Which draft slot is best?
In less than 24 hours, war rooms across the country will be jam packed with the anointed “greatest minds” in all of football, conglomerating to choose a player they think will alter the fortunes of their respective franchise.
More specifically, management in St. Louis, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Washington and Kansas City are in the prime slots to take a player that will rejuvenate such moribund enterprises as themselves.
Or are they?
By breaking down the top five picks from the past 10 drafts, not every top pick was created equally.
I’m on a mission to find out the perfect top five draft pick.
Every year, starting the day after the draft concludes, people begin looking for who will be next year’s Golden Boy franchise quarterback.
It’s quarterbacks that draw ESPN such high ratings to watch Chris Berman, Keyshawn Johnson and Mel Kiper, among others, talk about 40-yard dash times and “upside” for eight hours straight.
Some of those top-five quarterbacks include Joey Harrington, David Carr, Alex Smith and JaMarcus Russell.
Others include Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and Carson Palmer.
The reality of the matter is that 12 quarterbacks have been taken in the top five since 2000. Of those 12, seven have never made a pro bowl, and none have ever been named all-pro.
Only one has even played in a Super Bowl – Eli Manning, who won Super Bowl XLII with the Giants.
Most quarterbacks that get drafted highly typically sit on the bench at least half of their rookie season, if not the entire first year.
Coaches are scared to throw their $50 million investment into the fire too early and never see them blossom into stars. This thinking may not be all too far off.
Of the seven number one overall picks that were quarterbacks, only three have ever made a pro bowl, and just four are still starters in the league today.
The three that no longer start, all started games their rookie season. JaMarcus Russell, Alex Smith, and Michael Vick were forced to save their franchises in a hurry.
To be fair, Vick had quite a bit of early success, taking the Falcons to the playoffs twice before he turned into a jailbird.
Other teams may wish to take cornerstone tackle to protect a young quarterback.
All in all, it is a bit of a safer bet. Of the eight players taken in the top five since 2000, four have played in a Pro Bowl, and two have been named all-pro.
A couple picks have been home runs. Jake Long has made the Pro Bowl both years in the league, as has Joe Thomas in his three seasons. Chris Samuels made four Pro Bowls in his ten-year career.
The second overall pick in the draft is usually a good place to take non-skill players. In fact, no quarterback has gone number two since Donovan McNabb in 1999.
Only one player taken second overall has paid serious dividends, and that was Julius Peppers in 2002.
Other names under the “2nd overall pick” category include Leonard Davis, Charles Rogers, Robert Gallery, and Reggie Bush (let’s face it- he had megastar written all over him, and it hasn’t happened).
If I had one piece of advice for general managers, it would be to stay the hell away from the fourth pick. That selection has produced zero all-pros, no rookie of the years, and only two pro bowl appearances since 2000.
The only good pick in that spot is Philip Rivers, who was traded from New York for Eli Manning on draft day.
Some (less than) notable names taken fourth include Peter Warrick, Justin Smith, Mike Williams, Dewayne Robertson and Cedric Benson.
Couple that trend with the fact that the traditionally pathetic drafters, the Washington Redskins, have that pick, and it could spell bad news for the nation’s capital.
The fifth pick has also been unforgiving, save for one future hall-of-famer.
LaDanian Tomlinson accounts for four of the six all-pro selections from fifth picks, and five of the nine all-pro selections.
Carnell Williams did earn Rookie of the Year honors with Tampa Bay in 2006.
Jamal Lewis also had a banner year when he topped the 2,000-yard mark in 2003.
Two of the highest-rated players in this year’s draft are defensive tackles. Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska and Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy are expected to be both taken within the first four picks at worst.
Here are the names of the other three defensive tackles to go top-five in the last decade. Gerard Warren, Dewayne Robertson and Glenn Dorsey.
Dorsey is still young, but clearly using such a high pick on this position does not pay dividends.
Understandably, this draft class is relatively weak at the top, and there are not too many other options with the top picks other than Suh and McCoy, but this is a warning that neither may turn out as great as they were cracked up to be.
The money pick is lucky number three. Only three players have been taken third and not earned some sort of honors in their careers thus far.
Names in that group of third picks include Samuels, Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Braylon Edwards, Vince Young, Joe Thomas and Matt Ryan.
Players picked first, second, fourth or fifth have accumulated 31 Pro Bowl appearances in their careers. The third pick has provided 17 appearances by itself in the past decade.
Though Johnson and Fitzgerald were both home runs at no. 3, taking wideouts this high is a risky business. The other receivers to go top five include Peter Warrick, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams among others.
Reflecting on all this list of 50 players, more than half of them struggled to live up to anywhere near expectations as pros.
The safest pick seems to be the third spot, and of all the positions traditionally selected early, offensive linemen have had the most success.
Using this logic, the best player to come out of this draft would be if the Buccaneers took Oklahoma State tackle Russell Okung with the third pick.
How likely is this? Not very, considering most everyone believes the Rams will take Sam Bradford, then the Lions will take Suh, leaving the Bucs to take McCoy.
However, a little look back at recent history could give the Bucs some greater insight on how to get a much greater return on a franchise-altering decision.