When discussing the draft you'll often hear people refer to the 'safe pick'. It'll appear frequently in mock drafts, on a whole number of blogs and articles and probably when you're just talking with friends. Today we'll look at what exactly constitutes a safe pick and how much of it belongs to myth.
I was speaking to Kyle Rota from College Talent Scout yesterday and he raised an interesting point to me. The position of offensive tackle is largely considered a 'safe pick' at the top of the first round, someone you can plug in for years with big upside and little risk. At the other end of the scale, wide receiver is seen to be a huge risk with a number of high profile busts. For the full analysis, click here.
Kyle broke down the offensive tackles and wide receivers taken in the top five of the NFL draft dating back to 1998 and not including the most recent draft in 2008.
Peter Warrick, WR
Leonard Davis, OT
Chris Samuels, OT
Mike Williams, OT
Charles Rogers, WR
Andre Johnson, WR
Robert Gallery, OT
Larry Fitzgerald, WR
Braylon Edwards, WR
D'Brickashaw Ferguson, OT
Calvin Johnson, WR
Joe Thomas, OT
Levi Brown, OT
Looking at the list, there are some obvious elite talents and some clear busts. There are also a number of players where it is difficult to grade. For example, Leonard Davis has had success at guard but he wasn't drafted in the top five to play guard and he essentially failed as a dominant offensive tackle. Chris Samuels has had a steady consistent career including multiple pro-bowls, but hasn't been considered a player at the top echelon at his position. D'Brickashaw Ferguson was very highly rated coming out of college but has not lived up to the hype. Braylon Edwards had an extremely productive season in 2007 and appeared set to take his place amongst the NFL's elite receivers before regressing heavily in 2008. Levi Brown is yet to completely convince for the Cardinals although he is still in the early stages of his career.
By judging the number of clear busts against obvious elite talents, you could arguably categorise the following:
Stars: Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson (WR) Joe Thomas (OT)
Busts: Peter Warrick, Charles Rogers (WR) Mike Williams, Robert Gallery (OT)
Of course it is but an opinion on all these talents. I decided to include Calvin Johnson amongst the stars due to his exceptional 2008 season where, playing for an 0-16 Lions team with little other receiving threat (the opposition knew where the ball was going) he was a top five receiver in terms of yards (1331) and led the league with Larry Fitzgerald for touchdowns (12). In fact all three of the receivers listed above were amongst the top five at their position in 2008.
The analysis is far from conclusive but what it does show is that perhaps the two 'myths' about offensive tackle being a certified 'safe' pick and wide receiver being a 'high risk' are unjustified. This goes some way to show the 'myths' that exist when discussing the NFL draft. There's not conclusive proof, at least in the last decade, that wide receivers taken in the top five present any more of a risk than offensive tackles. As with every pick, there is no 'sure' thing and certain positions (such as tackle) are no different.
Matt McGuire at Walterfootball.com has his own take on the 'safest pick' mythology. He looks at what constitutes a true risk (for example, character or injury red flags) as opposed to using previous drafts to suggest what may or may not be a safe pick in 2009. He concludes his argument by suggesting,
"if you have one player on the draft board and he is the "safest" pick, but not the best pick, then you have some serious explaining to do." - - Matt McGuire
Patt Kirwan from NFL.com also weighs into the debate. He suggests that buying into the latest 'myth' or trend can come back to haunt a franchise.
"Every so often, an apparent new trend pops up in the NFL that gets its legs for some unfounded reason. And it usually involves a concept that teams can get by with inferior players at a certain position.
As one GM said to me at the owners' meetings this week, "I hope the latest myth floating around here lasts until after the draft, because I want a certain position to fall to me." - - Pat Kirwan
One example that could be used - the Super Bowl bound Arizona Cardinals. It seems pretty strange to suggest a team competing to be world champions this weekend could have been particularly 'better'.
Pete Prisco from CBS Sportsline however, looks at the 2007 NFL draft and the direction the Cardinals took. He reports that Arizona came pretty close to drafting Adrian Peterson, arguably the most dynamic running back in the league at the moment. When Joe Thomas (OT, Wisconsin) was selected by Cleveland with the third overall pick, the Cardinals were left to contemplate taking the second best tackle on their board (Levi Brown, Penn State) or take Peterson.
With reported 'fighting' in the war room over the pick, the Cardinals took Brown to help the running game as a mauling right tackle. Their running game is no better for the pick, but would it have been different with such an explosive player in the backfield? There were concerns about Peterson's durability - especially with such an upright running style. Did Arizona take the safe pick instead of the pick with the most talent? Even considering their appearance in Tampa this weekend would they have been even better?
"If Peterson were here, readying to play the Steelers, can you imagine what they would be saying about this Arizona offense? It would be considered one of the greatest ever, no matter who was playing right tackle in place of Brown." - - Pete Prisco
So can anything constitute a 'safe' pick and is the real agenda surrounding the draft not about finding someone who offers simply low risk, but whom has the most talent, can make an impact quickly and tick all the boxes in terms of character and injury?