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Sudden Impact

Positions Where Rookies Contribute Immediately
By Joe Landers
Running back and fullback are the two easiest positions for rookies to come in and make an impact right away. Here’s why:

Last year, I completed my first study of “Sudden Impact”. The purpose was to determine if there were positions at which rookies could excel more easily than others. Highlights, touchdowns, paychecks, accolades, and Pro Bowl invitations are all ways by which rookies are measured, but they’re not scientific.

The method I found most true was to see how many rookies, at each position, performed Over Veteran Average (OVA). All performance results are based on an all-encompassing point value system which rewards and penalizes players for virtually every recordable stat on the field.

For example, in 2008, the veteran average for Running Backs was 64.37 points for the entire season. 11 rookies exceeded the veteran average of 64.37. 37 veteran RBs were over 64.37 in 2008. Between the vets and rooks, that’s 48 running backs who were OVA last year. With 11 of the 48 being rookies, that’s 23% of the OVA pool being rookies. Running Back was the #1 position at which rookies came in OVA.

Models only work if they’re continually updated. The below table was presented in last year’s “Sudden Impact” with data from 2006 and 2007. The 2008 data has been added.

A few conclusions which jump out right off the bat:

  • RB #1 - With Running Back in 1st place in 2008 (23%), 5th place in 2007 (9%), and 1st place in 2006 (16%), it’s highly likely that RB will consistently come in the Top-5.
  • FB #2 - Fullback also finished in the top-6 all three years (17%, 10%, and 9%). Expect at least 10% of the OVA FBs in 2009 to be rookies. It’s the #2 easiest positions for rookies to transition into from college to the pros.
  • Kicker Not for Rookies - At 3%, 8%, and 0%, Kicker is apparently the most difficult position for rookies to come in and make a veteran-equivalent impact right away.
  • Three ’09 TEs OVA - At 9%, 9%, and 9%, the Tight End OVA number has been highly consistent year in and year out. TE has ranked no higher than 6th among all positions, but there have been exactly three rookies OVA each year. Look for another three (not four or two) to perform OVA in 2009.


Below is a table presented in descending order with the top rookie impact positions first and the lowest rookie impact positions last.

Out of all players above average at any given position, rookies will always constitute less than 30% of the players Over Veteran Average.

Therefore, the real draft advice here is to be found in the stark contrast from season to season. Where there is consistency at a position, there is a position that rookies typically can excel at – look at running back and fullback.

For positions with inconsistency, they’ll be highly dependent upon talent level: linebacker, defensive end, quarterback, and wide receiver continue to be elusive and highly dependent upon talent being available to plug into the right team.


My efficiency model is designed to comparatively measure players across the league at the same position as well as players on the same team at different positions. Virtually every occurrence on the field can be assigned a value. Things as typical as rush yards, pass yards, and touchdowns are givens while tackles-for-loss, forced fumbles, passes broken up, penalty yards, and quarterback hurries are a bit more atypical.

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