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2014 NFL Draft: Offensive tackle, linebacker safest two positions based on historical data

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

There has been much talk and speculation about who and what positions the Steelers will take with their top picks. Conventional wisdom says CB and DE are their biggest needs and could very well be their top two picks (in either order). Also coming into play is WR, OT, and OLB. While none of those are as pressing needs as CB and DE, arguments can be made for why any of those could warrant a high pick. For any of those five positions, it's reasonable to think that the Steelers could be looking for players capable of starting in 2015 (if not sooner). With that in mind, I thought I'd do some significant research of the draft and determine the "success rates" of drafting those positions.

By "Success Rate", I mean prospects that were drafted and ended up being at least capable multi-year starters. I took a look at 10 years worth of the draft (from 2002-2011) in putting together these rates.

I didn't use 2012 and 2013 because I didn't want to judge a player based solely on their rookie year or second year (as many don't end up becoming full-time starter until their 3rd year). For a player like Cam Heyward from 2011, for example, I gave him credit as a "success" even though he wasn't a starter from the beginning of 2013. On the flip side, for players drafted prior to 2011, if they were only part-time starters or stopgaps, I didn't consider them a success. Some players were even successful role players and part-timers, but that wasn't the point of the exercise. The point was to determine the likelihood of drafting a player at a specific position in a specific round, and him becoming a capable multi-year starter in the NFL. Essentially that's what a player drafted in round 1 or 2 should become.

The "Success Rate" is presented as a percent for each position/round. For example, if a 5th round CB success rate is 10%, that means 1 out of every 10 drafted in that round became a capable multi-year starter. I will list the position, the success rate %, and the average number drafted in the round in parentheses. Here goes:

CB: Round 1- 75% (4), Round 2- 62% (3.5), Round 3- 19% (4), Round 4- 25% (4) As you can see, 3 out of the 4 CBs on average drafted in the 1st round are successes. If you take the Gilbert/Dennard/Fuller/Verrett example from this year, that means odds are one of them won't work out. Cases have been made as to why that could be true for any of them, but if the Steelers did their due diligence, odds are they'll pick the right one. The one's that didn't work out tended to be (but weren't always) those picked in the late 1st. So, trading down to say 30 with SF may be risky if taking a CB is their intent. In the 2nd, the rate goes down a bit as would be expected. Generally, only 2 out of the 3-4 picked on average are successes. So, if the Steelers wait to 2.46 to take their CB, there's still a good shot but they must be careful. They missed in the 2nd taking Colclough in '04, but had better luck in '05 with McFadden (although he's a borderline success). Where it gets interesting is the 3rd round. Many have suggested waiting past the 1st or 2nd to take a CB since the Steelers had luck doing so in the past, but odds are against them. Of the 4 on average drafted each year, less than 1 work out. For every Keenan Lewis, there's actually 4 Chris Browns...and even Lewis didn't become a starter for them until year four. It's basically a similar story in the 4th, for every Ike Taylor there are 3 other guys who won't do. Maybe the Steelers can find another Cortez Allen there again? (Ross Cockrell comes to mind), but they may not be so lucky this time around.

DE: Round 1- 71% (3.5), Round 2- 36% (3), Round 3- 43% (2), Round 4- 35% (2.5) It's a similar % for DEs as CBs. Of the 3-4 DEs taken in the 1st each year, 2-3 are "successes". Now, for clarification, the DE category tended to be mostly 43DEs is college with a few that played the 34 more recently. Steelers 34DEs tended to be college DTs in the past, so that category might be more relevant to some degree. This year we could say Clowney/Ealy/Tuitt would be the 3 DEs. So which one isn't going to work out? If they take Tuitt in the 1st, hopefully it's not him. The alarming thing is the percentage really dips in the 2nd, where essentially only 1 out of the 3 drafted on average are "successes". This is the lowest percentage rate of any position in the 2nd. Why that is seems strange, but seems to be that teams tend grab 1st round "fallers" there and maybe overlook some warning flags. The 3rd round is actually slightly higher, but might be due to only 2 being taken on average, and the 4th is about the same as the 2nd. So, looking at it overall, chances are there's only 1 DE in each of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th that will be a "success". The trick is finding him.

DT: Round 1- 62% (3.5), Round 2- 47% (2), Round 3- 22% (3), Round 4- 27% (2.5) The success rate for DTs is actually the lowest of any position in the 1st round (I did them all in case you were wondering). On average only 2 DTs meet expectations out of the 3 or 4 that are drafted. Part of that could be due to the tendency for teams to place a high value on the "big uglies" and maybe overdraft them. This is also a position where there tends to be more "boom or bust" types (Hageman for example). The % dips down in the 2nd where it's basically a 50/50 with 1 of the 2 that are drafted there on average. The 3rd and 4th aren't good spots to find a starter either, since less than 1 of the 3 or so on average drafted there makes it as a "success". So, unless they think a guy like Tuitt is a sure thing in the 1st, they're probably better off not using a premium pick on a DL. They might be better off taking a shot at one with the 3.97 (Will Clarke comes to mind), or just waiting until the 5th where it's a crapshoot but they might find value.

