Positional Value

Written by Rob Engle on April 8, 2011


So a few of the people I’ve talked to recently think that one of the reasons Cam Newton is the favorite for the #1 pick is because of the positional value of Quarterbacks. While I don’t agree with this methodology or see this as the reason he’s the favorite, it got me thinking about the order of importance for positions.

 

Everyone agrees quarterbacks are the most important position. What’s next? And is the order of importance displayed in recent draft history? Here’s how I saw it before I went to the numbers.

 

I’d rank the order of importance…
1. Quarterbacks
2. Tackles
3. Defensive Linemen/Outside Linebackers
4. Cornerbacks
5. Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
6. Running Backs
7. Inside Linebackers
8. Safeties
9. Offensive Guards/Centers
10. Kickers
11. Fullbacks
13. Punters

 

This is obviously up for debate, but that’s how I saw it. After quarterbacks, people generally talk about how important a dominant left tackle is since they protect the blind side. Then, with the emphasis on the NFL being a “passing league”, defensive linemen and pass rushers are becoming increasingly important because having people to get past the elite left tackles is necessary. Next, a shutdown cornerback like Nmandi Asomogha or Darelle Revis can change games and limit the quarterback’s options.

 

Wide Receivers, Tight Ends and Running backs are like the “toys” for an offense and a quarterback, specifically. Having a “star” at one of these positions can be seen as a luxury. However, without good “toys” to play with, it’s almost impossible for an offense to be successful.

 

Finally, inside linebackers, safeties, and interior lineman are players that typically play inside the hashes where sometimes an “average player’s” weaknesses can be hidden by a good scheme. Kickers, Fullbacks and Punters, while important, are players that have the least potential to make a huge impact on a team and therefore aren’t as important (Disclaimer: from the opinion of a Scout, not a Coach).

 

Now, let’s look at the history (last 5 years, located on my APDP Chart) of the draft. Two things to look at regarding the value of a position are the history of players selected in the first round, and total players selected for each position. Take a look at the following table:

 

Position 1st Round Avg. Total Avg. % taken in 1st Round Position Value Order My Order

QB

2.4 11.8 20.3% QB QB
RB 3.4 18.4 18.5% OT OT
FB 0 4 0% RB DE/OLB
WR 3 32.8 9.1% DE CB
TE 1.2 16.6 7.2% DT DT
OT 3.8 19.6 19.4% C WR
OG 0.8 14.8 5.4% CB TE
C 0.8 5.6 14.2% LB RB
DE 4 22 18.1% WR ILB
DT 3 20 15% S S
LB 3.6 32.2 11.2% TE C
CB 4 30.8 13% OG OG
S 1.8 22.4 8% K K
K 0 1.8 0% FB FB
P 0 2.4 0% P P

 

From this table, the only major difference in my the way the NFL teams see first round value and the way I see first round value is in the Center position, which came up as 6th most valuable in the 1st round (I had them ranked at 11). Over the last 5 years of the NFL Draft (2006-2010), 14.2% of the centers taken in the draft were taken in the first round, which shocked me a little bit.

 

The initial shock of Centers being so high on the list doesn’t seem so shocking, however, when you think of just how much of an impact a great Center can have for an offensive line. They make all the line calls and help protect the QB. I think NFL teams realize this and it’s why I think over the next several years, we’ll see more and more Centers taken at the end of the first round.

 

Back to the original point of the article, Cam Newton. Is he deserving of being a top pick in the draft despite his flaws (that I will admit he has). No NFL Draft prospect is perfect when you look at them closely enough and one of the most important factors for determining whether or not you think a QB will be successful is if the things they do are good enough to compensate for the things that they don’t do well, especially early in their careers.

 

Let’s be real, no player starts their first game of their career and has the best game they’ll ever play. Since a Quarterback’s confidence and ability to ‘rally the troops’ is so important, it’s hard for a young QB to suffer major failures early and turn out to be successful.

 

The Carolina Panthers have the No. 1 pick and only a few weeks to make their decision. They have to decide if Cam Newton’s strengths as a player (Phenomenal athletic ability and the potential to be a tremendous passer as well) will outweigh his weaknesses (possible narcissism and questionable personality traits) early in his career? Will the Panthers be prepared to not force him into action too early? Will they be patient enough to wait for Cam to be mentally to handle the game, if he ever will be? It seems clear that Quarterbacks are the most valuable position to take in the first round, but sometimes a team needs to decide whether the top prospects’ available will be in a position to be successful whenever they make their first appearance in live-game action.

 

If you want my opinion, Cam Newton is worth the first pick in the draft only if the Panthers make the conscious decision to build a team around his ability before they allow him to play. This means improving the entire offense as quickly as possible, and this will increase his chances of having a successful career.

 

Rob Engle

Rob Engle scouted privately starting in 2004. Rob participated in an internship with the Baltimore Ravens scouting department and is continuing his professional career by attending Miami University (Ohio) to obtain a degree in Strategic Communication. Rob is also a member of the Football Writers Association of America. See all posts by Rob Engle.