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The relative importance of positions

Posted by Doug on April 18, 2007

Last week I posted some summary data on how teams have historically used their first round selections. I decided to expand that to the entire draft while accounting for the fact that the picks at the top of the draft are in general more valuable than those at the end.

So I took the pick value chart value of each draft pick by each team since 1978. Then I computed the percentage of each team's total pick value that it used on each position.

For example, the Texans have drafted five wide receivers in their history: Andre Johnson (#3, value 2200), Jabar Gaffney (#33, value 580), Jerome Mathis (#114, value 66), Sloan Thomas (#211, value 7), and David Anderson (#251, value 0). That's a total of 2853 "value points" spent on the wide receiver position. In their five year history, they have had a total of 15730 points to work with, so they've spent 18.1% of it on wide outs.

Below is a table showing every team's percentage of draft value spent on each position since 1978.

TM     QB RB WR TE OL    OFF    DL LB DB    DEF      ST   TotVal
====+========================+==================+=======+=======
cin |  13 11 11  3 14   51.5 |  21 14 13   48.3 |   0.2 |  79823
crd |   7 12 10  3 16   48.6 |  21 15 13   49.0 |   2.4 |  73604
clt |  16 13  7  4  9   48.0 |  17 22 13   51.2 |   0.8 |  73565
nyj |   4 12 17  6 15   53.8 |  16 18 11   45.5 |   0.7 |  68328
nwe |   8 12 15  4 16   54.9 |  22  8 14   44.5 |   0.6 |  67826
ram |   2 19 11  3 16   50.6 |  19 11 17   48.3 |   1.1 |  67317
det |   8 13 17  3 16   57.2 |  12 14 16   42.2 |   0.6 |  67086
oti |  12 14  9  3 18   54.8 |  19 11 15   44.8 |   0.4 |  63474
atl |   8 11  8  5 15   46.5 |  16 17 20   53.1 |   0.4 |  62944
buf |   6 14 15  4 13   51.3 |  17 14 18   48.4 |   0.2 |  62556
nor |   1 22 12  3 20   57.6 |  18  9 13   40.1 |   2.3 |  61847
chi |   8 12 14  2 13   49.8 |  23 12 15   49.2 |   1.0 |  61835
tam |  10 18 10  2 18   58.8 |  15 17  8   40.7 |   0.5 |  61096
gnb |   5 11 12  3 18   49.0 |  16 16 18   49.8 |   1.2 |  58983
sea |   7 12  9  3 18   49.0 |  18 12 21   50.7 |   0.3 |  58860
dal |   6  7 11  5 15   43.7 |  27 13 16   56.1 |   0.2 |  57969
sdg |  12 11 10  4 14   51.4 |  12 13 23   47.8 |   0.8 |  57164
nyg |   7 14 13  7 15   55.8 |  15 12 17   43.9 |   0.3 |  56545
cle |   7 11 16  5  8   47.1 |  17 18 16   51.6 |   1.3 |  56383
kan |   7 13  9  6 15   50.1 |  27 15  8   49.6 |   0.3 |  55689
phi |   7 11 12  5 22   57.1 |  21  9 12   42.3 |   0.6 |  54351
sfo |   8 12 10  8 11   47.8 |  22 14 15   51.0 |   1.2 |  53813
min |   3 13  9  2 15   41.6 |  33 12 14   58.4 |   0.1 |  53480
rai |   5  9  7  3 20   44.8 |  21  9 23   53.3 |   1.8 |  53404
pit |   5  8 17  6 18   54.3 |  18 10 18   45.2 |   0.5 |  51714
mia |   3 20 10  2 18   53.1 |  19 11 17   46.8 |   0.2 |  46910
was |  10  6 17  2 17   52.2 |  12 12 23   46.5 |   1.3 |  42586
den |   6  9 12  5 16   46.6 |  17 15 20   52.7 |   0.7 |  41894
jax |   7 12 11  3 19   51.2 |  19 16 13   48.5 |   0.3 |  27178
car |   8 14  7  1 16   46.0 |  26  8 20   54.0 |   0.0 |  24225
rav |   5 11 14  3 13   45.8 |  26  7 21   53.9 |   0.4 |  21648
htx |  20  3 18  4  9   54.2 |  31  5  9   45.8 |   0.0 |  15730

Here are the leaguewide averages:

qb    7.4
rb   12.5
wr   11.7
te    3.9
ol   15.5
dl   19.3
lb   13.2
db   15.8
pk    0.5
pn    0.3

How crazy would it be to infer that these represent what the league as a whole believes the relative importance of the positions to be? Probably a little crazy, but maybe only a little. Even if you think the draft value chart is out of whack, it is supposed to be what the teams have developed as a de facto standard of value, right? Each team has a limited number of "value points" to spend each year, and they should in the long run allocate those points in roughly the same proportion as the relative importance of the positions.

Quarterbacks account for 7.4% of the draft expenditures and 4.5% of the players on the field at any given time. Does this mean that a quarterback is on average about 64% more important (whatever that might mean) than an average player?

It gets a little less clear when you try to look at, say, wide receivers. They account for 11.7% of draft expenditures. But if I want to know how important an average wide receiver is, am I supposed to divide that by two, or three, or 2.5, or six, or what?

It is interesting that at almost all times, there are more defensive backs on the field than defensive linemen, yet more draft capital has been spent on linemen. Likewise, more draft capital has been spent on defensive linemen than on offensive linemen, despite the fact that more offensive linemen are on the field at all times.

One final tidbit for discussion. Here is the same table, but only considering 1998--2006:

qb   10.0
rb    9.4
wr   13.3
te    4.0
ol   14.0
dl   19.5
lb   11.1
db   18.1
pk    0.4
pn    0.1

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 18th, 2007 at 4:17 am and is filed under History, NFL Draft. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.