Using Statistics to Set Draft Priority

I wanted to attempt to formulate a draft strategy simply using a few player stats. The sources I used for this post were CBS Sports (NFL Scout), NFL Post, Walter Football, Drafttek, and Here goes.

The first thing I looked at is the depth of each position. Position depth was determined by simply counting the number of players that expected to be drafted at each position. The top 5 positions based on total player count are:

1. WR - 40 players

2. CB - 39 players

3. OLB - 32 players

4. OT - 27 players

5. DE and DT tied - 26 players

I have read numerous times that the draft is deep for positions of need for Denver, and this exercise helped me put it in perspective somewhat. However, the bigger question is the quality of depth. Certainly having the most players at any given position doesn't necessarily mean there is a lot of talent. For example, if all 40 WR's are expected to be drafted in the 7th round, it would not likely considered to be a deep class due to the lack of high level talent. So how is quality, or talent determined? I am relying upon player rankings assigned from different sources as well as player grades. Obviously, these are all subjective, depending on who completed the player evaluations. However, by considering numerous sources, I am hoping to "smooth" the data, or identify a consensus with the so-called experts. There is no perfect way to rank talent, but this is the best I have to work with.

First, I averaged the overall player rankings for each position from the different sources (top 350 players). In theory, the lower the average rank, the better the group of players in that position are. The positions with the lowest average player rank are as follows:

1. DT - 147 average rank

2. DE - 148 average rank

3. OT - 154 average rank

4. OLB & QB tied - 155 average rank

5. CB - 159 average rank

The trouble with using the average rank, averages can be skewed by outliers. So the median rank was considered. The median is a measure of central tendency, which is less affected by outliers. The downside to the median measurement is that it does not take into account each player ranking like the average does. The median only picks the number in the middle of the range. The positions with the lowest median rank are as follows:

1. QB and OT tied - 129 median rank

2. DE - 132 median rank

3. OLB - 145 median rank

4. DT - 148 median rank

5. CB - 150 median rank

One thing you will notice is that the player positions are the same using the average player rank and the median player rank, they are just in a different order. This at least is an indicator that the positions with the best quality of players relative to the entire draft class are QB, OT, DE, DT, OLB, and CB. Comparing this list to the player count list gives us an idea of the "depth" of each class, or in other words, the classes with the best quality and quantity of players. The only position, which is not on the top player count position list, is the QB position.

Thus, the player positions with the best depth appear to be:

1. OT

2. DE

3. DT

4. OLB

5. CB.

This same process was also used with the individual player grade. For example, has a player grade for CB Dee Milliner of 93.2 and a player grade of 80.7 for CB Leon McFadden. However, Drafttek gave Dee Milliner an overall player rank of 4, meaning they think he is the 4th best player in the entire draft, while Leon McFadden has an overall player rank of 127. I thought the results may be different using the player grade versus the overall player rank. However the results were fairly similar. The player positions with the best depth using player grades were DE, DT, OLB, OT, and WR.

Next, in order to help formulate a draft strategy, the standard deviation of the player grades at each position were calculated. Standard deviation is a way to measure the dispersion from the mean, in other words, it measures how close or how far apart the player skills are from one another. A low standard deviation would imply that there is not as much difference in skill from one player to the next, making it easier to wait and pick a player later in the draft, and still get good value.

Positions with the lowest standard deviations include C, CB, DE, OLB, RB, SS, and WR. Cross reference this list with the positions with the best depth would indicate the player positions with the best chance of selecting good value late in the draft. These positions would be DE, OLB, CB and WR.

Conversely, player positions with the highest standard deviation include DT, FS, OG, OT and QB. These would be the positions that see the largest drop in talent level from player to player, or positions that may be top-heavy in the draft. Cross reference this list with the lowest player count positions would indicate the positions that are thin with talent. The lowest player count positions (excluding special teams) include C, FS, ILB, QB, and SS. Thus, the positions that are thin with talent appear to be FS and QB.

So, if Denver is looking for upgrades at FS or QB, they may need to select players at these positions early in the draft in order to get a quality player. I am guessing that the FS position may be a possibility that Denver looks at, but we don't know how the team is ranking the different positions in terms of priority or need.

Piggybacking off Bronco Mike's post "2013 NFL Draft: What are Broncos looking to improve?", let's look at Denver's need, depth and luxury picks positions recapped here:

Positions that need starters/immediate impact:

RB, DE, S (could be remedied by Quinton Carter)

Positions that need quality depth:

Offensive Tackle, DT, LB

Positions that would be luxury picks:



For the most part, I agree with Bronco Mike's opinion. So how do we get the best bang for our buck in the draft? First, let's look at the "thin" positions. The FS position is clearly thin, but the DT position may need to be drafted earlier rather than later. Although the DT spot in the top 5 of total player count and has the lowest average rank among all positions, the high standard deviation at that position indicates talent drops off faster from one player to the next. Thus, if Denver wants a quality starter at these positions, it would be wise to pick them in the early rounds. Due to this lack of depth, Denver either takes a FS in RD 1 or 2 to upgrade Mike Adams, or does not take one at all in the draft.

