilities of achieving certain milestones for each player selected in a Draft Range. This article examines the differences in the probabilities among playing positions. The study covers drafts from 1995 through 2014 There are a couple of issues in such an analysis, though, that stand in the way of reaching definitive conclusions. First, the number of data points is limited given the number of playing position/Draft Range/Milestone combinations. The 5000 data points are divided into about 1000 combinations (eight Draft Ranges, nine milestones and 15 or so playing positions). This is further limited by the fact that the measurement period for some of the milestones (e.g., five-year starters) is less than 20 years (e.g., a 14-year period is used to measure the probability of measuring whether a player is a five-year starter). Second, associating a player with a single playing position is not as easy as you might think. A number of players float back and forth among center, guard and tackle on the offensive line. Others may move from corner to safety or vice versa. This article places a player at the position at which he is drafted and leaves him there for analytical purposes. At the end of this article there will be a separate table for each of the nine milestones, showing information by playing position and Draft Range. Before getting into the more detailed table, the following summary table shows the rank of each playing position within each milestone and across all Draft Ranges. A “1” indicates the highest ranking and “13” the worst. The ranking is based on the percentage of players who achieve the relevant milestone. The table provides an overview of each playing position and each milestone. The following conclusions can be drawn from the table:
  • Offensive linemen, including tight ends, are probably the least risky positions to draft
  • Wide receivers and running backs are the riskiest offensive position
  • Quarterback is also pretty risky and those draftees are least likely to make an NFL roster
  • Defensive ends take the longest to crack the starting lineup but otherwise the draftees are pretty successful
  • Defensive tackles are the most risky defensive position
  • Linebackers are fairly comparable to defensive ends except they tend to start earlier
  • Corners tend to have lengthy careers but are about average when it comes to becoming starters
  • Safeties are somewhat less risky than corners but are fairly comparable.
There are at least a few oddities in these numbers. The most glaring is the low ranking for quarterbacks in the All Pro milestones. This is solely due to Peyton Manning “hogging” the All Pro selections, leaving no room for anyone else to be selected. Nine tables follow with information for each milestone, playing position, and Draft Range. The order of milestones in any kind of order of significance is a matter of opinion and that was not the purpose of this article. The term “NA” in the tables indicates that no players from that playing position were selected in the Draft Range. Kickers and other special teams players were excluded from the analysis. Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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