Trends on Day 1 of the NFL Draft

NFL Draft Trends on Day 1 of the NFL Draft

Posted in NFL Draft
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As we continue to creep closer and closer to the 2019 NFL Draft, I’ve almost reached the point of Mock Overload.

Almost.

But what we fail to address as we roll into our 200th mock of the offseason is that most websites take the human element completely out of the equation and push a “BPA according to our order” agenda, that tends to let players fall that shouldn’t fall, and oversells players that have no business going where they do. It also takes Day 1 of the draft and basically says “here’s our big board and it’ll go in this order.”

But what about the tendencies of NFL franchises in the draft? What about positions they tend to steer clear of, or positions they gravitate towards? What about teams that constantly drop back, versus teams that inevitably move up? Wouldn’t identifying those trends allow you to get a better feel for how Round 1 of the draft will really go?

For yours truly, my curious nature took me down a never-ending rabbit hole that turned up some pretty interesting results worth sharing, and I think based on that information, we can get a good idea of which players could/should come off the board in the first round of the draft in two weeks’ time. 

Ready? Let’s do this!

First and foremost, we need to address the sample size: I used data from Round 1 of the NFL draft, looking at the past decade (2009-2018) to generate the best idea of draft trends in the modern NFL. I felt going back any further starts to delve into the days of a run-heavy NFL that valued blocking Tight Ends, Fullbacks, and run D more, which doesn’t truly jive with today’s game. 

As for stopping at Round 1… honestly, that’s a time factor. I love everything about the NFL Draft, and hopefully this time next year I’ll have 2,816 picks worth of data to sort and tinker with, but for now let’s see how Day 1 shakes out and go from there.

Positional Allocation

The catalyst for this exercise was a rather simple question: “how many of each position are typically taken in Round 1?”

It’s easy enough to say “okay these 10 teams need OL help so they’ll all take OL here” but if the value isn’t there, I wanted to know if teams are still willing to reach due to runs in the draft, or if teams sit back more on certain positions that may be strong in this year’s draft.

So I made a chart (it’s the first of many so sit back and relax…).

Before I jump into this chart, let’s point out that terminology has changed over the past decade in the NFL Draft. While we currently separate CB from S, prior terminology grouped them as DB. Likewise, the separation of DE/DT/NT/OLB/MLB has now been broken up into DT (or iDL), EDGE (OLB/DE), and LB (MLB or iLB). For this exercise, I converted all positions to match current vernacular.

So… that’s a lot of colors, amirite?

In this form, it’s hard to really catch a trend at all. Seeing lots of green, but no rhyme or reason to it – so we’ll break it down into a more cohesive appearance.

Much better!

A few takeaways here: EDGE is the most drafted position in the last decade (50), followed by Offensive Tackle (40), Cornerback (38), and Wide Receiver (37)… then a few others.. while Tight End (8) brings up the rear.

Or… I guess K/P/LS/FB tied with 0 bring up the rear.

As far as the top pick goes, it’s either QB, OT, or EDGE and nobody else – and rightfully so, given the value of those positions. The “Average 1st” row was simply a test – are the positions drafted more heavily prior to pick 16 (middle of the draft), or after pick 16? Should the “Average First” fall higher than 16 it would indicate a back-heavy draft for the position in question, and obviously a lower number shows that the position is taken in the front half more frequently. 

With that said, QB/OT/EDGE carry heavy value in the front end of Round 1, while TE/iOL/LB aren’t valued as much until later on. 

Not a huge noteworthy item, but this will come into play when we do our predictions.

Team Allocation

Now that we have a general sense of where each position is allocated, I wanted to dig more on a team-by-team basis to see if there are any trends there. 

Which teams love WRs on Day 1? Which teams live and die in the trenches with their top pick?

Naturally, I needed to make more charts.

More colors! I know- no context with verbiage, but we’re following the same basic color scheme we’ve used thus far, and will be adding more info to this in due time.

The diversity by every team is pretty on point between offense and defense but a few teams stand out: the Bengals (8 offense to 2 defense), Lions (8-4), Colts (6-3), Giants (7-3), and Titans (8-3) lean heavy to the offense in Round 1, while the Packers (8 defense to 2 offense), Steelers (8-2), Jets (8-2) and Saints (8-4) lean to the defensive side of the ball early on. 