Next are the positions with strong depth. We can be patient with players in the best depth positions: DE, OLB, CB and WR. Luckily, these positions match up with areas of need for starters and depth.

Still, I am of the opinion that DE will certainly be looked at early in the draft due to the hole left by Dumervil. Thus, if Denver feels they want a FS, the first 4 rounds could likely be FS, DE/OLB (pass rusher), DT/RB, and RB/DT, in that order (strictly my opinion). I am using the "/" to separate two positions that may be drafted in that round (priority position #1 / priority position #2). For example, I am showing DT/RB in round 3, meaning I am placing higher priority on the DT position and secondary priority on the RB position. Then showing RB/DT in round 4 indicates that whichever position was not picked in round 3 will be picked in round 4. I picked RB in rounds 3 or 4 because it is a position of need IMO, and this position is not deep or thin, nor does it have top tier talent. Thus, no sense in taking a RB in rounds 1-2, but if we want to draft a potential starter, we will likely need to look in rounds 3-4.

If Denver does not want a FS, then I think DE/OLB (pass rusher) position slides into round 1, with DT in round 2, and CB or RB in rounds 3-4. I picked CB due to the depth at the position and knowing it is one of Elway's "impact" positions.

So my draft strategy based on this simple statistical analysis can be recapped as follows:

If front office wants to upgrade FS position:

1. FS

2. DE/OLB (pass rusher)

3. DT/RB

4. RB/DT

5. Rounds 5 & 7 would be depth picks - best classes left with good depth: CB, OT, WR and OLB.

If front office does not want to upgrade FS position:

1. DE/OLB (pass rusher)

2. DT

3. RB/CB

4. CB/RB

5. Rounds 5 & 7 would be depth picks - best classes left with good depth: OT, WR and OLB.

The theory behind this strategy is getting the best value in the draft (maximizing the player grades measured collectively as a group). Sure there are flaws, but it was simply an interesting way to look at draft strategy and how to "put a pencil" to it and actually justify why you are picking each position at certain rounds in the draft.

Final Note: I am sure the Broncos have much more complex ways to analyze the player data, and they most certainly will assign their own player ranks, which could change the strategy indicated above. Needless to say, it was simply a fun exercise to do before the draft. I am anxious to see how it plays out.

Here is a snapshot of the spreadsheet results:

<!--StartFragment--> <!--EndFragment-->
C 11 14 189 13 186 10 106 4 4.96 74.73 63.14 1.20 9.79 8.49 C
CB 39 2 159 6 150 6 92 13 6.36 75.74 70.15 1.30 11.97 9.92 CB
DE 26 6 148 2 132 3 110 1 6.45 83.50 73.88 1.23 9.50 10.52 DE
DT 26 6 147 1 148 5 100 11 5.91 79.72 70.80 1.74 12.69 13.33 DT
FB 9 15 236 15 229 15 76 15 59.94 4.11 FB
FS 16 12 181 10 172 9 105 5 5.64 78.64 67.38 1.37 8.79 12.07 FS
ILB 16 12 197 14 191 12 102 7 5.81 75.50 64.02 1.48 12.50 11.94 ILB
K 6 16 292 16 294 16 54 16 K
OG 19 9 181 9 193 13 102 6 6.00 79.75 69.84 1.61 13.01 14.00 OG
OLB 32 3 155 4 145 4 100 9 6.56 78.94 71.07 1.27 10.88 10.54 OLB
OT 27 4 154 3 129 2 109 3 6.38 82.17 71.29 1.37 9.70 13.20 OT
QB 17 10 155 5 129 1 109 2 70.47 12.90 QB
RB 25 7 170 8 159 7 81 14 5.42 67.89 1.30 9.56 RB
SS 13 13 182 11 190 11 101 8 5.27 79.64 68.64 1.25 7.55 12.05 SS
TE 20 8 188 12 201 14 96 12 70.38 10.41 TE
WR 40 1 168 7 171 8 100 10 6.45 79.71 70.51 1.30 10.23 10.51 WR
OFFENSE 168 180 175 5.84 79.09 67.93 OFFENSE
DEFENSE 174 167 161 6.00 78.81 69.42 DEFENSE

This is a Fan-Created Comment on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR

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