WR: Round 1- 70% (3.5), Round 2- 44% (4.5), Round 3- 18% (5), Round 4- 15% (4) While the 1st round success rate is about the same as DE and better than DT, WR has the worst overall rate when taken as a whole. Yet, this doesn't stop teams from drafting them as 17, on average, are taken in the top 4 rounds. If we were to say Watkins/Evans/Beckham/Cooks are the 4 taken in the 1st this year, odds are 1 of them won't cut it. Hard to believe, huh? Maybe they all do, but maybe Lee and/or Benjamin are squeezed into the 1st and don't. The 2nd is iffy with only 2 being likely to meet starter expectations. So, if it's Lee/Benjamin/Matthews/Robinson/Moncrief, who are the 2 going to be? The scary thing is once you get to the 3rd, it's down to 1 out of the 5 that are drafted...and worse in the 4th where less than 1 pan out as starters. In defense of the position, there's a number in the 3rd and 4th who are drafted more because of their KR/PR skills than to be starting WRs. However, I did account for players who weren't "starting" WRs but had the stats of one (i.e. typical 3rd WR). My guess here is that the Steelers may surprise many fans and not take a WR until day three (unless by some miracle Evans falls to 15), and the WR they take may be more of a KR type (say John Brown in the 6th or maybe Ellington in the 4th).

LB: Round 1- 84% (3.5), Round 2- 58% (5.5), Round 3- 37% (5.5), Round 4- 27% (5)It was hard to break out OLB vs. ILB because there was some crossover between both and some clear DE to OLB conversions are included in here as well. That being said, LB in general is one of the safer 1st round picks on average. Typically, those drafted in the 1st end up becoming the starters they were expected to be. Does that mean Mack/Barr/Mosely/Shazier are sure things? No, but the odds are in their favor. This may add fuel to those in the Barr, Mosley, or Shazier camps. Of course, the question would then become need. For OLB, it only seems to be a need if they plan on not signing Worilds to a long-term deal. Like JJ, Barr is probably better suited for ROLB, so it will be interesting to see what direction they'll go if he does indeed happen to be there at 15. Good chance, though, the point will be moot with someone having already taken him. At ILB, it seems like minimal need unless they are truly looking for an everydown guy. My guess is they aren't, but rather looking for a sub package guy. Overall, 19-20 LBs are drafted on average over the first 4 rounds. The 2nd round still offers some success in finding starters (3 on average), but the 3rd and 4th are less likely. A good strategy here might be finding a guy that can hedge some of their bets. Bradford, for instance, has the upside to project as a starter but could be used in sub packages as both OLB and ILB and even on STs. If he slipped to the 3rd, he would provide great value.

OT: Round 1- 85% (3.5), Round 2- 75% (2.5), Round 3- 42% (2.5), Round 4- 32%(2.5) Of all the positions of interest, OT is probably one of the safest in terms of finding a starter. Actually, other than C, it's the safest of any position. Like LB, most of the 1st round OTs end up becoming multi-year starters. With that in mind, it seems ironic that the last time the Steelers took an OT #1 (Jamain Stephens in '96) he was a bust. This year it seems likely that Robinson/Matthews/Lewan should all work out with the only question mark being Lewan's legal issues. Those troubles may be enough for the Steelers to pass on him if he's there at 15. There's good reason behind that. The success rate for 2nd round OTs is high too at 75%. If they really wanted an OT, they can probably get one at 2.46 who will do the trick, especially if they are looking for a RT to succeed Gilbert in '15. Again, the ironic thing here is that Mike Adams was a 2nd rounder who may not work out. He does fit the bill of those who don't... guys with red flags who slipped but were taken in the 2nd. While the odds are lower in the 3rd and 4th, OT (like DE) is a position where maybe you can wait and still find a guy. Steelers luck has been a mixed bag with Starks (3rd) and Colon (4th) vs. Essex (3rd) and Hills (4th). My guess would be the Steelers won't use a high pick on an OT for the 3rd out of 4 years.

Just for kicks I did all positions. The safest overall (as previously mentioned) was C with a 100% success rate in the 1st and nearly 100% all the way through the 3rd. This is due to the fact that C's aren't taken often with high picks (less than 1 on average for each of the 1st 4 rounds), but those that are taken are solid prospects at a position of need for the team taking them. It makes you wonder, if the Steelers did want to try to trade Pouncey, they'd have a great shot at finding his successor in the 2nd or 3rd round this year...maybe even the 4th. Like OT, G had an 86% in the 1st and even in the 3rd still an impressive 60% rate. As far down as the 5th, G had a 35% (almost double that of a 3rd round CB). The S position has the 2nd highest rate in the 1st at 93%. That bodes well for the likes of Dix and Pryor. However, it's unlikely they would go in that direction after signing Mitchell to be the FS, but it does show that the S's drafted in the 1st are drafted there for a reason. The rates in the 2nd are still pretty good at 67% but by the 4th are down to 16% (maybe a bad omen for Headache Thomas?). The last one I'll leave you with is TE where (like C and S) nearly all meet expectations with a 92% rate in the 1st. Steelers are no strangers going with a TE #1 (Heath, Bruener, Green). However, on average only 1 is taken per year in the 1st (Ebron?). When we get to the 2nd it's closer to 50/50 (Amaro/ASF).

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