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Positional NFL Draft Trends: Best vs. Worst

Examining the way successful and losing teams draft, several key positional draft trends emerge. Here are positions to add and avoid early.

There are many ways to examine NFL drafts. Many find it especially useful to look forward and give round grades. This article will take a backward look. Here, we will examine the last ten teams to win the Super Bowl as well as the last ten teams to finish last in the league. There are noticeable NFL Draft trends.

Positional NFL Draft Trends

The Review

Taking the last ten Super Bowl winners, I went through the previous five years’ worth of first-round selections.  Then I did the same for the last ten last-place teams. This includes Tennessee Titans in the year they traded their first overall pick to the Los Angeles Rams. There are instances where teams traded out of the first round. In those scenarios, I reviewed who they selected in the second round.

After taking down all the selected players, I examined the positions taken by teams leading into their fates. Several draft trends did emerge. As can be expected, there were also several things the both winning and losing teams did.

The Winners

Going back through ten years gives us some repeat customers. The Kansas City Chiefs appear twice while the New England Patriots appear three times. This gives us a view of seven different teams, but still ten different five-year look-backs. The review of draft trends accounts for players sometimes showing up twice.

In these ten periods, we can see that only two teams selected a first-round Quarterback within five years of winning the Super Bowl. The Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles did this, though the Eagles ended up winning behind Nick Foles (a third-round pick). The most common was the Edge Rusher position. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams are the only two teams to have not selected a first-round Edge Rusher in this period. The Patriots, Chiefs, and Denver Broncos each selected two. Also noticeable are the seven Offensive Tackles selected. The Seattle Seahawks and Buccaneers each selected two.

The Losers

There were some repeat customers in this group too. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns each appear twice. The Chiefs are the only team to appear on both lists.

While the Winners did feature three Wide Receivers, the Losers end up with six.  Three of these Wide Receivers were taken in the draft leading into their last-place finish.  While the Winners did not select a single Interior Offensive Lineman, the Losers selected four.  The Cincinnati Bengals selected back-to-back Interior Offensive Linemen in the years preceding their last-place finish.

The Losers ended up with five different first-round Quarterbacks. The Titans have the distinction of having selected two of them. This provides a draft trend of reaching on Quarterbacks in hopes of immediate returns.

How They Are Similar

Both went after pass rushers. The Winners selected nine different pass rushers. Meanwhile, the Losers selected eight. Many of the Losers were quite successful in this too. These selections include Miles Garrett, J.J. Watt, Josh Allen, Hassan Reddick, and Adrian Clayborn. The Winners selected players like Derek Barnett, Chandler Jones, Von Miller, Bruce Irvin, and Jamie Collins.

Both groups also placed emphasis on Defensive tackle. Each group had six Defensive Tackles selected.

A couple of times, teams picked twice in the first round. The Buccaneers and Patriots each did it three years before a Super Bowl. Yet, the Browns had two first-round selections in the two and three years preceding last place. Technically, it also three and four years before last place as well.

How They Differed

The Winners actually did not pick great Wide Receivers. Only Tutu Atwell and Mecole Hardman were selected in draft before a Super Bowl. The losers managed to head to a last-place finish in seasons after drafting DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans, and Corey Coleman. Two of those are great Wide Receivers.

The Winners placed a much higher emphasis on Offensive Tackles, while the Losers grabbed more Guards and Centers. The other point of emphasis really surprised me. Winners tended to draft Inside Linebackers at a much higher rate. The Buccaneers, Chiefs, Patriots, and Seahawks all selected Inside Linebackers in the five-year period. Only the Houston Texans did this and finished last. They selected Brian Cushing five years before finishing last.

Other Points to Note

Four of the ten seasons preceding a Super Bowl win featured a team that traded out of the first round entirely. The Atwell and Hardman preceded Super Bowl victories, but each was a second-round pick. Only two of the Winners selected a first-round player all five years preceding a Super Bowl. The Chiefs, Patriots, and Rams all moved out of the first round in at least two of those five seasons. The Rams actually had no first-round picks in the five-year period.

Biggest Position Trends

Draft trends can give us a few insights into winning priorities. If teams want to emulate the example of successful teams, here is what you do.  First off, prioritize Offensive Tackles over Interior Linemen. With pass rushers going off the board everywhere, edge protection outweighs interior needs. Next, Inside Linebackers are critical. Having players up the middle in run and also pass coverage still matters in the NFL.

Additionally, while Quarterbacks are important, too many teams reach. Mahomes is the only one on each list to start a Super Bowl. The Eagles drafted Wentz, but Foles won their title. Meanwhile, Jake Locker, Marcus Mariota, Johnny Manziel, and Josh Rosen are not helping the teams that drafted them.

Also, First round Running Backs rarely help. Winners did select Clyde Edwards- Helaire and Sony Michel. Yet Isaiah Pacheco and James White surpassed each. The losers only selected Leonard Fournette and Trent Richardson. Fournette has been fine, but not on the Jaguars roster.

Main Photo: Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports


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