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Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Updated: May 9, 1:46 PM ET
Draft risk study: Safeties

By Ted Kluck
Special to Page 2

By position: QB | RB | WR | O-line | DE | DT | LB | CB | S | Study wrap

Using high draft choices on safeties is a fairly new phenomenon, with big, fast freaks like Sean Taylor and Roy Williams being selected high in recent years. The Steelers struck gold with Troy Polamalu as well. We'll be studying players who were listed as safeties when they entered the league, though a few of these players would end up playing cornerback.

Success criteria, first-round safeties

Again, this is a tough one to figure, with interceptions and tackles often not a true barometer of a safety's worth to his club. A team with a shabby front seven, for example, often boasts a safety with inflated tackle numbers.

That said, we've gone with the baseline 80 games played, or at least one Pro Bowl appearance.

1989
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Broncos 20 Steve Atwater, Arkansas 167 8 No

Not a bad way to start. Atwater was a star, and was perhaps the first of the unusually big, athletic safeties to make a first-round splash. Atwater often was used like a linebacker to bolster Denver's run defense.

1990
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Bears 6 Mark Carrier, USC 168 3 No

Like Atwater, Carrier was another very strong selection who enjoyed a long career and three Pro Bowl visits. But as we're seeing, it will be a while before teams get on the "draft a safety in the first round" bandwagon.

1991
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Browns 2 Eric Turner, UCLA 109 2 No
Bills 26 Henry Jones, Illinois 158 1 No

Turner was a player in the Atwater mold -- almost a hybrid linebacker -- who, sadly, died of an intestinal disorder at age 31. Jones played for 12 seasons and made a Pro Bowl appearance.

1992
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Dolphins 7 Troy Vincent, Wisconsin 207 4 No
Bengals 28 Darryl Williams, Miami 156 1 No

Vincent, who is still going strong, would, of course, become a stalwart and Pro Bowler as a CB, and Williams made one Pro Bowl appearance. Marquez Pope and Darren Woodson both came out of the second round of this draft.

1993
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Raiders 12 Patrick Bates, Texas A&M 44 0 Yes
Packers 29 George Teague, Alabama 133 0 No

Bates never really lived up to his billing with the Raiders, but Teague enjoyed a long career. The biggest star -- John Lynch -- was selected in the third round. Brock Marion and Ray Buchanan came this year as well.

1994 -- No first-round safeties selected
However, this was the year that brought us Rodney Harrison (Round 5).

1995
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Falcons 26 Devin Bush, Florida State 116 0 No

An off-year for safeties in general, this draft produced no players of note. Devin Bush had a solid, but not spectacular, career.

1996
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Chiefs 28 Jerome Woods, Memphis 128 1 No

This draft's biggest star was Lawyer Milloy (Round 2), but Woods had a solid career in Kansas City.

1997 -- No fiirst-round safeties selected
Mike Minter and Darren Sharper both went in round 2, and both became NFL standouts.

1998
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Patriots 22 Tebucky Jones, Syracuse 109 0 No
Giants 24 Shaun Williams, UCLA 104 0 No
Jaguars 25 Donovan Darius, Syracuse 115 0 No

A good year overall for first-round safeties and a good year for The Orange (it still feels weird to type that), as Jones and Darius were both first-round selections who have enjoyed decent careers.

1999
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Packers 25 Antuan Edwards, Clemson 71 0 Yes

Antuan Edwards = Journeyman.

2000 -- No first-round safeties selected.
But the standout Mike Brown and the solid Kenoy Kennedy were selected in Round 2.

2001
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Rams 20 Adam Archuleta, Arizona State 88 0 No
Raiders 28 Derrick Gibson, Florida State 69 0 No

The beginning of Archuleta's career was very promising with the Rams' Super Bowl appearance and the workout tapes, etc. -- however, he washed out last season as a free agent in Washington and his future is cloudy. Archuleta always has been a liability in coverage. Gibson has been solid.

2002
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Cowboys 8 Roy Williams, Oklahoma 80 4 No
Ravens 24 Ed Reed, Miami 74 3 No

This is the draft that has made it popular to draft safeties in the first round. Williams and Reed -- two completely different players -- are both stars. The huge Williams is a knockout artist and plays like another linebacker, and Reed is the consummate playmaker.

2003
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Steelers 16 Troy Polamalu, USC 61 3 No

Polamalu and his flowing locks have been identity-makers for the Pittsburgh defense.

Crunching the Numbers: First-Round Safeties, 1989-2003
Number of safeties drafted: 19

Notable busts: Antuan Edwards, Patrick Bates

Number of busts: 2

Bust percentage: 11 percent

Number of wideouts with at least one Pro Bowl appearance: 10

Pro Bowl percentage: 53 percent

For the sake of comparison
Percentage of first-round LB busts: 16 percent
Percentage of first-round CB busts: 29 percent

Conclusions
It's an obvious joke, but they call them safeties for a reason: This is an ultra-safe pick. There weren't a huge number of safeties drafted, but those that were picked in the first round usually lived up to the hype, with a study-high 53 percent visiting the Pro Bowl, and a study-low 11 percent busting. Roy Williams, Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, Mark Carrier, and Steve Atwater were stars, while several others were very solid. The second round proved a treasure trove for good safeties as well, with Mike Brown, Darren Sharper and Darren Woodson coming out of that round.

Ted Kluck is not a scientist, rather he is the author of three books, including "Facing Tyson: Fifteen Fighters, Fifteen Stories" (Lyons Press 2006) and a full-fledged draft geek. He recently spent a season playing professional football as a member of the Battle Creek Crunch (GLIFL) where he was, without a doubt, a bust.