My stance on positional risk and Jimmy Smith

Probably the riskiest deserving first round pick possible

Posted by Kip Earlywine

Can you believe the draft begins this Thursday?  There isn’t much time left, so I figured now would be a good time to talk about which positions are the safest bets in the first round.  Here is a chart, though a couple years old, that tracks the success rate by position both by being a long term starter and also by becoming a star player.  It covers data from 1997 to 2008.

Excluding kickers (heh), the safest positions for finding a long term starter are center (100%), guard (100%), safety (91%), linebacker (83%), defensive tackle (83%), defensive end (79%) and tackle (73%).

The worst positions for finding at least a long term starter are quarterback (44%), wide receiver (49%), tight end (50%), cornerback (56%), and running back (57%).

Finding a franchise quarterback is the single most difficult and important task for an NFL front office.  Even though a 44% rate is the worst among every position, that 44% rate far exceeds the rate of any round thereafter.

Considering this, you would expect quarterback to finish very low in terms of finding stars, but just the opposite:  25% of this group go on to become franchise quarterbacks.  Or to look at it another way, for every 8 first round quarterbacks that start long term, 5 are star players.  That’s the highest rate among successful starters at any position.

So what are the best positions when considering both starter potential and the odds of becoming a star?  Guard, safety, linebacker top the list, with defensive end being an honorable mention.

The worst?  Tight end and cornerback stand out quite a bit.  Corner is tied for 3rd worst for percentage of star players and is 4th worst for overall ability to produce a starter.  What’s even more alarming about the corner statistic is how many successful corners come out of the top half of the first round.  As Mel Kiper recently cited, 21 of the last 24 corners taken in the top half of the first round have been at least somewhat successful.  That’s amazing, and it really paints a grim picture for corners who are taken later in the first.

I think that jives with this year’s draft as well.  Patrick Peterson is a top 10 lock and about as close to can’t miss as it gets.  He’s this year’s Joe Haden or Darrelle Revis.  Prince Amukamara?  He’s pretty much bombed drills at the combine and sorely lacks some of the most basic athletic qualities to play the position at the NFL level.  Maybe he’s still drafted as a corner, but if he is, it will be later in the first and it would be a very risky proposition to keep him at corner.  Then you have Jimmy Smith, who has all the physical talent to be a top 10 pick but has a rap-sheet and work-ethic reminiscent of infamous flame-out Maurice Clarett.  Considering the innate risk of the cornerback position coupled with that, I would nominate Smith as the riskiest first round prospect- that is unless you consider Andy Dalton or Christian Ponder worthy 1st round guys.  (I don’t).

So its with this in consideration that I have very mixed feelings about Seattle drafting Jimmy Smith.  If Seattle selects Smith 25th overall, though I wouldn’t pull the trigger myself, I would support their decision and I wouldn’t hate the pick.  Finding good starting corners is almost as hard as finding good starting quarterbacks, and in later rounds it gets even harder.  Seattle badly needs quality at the corner position and putting off addressing the issue will have consequences.  Smith has the base of talent to be just like those highly successful corners taken earlier, its just an issue of being motivated and staying on the straight and narrow.  If anyone can do that, Pete Carroll can.

On the other hand, if Smith busts especially for off the field reasons, its going to look very obvious in retrospect won’t it?  Smith has two felonies in his past, displayed (to my eye) a regular habit of cruising by in games, and didn’t work out for at least two weeks before the combine, presumably because he didn’t care about being his best.  I don’t care too much about him lying in interviews, the other stuff is what concerns me more because of the behavior patterns it indicates.  I don’t mind rooting for degenerates like Randy Moss or Brandon Marshall, because at least they bring it on Sundays and compete Monday through Friday like champions.  With Smith, I’m not so much worried about him getting arrested with enough guns for a Mexican standoff in his pickup truck or getting stabbed by his wife, as much as I am worried about him just not caring enough to reach his potential.

If Mike Pouncey is there at #25, (I highly doubt it), then he would be the best pick in my view.  Not just because we desperately need help at guard, and not just because he’s the twin brother of a highly successful NFL interior lineman, but because guard (usually a position addressed where we are picking) is the safest pick in the first round and also one of the best for finding a star player.

Similarly evaluating risk/reward for Locker/Kaepernick is probably another post in itself.  For now I’d say that I’d endorse either at #25, though with Kaepernick admittedly I’d cringe a little bit after thinking of him as a late 2nd rounder for so long.


  1. woofu

    I watched Prince and Williams get worked out together on NFLN and came away with Williams looking the better of the two in pass D. AW has a conversion question to FS attached to him which I am unsure why that would be. So at #25 those two would a hard choice for me.

    Smith on the other hand I’ve projected to Houston early. It is simply a risk and management issue they need to take in light of the trouble it causes for Manning when corners can shut of part of his field.

    • FWBrodie

      Saw that too. Williams looked like the better corner, but Prince looked like the smarter player. Prince seemed to really lack explosion/jumping ability/ball skills relative to Williams. Williams jumped out of the gym for a pick. Granted it was about 3 reps a piece on one drill. Based on that alone though, Williams is higher on my board.

