As an analyst (as those of you who have seen my previous posts know), I love the idea of quantifying risk. One area that there's been a fair bit of discussion on is, "How much risk is there in early draft picks by position?" Grantland did something last year that was right up my alley, where they looked at likelihood to bust vs. succeed, and approximate value of round vs. round for 1997-2007. (Here's the link: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/7853608/how-tell-which-nfl-draft-picks-truly-valuable)
I mused, though, that maybe times are a' changing --- what if, instead of looking at 1997-2007, I look at a more recent slice of time: 2004-2010. By admission, that means that some of the 2010 draft class hasn't had a ton of time to gain traction -- but it would allow us to look at a league that's gone pass happy -- and the shifts in drafting results.
Net, the Grantland article concluded that you're safest drafting TEs, OL, LBs, and DBs. Turns out that most of these continue to remain safer plays -- about 75% of first round tight ends drafted from 2004 to 2010 were at least solid. (Hold the Jermaine Gresham comments). LBs and DBs also do well in this analysis.
The big surprise -- and counter to the Grantland article -- is how relatively "safe" it's been to take RBs. Spearheaded by two drafts (2008 -- Forte, Rice, Johnson, et al. and 2006 -- Reggie Bush, DeAngelo Williams, MJD), the hit rate has been fairly high since 2004. Note, there's definitely some subjectivity here -- and my "bust rate" is much higher than Grantland's. Partially, I looked at it this way, if you're a 1st round pick and a serviceable backup, you're really a bust.
What we've also learned is that while NFL teams are in mad scramble to find pass rushers -- they're doing a poor job of it. The most drafted position in the first two rounds is also the least likely to yield help. Follow that with QB and WR, and you see what the Warren Moon-ization of the NFL has yielded -- a spike in perceived value for key passing and pass-defense elements.
Surprisingly, OL isn't the safe play it used to be -- no surprise there -- it used to be that only tackles merited first round grades -- but now guards and centers routinely get drafted early, making this position group the 2nd most chosen -- and prone to years like 2008, where there were busts galore.
Net, if I were Mike Brown -- here's what I'd do with this information:
1) Re-sign Andre Smith. Getting first round productivity out of first round OLs is actually a coin-toss these days.
2) Feel free to take the best LB/Safety/RB available with your 3 1st and 2nd round picks.
3) Re-sign Michael Johnson -- it's darn hard to replace good DLs, and you're much more likely to waste a pick here if you make one high.
4) Take a WR in round two if there's someone you like.
5) If you take a RB early, take one late -- tends to be value in that group for quite awhile. Ask Mike Shannahan who he'd draft this year if he didn't have Alfred Morris.
6) Feel free to take LBs and DL late.
I know this will just feed the fire of those people who think we should draft a RB early this year, and frankly, I went into this analysis with the bias I had from the Grantland article (and frankly, as a Bengals fan, burned by memories of Carter/Irons/Perry -- of course, all were significantly limited by injury.) I suspect that the NFL's bias to throwing the ball (and improved surgical techniques) have helped high-round RBs have better careers than just a few years ago. Think of guys like Gore who've both fractured a hip and blown out a knee-- and are still playing at a high level.
So go get that RB....and a LB while you're at it!