NFL Draft 2016: What Position Groups are the Deepest?

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Every year, I gather over 40 big boards from respected draft analysts to determine a general consensus on which players are the best in any draft class. While that is the most obvious and useful application of generating a wide consensus, it also allows us to categorize different types of analysts, figure out which players are the most polarizing and which positions are the most difficult to evaluate.

Today, we’ll look at which position groups are the deepest. In order to simplify things, the positional categories we’ll use are split into 12 categories: quarterback, running back, wide receiver, offensive tackle, offensive guard, center, tight end, edge defender, interior defender, off-ball linebacker, cornerback and safety.

Edge defenders are pass-rushers—usually outside linebackers in 3-4 systems and defensive ends in 4-3 systems, though hybrid teams will mix things up. Think of how Justin Houston and Robert Quinn play the same roles with different positional names. Interior defenders are all defensive tackles plus defensive ends asked to play inside the edge defenders, like J.J. Watt did earlier in his career and how Leonard Williams will play for the Jets.

“deep defensive tackle” class

Off-ball linebackers are all inside linebackers and outside linebackers in 4-3 systems. Functionally, they are the linebackers who do not line up on the line of scrimmage. Clay Matthews will be switching back to his edge defender position this year after playing as an off-ball linebacker at various times throughout the past two years.

The global big board to be published next week will also have punters and kickers, but because we want to evaluate functional positional depth, they’ve been excluded. For what it’s worth, 2016 seems like a top-heavy kicker class without much depth but has a reasonably deep punter class.

It’s fairly common knowledge that this is a “deep defensive tackle” class, but there’s more to depth than simply having talented players at a position. If all the good players in a “deep” class go in the top 15 picks, that depth doesn’t mean much; it’s really a top-heavy class.

In order to determine the overall class’ “strength” at a position, I used the well-known Jimmy Johnson trade-value board to give points to each player for each ranking a player was given and added up all the points for each position. The position with the most points is the strongest, but that does not mean it was the deepest.

We’ll limit our look to the Top 100, because it seems reasonable that a good litmus test for a “deep” positional class is having a high likelihood of selecting a “second-Round” talent in the fourth round. Here are the strongest positions in the Top 100 of the consensus board in the 2016 NFL draft:

Position Top 100 Points Rank
ID 19013.3 1
ED 13932.2 2
CB 11770.0 3
OT 11582.0 4
WR 11532.7 5
OB 10749.1 6
RB 7416.2 7
S 6271.0 8
QB 5690.1 9
OG 3545.8 10
C 2578.2 11
TE 2449.1 12

It’s not a huge surprise that the defensive interior has the majority of the talent. It increases quite a bit more if one considers Jonathan Bullard and Joey Bosa as interior players, as some analysts do. Does having that incredible strength of talent also lead to incredible depth across players?

There are two ways to measure this: the first is measuring how many players are in the top 100 at each position and comparing that to how many are “expected” based on the points chart above, and the second is to simply give points for having players in each talent tier.

So, let’s look at how many players a position group has over the expected:

Top 100 Players Over Expected
S 1.7
OG 1.1
RB 1.1
C 1.1
TE 0.7
ID 0.2
WR 0.2
CB -0.5
QB -0.8
OB -1.0
ED -1.5
OT -1.8

In this case, the safety guard, running back and center classes are relatively deep given their talent level, while tackle, edge defender, and off-ball linebacker are top-heavy relative to how much talent they have. With this in mind, we can categorize the groups.

Position Description
ID Strong and Average Depth
ED Strong and Shallow
WR Average Strength and Average Depth
CB Average Strength and Shallow
OT Average Strength and Shallow
OB Average Strength and Shallow
RB Average Strength and Deep
S Weak and Deep
QB Weak and Shallow
OG Weak and Deep
C Weak and Deep
TE Weak and Average Depth

That fits our expectations.

Let’s look at the second approach. Talent tiers are different in every class, so the natural groupings of points among the players will determine the tiers. In this case, there are natural cutoffs at 1-4, 5-6, 7-9, 10-13, 14-18, 19-30, 31-40, 41-57, 58-91 and 92-117, creating ten tiers of talent in the top 117 players.

Top 4 0 1 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
Top 6 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Top 9 0 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Top 13 1 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Top 18 1 0 1 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 0
Top 30 3 2 1 2 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Top 40 2 3 1 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 0
Top 57 2 1 4 1 1 1 1 0 1 3 1 1
Top 91 8 2 3 2 2 0 4 5 2 4 0 2
Top 117 2 2 1 1 6 3 0 2 3 3 2 1

Interior defenders occupy eight of the ten tiers, while edge defender, wide receivers, and offensive tackles occupy seven of the tiers. Cornerbacks and quarterbacks occupy six and five tiers, while off-ball linebackers, running backs and guards occupy only four. The rest only fit three tiers, and the bottom four tiers, at that.

Definitions could change things, however.

Matt Miller has Joey Bosa and Kevin Dodd as interior defenders. I disagree, but I see Jonathan Bullard as an interior defender and Leonard Floyd as an off-ball linebacker. In that case, the interior defender class gains in both strength and depth, while the off-ball linebacker class adds a tier, and moves closer to having average depth. If Miller’s labels for Bosa and Dodd are more accurate, however, then he is absolutely right: the overall class strength of edge defenders takes a severe blow.

There won’t be a complete big board released until next week as more and more analysts update their final rankings, but stay tuned here at Cold Omaha for more deep analysis on what the draft will end up looking like.

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