The Extra Point

Assessing the Change in Draft Pick Value Across Positions

The 2021 NFL Draft is scheduled to kick off from April 29 to May 1 in Cleveland. Most of the pre-draft conversation has been centered around the quarterback position, with some mock drafts predicting four quarterbacks being taken with the first four picks.

If the pre-draft predictions hold true, how common is it for top draft picks to be used on the quarterback position?

Using a Draft Value Curve table, NFL Football Operations analyzed the overall draft capital devoted to each position in each NFL Draft from 1970 to 2020. The table, like others before it, aims to assess the relative value of each draft pick based on the performance of players chosen in each draft spot. 

The first chart uses the percentage of draft value assigned to quarterback (blue), running back (green), and defensive back (red) positions since 1970.

During this time, the percentage of draft capital used on quarterbacks has increased. While they are only one of the 22 players on the field, they accounted for roughly 8% of total draft capital in the 2020 draft, consistent with the uptick that began roughly two decades ago.

With the passing game taking on greater importance, valuation of defensive backs has also increased. In five of the last six seasons, for example, defensive back ranked first among all positions as far as draft capital percentage — in the mid-1970s, it ranked as low as fifth.

Running back has seen the largest decline in draft capital over this period. In 1970, approximately 15% of draft capital was used on running backs — the third highest for any position. However, by 2020, the position dropped to seventh, falling behind quarterbacks and losing nearly 8% of draft capital.

The second chart shows the average draft capital allocated to each position group.