Breakdowns

Resource Allocation: Which NFL Teams Have Invested Most in Each Position?

Which NFL Teams Have Invested Most in Each Position?

Using both historical cap spending and draft value based on the Fitzgerald-Spielberger value chart, we have analyzed where each NFL team has spent the most capital over the past 5 seasons.

Teams towards the top left of these charts are teams who have not invested much money but have invested above average draft capital. Inversely, teams in the bottom right of these charts are those who have spent a lot of cap dollars and little draft capital. Teams in the top right are teams who have both invested a lot of draft capital and a lot of cap dollars. Finally, teams in the bottom left are those who have neither invested draft capital nor cap dollars.

Quarterback

Since 2018, the Jets have invested the most draft capital in quarterbacks with the Cardinals, Jaguars, and Bengals following up close behind. The Jets spent two top 3 picks in that time period. The Cardinals were close behind with two top 10 picks in that time period — including No. 1 overall with Kyler Murray. Assuming they extend Kyler, they will begin moving further right on this chart as the years go on. 

On the other hand, The Vikings, Packers, Eagles, and Colts have spent the most cap dollars on quarterbacks since 2018. Green Bay is the only one of this group who has gotten consistent high level quarterback play. Indianapolis has had a different starting QB at the helm each of the past four seasons and will have their 5th this year in Matt Ryan. 

Running Back

Which NFL Teams Have Invested Most
New England has used 5 picks on running backs over the last 5 years including 1st-rounder Sony Michel, who is no longer with the team. Similarly, Detroit has spent 6 picks on the position including two 2nd-rounders. Interestingly, the Saints have used just one draft pick on a running back in this time frame — a 6th-rounder on Boston Scott who has made a pretty nice career for himself in Philly. 

Teams like Dallas, Tennessee, and Minnesota have spent most of the money you see here on one guy who they have used as a “bell-cow”. On the other hand, the Texans have spent money on a stable of running backs such as Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsey, and David Johnson. This is an interesting difference in spending philosophies. Both strategies clearly value the position, unlike the Steelers, but have utilized much different methods of investing. 

The Seahawks, Patriots, and Giants are all teams who are spending a lot of money while at the same time investing a lot of draft capital in this position. Due to the deflated value of running backs both in free agency and the draft, this strategy is questionable for building a team for the long-term.

Wide Receiver

The Chargers, Chiefs, and Bears are far and away the cap spending leaders at the wide receiver position. The Chargers have been paying Keenan Allen top of the market money for years now and just recently extended Williams for $20 million APY. Similarly, the Chiefs have been paying Tyreek Hill and a rotating door of veterans to pair with Hill for a few years now. This figure will likely begin to decrease with the decision to move on from Hill. Chicago is an interesting situation because they were paying Allen Robinson top of the market money for the last 4 seasons but never gave him a quarterback who was good enough to rely on in the passing game. Chalk those four years up to sunk costs now that Robinson has moved on to LA.

Teams like Denver, Baltimore, San Francisco, and Philadelphia have invested mightily in the position via the draft. The Eagles would be substantially higher on this chart if you considered the trade for AJ Brown this past draft. The Saints would be in a similar conversation after trading away 2 picks to get a second 1st-rounder and then another 2 picks to move up 5 slots to select Chris Olave this year. 

Tight End

Denver and Baltimore have used the most draft capital at the tight end position by a long shot. Other than using a 1st-rounder on Noah Fant in 2019, they have drafted three other tight ends since 2018. Baltimore used two selections in 2018 and two more this past draft on tight ends. Former 1st-rounder Hayden Hurst was beaten out by Mark Andrews and eventually moved on to Atlanta before signing with Cincinnati this offseason. This year the Ravens selected two fourth round tight ends within 11 picks of each other in Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar and Coastal Carolina’s Isaiah Likely.

New Orleans, Cleveland, and Kansas City have spent the most cap money on tight ends in the past 5 years. It makes sense that the Chiefs have spent this much. However, the Saints and Browns have not been known for their tight end play since 2018. Both teams have seemingly overspent on average talent rather than investing draft capital in the position. 

Offensive Line

Which NFL Teams Have Invested Most

The Vikings and Giants have spent the most draft capital on the offensive line over the past 5 years by a long shot. Minnesota has used 12 total picks (two 1sts, three 2nds, one 3rd) compared to New York’s 8 selections (two 1st, one 2nd, two 3rd).

Comparatively, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, and Indianapolis have invested the most cap monies in the offensive line. 

The trends here seem to point to spending money being more beneficial than spending draft capital on offensive linemen. The top four spenders on the offensive line have been heralded for their offensive line play the past 5 years whereas the Vikings and Giants have been searching for answers along the offensive line for years. 

Defensive Line

Here, Detroit and the Giants again lead the way in terms of draft capital invested. Both teams have invested significant resources at the top of the draft in these positions. Jacksonville and Washington are close behind thanks to early first round selections of Travon Walker and Chase Young, respectively. 

There is a good mix of teams in the middle of this chart who seem to draft and spend fairly equally along the defensive line. The only real outliers are the Steelers and Bears. Since drafting TJ Watt in 2017, the Steelers have only selected a defensive lineman before the 5th round on one occasion – a 3rd round selection of Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal this year. 

Chicago has not used earlier than a 5th round pick in 5 years and has not paid a defensive lineman more than $12 million in any one year. However, this does not consider Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn since they are technically linebackers — which you will see below.

Linebacker

Here, the numbers are somewhat skewed because of different schemes that teams use. Chicago spends more than any other team because they played a 3-4 and their backside LB’s are really edge rushers who split time in their alignment. 

However, there is no doubt that teams like the Cowboys, Packers, and Jaguars have spent a substantial amount of draft capital in the position. All three of these teams used two 1st-rounders on linebackers in the draft. Not even including 2nd-rounder Jaylon Smith in 2017, The Cowboys selected both Leighton Vander Esch and Micah Parsons in the 1st round. Green Bay selected Quay Walker this year and Rashan Gary in 2019.

Lastly, Jacksonville took 2 linebackers in the first 3 rounds this season in Devin Lloyd and Chad Muma. Additionally, the Jaguars traded back into the first round to pick Lloyd, giving up two additional selections to do so. On top of these two, the Jaguars took Josh Allen in the first round in 2019 and recently picked up his 5th year option. 

Defensive Back

Which NFL Teams Have Invested Most

The Raiders, Vikings, and Browns are the three teams who have invested the most draft capital in the secondary over the last 5 years. Each of these teams used multiple 1st and 2nd round picks on defensive backs. For the Raiders, their two 1st round DBs have not panned out the way they’d want – one was released after being accused of assault with a deadly weapon and the other just had his 5th year option turned down. While there has not been any similar off field issues in Minnesota, neither Jeff Gladney nor Mike Hughes — both former 1st-rounders — are with the team. Things have worked out better for Cleveland however after recently re-signing 1st-rounder Denzel Ward to a league leading $100.5 million contract.

Teams such as Baltimore and New Orleans who have gone the route of paying proven talent have had more success in the passing game than those who have not invested money in the positions. 

The Eagles are an outlier in the bottom left quadrant who have neither spent money on nor drafted at the position. Even this year after losing a starting corner as well as a starting safety to free agency – neither of which had been replaced prior to the draft – Philadelphia chose not to select a defensive back in the draft. Howie Roseman has decided that it is not a position that he wishes to invest in. He would rather spend his resources on the defensive line and try to get as much pressure on the quarterback as possible.