I mentioned yesterday that a Washington Post study using data from Pro Football Reference showed that the Pittsburgh Steelers have been the most successful team in gaining value directly from the players they have drafted over the course of the past 20 years in comparison to every other team in the league.
I also mentioned that the study contained a wealth of other interesting information that I was likely to revisit in the future in order to explore further topics, and that is exactly what I’m going to do now, because one data point in their research in particular that I find both interesting in relevant stood out to me.
In a chart that shows the average draft value of each position relative to the round in which they were selected, and the number of selection by position in each round, I could not help but notice the fact that, of all positions—specialist included—the position that yielded the least average value per selection in the first round was cornerback, by a bit of a decent margin.
Within the timeframe of the study, there have been 79 cornerbacks drafted in the first round, which works out to about four cornerbacks or so per draft. The average draft value of these 79 cornerbacks was 21.4, the lowest value in round one of all positions.
The closest position in terms of draft value next to cornerback was tight end, whose 21 picks produced an average draft value of 25.3, nearly four full points more—and it’s worth noting that that includes the Steelers’ first-round tight end, Heath Miller, who retired with a draft value of 46. Also in the general vicinity was defensive end, whose 84 picks produced an average draft value of 26.4.
What is interesting is that the data doesn’t show by any means that teams do not undervalue the cornerback position in the first round by any means. In fact, the only positions at which more first-round picks were made over the course of the past 20 years than cornerback were defensive end, as mentioned above, and wide receiver, with 81.
So what the data suggests, then, is that, in fact, teams tend to overvalue the cornerback position. In spite of the fact that they produce the least overall draft value per selection in the first round, they have been drafted nearly as much as any other position during the timeframe of the study—and I would predict that the number of cornerbacks drafted in the first round has been on an upward curve over the course of the past decade.
This is certainly something to keep in mind while clamoring for the Steelers to draft a cornerback in the first round in just a few days. Of course, as always, it will depend on the specific player whether or not he ends up being successful—along with the position he is put in—but statistically, we have data that strongly implies that cornerback is the position at which you’re likely to get the least possible value with your selection.