  2. Chinatown

    A Dolphins player allegedly said “and this is supposed to surprise me how?” when he was asked about Brandon Marshall’s most recent issue. If I think that would be the response I’d have to a to a guy getting in trouble I’m thinking about drafting, I sure as hell am not taking him in the first, and that’s how I think about Smith. IMHO, I’d rather try and get Brown or House in the 2nd, though I prefer taking CBs later in the draft and trying to build up the front 7 earlier.

    • FWBrodie

      Based on what exactly?

  3. Matt

    Your tendency to label 1st round guards as the safest position with one of the highest “star” rates is a little suspect, given the sample size of 8 guards. That 25% is not a statistically significant difference from the star rates of pretty much any other position. We don’t have all that good of an idea of the “true” star rate for guards, as there have been only two of them.

    Furthermore, all “stars” are not created equal. What is the value of a “star” guard? How does that compare to having a “star” WR, a “star” RB, a “star” DE, or a “star” QB? Even granting you the 25% star rate, if a “star” guard is only half as valuable as a “star” OT, then it can easily be justified to gamble on a tackle who’s a little bit better than half as likely to be a star.

    • Kip Earlywine

      Agreed. Sample size is always going to put an asterisk next to pretty much any draft study. It must be taken with a grain of salt.

  4. Bret L

    Head coach Mike Munchak was just qouted as saying VY is gone from the Titans.(Rotoworld) Espn is reporting that the Judge has just ruled in favor of the players so I do believe FA is back. If true that would give the Hawks a couple of days to make some quick moves before the draft. What if they get a veteran QB before the draft and they could still pick Kap. That way they can take their time and develop Kap and let the vet play.

    • Chavac

      If it were only that simple. I assume Nelson’s ruling will be appealed out the ying yang until the NFL can get the players to agree on a new CBA. As is, I believe there is currently no CBA governing the NFL and thus no grounds or means for FA to occur yet. So in the end nothing really changes, as far as I understand it.

      • Bret L

        Yeah I jumped the gun. Looks like it will be appealed. It looks like it will be a drawn out fight. Hopefully neither side will kill the Golden Goose.

  5. Darnell

    Pouncey is safe – he is going to be very good. But you always have to question the positional value of spending a 1st rounder on an interior lineman.

    I am of the opinion that 1st round picks should be QB,LT,CB,Pass rusher or a WR prospect the caliber of Johnson(s) or Fitzgerald.

    But then we get a player the caliber of Earl Thomas at #14 and I question my theory.

    • FWBrodie

      That’s a good point. You can take what Kip talked about (probability for success based on position) and weight that against potential influence on team success based on position. In other words, how much does a pro bowl guard help a team win vs a pro bowl QB or CB?

      • Rob

        The other thing to remember is, an average or borderline below average NFL guard won’t be listed as a bust. It’s very different for quarterbacks, receivers, pass rushers etc that are judged on wins and are judged on production. Nobody at the end of the year looks at a guard and says – there’s the reason we’re 5-11. People can look at a quarterback and say – this guy is 58% passing, he was a poor QB rating, this guy didn’t make the pass at the end of the game. I would argue that you need to seperate production based players completely from interior lineman in such a comparison.

        Another thing – if Robert Gallery is a quarterback he’s out of the league years ago and an immense bust. Instead he plays interior line for a while, he isn’t a top player but fairly good, and people will say that pick wasn’t that bad. The offensive lineman really only get the big bust rating if they get injured often or have to retire. It’s a world away from the way the skill positions are judged.

        • Kip Earlywine

          Agreed on the positional thing. WR can fail despite talent if his QB is absolutely terrible, and so can a RB if his line is terrible. By contast, a lineman can still be viewed as very good even if the rest of the team around him is awful. Also, tackles can move to guard and centers/guards can sometimes interchange.

          That said, I really think there is something to be said about the safety of those picks, because as said above, if they fail they have nobody to blame but themselves. Whereas skill positions are much more heavily influenced by the other areas of the team. If you just want a pick that won’t bust, and you are picking late 1st, and you need interior lineman, its a great route to go.

        • Kip Earlywine

          I guess one other factor to consider too is that the only guards, centers, linebackers, and safeties to go in the first round tend to be the cream of the crop, whereas with wide receiver, DT, DE, and especially QB, you can sometimes see 2nd tier talent slip into the end of the first round due to the importance of those positions.

  6. woofu

    Since the topic was Jimmy Smith and risk (along with Mallet ad naseum elsewhere), I thought some might enjoy this Rang read.

    • Kip Earlywine

      Its interesting to think about how the Talib and Marshall incidents are highlighting character concerns at the 11th hour before the draft and how that could perhaps play a role in some of the tough decisions GMs will be making.

      As things stand now, it wouldn’t shock me if Jimmy Smith went top 10, and it wouldn’t shock me if he went in the 2nd round.

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