With a week left until all the speculation ends and the real picks start being made, nearly every mock draft on the net, and it seems a majority of Jags fans, feel the team will surely be selecting a defensive end with the 16th overall pick. The consensus is that acquiring a Ryan Kerrigan, Cameron Jordan, Aldon Smith, or even a Daquan Bowers, will instantaniously upgrade a defense that has been torn apart like a frat house intramural flag football team by most if not all of the QBs it's faced, dating back to the '08 season. When you actually look deeper into it, however, what you'll find might actually sway many of those on the bandwagon.
The NFL has exploded into a pass-oriented league over the last decade, so with that, I went back and researched the successes of defensive ends picked in the first round since the '01 draft. We include the likes of Terrell Suggs and Tamba Hali for this discussion, as they were drafted as defensive ends out of college and later moved to outside linebacker due to the defensive scheme their teams ran.
Since the '01 draft, there have been a total of 39 defensive ends drafted in the first round. Of those 39 players, only 5 recorded more than 10 sacks in their rookie campaigns:
Julius Peppers '02- 12
Dwight Freeney '02- 13
Terrell Suggs '03- 12
Kamerion Wimbley '06- 11
Brian Orakpo '09- 11
Of those 5 players listed above, only Freeney and Peppers played as true 4-3 ends. When doing the math, that means a dismal 13% of all defensive ends drafted this past decade with first round selections, were able to perform at what most fans would consider to be a "playmaker" level, in their rookie seasons.
When expanding the scope of double-digit (10+) sack seasons, only 11 players since '01 have racked up a 10+ sack season over the span of their careers:
Andre Carter '01- 3x
Peppers '02- 6x
Freeney '02- 7x
Charles Grant '02- 2x
Suggs '03- 3x
Will Smith '04- 2x
Jason Babin '04- 1
Mario Williams '06- 2x
Wimbley '06- 1
Tamba Hali '06- 1
Orakpo '09- 1
Only 5 players out of the 11 were true 4-3 defensive ends, and only 7 out of the 11 players were able to duplicate their 10+ sack season more than once. So again, when doing the math with those numbers, only 28% of the 39 first round DEs have been able to put up 10+ sacks in a season over the span of their careers. a mere 17.9% were able to do it more than once.
While those numbers seem startling, what might be more interesting is that of the 39 defensive ends, a near majority 28 players recorded less than 5 sacks in their rookie seasons. That's an impressive, I suppose, 71.8% of players who couldn't break even half of a double-digit sack year in their rookie seasons, (Including Derrick Harvey's 3.5 sacks in '08). One thing to note, there have been more first round DEs to go their entire rookie season without even recording a sack, 8, than those who performed at double-digit sack level.
When averaging the performances together, a first round defensive end over the last 10 years has had a total of 4 sacks in his rookie season, or 1 sack every 4 games. That is the same total racked up by Aaron Kampman in half a season, prior to his injury, and half a sack more than Tyson Alualu's sack total in his rookie year as a tackle. Not exactly the game changing numbers most fans expect from a first round defensive end.
Something else to note for Jags fans when taking all this in, is that all 5 of the players who recorded double-digit sacks in their rookie premiers were draft in the Top 13 picks, (Peppers 2nd overall, Freeney 11th overall, Suggs 10th overall, Wimbley & Orakpo 13th overall), and only 3 players, (Grant 25th overall, Babin 27th overall, Hali 20th overall) have had double-digit sack seasons being drafted in the second half of the first round.
So this all begs the question, will taking a defensive end at 16 truly turn this defense around next season? History would seem to suggest the odds are not in the Jags favor.