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The 2017 NFL draft set records for the most defensive backs picked

It’s a passing league, meaning you’ve got to have people who can defend all that passing.

NFL Draft
Saints pick Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

This run on defensive backs didn’t really slow down throughout the early rounds of the 2017 NFL draft:

Nine of the first 33 were cornerbacks or safeties.

By the time Day 2 was over, 29 DBs had been taken out of the first 107 picks.

By the time that entire draft was over, 32 corners and 24 safeties were selected, meaning just over 20 percent of all drafted players were in the secondary.

The Cowboys, Colts, Eagles and Washington took three DBs each. The Jets and Seahawks took four.

The draft was so deep on the back end, that a super talented player like Clemson product Cordrea Tankersley slips to the third round and college stars like Iowa’s Desmond King and Miami’s Corn Elder went on the third day.

After an early run on offensive skill players, this draft skewed heavily defensive overall. In total, the third round featured 25 of 43 picks on the defensive side of the ball.

It’s impossible to divorce the run on DBs from the notion that the game has shifted more and more toward passing, meaning good quality DBs are higher in demand. Rule changes, the increased influence of spread offenses on players (and coaches) at lower levels of the sport, increasing levels of aggression by offensive coaches on early downs, and the evolution of athletes over time have all contributed to the game’s constantly increasing emphasis on spreading the field out wide and deep. And somebody’s gotta defend all that passing.

More and more, football teams use nickel defenses (defensive packages that include a fifth DB) as every-down, base defenses, rather than as packages for special situations. Playing five DBs on almost every play means you have to keep your roster constantly well-stocked.

Also, young football players have learned that it can be easier to make money as a defensive back in the long run, rather than as a wide receiver or running back. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen the RB bounce back from an NFL draft drought somewhat, but the days of every speedy athlete only wanting to play with the ball in his hands are over.

And despite the NFL trend of favoring big DBs, the higher levels of football still provide plenty of opportunities for shorter players to go pro as defensive backs.

Add all of that together, plus a little bit of the random chance that occurs when 32 teams all compete over the same list of prospects, and you’ve got what’s becoming the deepest DB draft ever, on paper at least.