Analyzing The Performance of the Top 10 Selections in the NFL Draft from 1997 thru 2006
***This is the first in a series of articles looking at the odds of finding productive talent in the NFL draft based on position and round of selection***
If you are fortunate (or some might say unfortunate) enough to be picking in the top 10 of the NFL Draft you have the opportunity to often grab a franchise changing player. NFL General Managers and head coaches jobs often come down to how well the player they select in the top 10 perform. If you end up with Peyton Manning you look like a genius. If you end up selecting Tim Couch you will lose your job.
There is a huge financial commitment to be made to a player selected in the top 10. Without ever having played a down in the NFL they will be paid an outlandish amount of guaranteed money usually only given to the top players in the game. Because of this commitment they are un-cuttable for at least 4 years due to salary cap considerations and coaches are forced to play them to justify the investment even if the level of play does not warrant it.
When a player doesn’t work out teams often find themselves drafting in the top 10 over and over again. From 1997 thru 2006, 7 NFL teams have selected in the top 10 at least 5 times, with the Arizona Cardinals leading the way with 8 top 10 finishes in 10 years. Every team has had to draft in the top 10 in the decade. Those who have done well have only had a short stay in the top 10- 8 teams have only made one trip inside the top 10 in the past 10 years- which is what franchises aim for in the NFL. The consequences of a poor pick can be disastrous and long lasting.
So what has been the safest position to draft in the top 10 over these last 10 years? The answer clearly would be the linebacker position. Players getting a top 10 grade by the scouts are working out very well for their clubs. Of the 8 linebackers drafted in the top 10 only 1, Chris Claiborne, has completely busted (and even as a “bust” did start for 6 seasons with the Lions and Vikings), while 50% of those drafted have gone on to have all pro type careers including Brian Urlacher and Peter Boulware. Generally speaking the highly drafted linebacker is getting the job done in the NFL. Is it a sexy pick? Not really. The linebacker is not the position bringing a team to a Super Bowl, but their teams are often making the playoffs and you can probably expect a good 8 or more seasons out of such a player, which is going to be safe use of your salary cap money for a 5 year period.