As for positional anomalies, I think it’s more telling to denote teams that steer clear of particular positions in the past 10 years of drafting:

Finally, something relevant to our team! The Ravens have not drafted an EDGE player in Round 1 in the past decade. If you remember, the EDGE category includes Defensive End as well as Outside Linebacker, and taking a look back… it’s been a minute. The recent ‘homegrown’ talents at OLB/DE have been guys drafted in Round 3 or later, and while a decade ago it was easier to say the Ravens could always turn a late pick into a pass rushing starter? When we’re staring the 2019 season in the face with Matt Judon and a bunch of unproven guys, it makes you wonder if this is finally the year…

Other noteworthy items from the omissions above include the six teams that haven’t taken a wideout in Round 1 (and you think we don’t swing enough!), as well as the teams opting to steer clear of secondary help early on, despite the ‘pass happy’ NFL we’ve come to know. 

Busts

While the above allocation of picks is great stuff, the context of players taken and which actually panned out is more beneficial to the big picture. For example, Cleveland didn’t take three QBs on Day 1 because they’re really good at it, right? To the contrary, a team like Minnesota may like to keep going back to the well for DBs because they’re damn fine at picking the right guys. 

Alright… I promise this is my (second to) last chart!

SHEESH. My favorite part of doing this was seeing names I totally forgot about in the NFL, and how short their time was (I forgot all about Jahvid Best!). 

When determining a ‘bust’ I had to set my own criteria, simply because it’s a loose term that’s up for interpretation, so by my rules, a player is a ‘bust’ when they meet any of the following conditions:

  1. Cut/traded prior to the end of their rookie deal
  2. Does not receive a 2nd contract
  3. 2nd contract is a one-year ‘show me’ deal
  4. 5th year option not exercised
  5. Extended injuries (6+ games) limit playing time multiple years
  6. Is relegated to backup/non-starter duties for more than 50% of games played

I’m comfortable with that assessment of a bust on a first-round pick. Had it been a Day 2 guy, those terms are much more loose, but this will do.

What I learned: don’t let the Rams, Vikes, Cards, or Titans draft your offense on Day One, and don’t let the Jets or Raiders draft your defense. 

I also learned that offensive busts (35.8%) are more likely than defensive busts (23.75%) on Day 1.

By position – which matters so much more – here’s the breakdown and my final chart!

Ravens haven’t drafted an EDGE in eons… Ravens need EDGE help… EDGE is the second least likely to bust…

Hmmm….

Projections

At the end of this three-part series, we’ll take everything we’ve learned and dish out a final 1st Round Mock for all 32 picks, but for now, let’s just take our averages and figure which players are likely to hear their names called Day 1 (I’m sure your rankings are different; these are my own).

Quarterback (3): Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock

Offensive Tackle (4): Jawaan Taylor, Jonah Williams, Cody Ford, Andre Dillard

Interior Offensive Line (2): Garret Bradbury, Erik McCoy

Wide Receiver (4): AJ Brown, N’Keal Harry, DK Metcalf, Hakeem Butler

Running Back (2): Josh Jacobs, David Montgomery

Tight End (1): T.J. Hockenson

EDGE (5): Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, Montez Sweat, Rashan Gary, Clelin Ferrell

Interior Defensive Line (3): Quennin Williams, Ed Oliver, Jeffrey Simmons

Interior Linebacker (2): Devin White, Devin Bush

Cornerback (4): Greedy Williams, Deandre Baker, Byron Murphy, Rock Ya-Sin

Safety (2): Nasir Adderley, Taylor Rapp

 

Be sure to check in later this week for Part 2 of the series, where we assess the Day One trades and how they’ll likely play into the 2019 Draft!

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Adam Bonaccorsi

About Adam Bonaccorsi

Living on the farce-side of Baltimore sports, Adam spends his time focusing on the satirical nature of our local teams- conveniently, sometimes the narrative writes itself! He's not one to shy away from controversial opinions, speaking his mind, or dropping a truth bomb into the Purple Kool Aid. More from Adam Bonaccorsi

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