How Draft Round Affects an Offensive and Defensive Lineman's Career Performance

Zach FeinAnalyst IApril 18, 2009

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 3:  Orlando Pace #76  offensive tackle for the St. Louis Rams battles with defensive end Dennis Johnson #96 of the Arizona Cardinals during the game on November 3, 2002 at Sun Devil Stadium in  Tempe, Arizona.  The Rams won 24-14. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Yesterday, I examined how quarterbacks perform based on the round in which they were drafted. Today, I'll be looking at offensive and defensive linemen, to see if first rounders have a better, longer career than third or fourth-round linemen.

With Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe, Andre Smith, Aaron Maybin, and Tyson Jackson all projected to go in the top half of the first round, I chose to review linemen before running backs. Plus, there's not much to look at for either offensive or defensive linemen, so I fit them both into one article.

Offensive Linemen

Pro Bowls

The first graph below shows the chances of an offensive lineman making one, two, or three Pro Bowls in his career, by the round in which he was drafted.

After the first round, there's not much talent to be found. This is supported by the next graph, which shows the average number of career Pro Bowls for each draft round.

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There's one notice, however: Pro Bowls for offensive linemen are usually based on reputation only. Since there aren't any popular stats for these players, Pro Bowl votes go to those who are thought to be the best. For example, Orlando Pace and Walter Jones were elected to 16 Pro Bowls between them, which is most likely double of what they actually were worth, based on their performance.

Also, only 10 players were elected as a first-team All-Pro, with four of them—Alan Faneca, Steven Hutchinson, Jones, and Pace—combining to have 17 of the 23 All-Pro votes in the sample. Twenty of the 23 votes were by first rounders, too.

Years Starting

How long can you expect your newly-drafted offensive lineman to be a starter for your favorite team? The following graph illustrates this.

Somewhat surprisingly, a seventh rounder starts more than a year-and-a-quarter in the league, although this may be due to the three or four spots on the defensive line available for a starter. As with the two previous graphs, the line drops steadily with a slight increase in the latter rounds. But there's no real trend regarding which round (five, six, or seven) yields the better offensive lineman.

(Sample size note: Every round had at least 34 offensive linemen drafted with an average of 43.)

Defensive Linemen

Pro Bowls

Not to reuse the same information over and over...but the next graph shows the chances of a defensive lineman making the Pro Bowl based on draft round.

There's another downward trend, but a spike in the fifth round. That said, it shouldn't be too big of a notice.

Only eight percent of fifth-round defensive linemen are selected to at least one Pro Bowl—if the average number from 1985-2004 are selected in that round this year (4.35), that means it would take about three years for one fifth-round defensive lineman to be elected to one Pro Bowl (0.35 would be elected in one year, or about one after three years). On average, every sixth fifth rounder makes a Pro Bowl; one makes 0.16 Pro Bowls in his career.

Sacks and Years Starting

Though sacks may not be the best tool for measuring defensive linemen productivity, tackles weren't included in the data set I was working with. The following graph shows the average number of career sacks by draft round.

There's a clear correlation between sacks and draft round. Even if I look at it per year, the trend still stands, except for another increase in the fifth round.

Finally, the graph below shows the number of years a defensive lineman is expected to be a primary starter, by the round in which he was selected.

I'm growing tired of saying the same thing: It's safe to say that the lower in the draft a lineman is selected, the worse he should perform in his career.

(Sample size note: All rounds had at least 87 defensive linemen drafted, with an average of 104.

What Does All of This Mean?

1. For both offensive and defensive linemen, the round in which a player is drafted significantly correlates with his career performance.

2. Players drafted in the first round (the drop from the first to the second round in each graph is quite large, in fact), on average, are elected to more Pro Bowls, have more sacks, and start more years for their teams than do those drafted later on.

3. Fifth-round defensive linemen perform better than fourth-rounders, and slightly worse than third-rounders, with Pro Bowls and sacks in mind. But the difference between them isn't significant at all.

4. Teams should not be scared to draft Andre Smith (or Jason Smith, or Eugene Monroe) high in the first round. He'll do much better than what they can get in the third and fourth rounds.

5. I guess Andy Reid is correct in drafting linemen high every year. From 2003 to 2006, the Eagles drafted a lineman with their first-round pick, and in the last two years—in both of which they had no first-rounders —they selected one with one of their two second-round picks.