What Happened to the First Round RB?

In the five-year period between 1970 through 1974, running backs made up 20% of all first round NFL draft picks. That's one out of every five. As recently as the 1985-1989 period, RBs made up 19% of first rounders. But by the most recent decade, from 2000 through 2010, RB selection was cut in half--down to about 10%. Last night, only 1 of the 32 players chosen (about 3%) was a RB, and he was chosen 28th, near the bottom of the round.

The graph below illustrates the trends in how teams favor each position over the past 41 years. Most positions are fairly stable. Click to expand.

Draft Needs According to 2010 EPA - Defense

Measuring defensive players is trickier than offensive players for a couple reasons. Most notably, +EPA (Positive Expected Points Added) captures half the story at best. But the idea is that the part of the story we see will correlate well with the part we don't see. In other words, "playmaking" defenders, in most cases at least, are often making unseen impacts as often as they make prominently visible plays.

The table below lists the 2010 regular season +EPA totals for each team by position. Although it doesn't consider free agent losses or injuries, this might be considered a good starting point for determining defensive draft needs.

Unfortunately, defensive positions are not so cut-and-dry. Depending on the base scheme, there are varying numbers of DEs, DTs, and LBs. (The 49ers don't even have a DE position.) Plus, players can sometimes be designated different positions from week to week. Advanced NFL Stats ultimately classifies players according to their most frequent designation in each game's official playbook.

Draft Needs According to 2010 EPA - Offense

Looking at each team's 2010 regular season EPA broken out by position might provide a decent starting point for identifying team needs. EPA (Expected Points Added) is a statistic that measures each play's change in team net scoring potential. Aggregating the EPA production for each team by position can suggest where teams need to be looking to upgrade or more depth.

For example, consider a team whose production from the offensive line, quarterback, running back, and tight end positions all rank somewhere in the top third of the league. But its wide receiver production ranks in the bottom third. It should be no secret where the team should look to improve.

Although it's doubtful the stats will tell us much we don't already know about team needs, they can confirm, underscore, or possible refute the common perceptions.

The table below lists each team's EPA rankings by position. Within each position, the top third of the league is shaded in green, and the bottom third is shaded in red. EPA stats for the QB, RB, TE, and WR positions are straightforward aggregations of each player's EPA by team. But offensive line EPA is measured indirectly, using the concept of -EPA. Each column is sortable.

Top Ten Most Exciting Games of 2010: Skins at Lions

Rex Grossman straps on his helmet; stretches, paces, takes the field. The field mike picks up a Redskin angrily complaining about a missed facemask penalty on the kick return. The camera zooms on Grossman. It’s his first snap of the season. It’s first and ten on the Washington 30, Skins downs six, 1:54 remaining in the game. On the sideline, Donovan McNabb twists his face into various frowns. His expression seesaws between indignity and self-conscious reserve. Grossman breaks the huddle and sets under center. Washington sets three wide, tight end right, single back shaded left. Detroit sets in a 4-2, linebackers cheating back well away from the line of scrimmage.


Grossman sets his eyes deep, dutifully awaiting his first read: the bomb. Pressure churns and approaches, is forced back and surges forward again. He senses it. Grossman looks middle-right, towards his second read: Santana Moss. It’s too late. Kyle Vanden Bosch disengages from Trent Williams, blindsides Grossman and forces a fumble masquerading as a lateral.

A lateral to Ndamukong Suh.


If you're going to be doing sports statistical research, this is required reading. Click to expand. (From xkcd.com)