In the past few weeks we have seen a lot more mock drafters and fans mocking the Jaguars to select an OT. The top two tackles in this draft are easier Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher which are the two that seem to be mocked more and more the Jaguars. The other day Alfie wrote a post on why a tackle doesn't make sense for the Jaguars at #2 and I agree with his reasoning but that is not the point on this post. Instead there has been a lot of fans/media talking about how the Jaguars should play it "safe" by drafting an OL at #2. There is this belief that the smart and safe choice would be to draft an OL instead of a DL or another position. Take this quote from Daniel Jeremiah's of NFL.com's most recent mock draft.
Pass rusher is the top need for the Jaguars, but with a new coach and general manager, they could play it safe and take the top available talent. A tackle tandem of Fisher and Eugene Monroe would allow the Jags to crank up their run game with Maurice Jones-Drew. - Daniel Jeremiah (NFL.com)
Jeremiah's opinion seems to be one that is echoed throughout much of the NFL community but how much truth is there to the belief that drafting a Top 5 tackle is a "safe" choice?
In order to get a better understanding of this I compiled a list of all tackles draft in the Top 5 since 2001 so we are working with a solid 12 year range. Here is a list of these players:
2012 Matt Kalil #3 – Vikings
2010 Trent Williams #4 – Redskins
2009 Jason Smith #2 – Rams
2008 Jake Long #1 – Dolphins
2007 Joe Thomas #3 – Browns
2007 Levi Brown #5 – Cardinals
2006 D’Brichashaw Ferguson #4 – Jets
2004 Robert Gallery #2 – Raiders
2002 Mike Williams #4 – Bills
2001 Leonard Davis #2 – Cardinals
We can analyze this list in a variety of ways but a easy indicator of at least some form of success can be with whether the player has made the Pro Bowl. so using this:
% of Tackles Drafted Top 5 that made the Pro Bowl: 60%
Now just looking at that statistic by itself makes it look like the tackles are pretty solid draft choice. 60% is a solid percentage and compared to the other positions its a lot better, right? Wrong. Lets take a look at a few other positions as well. Here is a summary:
% of QBs Drafted Top 5 that made the Pro Bowl: 56% (16 drafted)
% of DL Drafted Top 5 that made the Pro Bowl: 50% (12 drafted)
% of RB Drafted Top 5 that made the Pro Bowl: 18% (7 drafted)
% of WR Drafted Top 5 that made the Pro Bowl: 71% (7 drafted)
Compared to these other positions, OL success in terms of Pro Bowl players is pretty standard and if you look at the numbers technically WR is the safest position to draft Top 5 as they have the highest Pro Bowl percentage. There are a lot of factors though that you can also add in. People will point to the QBs and state that there is a higher chance of them being a bigger bust. For every JaMarcus Russell however, there is also a Jason Smith who also is a huge disappointment. Of the linemen that haven't been successful most of them have stayed in the league but considering their draft position and contracts have been disappointments. Drafting a QB has been also been a pretty "safe" pick considering it almost matched the same Pro Bowler percentage as the OL. If you look at the QBs who didn't make the Pro Bowl too there are few there are easily considered decent successes by their franchises (Stafford, Bradford). The terrible percentage of the RBs that made the Pro Bowl seems to show why the league has shifted its draft mentality to picking up RBs later in the draft. There is too much variability at the position and with the league becoming pass first, it makes little sense to spend a top pick on a RB. The WR percentage is the one that surprised me. Historically there has been a stigma associated with drafting a WR early but if you look at the numbers, its been a pretty solid choice. The Top 5 drafted WR list includes Green, Megatron, Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson among others and all have been top tier players.
What you need to do is look at the big picture. The "safe" OL pick concept seems to have stemmed from recent success at drafting OL early but when you look a larger set of draft picks, 12 years worth, you can see that drafting an OL Top 5 has about as much success as most other positions. On top of that, the Jaguars would be drafting a OL that would be a RT most likely. Not a single one of the tackles that I looked over were drafted as a RT. They were all brought in to be the cornerstone of the franchise at LT. Now obviously some of them became RT's later on when they failed at LT, but the goal was to bring them in at LT. The Jaguars would be drafting a RT that has just as much success as a QB. If it came down to Eric Fisher vs. Geno Smith, who would choose? Based on the last 12 years, Draft a RT with a 60% chance at being a Pro Bowler or a QB with a 56% chance? Lets throw the "safe" pick concept out of the window. In the Top 5, every pick can fail.