In the first round of the 2014 draft, five cornerbacks were selected:
- the Browns traded up from 9 to 8 to ensure that Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert would be coming to Cleveland;
- at 14, the Bears drafted Virginia Tech corner Kyle Fuller;
- at 24 and 25, the Bengals and Chargers took Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State) and Jason Verrett (TCU), respectively;
- the Broncos, perhaps still reeling from the Legion of Boom’s Super Bowl performance, took Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby with the 31st pick
In addition, four safeties were drafted in round 1:
- at 18, the Jets selected Calvin Pryor from Louisville;
- at 21, the Packers took Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix;
- at 27, after trading down, the Cardinals took WAZZOU safety Deone Bucannon
- at 30, the 49ers — despite having used significant resources on the position twice in the last 13 months, took Jimmie Ward out of Northern Illinois
That’s nine defensive backs in the first round. At one point, we saw a string of 7 defensive backs taken in 14 picks at the back end of the round. This was the first time in NFL draft history that nine defensive backs went in the first 32 picks. So this is the new normal and the NFL is now a crazy passing league, right?
Well, sort of. Let’s not forget that over the prior ten drafts, by far the position where the most draft capital was spent was defensive back. We could say that it’s a young man’s position and it’s a passing league and blah blah blah, but by far the biggest reason for that is… that there are more defensive backs on the field than there are players at any other position.1 If you adjust for the amount of players at each position actually on the field, then the defensive back position doesn’t dominate the draft at all; in fact, it drops behind quarterback, running back, wide receiver, offensive tackle, defensive end, and defensive tackle.
But when we talk about the number of players drafted at the position, well, we should expect defensive backs to dominate. Nine out of 31 is a lot, but there are around 5 defensive backs on a field of 22 (23%) players on the average snap; in that light, 9 out of 31 (29%) is not a crazy ratio, especially when only two of the picks in the top half of the round — and none in the top seven — were spent on the position. From a draft value chart perspective, 23% of the first round draft capital was used on defensive backs. In other words, from a draft capital-to-snaps-on-the-field ratio, round 1 wasn’t defensive back heavy; in fact, it was pretty average.
At wide receiver, 12 players were selected in the first two rounds: Sammy Watkins (#4 – Clemson/Bills), Mike Evans (#7 – Texas A&M/Buccaneers), Odell Beckham Jr. (#12 – LSU/Giants), Brandin Cooks (#20 – Oregon St./Saints), Kelvin Benjamin (#28 – Florida St./Panthers), Marqise Lee (#39 – USC/Jaguars), Jordan Matthews (#42 – Vanderbilt/Eagles), Paul Richardson (#45 – Colorado/Seahawks), Davante Adams (#53 – Fresno St./Packers), Cody Latimer (#56 – Indiana/Broncos), Allen Robinson (#61 – Penn St./Jaguars), and Jarvis Landry (#63 – LSU/Dolphins).
That’s insane, right? It’s the most selected in the top 64 picks since the merger. But then again, it may not be quite so crazy:
- Over the previous five years, there was an average of 7 receivers taken in the top 64. That seems to jive with everyone’s analysis that this year’s draft was super rich at wide receiver, and the 12/64 number is not a reflection of a fundamental shift in the game (or the draft).
- In 1988, 11 wide receivers were selected in the top 64. And in 1968, there were 13 receivers drafted in the top 64 picks. Let’s hope this year’s class has more success than those guys.
Unlike at defensive back, though, the value lined up with the picks. Twelve out of 64 picks means wide receivers were taken with 18.75% of selections in the top two rounds; collectively, those picks were worth 18.6% of all draft capital in rounds one and two. Since, over all rounds over the last ten years, about 12.5% of all draft value was spent on receivers, yes, the 2014 Draft (at least in rounds 1 and 2) was very receiver heavy. But I think that’s more a reflection of the talent at the position than anything else; if we see something similar next year, then perhaps we can speculate that receivers are becoming more important in the draft. Remember, a year ago, only six wideouts were selected in the first two rounds.
As for running back? For the first time ever, no player was selected in the first 50 picks (although Bishop Sankey, Jeremy Hill, and Carlos Hyde did go in the 50s). That’s fodder for another post, though.
- In the linked article, I separated offensive linemen into tackles, guards, and centers, treating them as separate positions. Obviously this is inconsistent with grouping safeties and cornerbacks together. But for the broader point, even if you combined the draft capital spent on tackles, guards, and centers, it would still be lower than the draft capital spent on defensive backs. [↩]