"With the first pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons select Alex Mack, center, California."
You know this will NEVER happen in a billion, zillion years. Why is that? Why is a center not worth taking with a very high draft pick? Why are certain positions in the NFL more valuable than others?
What I am going to touch on in this session of my NFL Draftology series is what I refer to as positional value. You may not be familiar with this term, but you know it very well if you follow the NFL Draft even just a little bit.
Some positions in this league are more important and valuable than others. Are kickers valuable? They can be. How many Super Bowls do the Patriots win without Adam Vinatieri? He was a very valuable player for the Patriots franchise, but kickers are very rarely drafted in the first three rounds. They simply don't make enough plays or are able to make an extensive difference compared to the average kicker in the league. This is why kickers don't make as much money as left tackles, quarterbacks, or defensive linemen, and why they aren't highly sought after in the draft.
Another reason kickers aren't highly coveted in the draft is because there isn't a great demand for them. Teams aren't scrambling to draft a "franchise kicker."
Two concepts make up positional value: demand and impact. I've briefed on these a bit, but we are going to do some intense analysis.
205A: POSITIONAL DEMAND - What is it?
From Dictionary.com, the definition of "demand" is "The desire to possess a commodity or make use of a service, combined with the ability to purchase it."
Some positions in the NFL are hotter commodities than others. Obviously special teams personnel (punters, long snappers, kickers, returners) aren't very high on the totem pole. No teams were really scrambling to find long snappers or kickers in free agency or the draft. I will use this phrase a lot throughout NFL Draftology 205A, but they are a "dime a dozen." No team truly has these needs, and thus it has low demand. Low demand for a position means they will be less sought after on Draft Day and will be less pricey in the free-agent market.
What other positions are in low demand? I'd say the position right now in the lowest demand in this league is running back. Nearly every team has something invested in this position, or believes they have a potential star. Look around the NFL depth charts. Sure, some teams have more question marks at the position than others, but in general, this is an overloaded position in the NFL. Reason? The great talent coming out of college at this position is NFL-caliber, and there are a lot of these players in the NFL. They aren't just really good; there are a lot of them.
For our first NFL Draft analysis here, let's take a look at the 2007 NFL Draft. Why did Adrian Peterson fall to No. 7? Many point out that he had durability issues, but I disagree. It was the lack of demand for running backs in the NFL as to why he slid to the Vikings.
Oakland? They didn't need a running back having spent a lot of money on LaMont Jordan, and they needed a franchise signal caller more (Jamarcus Russell). Pass.
Detroit? They spent a first-round pick on Kevin Jones in 2004 and also traded for Tatum Bell. Calvin Johnson was simply too good to pass up, and was playing a position of greater DEMAND. Elite receivers are rare, and Johnson was quite possibly the best receiving prospect in NFL history. Pass.
Cleveland? I will get into this later discussing positional impact, but the Browns needed a left tackle more than a running back. They brought in Jamal Lewis, but didn't have anything at left tackle. Pass.
Tampa Bay? Cadillac Williams was poised to return to rookie form, Michael Pittman was solid, and Earnest Graham had potential as a backup. Nothing for this team in terms of a pass rush, so they opted for Gaines Adams. Pass.
Arizona? Spent $30 million on Edgerrin James, and they needed to protect Matt Leinart. Getting better on the line was imperative for them, just like Cleveland. They took Levi Brown to block Matt Leinart's blind side. Pass.
Washington? Clinton Portis, so no need here. A need at free safety, they took LaRon Landry. Pass.
That's how Adrian Peterson became a Viking. It really had nothing to do with his running style or injury history. Was there some risk there with taking him with those injuries? I think a little bit, but in the end it didn't matter because teams had other needs, and didn't have them at running back.
Another position I believe that is in extremely low demand right now is inside linebacker. Look around, nearly every team has a very talented starter at this position. Only teams with question marks right now are Tennessee (Ryan Fowler), Cincinnati (Dhani Jones) and Kansas City (Napoleon Harris).
What other positions are in low demand? The more obvious positions that are in low demand are center, guard, and tight end.
I would say at this point, being that we don't know who will get injured and fail next season, there are really no positions of drastic need right now in the NFL.
Seven left tackles were taken in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft (if you include Branden Albert). It will be interesting to see if they will all live up to their first-round billing, and it's something we will find out next season. The only teams with a need at left tackle right now are Oakland (Kwame Harris) and potentially Baltimore (Jared Gaither).
You are probably thinking about quarterback right now, but I'd say this is a wait-and-see approach. Will players like Tarvaris Jackson, Kellen Clemens, Brodie Croyle, Drew Stanton, Matt Moore, Matt Leinart and Alex Smith ever step up? Quarterback has a lot of potential to be a big need in the 2009 NFL Draft, especially with the best quarterback on the free-agent market being Luke McCown. I'd like to call this a wait-and-see because we just don't know for sure how many of these quarterbacks will falter or thrive.
Tomorrow, I will give you the second part of my positional value lecture regarding positional impact. Why are certain positions more valuable than others from a game-impact standpoint? Tune in.