Connecting the draft dots

Posted April 03, 2012 @ 2:14 p.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

What’s in a number?

With the NFL draft, you can crunch numbers to your heart’s content — on a number of different levels — and come up with some pretty interesting findings.

Take the following column, which breaks down five major NFL moves that have been made this offseason and attempts to connect the dots to the draft in a numerical context:

1. The high-profile trade between the Rams and the Redskins, which involved the Rams trading the second pick overall in this year’s draft to the Redskins in exchange for Washington’s No. 1 pick (No. 6 overall) and No. 2 pick (No. 39 overall) in this year’s draft and first-round picks in both 2013 and ’14.

2. The league’s decision to take away the Saints’ second-round pick in this year’s draft (No. 59 overall) as part of New Orleans’ “Bountygate” punishment.

3. The Bears’ eyebrow-raising trade with the Dolphins for WR Brandon Marshall in exchange for one of Chicago’s No. 3 picks in this year’s draft (No. 73 overall through Carolina in the trade for TE Greg Olsen) and a No. 3 pick in ’13.

4. The Jets’ instantly polarizing trade with the Broncos for Tim Tebow in which Denver also traded its seventh-round pick in this year’s draft (No. 232 overall) in exchange for the Jets’ fourth-round pick (No. 108 overall) and sixth-round pick (No. 188 overall) in this year’s draft.

5. The Eagles’ trade with the Texans for LB DeMeco Ryans in exchange for one of Houston’s fourth-round picks (No. 99 overall).

The premise is simple enough. Beginning with the Rams-Redskins blockbuster, let's take a look back at how the No. 2 picks, No. 6 picks and No. 39 picks in each of the last five drafts have panned out.

The players: 

No. 2 picks the last five years: 2011: Broncos OLB Von Miller; 2010: Lions DT Ndamukong Suh; 2009: Rams OT Jason Smith; 2008: Rams DE Chris Long; 2007: Lions WR Calvin Johnson.

No. 6 picks the last five years: 2011: Falcons WR Julio Jones; 2010: Seahawks OLT Russell Okung; 2009: Bengals OT Andre Smith; 2008: Jets DE Vernon Gholston; 2007: Redskins S LaRon Landry.

No. 39 picks the last five years: 2011: Titans LB Akeem Ayers; 2010 Bucs WR Arrelious Benn; 2009: Jaguars OT Eben Britton; 2008: Niners OG Chilo Rachal; 2007: Falcons OT Justin Blalock.

The findings:

This one move alone could warrant its own column, considering all the intriguing subplots that come into play. Start with the Rams’ mixed success at the No. 2 spot. Although it has taken a bit longer than many Rams fans would like, 2008 first-rounder Chris Long has established himself as a top-tier pass rusher on the cusp of annual Pro Bowl consideration. But it’s been a much different story in the case of ’09 first-rounder Jason Smith, who was supposed to be the team’s left tackle for the next decade but has instead been an injury-prone bust bogged down by career-threatening concussion issues.

It’s also worth noting that new Rams GM Les Snead, who has indicated that the Rams might not be done dealing in this year’s first round, was heavily involved as the Falcons’ director of player personnel in Atlanta’s surprising trade 21 spots up the first-round ladder last year to obtain WR Julio Jones. Jones was snatched at the sixth spot that the Rams would reportedly love to use this year on Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon, considered the best wideout available by a wide margin this year. But whether Blackmon will be there for the taking remains to be seen.

If the body of work of the No. 2 overall picks the last five seasons is any indication, then Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, a very likely lock as the Redskins’ top pick, figures to be a big-time success, with Von Miller, Ndamukong Suh, Long and Calvin “Megatron” Johnson offering an 80 percent “hit” rate, Suh’s very uneven 2011 campaign both on and off the field notwithstanding.

A look at the No. 6 picks seems particularly pertinent on the grounds that, while you always hear “Joe So and So” being referred to as a “top-five pick,” you almost never hear about anybody being referred to as a “top-six pick.” Amazing what a difference just one number can make! Yet it seems there is just enough of a quantifiable difference in overall production between the No. 2 and No. 6 selections to justify those perceptions, with both Andre Smith, a serviceable starter for the Bengals at best with occassional weight and injury issues; and Vernon Gholston, who is currently out of the league, reaping disappointing dividends. Julio Jones, Russell Okung and LaRon Landry, who is being counted on to fill a big need at safety after recently signing with the Jets, all qualify as “hits” — provided they can stay healthy.

Finally, maybe there’s a reason the late comedian Jack Benny always used to make a point of telling everybody he was 39, considering the solid return on the “No. 39” investment the last five years. Akeem Ayers started all 16 games at strong-side linebacker for the Titans last year and is counted on to make more of an impact this season. Arrelious Benn has had his moments for the Bucs and should complement Vincent Jackson well. Justin Blalock is a rock-solid starting left guard for the Falcons. Eben Britton has been saddled with injuries, but the Jaguars are not ready to give up on him by any means. Only Chilo Rachal, a free agent who has struggled more often than not with the Niners, qualifies as a bust.

On to the bounty that the Saints will be denied in the second round:

The players:   

No. 59 picks the last five years: 2011: Browns WR Greg Little; 2010: Browns RB Montario Hardesty; 2009: Panthers CB Sherrod Martin; 2008: Colts OL Mike Pollak; 2007: Panthers C Ryan Kalil.

