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Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Updated: May 9, 1:48 PM ET
Draft risk study: Offensive line

By Ted Kluck
Special to Page 2

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

Aside from the Franchise Quarterback, arguably the most glamorous position on draft day is that of the Franchise Left Tackle. There have been many off the board over the years, with guys like Richmond Webb and Willie Roaf becoming stars ... and Tony Mandarich becoming a notorious bust.

The value of a solid starter at any of the offensive line positions is unquestioned, and the trend of spending high draft choices on them looks to be continuing, with the Jets building their line around D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold last season. Tackles are, of course, more likely to be nabbed in the first round, with the occasional guard or center mixed in.

Success criteria, first-round O-Linemen

The logic here is that if a first-round lineman is capable, he will play, probably visit a Pro Bowl and stay in the league for more than five years.

Accordingly, we've gone with what has become our baseline metric of 80 games played and at least one Pro Bowl appearance. We'll make exceptions for guys who had long careers and no Pro Bowls (see Andy Heck) or guys who visited Pro Bowls but had their careers cut short by injuries.

1989
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Packers 2 Tony Mandarich, Michigan State 86 0 Yes
Seahawks 15 Andy Heck, Notre Dame 185 0 No
Cardinals 17 Joe Wolf, Boston College 96 0 No
Giants 18 Brian Williams, Minnesota 129 0 No
Oilers 23 David Williams, Florida 128 0 No
Steelers 24 Tom Ricketts, Pittsburgh 53 0 Yes

After the Sports Illustrated cover and a sensational college career that made him more of a rock star than any lineman before, Mandarich was initially the bust to end all busts. In his defense, however, he enjoyed moderate success as an Indianapolis Colt later in his career. Heck was a very good offensive lineman for many years, and both Williamses had long careers.

1990
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Dolphins 9 Richmond Webb, Texas A&M 184 7 No
Rams 23 Bern Brostek, Washington 106 0 No

How's this for alliteration: Bern. Brostek. Bust? Although he didn't set the world on fire, Brostek played eight seasons. Webb was many times an All-Pro and a fixture on the Miami offensive line through the 1990s.

1991
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Bucs 7 Charles McRae, Tennessee 83 0 Yes
Eagles 8 Antone Davis, Tennessee 97 0 Yes
Patriots 11 Pat Harlow, USC 105 0 No
Bears 22 Stan Thomas, Texas 55 0 Yes

As a Bears fan growing up in the '90s, I can vouch for the fact that there was very little to get excited about on draft day during these years -- witness Thomas. McRae and Davis were supposed to be bookends from Tennessee, but both were busts considering their lack of Pro Bowls and draft positions. Was Harlow a bust at the 11th spot? Probably, but he played in 105 career games.
1992
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Falcons 8 Bob Whitfield, Stanford 204 0 No
Seahawks 10 Ray Roberts, Virginia 127 0 No
Steelers 11 Leon Searcy, Miami 126 1 No
Patriots 13 Eugene Chung, Virginia Tech 56 0 Yes
Bills 27 John Fina, Arizona 155 0 No

What a difference a year makes. As bad as 1991's draft was for O-lineman, 1992 was the opposite, with Whitfield, Roberts, Searcy and Fina all playing very well over long careers -- though I was surprised at the lack of Pro Bowls among this group. Chung was a journeyman (read: bust) at guard.

1993
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Saints 8 Willie Roaf, Louisiana Tech 189 11 No
Falcons 9 Lincoln Kennedy, Washington 169 2 No
Oilers 13 Brad Hopkins, Illinois 194 2 No
Browns 14 Steve Everitt, Michigan 99 0 No
Cardinals 18 Ernest Dye, South Carolina 50 0 Yes
Eagles 19 Lester Holmes, Jackson State 103 0 No

Another banner year. Roaf is a lock for the Hall of Fame, and Kennedy, Hopkins and, to a lesser extent Everitt all enjoyed long, productive careers. Will Shields, another future Hall of Famer, was picked in the third round. Holmes was probably a borderline bust but far exceeded our games played metric.

1994
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Eagles 14 Bernard Williams, Georgia 16 0 Yes
Rams 15 Wayne Gandy, Auburn 207 0 No
Packers 16 Aaron Taylor, Notre Dame 75 0 Yes
Vikings 19 Todd Steussie, Cal 190 2 No

Nearly every center drafted (all after Round 1) in 1994 -- including Jim Pyne, Kevin Mawae, Tim Ruddy, Rich Braham and Tom Nalen -- had a very productive NFL career. The tackles were hit or miss, though, with Gandy and Steussie hitting but Taylor missing (because of injuries).

1995
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Jaguars 2 Tony Boselli, USC 91 5 No
Bills 14 Ruben Brown, Pittsburgh 173 8 No
Dolphins 25 Billy Milner, Houston 29 0 Yes
Panthers 29 Blake Brockermeyer, Texas 136 0 No
Chiefs 31 Trezelle Jenkins, Michigan 9 0 Yes

Boselli was a franchise left tackle until injuries cut his career short. Brown has been a stalwart and Brockermeyer a solid starter. Milner and Jenkins, however, busted hard, playing only 38 games between them.

