Draft Habits: NFL Teams Covet LBs, Duped By False Temptress WRs

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 24, 2013



We broke down the 10-year draft history of every single NFL team earlier this week, and it yields a treasure trove of information.

Most notably, teams attempt to build on the edges, under the belief – correctly or incorrectly – that games are won with skill-position players who play in space.

We looked at draft history both in terms of the raw number of picks by each team, but also by what we call draft value: assigning a descending number of points based upon round of the draft (7 points for first-pick pick; 1 point for seventh-round pick).

The most valued positions in the NFL draft are linebacker (such as 2011 No. 2 overall pick Von Miller, pictured) and wide receiver – largely a function of the fact that so many are on the field at any given time.

It shows in fairly concrete terms that teams value edge talent over interior talent every step of the way:

wide receivers drafted more often than any offensive position; offensive tackles drafted more than guards; guards more than centers (the least drafted position in football). Defensive, they draft cornerbacks ahead of safeties; defensive ends ahead of defensive tackles; pass-rushing outside linebackers ahead of run-stopping inside linebackers.

In the case of linebacker, it’s also because of the versatility of the position. Some linebackers are drafted as beefy run-stoppers, others as game-changing pass rushers.

We did not break down linebackers for the purpose of this study by type of linebacker: middle linebacker, inside linebacker, outside linebacker, etc. We did this largely because there is so much interchangability in the position. Middle linebackers in college often become inside linebackers in the NFL, or vice-versa; college linebackers might become pass-rushing specialists only in college; and even inside/outside linebackers often switch roles from college to pros or within their careers.

With that said, it’s very clear from draft history that pass-rushing linebackers are easily more coveted than run stoppers in the middle.

In the case of wide receivers, it’s just another example of the disturbing fascination NFL teams have with what is, empirically, the most overvalued position in sports.

NFL teams have devoted 1,290 draft value points to wide receivers over the last 10 years – 55 percent more than the next closest offensive position, tackle (832).

In other words, teams put 55 percent less value in the players who protect their most prized asset – their quarterbacks – than they do the players whose contributions are nearly irrelevant without a quality quarterback.

Even the greatest of all wide receivers will touch the ball only five to six times per game. Jerry Rice, for example, universally proclaimed the best ever at the position, touched the ball only five times per game.

And the concept of an elite speedy receiver "stretching the field" fast enough to open up things underneath is empirically invalid. After all, that speed of 0.2 seconds per 40 yards faster than an average receiver means little in a game in which a QB has only 3 seconds to get the ball off.

Finally, EVERYBODY else has to do their job right FIRST before the receiver even touches the ball. And yet, even with receiver a position on the fringe strategically, philosphically and empircally, teams continue to be mesmerized by them.

NFL teams place more value on a bit-player wide receiver than they do any other position, further testament to the fact that it is quantifiably the most overvalued position in football and maybe in all of North American sports.

Here's a look at the total picks and Draft Value Points of each position over the last 10 years. Total picks is just what it says; our system of Draft Value Points, as noted above, is quite simple: we award first-round picks 7 points; second-round picks 6 points; and so on down the line to 1 point for a seventh-round pick.

PositionTotal PicksDraft Value Points
Defense12594908
Offense12594659
Linebacker3391290
Wide receiver3231229
Cornerback2951140
Defensive end219907
Offensive tackle214832
Running back231825
Safety206750
Defensive tackle194725
Tight end145515
Offensive guard150513
Quarterback126509
Center70236
Special teams43110
Punter2251
Kicker2243
Long snapper12

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