Which Position Group Contains the Most Value at the NFL Draft?

Ryan RiddleCorrespondent IApril 2, 2015

Clemson's Vic Beasley (3) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against North Carolina in Clemson, S.C., Saturday Sept. 27, 2014. Clemson won 50-35. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
Bob Leverone/Associated Press

The 2015 NFL draft class has some deep position groups in terms of available talent in the Top 100 selections.

The positions that clearly have the most depth are wide receiver, running back, interior offensive line, edge-rushers and cornerback. Between these position groups, it took a bit of probing to figure out which one contains the most value overall—but in the end, it had to be the edge-rushers.

In order to do that, I could always just go on my own instincts and throw out an educated guess, but there wouldn’t be much to learn from that. So it seems the first thing that needed to be done was to figure out an acceptable way to answer the question posed in the title.

While brainstorming ways in which to approach this article, I decided to first get a feel for what position others thought held the most value. Thankfully, Twitter provides a great platform to crowdsource a survey among a community of draftniks. Here are some of the responses that came back:

Clearly, we can see there are a wide range of responses among those who dedicate a lot of their time, either by habit or occupation, to the NFL draft.

Out of curiosity, I counted the Twitter responses as votes for each position group, and the position that got the most votes was the running backs—although, the votes did seem to be pretty evenly distributed for the most part among five positions. Here are the Twitter-vote tallies below:

Twitter Survey results
PositionNumber of Votes
Running Back10
Cornerback6
Interior Offensive Line5
Edge-Rusher5
Wide Receiver5
Inside Linebacker1
Twitter

This quick exercise made it clear that I couldn’t just pick one of these out of a hat, nor could I allow my take on this to be the deciding factor. This gave me the simple idea to look at various Top 100 draft boards and see which positions are represented the most.

Defining value for the sake of this exercise requires some degree of arbitrary decision-making. To keep things simple, I choose the Top 100 prospects so I can pull data from numerous draft boards that typically limit their lists to 100. Besides, players ranked within this range are generally thought of as the limit to starting-caliber players in the NFL.

I picked six Top 100 draft boards from various media outlets and broke down the population of those rankings by position. The draft boards utilized in this exercise are ESPN, NFL.com, CBS Sports, Rotoworld, Sporting News and Matt Miller’s big board, which he was kind enough to send via email.

Once I acquired the positional breakdown of each outlet’s player rankings, I could then count how many players from each position were represented in the Top 100. As it turns out, four of the six draft boards I examined had edge-rushers as their most represented positional group.  

Both CBS Sports and Rotoworld had wide receivers as the most represented position.

Below is a chart showing the combined averages for each position group to make an appearance in the previously mentioned draft boards:

Combined AVG for Each Position
PositionAvg. Prospects
Edge16.83
Wide Receiver15.33
Cornerback12.66
Running Back9.33
Interior Offensive Line9.33
Multiple Sources

As you can see, receivers and edge-rushers are the two most represented positions in this year’s draft class.

It’s worth noting that the running back group is the only position on the list that doesn’t typically feature two starters on the field at the same time.

Cornerbacks and interior offensive linemen can clearly be eliminated here due to a lack of representatives in the Top 100, but the running back position is a bit trickier.

If I were to just double the RB number as some way to be fair, it would actually put that position at the top. However, I like what my editor thinks about the idea of going with running backs for this article:

Besides, we’ve had a long drought of talented edge-rushers in recent years. Since the 2012 draft class, only the New England Patriots' Chandler Jones and Miami Dolphins' Olivier Vernon have managed to total double-digit sacks in a season, and they’ve each only achieved that feat once.

That’s why the edge-rusher drought trumps the “no RBs drafted in the first round since 2012” narrative.      

So, just how good are the edge-rushers this year?

According to Matt Miller's edge-rusher rankings—there are 12 prospects at the position graded at starter quality in this draft class.

In recent history, about 12-13 percent of the Top 100 drafted players are edge-rushers; this year is looking to be more like 17 percent.

