Every team has experienced the feeling of drafting a player high and watching their career sputter and spiral right out of the gates. In fact, Raider fans would probably argue that they're most familiar with the feeling — pointing to an all-star team of busts that feature Jamarcus Russell, Rolando McClain, Darrius Heyward-Bey, DJ Hayden and even Darren McFadden all within the past decade.
So now, with the roster inching closer and closer to completion, it seems as if there might be more pressure than ever to make sure whoever they select with pick No. 14 — which made me wonder: are some positions more risky than others?
Well, sort of.
FiveThirtyEight.com, the statistical analysis website that covers everything from sports to politics to pop culture, actually tried to analyze this last season. They used Pro-Football-Reference's "Approximate Value" method, which seeks to quantify a player's seasonal value over the course of a season, and compared the value to an "expected value" based on where a player is drafted. In doing this, they were able to estimate the, "probability of a player producing more than his Approximate Value in his first five NFL seasons than the median for his draft slot, by position, from 1980-2014."
If you're into nerding out over numbers, click the links and spin into the deep abyss of statistical analysis, but if not, keep reading for some over-arching generalizations.
As a result, FiveThirtyEight was able to break each position group down, and look at what the probability of a player producing more than the average within his position group was in each round. The results offer the Raiders some good news.
Heading into the draft, the Raiders have identified three major need areas (in no particular order): defensive backs, linebacker and offensive line. The good news? These three make up the safest position groups to draft — with offensive lineman succeeding 60% of the time (across all rounds), linebackers around 55% and cornerbacks just over 50% of the time. These are the only three positions to offer success more than half the time.
But does this analysis offer any hint of advice as far as what type of draft strategy might emerge from these conclusions? Actually, yes: don't draft a defensive back in the first round.
Defensive back selections in Round 1 have success rates below 50%, but move into positive territory in every round but the third. By comparison, offensive linemen selections are successful more often than not in rounds 1-5, while linebackers are safe picks in every round but the sixth.
Looking strictly at Round 1 and 2 numbers, the recommendation would be to go with an offensive lineman early (almost a 60% success rate in the first round and a 75% success rate in the second — both the highest marks of any position group in either round).
Now, to be fair, FiveThirtyEight does admit that a positional group like offensive linemen may appear safer than they actually are by virtue of the limited statistical analysis available. A poor offensive lineman is a far less glaring problem than a poor quarterback, running back or receiver — all of whom have a number of quantifiable statistics to expose their weaknesses.
So no, it's not a perfect analysis — and they admit that — but it's interesting nonetheless. And when you combine this information with all the cap space the Raiders have to spend, maybe they can target positions more risk-laden in the draft in free agency, while targeting less risk-laden positions in the draft.