1996
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Ravens 4 Jonathan Ogden, UCLA 166 10 No
Bengals 10 Willie Anderson, Auburn 174 4 No
Seahawks 21 Pete Kendall, Boston College 158 0 No
Lions 23 Jeff Hartings, Penn State 149 2 No
Packers 27 John Michels, USC 24 0 Yes
Steelers 29 Jamain Stephens, North Carolina A&T 40 0 Yes
Lions 30 Andre Johnson, Penn State 4 0 Yes

Ogden is another franchise tackle, and Hartings has become the prototype NFL center. Anderson has been to multiple Pro Bowls, and Kendall has been solid, as well. Michels was a huge disappointment in Green Bay, and Johnson appeared in a whopping four games for Detroit, which had trouble drafting even before the Matt Millen era.

1997
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Rams 1 Orlando Pace, Ohio State 143 7 No
Seahawks 6 Walter Jones, Florida State 153 6 No
Saints 10 Chris Naeole, Colorado 146 0 No
Colts 19 Tarik Glenn, Cal 154 3 No
Packers 30 Ross Verba, Iowa 106 0 No

Three tackles, three perennial Pro Bowl-caliber players in Pace, Jones and Glenn. Naeole has been decent, though probably over-drafted at the 10 spot, and Verba has been a journeyman but a long-playing one.

1998
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Saints 7 Kyle Turley, San Diego State 102 0 No
Eagles 11 Tra Thomas, Florida State 135 2 No
Raiders 23 Mo Collins, Florida 71 0 Yes
Steelers 26 Alan Faneca, LSU 142 6 No
Chiefs 27 Victor Riley, Auburn 111 0 No

After a strong start in New Orleans, Turley has resurrected his career in Kansas City after battling injuries. Thomas has been solid, and Faneca is the best player to come from this draft. Olin Kreutz and Matt Birk, two Pro Bowl centers, were picked in the later rounds.

1999
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Chiefs 14 John Tait, BYU 117 0 No
Patriots 17 Damien Woody, Boston College 115 0 No
Raiders 18 Matt Stinchcomb, Georgia 66 0 Yes
Giants 19 Luke Petitgout, Notre Dame 115 0 No
Cardinals 21 L.J. Shelton, Eastern Michigan 98 0 No
Lions 27 Aaron Gibson, Wisconsin 38 0 Yes

The Lions drafted Gibson largely on his ability to do the splits at 350 pounds, and Woody, after a few good years in New England, came to Detroit in free agency and, like so many Lions, became completely ordinary. Shelton has been disappointing, as well.

2000
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Redskins 3 Chris Samuels, Alabama 108 3 No
Lions 20 Stockar McDougle 81 0 Yes

The Lions are well on their way to setting a record for futility in drafting offensive linemen, and the McDougle pick is further proof of their ineptitude. It would have been nice to see what Joey Harrington could have done behind a decent offensive line. Samuels looked as if he was going to be a star early on but has settled into being just very good.

2001
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Cardinals 2 Leonard Davis, Texas 91 0 No
Bucs 14 Kenyatta Walker, Florida 75 0 Yes
Seahawks 17 Steve Hutchinson, Michigan 84 4 No
Lions 18 Jeff Backus, Michigan 96 0 No

You could make the argument that all three tackles in this draft -- Davis, Walker, and Backus -- are busts. Although he hasn't played like a No. 2 overall, Davis just signed a nice free-agent deal, but Walker has been a bust and was recently cut. Backus, though still employed, has struggled mightily.

2002
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Bills 4 Mike Williams, Texas 51 0 Yes
Vikings 7 Bryant McKinnie, Miami 72 0 No
Bengals 10 Levi Jones, Arizona State 69 0 No
Bears 29 Marc Colombo, Boston College 39 0 Yes
Steelers 30 Kendall Simmons, Auburn 60 0 No

A tale of two teams -- the Steelers drafted Simmons and Faneca, and later signed Hartings during the study cycle; the Bears have grabbed Colombo, Troy Auzenne and Stan Thomas. Ugh. McKinnie and Jones look like the real deal, but what is it about players named Mike Williams? This version goes down as one of the biggest busts in history.

2003
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Panthers 8 Jordan Gross, Utah 64 0 No
Broncos 20 George Foster, Georgia 49 0 Yes
Browns 21 Jeff Faine, Notre Dame 52 0 No
49ers 26 Kwame Harris, Stanford 60 0 No

Gross and Faine are solid, but disappointing Foster is on his way to, you guessed it, Detroit.

Crunching the Numbers: First-Round Offensive Linemen, 1989-2003
Number of offensive linemen drafted: 70

Notable busts: Tony Mandarich, Mike Williams, any Detroit Lion or Chicago Bear

Number of busts: 22

Bust percentage: 31 percent

Number of O-linemen with at least one Pro Bowl appearance: 18

Pro Bowl percentage: 26 percent

Teams with multiple busts: Lions, Bears, Bucs, Raiders, Eagles

For the sake of comparison
Percentage of first-round DE busts: 31 percent
Percentage of first-round QB busts: 53 percent

Conclusions
Perhaps more than any other study, this one showed that bad teams continually have poor drafts up front, and good teams -- such as Baltimore, Seattle and Pittsburgh -- have put Pro Bowl-caliber players in front of their quarterbacks.

The encouraging news is that most of the tackles deemed worthy of a top-10 selection went on to visit the Pro Bowl, which bodes well for Joe Thomas this year. And though the rest of the first round busted at the same percentage as the defensive ends (31 percent), there were a number of players like Andy Heck, Bob Whitfield, and John Fina who enjoyed long, productive careers but never visited a Pro Bowl.

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.