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Analyzing the draft: DE starters

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  April 11, 2011 01:26 PM

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As part of the run up to the NFL draft, a lot of you will give your opinions on where and when the Patriots need to draft certain players. Do they need to grab an outside linebacker first? Or maybe a running back? How about a defensive end? Can they wait on safety help?

To that end, we'll take a look at each position and break down where the 2010 opening day starters on each NFL team came from in the draft. We’ll also identify where each of the Pro Bowlers – the starters and backups on the initial team, not injury replacements – and All Pro players came.

This is the type of “study” that almost every team does before the draft. It’s a valuable, if blunt, tool to see where value can be had at each position. (I use the term “study” loosely because I only did this past year, not a three- to five-year stretch most teams have personnel department interns do).

I think you’ll see some surprises along the way.

Part I: Defensive ends

Might as well get started with one of the toughest groups to look at, the defensive ends.

Obviously the type of player the Patriots, who us a 3-4 scheme, deem a defensive end is different than the 4-3 Colts. After thinking about the different combinations I could look at (4-3 DTs and 3-4 DEs), I decided just to stay with each systems’ ends, even though they are different. There’s just too much variation in the schemes to try to get too specific. And since there’s almost as many 3-4 teams these days, it almost evens out.

Here are the results:

Now this surprised me a little bit. I didn’t expect such a strong showing from the first round, especially considering about 15 teams used the 3-4 last year. And those players tend to be workhorses, not workout warriors.

Obviously there’s a draft premium on 4-3 ends that can rush the passer – and there are plenty of standouts in that group (John Abraham, Julius Peppers, Dwight Freeney, Jason Babin) – but there are just as many good 3-4 ends ends who went in the first of the draft (Justin Smith, Ryan Pickett, Marcus Spears, Luis Castillo, Shaun Ellis).

That such a high percentage (31.3) of starters came from the first round (45 percent when you combined the first and second round) tells you that you need to grab a defensive end early if you want a good one.

This will become evident as we look at other positions and the numbers are different (they have been in the past when I’ve looked at this).

Other things the numbers indicate:

  • The fourth round has been surprisingly fruitful (15.6 percent, the second-highest round);
  • And since just as many starters were undrafted (five) as were drafted in the sixth and seventh rounds combined (five), you’re probably better off taking a different position late in the draft and signing a few undrafted free agents at end. That’s where the Patriots got Mike Wright.
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