One of the benefits of accruing the accumulated knowledge of dozens of draft experts is gaining an understanding of which positions are in highest demand, who can command an artificially high draft pick because of depth and which teams will be put in a bind.
We often hear phrases like “this is a deep draft” with regards to particular positions, and that largely means from player to player at the same position, the drop-off is not as deep as it usually is.
But there’s not a usually a great way to quantify that.
What does it mean for this year’s safety crop to be better than it usually is? If the running back class this year is so legendary, do previous years pale in comparison? Are cornerbacks deeper than other positions, especially after considering how deep every cornerback class seems to be?
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We’ll try to answer that by comparing the pick positions of previous drafts to the overall positions players place on the board. We can account for two things—overall strength and available players. A combination of the two really gives us the best understanding of “depth.”
The first thing we can answer is which position group is “best” relative to other years. This doesn’t mean having the most players in the top 100 or having the most depth, but the most overall talent.
The easiest way to measure that is to simply add up the number of rank points (using something approximating the Jimmy Johnson trade chart) in the top 256 graded players at each position and comparing them to the past.
|Position||Points over Average|
|Interior Offensive Line||-5135.2|
|Interior Defensive Line||-6436.9|
With two edge rushers at the top of the consensus board, and more peppered throughout the top 100 players than any other position, it’s pretty clear that edge rusher has the most talent. Even when compared to prior drafts, which typically have a good number of edge players, the 2017 class tops the list.
After that, a historically strong safety class comes along to revive what is typically a fairly mundane position in the draft — there’s often not much strength or depth. This year is far different.
Even knowing that cornerback classes as of late have been stacked, this year’s promises to be better than most. There are more cornerbacks in this year’s top 100 than have been picked in the draft’s first 100 selections in five of the last six years.
On the other hand, the supposed strength of this year’s running back class has fallen off the preseason hype, but it’s not bad. The wide receiver class is fairly standard and the linebacker class is a bit behind. Though there are some stud linebackers in the class at the top, it’s not supported by the class later in the draft.
There’s not much surprise with quarterbacks, offensive tackle or interior offensive line — though this is the first time in a long time we’ve seen a weak interior defensive line class. Unless a player like Solomon Thomas is guaranteed to play on the inside, the class mostly exists as a small group of players outside of round three and then a few defensive tackles hoping to stay in the top 100.
That’s not a great judgment of depth, however. If the top three players were all edge rushers, then it would be the strongest edge-rushing class in a long time, without it being much benefit to edge-needy teams in the middle and bottom of the first round. Not only that, teams feeling pressure to generate pressure will over select edge rushers outside of the top five despite the strength of the class.
Unless a player like Solomon Thomas is guaranteed to play on the inside, the class mostly exists as a small group of players outside of round three and then a few defensive tackles hoping to stay in the top 100
So, it’s also important to figure out how many players could be conceivably selected in the Top 100 in order to understand what pressure teams may feel.
|Position||2017 Top 100||Average Top 100||Amount over Average|
|Interior Offensive Lineman||6||10.8||-4.8|
|Interior Defensive Lineman||8||13.0||-5.0|
Not only is edge rusher the strongest class, relatively speaking, it has six more players in the top 100 than the average such class. The late rises of Derek Rivers and Jordan Willis helped restore the reputation of the class, but it may not have needed it. It seems as if edge rushers can be found throughout the draft.
Like we mentioned above, there are more cornerbacks this year than all but one of the last six years, and it seems like it’s going to be a great draft to get a corner in the middle rounds.
So too with safety, where there are two more safeties in the top 100 this year than any single year of the draft since 2011.
Once again, we see that the class lacks interior offensive linemen and interior defensive linemen. They also lack linebackers, which contrasts quite a bit with the strength of the linebacker group overall.
With these two pieces of data, we can understand which positions are deepest relative to class. If we take the percentage over which these classes demonstrate talent and availability, we can get a good understanding of depth.
|Interior Defensive Line||55%||62%||58%|
|Interior Offensive Line||52%||55%||54%|
It’s a strong class at edge rusher, right end, safety, cornerback and running back. An average wide receiver class is followed up by weak showings at linebacker, quarterback, offensive tackle, interior defensive line and interior offensive line.
Unfortunately for teams who need those last five positional groups (and count the Vikings as suitors of three or more of those positions), teams will have to overdraft in order to secure the player they need. On the other hand, teams needing an edge rusher may be able to wait a bit longer and wrap up concerns they have elsewhere before making sure to grab a pass rusher.
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