How Draft Capital Spent is Changing and What it Means for the 2024 NFL Draft

by Tej Seth|March 4, 2024

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One thing that makes the National Football League so interesting is the never-ending evolution of the game. Whether it is defenses going from Tampa 2 in the early 2000’s to Cover 3 in the early 2010’s to the influx of two high defenses in the early 2020’s or it is teams being more open to using void years in contracts, change is a constant. 

This applies to the draft as research on positional importance, surplus value, and tendencies continues to improve. At least in part because of that, teams have started to shift how they allocate their resources among position groups.  

We can quantify this by looking at each draft since 2011 and tracking how much draft capital was spent using the Fitzgerald-Spielberger NFL Draft Value Chart. Once we have that, we can look at the trends of each position to see if teams are changing how they distribute their draft capital on a year to year basis. Then, this can be applied to a consensus big board of this year’s draft class to see if there are any edges to be had. 

There are key caveats for this analysis: 

  1. Not every draft class has the same distribution of talent at each position so that may skew results (however the overall trend should smooth those residuals).
  2. Players might not be drafted at the same position they play in the NFL. For example, a player drafted at offensive guard might play center in their rookie year.  

Although the league has skewed in favor of offense in the past decade, the draft capital spent on offense and defense has stayed relatively consistent.  

There is not a trend between either side of the ball as the results seem to be driven by the players that make up the draft class. In 2017, 19 of the 32 first round picks were on defense. From 2016 to 2019, at least half of the top 16 picks were defensive players, and that mark hasn’t been reached since.  

Using Benjamin Robinson’s Grinding The Mocks for the 2024 draft, 11 of the top 12 picks are projected to be on offense. Relative to previous years, there appears to be fewer linebackers, safeties, and defensive tackles that project as requiring premium draft capital. However, there are still 7 corners projected to be taken in the top 40 picks, which follows the trend of recent years. 

Overview 

We can see that cornerback (CB) has been a position that has steadily grown in terms of draft capital spent. From 2011 to 2019 there were 8 cornerbacks selected in the top 10 of the draft, yet in the last four drafts there have been 7 top 10 corners taken. Since 2019, there hasn’t been a draft where fewer than 4 corners have been taken in the 1st round.  

In fact, cornerback has been the position with the strongest increase in draft capital spent since 2011. Positions that have been identified as premium positions like offensive tackle and wide receiver have also seen an increase, whereas running back and offensive guard have seen a decrease. Edge rusher has also seen a decrease despite being considered a premium position.  

This can be partially chalked up to variance as edge rusher has the highest standard deviation in terms of draft capital spent on the position by season. This means that it is the position the league sees as the most talent dependent as there are years like 2020 where 2 edge rushers go in the 1st round and years like 2021 where 8 go in the top 32 picks. 

Defense 

Despite that, edge rusher is still the defensive position where the most draft capital is spent. Draft capital spent on edge rushers has been stable with high year-by-year variance. Years like 2017, 2019, and 2021 saw a surplus of edge rushes while 2018, 2022, and 2023 were more down years. 

In the 2024 draft there are 6 edge rushers vs. 8 cornerbacks in the top 50 of the consensus big board, so it will be interesting to see how teams approach that position on days 1 and 2. 

Offense 

Looking at offensive skill positions, wide receiver has risen in terms of draft capital spent – especially in the past four years. This is likely because of the sheer talent that has come out at that position as there were 10 receivers taken in the top 16 from 2020-2022. It is a high variance draft capital position, which was shown in the 2023 draft with zero receivers taken in the top 16. This year there are 3 receivers (Harrison Jr., Nabers, Odunze) in the top 16 of the consensus big board and 11 top 50 prospects overall. It should be a good year for teams that are looking to draft a wide receiver. 

Expectedly, running back has declined in terms of draft capital spent on the position overall but not at the rate that second contracts have declined for running backs. Up until 2018, teams were content with using top 5 picks on the position. Even in last year’s draft, two top 12 picks were used on Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs. In the 2024 draft, there is no running back in the top 50 of the consensus big board, so it will be interesting to follow when teams decide to take one. 

Tight ends are one of the lowest variance positions in terms of draft capital spent. They have consistently been rising in total draft capital despite first-round tight ends ending up as a mixed bag of success. Last year we saw 9 tight ends get taken in the first 3 rounds, which was the most since 2019. This year, if Brock Bowers is selected in the top 10 picks, there will be a big boost to the draft capital spent on the position. 

Offensive tackle has seen the biggest rise in draft capital spent among all offensive line positions. In the past four drafts, there has been an average of 5 offensive tackles taken in the 1st round compared to 3.33 from 2011 to 2019. In this year’s draft there are 10 top 40 prospects at offensive tackle according to the consensus big board, so we could see the trend continue. 

Offensive guard has seen the opposite happen at the position. From 2011 to 2019 there were 2 guards taken in the 1st round per year and that has dropped to 1.25 in the past four drafts. With no guards in the top 60 of the consensus big board in this year’s draft, that trend might continue as well. 

Overall Outlook 

While draft capital spent is a mix of which positions are strong and the league’s outlook on positional value, using draft capital spent and looking at the variance of each position can help us understand where the league might be heading in the 2024 draft and beyond. 

Overall, cornerbacks, wide receivers, and offensive tackles should continue to have premium draft capital spent on them in this draft and into the future as long as the talent stays consistent. Positions like edge rusher and offensive guard should continue to vary a lot based on who is available year in and year out. We will be monitoring these trends during the last weekend of April. 

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