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NFL Draft: Breaking down first-round picks by position

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Denzel Ward
Denzel Ward (AP Images)

Cornerback remains the most-drafted position in the first round of the NFL Draft since 2010. Here is a position breakdown of how the opening round played out and which positions have become the biggest priority.

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Cornerback: Four first-round picks, 40 since 2010

The cornerback position continues to be the most popular as four went in the first round this year but it was the fewest since the 2013 draft. In the following years from 2013 leading up to this draft, five were taken each time.

NFL franchises in years past have coveted long, rangy cornerbacks but that was not necessarily the case in this draft as three of the first four corners taken - Ohio State’s Denzel Ward, Louisville’s Jaire Alexander and UCF’s Mike Hughes - are all under 6-foot. The fourth first-rounder, Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick, was measured at the combine at 6-foot, 204 pounds.

Offensive tackle: Two first-round picks, 36 since 2010

There has been something of a dry spell when taking offensive tackles in the first round. Only two have been selected in the opening round in the last two drafts with Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey and UCLA’s Kolton Miller going in this draft. Last year it was Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk and Utah’s Garrett Bolles. Four went in the first round of the 2016 draft, six in the 2015 draft.

There was a far greater emphasis on interior offensive linemen in the first round and early into the second round of this draft. It was a weak class at offensive tackle so that could have played a major role in the limited numbers as well.

Linebacker: Four first-round picks, 35 since 2010

After big runs in the first round in both the 2017 and 2018 drafts, linebacker has taken sole ownership of third place in terms of which position is drafted most, taking over for defensive end. Five players were taken in the first round in 2017 and four more were added to the list this draft with Georgia’s Roquan Smith, Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds, Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch and Alabama’s Rashaan Evans going in the first round.

Defensive end: Two first-round picks, 34 since 2010

Only two defensive ends went in the first round of the draft, the fewest since 2015 when Missouri’s Shane Ray and Oregon’s Arik Armstead were picked earlier.

Arguably the best prospect in the entire draft, NC State’s Bradley Chubb, went fifth to the Denver Broncos and some were surprised he was still available for the Broncos. One of the biggest surprises of the first round was New Orleans trading up to take UTSA defensive end Marcus Davenport at No. 14. In the 2017 draft, five defensive ends were taken in the first round including the No. 1 pick in Myles Garrett.

Wide receiver: Two first-round picks, 32 since 2010

Many first-round receiver picks recently have not lived up to their billings yet combined with an average receiver class means not a bunch were expected to be picked in the opening round. That’s the way it played out as well.

Maryland’s D.J. Moore and Alabama’s Calvin Ridley were the only receivers drafted in the first round, the fewest since at least 2010. John Ross, Mike Williams and Corey Davis were first-round selections last year and four were taken in 2015. It’s easy to see why some franchises wait until the later rounds to take receivers.

Defensive tackle: Three first-round picks, 27 since 2010

There has been a wide range of defensive tackles taken in recent years with three this year - Washington’s Vita Vea, Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne and Florida’s Taven Bryan. One year ago, only Alabama’s Jonathan Allen was a first-round pick but in 2016 there were four first-round defensive tackles taken.

This number should dramatically rise for the 2019 NFL Draft since the position will be absolutely loaded in college football next season. Michigan’s Rashan Gary, Houston’s Ed Oliver and the Clemson duo of Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence among others could lead the way.

Quarterback: Five first-round picks, 27 since 2010

Five quarterbacks were taken in the first round in what is being considered an historic group at the position - four quarterbacks were taken in the top 10 alone with Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield being the top overall pick to the Cleveland Browns.

Putting five in now means since 2010 there have been just as many quarterbacks drafted as defensive tackles in the first round. In three of the previous four drafts, only three quarterbacks were first-round picks. In 2015, only two - Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston - were Round 1 selections.

Safety: Two first-round picks, 17 since 2010

There was an ACC flavor to first-round picks at safety in this draft since Florida State’s Derwin James (Los Angeles Chargers) and Virginia Tech’s Terrell Edmunds (Pittsburgh Steelers) were the only two taken in the opening round. In 2017, three went in the first round in Ohio State’s Malik Hooker, Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers and LSU’s Jamal Adams. The most since 2010 came in 2014 when four players were taken in the first round. No safeties were Round 1 picks in the 2015 draft.

Offensive guard/offensive center: Four first-round picks, 16 since 2010

There was a serious focus on interior offensive linemen in Round 1 on Thursday night as Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson, ArkansasFrank Ragnow, Ohio State’s Billy Price and Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn were first-round selections. It was the most among the position groups since 2013 when Jonathan Cooper, Chance Warmack, Kyle Long and Travis Frederick were taken in the first round.

If this trend continues, offensive guard/center could surpass safety after the 2019 draft.

Running back: Three first-round picks, 14 since 2010

For all the talk about how phenomenal the running back position was in the 2017 draft, only two players - Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey - went in the first round. It was a solid group for the 2018 draft and three went as generational talent Saquon Barkley was picked second overall by the New York Giants. Surprisingly, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny was taken by Seattle late in the first round and Georgia’s Sony Michel was the second-to-last pick of the first round.

Tight End: One first-round pick, seven since 2010

South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst was the only first-round selection but it was actually a loaded draft at the position with Penn State’s Mike Gesicki and South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert going in the second round, two others going in the third round and then five tight ends going in the fourth round.

Since 2010, the only year when multiple tight ends were drafted in the first round was 2017 when Miami’s David Njoku, Alabama’s O.J. Howard and Ole MissEvan Engram were picked in Round 1.