The Rest of the Equation

The article “Draft Probabilities by Playing Position” laid out the probabilities of achieving various milestones for players selected in the NFL draft. What was missing from that discussion, though, is the time element. That is, how long does it take a drafted player to become a starter or achieve another relevant milestone? When a team signs a free agent there is a general expectation, unless a special team player is signed, that he will move right in and be helpful. For drafted players the expectations are generally lower in terms of providing immediate help. But what exactly should those expectations be? Three milestones were used to measure the time element for the purposes of this article. The milestones were the length of time used to become a one-year, three-year and five-year starter. Our definition of a starter is a player who starts at least eight games in a season. The averages include only the players who achieved those milestones. For example, take the case of a player who started for four years. He would be included in the one-year and three-year calculations but would be excluded from the five-year calculation. The best “score” a player can earn is 1.0, indicating that he became a starter in his rookie season. He would receive a 2.0 if the becomes a starter in his second season. There are no partial seasons awarded, but the averages do show partial seasons (kind of like the Census Bureau saying there are 2.58 people per household). The logical expectation is that players drafted earlier will start faster (and more often as indicted in the “Draft Probabilities by Playing Position” article). Whether this is because the players are better or because they get more chances due to being highly paid is a matter of debate. The truth is probably that it is a combination of the two. The following table shows averages by playing position and Draft Range for the one-year milestone and indicates that about 42 players per season start as rookies. It is probably not surprising that running backs take the longest to start for any playing position among early round draftees. For the group a whole (as indicated by the “All” column), though, it is defensive linemen that take the longest to start their first season. The average for the rest of the positions are pretty close. The table also confirms that the earlier a player is drafted, the sooner he will start. Players selected with the first four picks start much sooner than a player taken later in the draft. The next table shows the averages for achieving the three-year milestone. Running backs again take the longest to start among the early round selections. This holds true through the 4th Draft Range (which is through the 46th pick). Overall, defensive linemen tend to take longer than average to achieve the three-year milestone. Offensive tackles and linebackers are at the other end of the spectrum and reach the milestone sooner than average. The amount of time to start for a third season ranges from 4.0 to 4.8 seasons. The final milestone reviewed was the amount of time it takes a player to become a five-year starter. It is interesting that the range tends to narrow at this point because only the better players are likely to achieve this milestone and be included in the calculation of the average. The range is from 6.0-6.7 seasons, slightly narrower than the range by position for achieving the three-year milestone. Among the earliest draft selections (first 14 picks) Running Backs and Quarterbacks tend to take the longest to reach the milestone. Offensive Tackles drafted in that same range are the fastest to reach the five-year milestone. Overall, Guards and Offensive Tackles are the fastest to reach the milestone, while Defensive Ends and Quarterbacks are the slowest. Click here for the complete breakdown of "Draft Ranges" Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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