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Drafting All Pros: RB, WR, and TE

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Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

I decided to take a look at where top end talent has been drafted recently. I wanted to get an idea about trends within the drafting process and how successful teams are at finding top talent.  I decided to start with playmakers on offense, the running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends.

How did I identify top end talent? I included any player who has made an All Pro first or second team in the last five years.

Running Back

Player Round Pick
A. Peterson 1 7
M. Lynch 1 12
L. Bell 2 48
L. McCoy 2 53
R. Rice 2 55
M. Jones-Drew 2 60
E. Lacy 2 61
D. Murray 3 71
J. Charles 3 73
M. Turner 5 154
A. Morris 6 173
A. Foster UDFA 257

Average pick: 85

Median pick: 61

What sticks out here?

There is an idea that it is a bad strategy in the Draft to take a back too early. The running back results do lend credence to this theory. Outside the 2007 first round class of Lynch or Peterson, none other has produced a first round All Pro in the last five years. Since Peterson and Lynch, the only backs to go in the top fifteen have been Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Knowshon Moreno, C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews, and Trent Richardson. Teams seem much more likely to reach badly going for a back too early when the top talent tends to be available on the second or third day.

The idea backs grow on trees might go a tad too far, though. Nine of the twelve backs on the list were gone by the end of the third round. Maybe you can get a solid back later, but if you want a game-changer, your team probably does need to invest an early pick.

Wide Receiver

C. Johnson 1 2
A. Johnson 1 3
L. Fitzgerald 1 3
A. Green 1 4
D. Thomas 1 22
D. Bowe 1 23
D. Bryant 1 24
R. White 1 27
R. Wayne 1 30
J. Nelson 2 36
J. Gordon* 2 39
B. Marshall 4 119
B. Lloyd 4 124
A. Brown 6 195
W. Welker UDFA 256
V. Cruz UDFA 256

Average pick: 73

Median pick: 29

What sticks out?

There are some positions where teams struggle to identify the top talent. Wide receiver does not seem to be one of them. If you want a great one, you'd better be willing to expend a pick in the first round or early second round. Gordon has the asterisk because the Browns used a supplemental pick on him. If we include him, eleven of the sixteen were picked utilizing top forty selections.

Tight End

Player Round Pick
V. Davis 1 6
T. Gonzalez 1 13
R. Gronkowski 2 42
J. Witten 3 69
J. Graham 3 95
A. Gates UDFA 263

Average pick: 81

Median pick: 56

What sticks out?

The biggest things that sticks out is that there are only six players on this list. Tight end looks like a position where there is a clearly established top end of just a few players and then there is everybody else. NFL teams also have a tough time finding that top talent. Only Gonzalez and Davis were the top tight ends of their respective classes. Luminaries such as Bennie Jopru, L.J. Smith, and Teyo Johnson went ahead of Witten.

If you want a tip, look to basketball. Three of the six players on this list (Gonzalez, Graham, and Gates) were Division I basketball players. Given how little experience Graham and Gates had playing the game before entering the league, suggests finding an elite player at the tight end position might has as much to do with coaching and player development after finding a freakish athlete as it does with talent evaluation.