Positional WAR in the National Football League

Working Paper Number: 
WP 14-10

We estimate positional "wins above replacement" (WAR) in the National Football League (NFL). Positional WAR measures the value of players in the NFL, by position, in terms of generating wins. WAR is a commonly used metric to evaluate individual players in professional baseball and basketball in the United States, but to the best of our knowledge this is the first study to construct WAR measures for American football. A key challenge in constructing these measures is that individual statistics for many football players are not as well-developed as in baseball and basketball. Related to this point, the productivity of individual football players, perhaps more than players in any other major sport, is highly dependent on context. We circumvent issues related to measuring productivity for individual players by constructing WAR measures at the position rather than individual level. The identifying variation that we leverage in our study is generated by arguably exogenous player injuries and suspensions. Using data from three seasons and all 32 NFL teams, we show that the most valuable positions in the NFL are quarterback, wide receiver, tight end/fullback and offensive tackle. Perhaps our most surprising finding is that positional WAR for all positions on the defensive side of the football is zero.

JEL Codes: 

Andrew Hughes

Joshua A. Price