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By the Numbers: Analyzing athleticism in the 1st round of the NFL Draft

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A look at how athletic the 2018 NFL first-round draft class is .

2018 NFL Draft Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

We’ve been using Relative Athletic Scores for quite some time now and the first round is always the easiest example of how athleticism is valued by teams. The old adage is that the best players tend to be the best athletes, and we’ve seen that play out time and time again both in the draft and in the NFL. Today, we’re going to dive a bit into the numbers and see how the 2018 NFL draft lined up athletically with previous years and if it followed the same kinds of trends.

Previous Years

2017

Players above 8.00 (elite range): 21
Players above 5.00 (passable range): 27
Players below 5.00 (poor): 1
Players who did not qualify: 4

A trend you’ll notice immediately is how dominated by elite athletes the first round of each draft is. In 2017, we saw three elite athletes at tight end drafted in the first, while only one player measured below average at all. The Dolphins selected DE Charles Harris last season who’s 4.26 score was the lowest among first-round players. Derek Barnett, drafted by the Eagles, was only just below 5.00 at the time, but post draft updates pushed his score just above. Marshon Lattimore had the best score in the class, having pulled in a 10.00 RAS, overtaking Darrelle Revis for the best score ever at cornerback.

2016

Players above 8.00 (elite range): 17
Players above 5.00 (passable range): 26
Players below 5.00 (poor): 3
Players who did not qualify: 2

With Jalen Ramsey scoring the best out of the draft class, 2016 was loaded with athletic talent. Joey Bosa and Ezekiel Elliott, both elite athletes, were also taken in the top five and have already made Pro Bowls. The bottom of this draft class athletically starts with DeForest Buckner, who came out as a DE but has been a very good player on the interior (where his RAS measured elite). Next was Vernon Butler, who’s been up and down for the Panthers. Finally, Laquon Treadwell posted the lowest RAS of the first round in 2016, which was surprising at the time but much less so in hindsight.

2015

Players above 8.00 (elite range): 18
Players above 5.00 (passable range): 26
Players below 5.00 (poor): 4
Players who did not qualify: 2

2015 saw the first quarterback with a RAS below 5.00 to be drafted in the first round since 1987 in Jameis Winston. Arik Armstead also measured slightly below average, but he’s had a decent career so far, if unspectacular. Next up, Lions fans, is Laken Tomlinson (4.13 RAS), and we all know how that worked out. The lowest score in the class belonged to Danny Shelton, and while he’s a decent player he, too, is on his second team already. The top of the class, Breshad Perriman, didn’t fare much better. This draft class saw seven first-rounders go to a Pro Bowl, with five over 8.00 RAS, but the players who did bust out were pretty spectacular in how badly they did.

2014

Players above 8.00 (elite range): 18
Players above 5.00 (passable range): 29
Players below 5.00 (poor): 2
Players who did not qualify: 1

The 2014 class saw 13 Pro Bowlers from the first round, nine of which rated above 8.50 RAS. Taylor Lewan took over the 10.00 spot at offensive tackle, a spot he’s held onto since then. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix measured only just below average for RAS, but he’s played alright for the Packers. Kelvin Benjamin was the other below 5.00 athlete, and he is now on his second team after being traded.

The Big Reveal

2018

Players above 8.00 (elite range): 20
Players above 5.00 (passable range): 27
Players below 5.00 (poor): 1
Players who did not qualify: 4

Tidbits

  • Baker Mayfield became just the second quarterback in history to be drafted in the first round with a RAS under 5.00, and he was the only player from the 2018 first-round draft class.
  • With five players over 9.90, this class had the most top-tier elite talent athletically since the 2011 class, which had six such players.
  • Leighton Vander Esch was compared to Brian Urlacher during the pre-draft process. He came just shy (9.97) of Urlacher’s 10.00 in 2000, but would actually have a higher score if they had both came out today.
  • The Bears love athletic linebackers. Despite posting a great 8.57 RAS, Roquan Smith actually has the third lowest RAS for a first-round Bears LB, behind Floyd and Urlacher and ahead of McClellin.
  • Vita Vea’s 9.53 RAS is the highest for a defensive lineman (DE or DT) drafted by the Buccaneers in the first round.
  • The Chargers have never drafted a first-round defensive back (CB, FS, or SS) with a RAS below 9.00, and Derwin James continues that trend.
  • Leighton Vander Esch has the highest RAS (9.97) of any player the Cowboys have drafted in the first round.
  • Calvin Ridley posted the second lowest RAS (5.10) of any first-round Falcons pick. Don’t worry, though, the two guys ahead of him are Keanu Neal (6.05) and Matt Ryan (5.77).
  • Hayden Hurst has the second-lowest RAS of any first-round TE ever. He joins the likes of Derek Brown, Brandon Pettigrew, Eric Ebron, and Keith Jackson as first-round TE with a RAS under 8.00.
  • Sam Darnold has the fourth-lowest RAS of all first-round QB since 1987. Baker Mayfield, as mentioned, has the second lowest.
  • Despite a 9.97 RAS, Saquon Barkley is tied for the fourth best RAS for a RB taken in the first. John Stephens (1988), James Stweart (1995), and Edgerrin James (1999) all posted 10.00 when they came out.
  • Frank Ragnow posted the second-best RAS of any first-round center since 1987, and third best of all interior offensive linemen.
  • The only first-round players to score a higher RAS at OT than Kolton Miller all posted 10.00 scores in their respective draft year... and there were five such players.
  • Taven Bryan had the fourth-highest RAS of any first-round DT ever.