The findings:  

One would have to suspect the Saints will be hurt more than a little by the loss of a pick that has produced a pretty nice payoff the last five seasons, particularly in the case of Ryan Kalil, the NFC’s starting center in this year’s Pro Bowl. Entering the draft, Greg Little shapes up as the Browns’ go-to receiver, while Montario Hardesty has displayed enough flashes to currently be the No. 1 option at running back despite being a nonfactor due to assorted injuries. Sherrod Martin is the Panthers’ starting strong safety, although he could get a run for his money for the Panthers’ starting SS job from ex-Ravens pickup Haruki Nakamura. Mike Pollak, the supposed heir-apparent to C Jeff Saturday, fizzled in Indianapolis and has signed on with Carolina.

Should we look at the Marshall deal? Sounds like a plan.

The players:

No. 73 picks the last five years: 2011: Pats RB Stevan Ridley; 2010: Dolphins OG John Jerry; 2009: Jaguars DB Derek Cox; 2008: Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles; 2007: Texans WR Jacoby Jones.

The findings:

Hmmm, maybe Miami will end up in better shape than one might have initially suspected, especially if Marshall’s off-the-field issues offset the great value he would appear to offer as the best veteran pass catcher on the open market (with apologies to Vincent Jackson). The Dolphins could very well end up holding their heads up high should they obtain a player with the No. 73 pick overall on a par with the last five “No. 73s.” Dolphins owner Steven Ross will be thrilled if he gets a player like Jamaal Charles, a top-flight running back on the mend from a torn ACL that sidelined him all of last season. The Miami owner also certainly won’t quibble if he lands a player like Stevan Ridley, a No. 1 back in the making in New England now that BenJarvus Green-Ellis has signed with the Bengals. Ridley had five runs of more than 20 yards as a rookie; no other Patriot had a 20-yard rush. Jacoby Jones isn’t very popular in Houston right now with memories of his costly muffed punt in the playoffs still fresh, but Texans head coach Gary Kubiak still considers him a big-play threat as an "X" receiver and kick returner. Derek Cox, who lost his confidence in his second season with the Jaguars, gained it back and projects as the starting right corner. John Jerry is a functional starter at guard or tackle. All in all, that’s five pretty solid picks.

Now for our take on the Tebow deal:

The players:

No. 108 picks the last five years: 2011: Broncos DB Quinton Carter; 2010: Raiders WR Jacoby Ford; 2009: Dolphins WR Brian Hartline; 2008: Broncos C Kory Lichtensteiger; 2007: Dolphins NT Paul Soliai.

No. 188 picks the last five years: 2011: Colts DB Chris Rucker; 2010: Steelers RB Jonathan Dwyer; 2009: Texans DB Brice McCain; 2008: Steelers LB Mike Humpal; 2007: Titans WR Joel Filani.

No. 232 picks the last five years: 2011: Steelers RB Baron Batch; 2010: Broncos DE Jammie Kirlew; 2009: Patriots QB-WR-DB Julian Edelman; 2008: Falcons TE Keith Zinger; 2007: Seahawks OT Steve Vallos.

The findings:

Pat Robertson might want to think twice about taking time off from the pulpit to rip the Broncos to shreds for unloading Tebow. Just based on what the last five selections have had to offer at the No. 108 spot, Denver could be sitting pretty. Start up front with two quality performers on opposite sides of the ball in Kory Lichtensteiger, who has turned into a very capable pulling guard for the Redskins; and Paul Soliai, a space-eating run stuffer for the Dolphins who doesn’t leave the field. Denver has also already gotten its money’s worth from Quinton Carter, a smart, well-rounded performer mentored by Brian Dawkins who shapes up as the Broncos’ starting free safety this coming season. Miami has also gotten its money’s worth from WR Brian Hartline, who came on strong at the end of last season. The Raiders hope speedy receiver-kick returner Jacoby Ford will blossom in his third year the same way Darrius Heyward-Bey did last season.

At the No. 188 spot, CBs Chris Rucker and Brice McCain have turned out to be solid contributors for the Colts and Texans, respectively, particularly McCain, who did yeoman’s work as Houston’s nickelback last season.

At the No. 232 spot, the Jets would jump for joy if they could land a jack-of-all-trades like Julian Edelman, a player who offers the Patriots and Bill Belichick considerable value in all three phases.

We finish up with the Eagles’ one big move this offseason after going hog-wild last offseason:

The players:  

No. 99 picks the last five years: 2011: Seahawks OLB K.J. Wright; 2010: Rams WR Mardy Gilyard; 2009: Bears WR Juaquin Iglesias; 2008: Ravens OG Oniel Cousins; 2007: Raiders WR Johnnie Lee Higgins.

The findings:

The sting from what has been a tough offseason for the Texans could be a lot less painful if they manage to draft a player like K.J. Wright, an extremely pleasant surprise for Seattle with great instincts that made former first-rounder Aaron Curry expendable. On the other hand, the pain could grow if the 99th player ends up being like the other four stiffs, although Higgins did show some promise as a punt returner. It says here the Bears would have been better off selecting Julio Iglesias.