The first week of the NFL season is always exciting, not just because it offers renewal and possibilities for all 32 teams, but because we always take a deep dive into the rosters to identify trends and find out how the game is changing.

This year, with members of the ’18 agent class having just received their results, we decided to look at opening-week rosters to determine how they were built with respect to rookies. We especially wanted to see how teams used the 1,926 players signed by NFLPA contract advisors in the ’18 draft class.

We also expanding our annual Draft Class by the Numbers report for 2018. It’s something we’ve been doing for four years now, and you can look at how many players, by position, were drafted, signed post-draft, invited to try out, or snubbed altogether for the ’17 draft class, ’16 draft class and ’15 draft class at our home site.

Here are a few observations we made based on the totals compiled this week.

  • Which position had the most players make a 53 or practice squad, based on the number signed by agents? Surprisingly, it was inside linebackers. Perhaps because so few were signed (87), more than a third of those on SRA (36.78 percent) landed on NFL rosters in Week 1.
  • Second-most popular, surprisingly, were running backs. This year, 35.71 percent of rushers signed by agents in the ’18 draft class (45 of 126) made a roster or practice squad. What’s more, 16.7 percent of running backs signed were drafted. That was the highest ratio of all offensive players except tackles (20.7 percent). Apparently, as backs become specialized and fewer teams give one bell-cow 25-30 carries per game, the position is becoming more popular.
  • Only three positions saw a third of all its signees make a roster or practice squad. Besides inside linebacker and running back, centers (34 percent) also made it a third of the time. Just missing the mark were tight ends (32.58 percent) and guards (32.58 percent). As we’ve been preaching for years, if you want to land a player on a roster in your first year as a contract advisor, think offensive line. And we count tight ends in that list.
  • Since the NFLPA expanded practice squads from five to 10 players a few years ago, there’s been a debate over how many PS slots would go to veterans — i.e., used as a reserve pool for when injuries strike — versus how many slots would go to rookies a team is hoping to develop. Based on our analysis, almost every team carried at least five rookies on their respective practice squads. The Broncos, Colts, Dolphins, Eagles, Giants, Lions, Patriots, Steelers and Texans were the nine teams with fewer than five rookies on their respective practice squads.
  • It’s probably not a surprise to see teams like the Eagles, Patriots and Steelers — teams with legitimate title expectations — keep mostly veterans on their respective practice squads. However, perhaps it’s a signal that some other teams seen as developmental, like the Colts (only two rookies on PS) and Broncos (5-11 last season, but only four rookies on the practice squad), are really going for it this year.
  • Here’s a tip to clip for agents in the UDFA process next year: the Jags are carrying eight rookies on their practice squad, including three cornerbacks. In fact, Jacksonville is one of five teams (Bengals, Chiefs, Redskins and Vikings) with three cornerbacks on their respective practice squads. No team has more than three players from one position on its practice squad, and in all five cases, cornerbacks glut the PS.

If you’re into looking at rosters from an analytical perspective, make sure to check out the 2018 NFL Draft by the Numbers and our 2018 Roster Analysis.

Also, if you’d like to learn more about what it takes to sign and represent players in the NFL — especially the costs of signing and representing a player if you’re a rookie or second-year agent — make sure to sign up for our Friday Wrap. It comes out in about six hours, it’s free, and thousands of people across the industry read it every week. You can register for it here.

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