How to Draft an NFL Pro-Bowl Player

Minitab Blog Editor 06 September, 2013

The 2006 Pro Bowl GameThe Pro Bowl is the National Football League’s version of an all-star team. In this blog post, I'll look at all the NFL draft picks from 1996 through 2008 and, using Minitab Statistical Software, model the probability of making it to at least one Pro Bowl based on draft order, the NFL team that drafted the player, the NCAA team the player came from, and the position of the player.

I did not include 2009-2013 drafts in this analysis since players drafted in 2009 and beyond haven’t had a reasonable opportunity to make the Pro Bowl. As shown in the graph below, the proportion of drafted players making it to at least one Pro Bowl has already seen a severe drop-off starting in 2008.

Proportion of Drafted Players in Pro Bowl

Draft Order

As you might expect, analysis with Minitab shows that the first few draft picks have a pretty good chance of going to the Pro Bowl at least once, although there's certainly no guarantee. As the graph below shows, the highest proportion of Pro Bowl players across all draft orders never exceeds 0.70. There are also two interesting outliers: no draft order beats the 44th pick in proportion of times making it to the Pro Bowl, and the 22nd pick never makes it to the Pro Bowl in the timeframe of this dataset (1996-2008). But there's no need to seek out numerology references about the numbers 22 and 44; these outliers are fun to point out, but are likely just extreme ends of random variation.

Proportion that made it pro bowl vs draft order

Player Position

Position was a highly significant predictor in determining whether or not a player would make it to the Pro Bowl, based on a Binary Logistic Regression Model (p-value = 0.000). In the graph below, we see that Defensive Tackles/Ends and Cornerbacks were less likely to make it to the Pro Bowl for a given draft order than Long Snappers, Kickers, and Punters. 

Position Effect Adjusting for Draft Order

It makes sense that Long Snappers, Kickers, and Punters are more likely to make the Pro Bowl for a given draft order since the best players in those positions, who typically make the Pro Bowl, are drafted  in later rounds.

The explanation for why fewer than expected Defensive Tackles/Ends and Cornerbacks make it to the Pro Bowl requires a bit more explanation. The draft order adjusted result for player positions above implies that Defensive Tackle/Ends and Cornerbacks tend not to make it to the Pro Bowl as often as they should based on their draft order.

However, the next graph reveals that the proportion of times a Defensive Tackle/End or Cornerback made it to the pro-bowl was similar to, or better than, several other positions. Considering these results together, we might infer that Defensive Tackle/Ends and Cornerbacks were drafted early, resulting in a decent proportion making it to the Pro Bowl, but not as many as would be expected from the draft order.

Proportion to Pro Bowl by Position

The graph of average draft order by position shown below confirms that Defensive Tackle/Ends and Cornerbacks were drafted relatively early (the lower the draft order, the earlier a player was drafted).

Average Draft Order by Position

The bottom line is that it appears to be difficult to determine, at the time of the draft, which Defensive Tackle/Ends and Cornerbacks will make it to the Pro Bowl. 

One interesting result with QB’s is that they had the most variable draft order. They are often drafted very early, but many are drafted late as well, as graph 6 shows.

Standard Deviation of Draft Order by Position

Team Comparison

Here comes the part that makes general managers nervous: Which teams drafted better than expected, after adjusting for draft order and player position?

When they look at the graph below, NFL fans won’t be surprised to see it’s the New England Patriots. However, GM’s can relax, because the difference between teams is not statistically significant (P-value = 0.227).

Team Effect Adjusting for Draft Order and Position

Now look at the chart of number of draft picks by NFL teams.  It is interesting to note that the Patriots had the third highest number of draft picks (due to getting picks via trades), despite actually losing a 2008 draft pick in the spy-gate scandal. So they probably know they are good at drafting.

Chart of NFL Team

This graph shows the overall proportion of players by team who made it to the Pro Bowl. 

Proportion That Made It to Pro Bowl by Team

College Team Comparison

Can the data tell us which college teams produce players who make the Pro Bowl most often, relative to their draft order and position? The state of Florida is interesting in that it appears to have the best and worst-case scenarios, which are illustrated in the graphs below. University of Miami (FL) was the most impressive and University of Florida was the least impressive. However, statistical significance was not achieved at a high confidence level (p-value = 0.187).

College Effect Adjusting for Draft Order and Position

Predicted Probability of Making It to Pro Bowl

As the NFL season gets under way, who are you hoping to see make it this year's Pro Bowl?