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2013 NFL Draft: The Data, Runs & Clusters, and Talent of Positional Groups

Another NFL Draft, another example of how unique each one of them can be. For the first time ever, two offensive tackles were taken with the top two picks, and not a single running back was taken in the first round. Eighteen 2013 first-rounders were listed as offensive and defensive linemen! And the run on quarterbacks didn't occur until the fourth round. It was also the iceberg of draft classes, where the elite talent was a small fraction of the depth the class hid beneath the waterline with nearly two rounds worth of "second-round talent." In the top half of the first round there were a few "second-round talents" selected, including DJ Hayden and EJ Manuel, and by the Cowboys' traded pick, it was clear that teams were prepared to take their favorite second-round talents when Reid, Pugh, and Long flew off the board. But what else happened in the 2013 draft besides the great trade-down from Floyd for Frederick debate?

While there's tons of data, I have tried to find a few things in the mess. First, what positional groups stood out in this draft? Where were the runs on those positions and clusters that might signify the change in talent level? How did the Cowboys manage themselves in this ever-changing landscape? Did they simply keep themselves alive with what was available, or did they manage to maximize what the draft had to offer?

Draft Deviation from the Mean:
I decided to try and find out, not only which groups were drafted most in each round, but also which positional groups had more top heavy talent. If there were seven quarterbacks in the draft and each one was drafted in one of the seven rounds, the "mean" for that positional group would be a four if you grade each player by the round they were drafted and divide for the average. A mean of four would thus imply that the prospects of that positional group were equally spread throughout the draft. I used this concept to try and find the draft deviation from the mean for each positional group, where a negative number identifies the group was better than the mean, meaning more selections were made in earlier rounds. A positive number signifies the positional group was worse than the mean, and had more selections later in the draft.

Info from NFL.com draft tracker

Position 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th Total Deviation
QB 1 1 1 4 - - 4 11 .54+
RB - 5 1 3 5 8 4 26 .46+
WR 3 3 5 4 3 5 5 28 .28+
TE 1 3 2 2 1 3 3 16 .06+
OL 9 1 6 7 4 6 8 41 .12+
DL 9 4 7 7 9 5 10 51 .13+
LB 2 6 2 5 1 5 4 25 .12+
CB 4 5 7 1 7 1 6 31 .07-
S 3 2 4 3 2 4 3 21 .09+

Looking at the totals, it may be misleading to say it was the year of the trenches simply because so many were drafted. The title is well earned for the first round, but considering each NFL team requires five starting olinemen, and four to five dlinemen (especially with many of the 3-4 OLB playing DE in college), it would make sense that the totals would exceed other positional groups. Last year, the OL and DL draft picks numbered in the mid forties as well. With over fifty DBs drafted (five starters for each team) and about ten quarterbacks, the draft almost reads like the starting lineups of ten teams with a RB rotation. In that case, it would appear the olinemen are a little low in number, as are the wide receivers and linebackers. And they are, slightly, compared to the 2012 Draft.

Of all the positional groups, only the corner backs managed to have more prospects drafted in the earlier rounds (negative deviation). It would appear the true strength of the draft, or needs of NFL teams, was found amongst the cornerbacks in the 2013 draft. Though clearly, the positional groups whose talent was most quickly locked up were the OL and DL in the first round. It would appear the Cowboys were wise to grab a lineman they really liked with Frederick at 31, because it seems the first cluster of OL talent was done soon after, and the next tier of talent didn't go off the board until a cluster in the 3rd and 4th rounds. Much the same could be said about the DL group. While a few went in the second round, it seems the talent group had dropped off, and the next BIG cluster occurred in the middle rounds, 3rd through 5th.

While clearly just a deductive guess based on objective data points, it would seem the Cowboys did not have good value left with OL and DL prospects in the second round. However, the group with the second-best deviation for the draft was about to start its cluster of top talent, and the Cowboys jumped into the mix by drafting Escobar. You might also want to note what occurred in the third round and the positional group with the third-best deviation.

That's right. Once again, the Cowboys connect the round's pick with the position that had the next highest positional deviation (3rd round, third deviation). With the best safeties gone after the first round, Dallas selected Wilcox while a run on safeties threatened to finish the first, yet long, cluster of top talent. However, they first used their extra pick to draft Williams, where a run that threatened to finish off the "second- round talent" receiver cluster was underway.

Just to recap the early rounds; OL highest draft cluster was in the 1st round, and the Cowboys selected one. The TE highest draft clustered occurred in the 2nd round. The highest round cluster for safeties occurred in the 3rd, as did the highest draft cluster of WRs. Seems like the Cowboys had their finger on the pulse of the early rounds of the draft, managing to get "second-round talent" for all four of their picks before it ran out in those particular positional groups. Yes, by doing so, they did miss on adding an early round defensive lineman to the fury of many fans and pundits, but it seems the Cowboys locked up their greatest positional need and still got great positional value with the other picks - of which were also brought up as team needs (though many assumed not as desperate).

In the fourth round, the second cluster of OL and DL was well under way, so it seems the Cowboys instead elected to find value in the highest deviation group in the draft. By all accounts, Webb was well deserving of a "second-round talent" grade, but somehow managed to slide to the Cowboys as other teams tried to jump on the runs at QB, WR, DL, and OL that occurred in the fourth round. Meanwhile, the Cowboys managed to get great value with Webb. And with their top five picks in the first four rounds, Dallas managed to pick four prospects of positional groups in the Deviation Top 4.

In the fifth round, there were still two RBs that had been discussed as players with "second-round talent" (though in this deep draft that talent extended a few rounds). While a BTB favorite Stepfan Taylor was taken with the sixth pick in the round, the Cowboys managed to get great value with Randle (the last of the two) at pick 151. Soon after, a run occurred on the next tier of talented RBs that culminated with the drafting of a whopping 11 backs taken after the Cowboys in the fifth and throughout the sixth round. As they had grown accustomed to doing in this draft, the Cowboys again selected a prospect before the clusters reached the next tier of talent. Perhaps it is thus not surprising, that the Cowboys then drafted a LB that slid into the sixth round, before a run led to the third cluster of backers.

It's not easy to break down the draft into a chart of numbers and find any absolute truths. But it does appear the Cowboys did a good job of tracking the clusters of positional groups and the talent left in each. They drafted nearly an entire rookie class of "second-round talents." It also appears that by doing so, the Cowboys also selected primarily prospects at positions that had the highest draft deviation from the mean in 2013. It will be a while until the Cowboys rookie class proves themselves and earns a grade. But so far, it seems the Cowboys War Room was well in-tuned with this unique NFL Draft.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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