Analyzing The Performance of the Top 10 Selections in the NFL Draft from 1997 thru 2006
***This is the first in a series of articles looking at the odds of finding productive talent in the NFL draft based on position and round of selection***
Offensive Tackle is another position that has proven to be a strong and safe draft selection for teams in the top 10. While the name Robert Gallery is fresh on everyoneís mind, he is only 1 of 2 tackles selected in the top 10 to completely bust over the 10 year period. Tackle has been a popular pick in round 1, accounting for 11% of the picks made in the top 10, and franchises view the tackle position as a major building block for a rebuilding franchise. Teams have been rewarded for taking the offensive tackle high in the draft as 8 of the 11 tackles have made the playoffs and 3 have made the Super Bowl, an incredible turnaround for a team picking in the bottom of the draft. A team should be able to count on the player to have anywhere from an 8-10 year career if he is good, easily justifying the cost of money you will be spending on this player. Its been about 50/50 that you find a good, borderline pro bowl tackle when teams select the tackle this high.
After the OT and LB positions the safety valve hasnít been there in the last 10 years. Safeties and Tight Ends have been safe picks, but the sample size is so small its really too hard to make any conclusions. Defensive End has been the next safest spot to take a player, but 30% of the top 10 defensive ends have had poor careers in the NFL. Still, 30% isnít a bad number and 60% of the players are going on to good productive NFL careers, including stars such as Richard Seymour and Julius Peppers. If you make the proper selection the reward would seem high as Peppers, Seymour, and Grant Wistrom were all big contributors to Super Bowl teams early on in their careers, three others have been part of playoff teams, and one can expect Mario Williams to be joining an elite group sooner rather than later. But when the player busts itís a miserable failure as teams are often cutting the cord, and having to pay a big cap penalty, in just 3 years.
Cornerbacks have been a popular top 10 selection, accounting for 14% of the picks- third most in the NFL. They have worked out ok with only a modest risk but modest reward. While only 36% have gone on to bad NFL careers, only 46% have gone on to be considered good players in the NFL. The contributions are not as big to turning around the fortunes of a club as some of the other positions, but, like the linebackers, they are heading into the playoffs in their careers. Corners have a long life in the NFL and a team can expect a long career if the player works out. Even if they donít you can often find a spot for them to play for 5 seasons as they work out their contract whether it be on special teams or as a contributor as a nickel back, so from a money standpoint a team can at least deal with the bust at this position.
From there the rewards and risk begin to shift more towards the risk side. Running backs have been a relatively popular pick in the top 10 accounting for 11% of the selections from 1997 thru 2006, but not really having the home run potential of some of the other positions on the board. About 36% of the RBís have busted while only 36% have gone on to have good careers, and only 18% have gone on to have perennial pro bowl level performances, the lowest of any position in the NFL during this time. Only 1 has gone on to play a significant role in the Super Bowl for the team he was drafted by and many have been steady parts of up and down seasons for teams. Odds are a productive runner will give his team around 6-7 years of really good play before he begins to break down so building a team around this position has been harder than some of the others. Of those taken in the top 10 its likely only LaDainian Tomlinson and Fred Taylor will last more than 7 years with their original club. Since most runners are taken in the top 5 they will remain on the team in some role for 4 or more years at a minimum.
Only 8 Defensive Tackles have been taken in the top 10 with very little payoff from the selection. About 38% have busted and only 25% have gone one to actually distinguish themselves as good players. Most tackles have gone on to be in the playoffs, but few will be looked at as a primary reason for the team making it. In that respect it is not setting teams back to not make a big splash with the pick, but its not really moving them forward either. The position takes some time to learn so players will often last on their original club for around 5 seasons at which point itís proving cost effective to move them and try to find a newer option to provide the potential for more than average play. Only 2 of the 8 DTs have lasted for more than 5 season with their original club so its unlikely to see the top 10 DT be a smart long term investment.