NFL Draft by the Data: So you're saying there's a chance?

Congratulations to the 261 former college football players who heard their name called at the 2019 NFL Draft last weekend, including Kyler Murray who became the 11th QB taken Number 1 overall since 2004! This is an unbelievable accomplishment, one that defies the odds. According to, there are approximately 1,037,000 high school football participants. Of which approximately 74,000 (7.1%) make it to NCAA level competition. Of that 7.1% to make it to the NCAA, only 1.6% hear their name on draft night. For anyone calculating, that means high school football participants have a whopping 0.025% chance of being drafted into the NFL. Taking this a step further, I thought it would be interesting to see what percentage of those lucky individuals who “make it” during the draft actually “make it” onto the field for a regular season NFL game.

I compiled the past 15 years of draft data from, looking all the way back to 2004, when the then San Diego Chargers drafted Eli Manning with the Number 1 overall pick and ended up with Philip Rivers. During this time period, 3,818 players heard their names called on draft night but 330 of those players have never played a snap. It is important to note that 48 of those 330 players were drafted in 2018 and some of them may very well get the opportunity to play during the 2019-20 NFL season as they are still young in their career. Breaking it down by team shows an interesting paradigm.

The teams with the highest percentage of their drafted players to not play in the NFL have some consistent winners over the past 15 years, like the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots at 17%. However, other teams, who have been below average over the past 15 years such as Tampa Bay and Washington also make this top ten list. This data suggests that the teams on this list either take their time to develop their draft picks, like in the case of New England, or like Tampa Bay and Washington, struggle to identify and evaluate NFL talent,. This is further evidenced by the makeup of those individuals who have not played in the NFL. Six of the 22 players in this group for New England were drafted in 2018 and still may play this upcoming season. Whereas 0 and 1 of the players in this group were drafted in 2018 by Tampa Bay and Washington, respectively.

Some other interesting, but more predictable data points that came from this analysis were the number of players drafted that never played by the round in which they were selected. As you might guess, the largest group of these draftees were selected in the seventh and final round, making up 40% of total players drafted who have never played a snap. But getting drafted in the first round doesn’t guarantee you playing time either. Just ask Malik McDowell, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks, who was selected 35th overall in the 2017 draft and never made it onto the field for the Seahawks before being waived by the team in March 2019. Some other names that Western Pennsylvania natives may be familiar with on this list are Senquez Golson (drafted 56th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015) and Christian Hackenberg of Penn State University (drafted 51st overall by the New York Jets in 2016), both of whom were released without ever playing a down for the team that drafted them.

So, what position has the best shot of playing in the NFL? Defensive back. It is the most common position drafted (almost 20% of total players drafted are defensive backs) and 93.4% of all defensive backs drafted over the last 15 years make it on the field eventually. What is the most difficult position to get an opportunity in the NFL? Quarterback. This one should not come as a shock as there are only 32 starting QB jobs in the NFL. Not only are they the least common offensive and defensive position drafted (less than 5% of total players drafted are Quarterbacks) but they have the highest percentage of players drafted to never play a regular season snap (19.5%).

What should all of this tell fans and athletes alike? It is really hard to make it to the NFL. Even if you are one of the exceptionally hard working, talented, and lucky individuals to make up part of the 0.025% of high school football players who are drafted, there is still an 8.6% chance that you’ll only ever be able watch your team on Sundays.

For more data behind the NFL Draft or information on how Schneider Downs can help provide data driven solutions, contact Matt Kraemer at 412-697-5314 or

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