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Danny O'Neil covers the Seahawks for The Seattle Times.

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February 12, 2009 6:09 AM

Position paper: First-round trends in the NFL Draft

Posted by Danny O'Neil

(Note to blog readers from Danny O'Neil: I'll be out of town Thursday and Friday to attend a funeral so the blog will not be updated as frequently).

There wasn't a single wide receiver chosen in the first round of last year's draft. That was strange considering that since 2000 more first-round picks were used on wide receivers than any other position.

Position First round
picks since 2000
WR37
CB35
DE31
OT30
DT30
LB30
RB29
QB23
S17
TE14
G5
C3
K1

In fact, a first round hadn't finished without a wide receiver being chosen since 1990. It won't happen again. Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree is expected to be a top 10 choice. In fact, many people expect the Seahawks to choose Crabtree No. 4 overall.

That would make Crabtree an exception, however, because while wide receivers may get chosen in the first round more often than any other position, they don't get picked in the top five as often quarterbacks or offensive tackles.

Turns out that simply breaking down the number of first-round choices by position doesn't give a totally accurate sketch of which positions are most valued. Not at the top of the draft. Just look at the list of first-round choices broken down by position and compare it to the breakdown of top-five choices.

Position Top-five picks
since 2000
QB10
OT8
RB7
WR6
DE6
DT3
CB2
LB2
S1
TE0
G0
C0
K0

Interestingly enough, they look very different, which is kind of counter-intuitive. Stands to reason that if wide receivers are such hot potatoes that they get drafted in the first round more often than any other type of potatoes, they'd be the most common type of potato found among the top-five choices, too.

Nope. Quarterbacks have been chosen more often than any other position in the top five spots of the draft. Of the past 45 players picked among the top five since 2000, 10 were quarterbacks. Offensive tackles were the second most-common position in the top five.

Those positions tend to occupy the top shelf of the NFL Draft. So what gets found in the next tier? Let's take a look at choices No. 6 through No. 10 broken down by position, and the distribution looks quite a bit different than the patterns from the top five.

Position Picks No.6-10
since 2000
WR9
DT8
DE5
CB5
LB5
S4
OT3
QB2
RB2
TE2
G0
C0
K0

Quarterbacks are chosen much less frequently at No. 6 through No. 10 compared to the top five. Same goes for offensive tackles.

Now, what does that tell us? Well, nine drafts is too narrow a window to draw any sweeping conclusions, but it does point out both the demand and the attractiveness of a quarterback or offensive tackle deemed to be a top-level talent. They don't tend to last in the draft order. The fact that there aren't as many quarterbacks and tackles among the players chosen No. 6 through No. 10. That means the drop off in quality at those positions in particular is perceived to be very steep.

If you don't get one of the players perceived to be a top-shelf quarterback, then it's not worth bothering. That's apparently the thinking of plenty of NFL teams.

So what are the positions that tend to be found later in the first round?

Cornerbacks and linebackers are among the most common positions picked from choices No. 11 through No. 32 and among the least common among the top five, which could point to the perception that there are more options at those positions. Or to take a sledgehammer to pound my food metaphor into the ground, if you miss out on one hot potato at those positions and you're going to get another potato that's almost as tasty.

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