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Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Draft risk study: Wrapping it up

By Ted Kluck
Special to Page 2

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

After many hours studying first-round NFL draft choices, some interesting trends have emerged -- namely that bad teams tend to draft badly ... repeatedly. No investigation that will win me a Pulitzer Prize, but interesting nonetheless. Also telling is the fact that Detroit's draft-day futility started long before Matt Millen rode his Harley-Davidson into Detroit.

Based on this study, at least, the safe money this April is on defense -- with safeties and linebackers among the safest position groups on draft day. Safeties also carry what a lot of scouts call "upside," reaching the Pro Bowl at a study-high rate of 53 percent. So, before your favorite team gambles the franchise on Brady Quinn or JaMarcus Russell (quarterbacks bust out at a study-high rate 53 percent), perhaps they would be better served to grab LaRon Landry, Brandon Merriweather or Reggie Nelson.

Keep in mind too that there is hope for bad teams. After drafting a string of busts including Curtis Enis, Rashaan Salaam and Cade McNown, the Bears went to the Super Bowl last season. And the Patriots, after enduring several bad drafts, hired Bill Belichick and became a dynasty, despite the fact that Belichick seems to draft six tight ends every year.

First Round Picks, By the Numbers:

Players Picked in First Round
OL -- 70
DE - 55
CB - 52
WR -- 51
LB -- 48
DT - 42
RB -- 41
QB -- 30
S -- 19

Reactions: This makes sense, since there are two tackles, two guards, and a center on the offensive line. It's also clear that LT and DE are the new glamour positions. What's surprising is safeties, the safest, most-productive position in the study, came off the board a study-low 19 times.

First-Round Bust Percentages
QB -- 53 percent
RB -- 49 percent
WR -- 45 percent
DT -- 33 percent
OL -- 31 percent
DE -- 31 percent
CB -- 29 percent
LB -- 16 percent
S -- 11 percent

Reactions: Akili Smith. Cade McNown. Tim Couch. All three were quarterbacks drafted in the first round in 1999, all three are long gone. The other two QBs picked that year -- Daunte Culpepper and Donovan McNabb -- have been Pro Bowlers. History says that either Brady Quinn or JaMarcus Russell will fall flat on his face in the NFL. I came into the study feeling wide receiver, with its legion of head cases, would be the riskiest position, and I was wrong.

First-Round Pro Bowl Percentages
(Percentage of players making at least one Pro Bowl)
S -- 53 percent
DT -- 40 percent
LB -- 39 percent
RB -- 36 percent
DE -- 33 percent
QB -- 33 percent
WR -- 31 percent
OL -- 26 percent
CB -- 23 percent

Reactions: Either my metrics were too easy or defensive players make an easier transition into the league. Also, the offensive linemen percentage may be artificially low since O-linemen often receive "lifetime" passes to the Pro Bowl; for instance, Seattle's Walter Jones made the Pro Bowl for the sixth consecutive season in 2006, although his play clearly slipped from previous seasons.

Safe First Rounders This Year, Based on Study
Joe Thomas, OT, Wisconsin -- Only 1/3 of OL end up busts. Thomas won't be one of them.
Gaines Adams, DE, Clemson -- An identical bust percentage for DEs and Adams is the best of the bunch.
Adam Carriker, DE, Nebraska -- A great 3-4 scheme fit, and not far behind Adams after a great Senior Bowl week.
LaRon Landry, S, LSU -- The safest position on the board.
Brandon Merriweather, S, Miami -- Miami safeties also have done well.
Patrick Willis, LB, Mississippi -- Our second-safest position, plus P-Willie was ultra-productive with all the measurables.
Amobi Okoye, DT, Louisville -- Can you say upside? Okoye is only 19 and reminds some of Tommie Harris.

Teams with the Most Busts
Bears -- 8
Lions -- 8
Eagles -- 8
49ers -- 7
Broncos -- 7
Cardinals -- 6
Patriots -- 6
Rams -- 6
Redskins -- 6

Some of these franchises, the Lions and Cardinals in particular, have been horrible for a long time. Others, like the Broncos, Pats and Rams, all put their draft-day blunders behind them by drafting well in later rounds (remember Terrell Davis and Tom Brady?) and building strategically through free agency. And perhaps the most famous Ram to play during the study cycle was the undrafted Kurt Warner, who suited up in the AFL and bagged groceries before leading St. Louis to the promised land. Proof that you think you can know, but you never really know.

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.