Number of Edge-Rushers Drafted in the Top 100
YearEdge Rushers Drafted
201413
201312
201213
Source: NFL.com

In terms of college production, this group lit the nation on fire with guys like Hau’oli Kikaha (Washington), Nate Orchard (Utah), Eli Harold (Virginia), Alvin Dupree (Kentucky), Vic Beasley (Clemson) and Shane Ray (Missouri).

But wait, there’s more…

This list of names is just barely scratching the surface. We could create a whole other list of guys who were less productive in college but will likely be snagged up early. Dante Fowler and Randy Gregory are just a few examples.  

In order to help familiarize you with this talent available at the position, let’s hand out some awards:

 

Most Athletically Gifted

Winner: Vic Beasley

Beasley blew NFL scouts away with his unmatched performance at the combine that began with him weighing in at 246 pounds, which is at least 15 pounds lighter than teams were expecting.

In the coming weeks, my annual article on the “Most Physically Gifted Prospects” will be coming out, and you can be sure Beasley will be ranked extremely high on that list. He was the second most explosive prospect in this draft class, which is determined by combining his bench reps, vertical jump and broad jump.  

Vic Beasley's Measurables
HghtWght40BenchVertBroadSS3C
6'3"2464.533541"130"4.156.91
Source: NFL.com

Runner-Up: Danielle Hunter (LSU)

Unfortunately, his athleticism rarely shows up on tape.

 

Most Productive

Winner: Hau’oli Kikaha

Despite having two major knee surgeries that kept him out of several games throughout his career, Kikaha amassed a whopping 35.5 sacks, which is more than any FBS edge-rusher in at least the last four draft classes. He also had 51 tackles for a loss.

To calculate production, I used a weighted system that factors games played, interceptions, defensive touchdowns, forced fumbles, sacks, passes broken up, QB hurries, tackle for loss, solo tackles and blocked kicks.  

Runner-Up: Vic Beasley

It’s rare that you get a prospect who has such elite production and measurables. Vic Beasley is that guy.

 

Most Untapped Potential

Winner: Owamagbe Odighizuwa (UCLA)

This kid looks like he was built to play defensive end in the NFL. But beyond his physique (6'3", 267 lbs), Zuwa is an explosive prospect with the functional strength (25 reps), speed (4.62 40-yard dash) and hustle to thrive at the next level.

Few prospects are able to overshadow their college careers once they get into the NFL, but Zuwa has all the right ingredients to truly break out. Injuries have really hampered his production while at UCLA.

Runner-Up: Frank Clark (Michigan)

Clark has off-field issues and below-average production, but he is a great athlete who flashes a ton of promise on tape. He just needs to focus, stay out of trouble and learn how to finish his plays.

 

Most Overrated

Winner: Shane Ray

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01:  Head coach Gary Pinkel of the Missouri Tigers, Shane Ray #56, and Markus Golden #33 celebrate following the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl at the Florida Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. The Missouri Tigers de
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Here is an excerpt from a recent article I wrote:

Ray is a high-energy player with quick feet and a relentless motor. He is undersized for a defensive end and also lacks power in his game to really hold his own against NFL blockers. However, he can find seams and windows into the opponent's backfield.

My concerns with Ray are his lack of hand usage to beat blockers, no creativity with counter moves and a frame that gets overpowered by bigger linemen, especially in the run.

The other thing about Ray is he that only demonstrated the ability to be productive for one season at Missouri. He could be a one-year wonder. Add that to his subpar pro day, and there should be major doubts about him as an elite prospect. For perspective, Ray has the second-worst measurables of any edge-rusher in this draft class.

Runner-Up: Dante Fowler

Fowler is out of position far too much for a top prospect. I fear he lacks the type of instincts that will prevent him from ever becoming much more than a marginal NFL starter, yet he is expected to be a top-five selection.

 

Note: To learn more about the edge-rushers in this draft class, you absolutely have to check out Bleacher Report’s edge-rusher rankings by Matt Miller.

 

Ryan Riddle played briefly in the NFL and currently writes for Bleacher Report.

Follow him on Twitter @Ryan_Riddle.