NFL Starters On Offense By Draft Round: Where's the Money?


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NFL Starters On Offense By Draft Round: Where's the Money? Featured

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This will be the first in a series of pieces that will briefly try to put the NFL draft into better perspective. Our goal is fairly simple: to look at NFL starters by draft position. In doing so, we can get a better sense for the likelihood that a player at a given position and drafted at a certain position will eventually turn into a starter.


This data can be largely classified as almost purely descriptive. It is best thought of as a macroscopic view of the landscape of NFL starters and their relationship to the NFL draft. More intricate questions such as production and value by position can be theorized tangentially from this data, but approaching such questions requires further exploration that we will also plan on delving into moving forward at FinDepth.

In order to consider this topic, we chose to start with QB and the skills positions on offense – RB, WR, and TE. The 2013 starters or top contributors (in cases where there was more than one) at each of these positions for every NFL team were gathered. We then looked at each player’s draft round and overall pick number and then at the method by which their 2013 team acquired them (drafted vs. picked up outside of the draft as a drafted or undrafted free agent).

These results are limited in the sense that starting on an NFL team does not necessarily equate to results. Correlations (or even causality) to performance can be made, but require further data collection and testing. Moreover, they are a snapshot of the 2013 season; further trends would likely emerge if prior years were added into the mix as well. Alright, caveats aside, let’s look at what the numbers show.




As seen in this graph, the 2013 NFL starters at QB were largely drafted in the 1st round (56% - 18/32 starters). Each subsequent round was notably less represented. It should be noted that the players acquired in the 6th round or later include some success stories in Tom Brady (6th round, 199th overall pick in 2000) and Tony Romo (undrafted free agent in 2002). That being said, these players are great exceptions as the vast majority of eventual NFL starting QBs are taken in the early rounds.

As seen in this 2nd chart, almost 2/3 of starting QBs were drafted by their 2013 team, while only about 1/3 were later acquired outside of the draft.





Draft Year


Overall Pick

Years In League


Jason Campbell






Matt Schaub






Chad Henne






Ryan Fitzpatrick






Peyton Manning





Kansas City

Alex Smith






Jay Cutler






Matt Cassel





New Orleans

Drew Brees





New York Giants

Eli Manning






Carson Palmer






The quarterbacks acquired outside of the draft, shown above, generally speaking, have been somewhat of a mixed bag for their NFL teams. While Peyton Manning has continued his hall of fame career with massive success in Denver, QBs like Campbell, Henne, Fitzpatrick, and Cassel can hardly be described as more than temporary stopgaps.


Running Back


The RB position appears to show more variation by round drafted. As opposed to QB, where over half of the 2013 NFL starters were drafted in the 1st round, only 37.5% of RBs (12/32) also shared such a distinction. When extended to draft status within the first 3 rounds, this difference also is seen; 84% of starting QBs were drafted in the first 3 rounds, while 72% of RBs were.



Intriguingly, less starting RBs appear to be acquired outside the draft. The causes behind this split could include better evaluation by NFL teams of RB prospects and a higher turnover rate in this position in which careers are significantly shorter as compared to several other positions.


Wide Receiver


The wide receiver position is even more of a heterogenous than RB. Of note, since many teams have near equivalent starting WRs, we chose to use the highest producing WR in yardage for this exercise. Here you can see that only slightly above half of the 2013 NFL starters at WR (56%) were produced from the first 3 rounds with only 8 players arriving via the first round. Notable later round picks include Antonio Brown (6th round, 195th overall, in 2010), Stevie Johnson (7th round, 224th overall, in 2008), Brian Hartline (4th round, 108th overall, in 2009), Brandon Marshall (4th round, 119th overall, in 2006), and Pierre Garcon (6th round, 205th overall, in 2008).



WR appears to be an even more easily drafted commodity than RB with the vast majority of starting NFL WRs acquired through the draft (27/32 players for ~ 84%).


Tight End


Here’s how the tight end position looks. It appears quite similar to WR with the same number of starters produced through the first three rounds (56%) and with a nearly identical breakdown of teams acquiring these players from inside and outside the draft.



Average, Highest and Lowest Pick by Position

Lastly, this last graph shows the four positions with their average, highest, and lowest drafted starters. This data suggests that producing a starter at QB or RB is more likely if that player is drafted in the early rounds, while finding a later round gem at WR or TE is not quite so rare.



Read 116509 times Last modified on Friday, 02 May 2014 18:48


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