To avoid making future draft mistakes we must first learn from the past. Although every draft is different, there have been some trends that have played out over the years. Based on draft results from 2000-2009, here are some of the facts we've encountered about the defensive end position.
Since the NFL has basically turned into a quarterbacks league, the people that protect the quarterback and the people that pressure the quarterback have become the second and third most important positions respectively. Every team needs pass rushers and defensive ends have become one of the most sought after and highest drafted positions.
Aside from the cornerback position, defensive end has been the most frequently drafted position on defense in the first round. Just because teams have taken a lot of defensive ends doesn't mean that they've received a very good bang for their buck. Through our research, 36 defensive ends were selected in Round One and only 12 of them have worked out (became solid starters). The 33.3 percent hit rate is the lowest amongst any first-round position on either side of the ball. Where the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs have struck gold with Mario Williams and Tamba Hali respectively, there have been many more tales of Erasmus James, Derrick Harvey and Kenechi Udeze.
Should you take your defensive ends in Round Two?
Lots of teams love selecting in the second round as there are usually impact players still available that were overlooked by teams drafting for need in the first round. Teams also relish the fact that the salaries and expectations of second-round picks are considerably less. Regarding the defensive end position, our research shows that 8 of 30 second round picks have worked out (26.7 percent) The 6.6 percent drop from the first round hit rate to the second is the lowest of any position. Solid players such as Kyle Vanden Bosch, Aaron Schobel, Osi Umenyiora and Antwan Odom are all examples of excellent defensive ends found in Round Two.
Can you still get a quality defensive end in the third round?
Teams have tended to shy away from selecting defensive ends in Round Three as there were just 23 ends drafted (second-lowest behind the safety position). Of those 23, six players have been hits for a 26.1 percent hit rate. The 26.1 percent hit rate is the highest of any defensive position in the third round. Notable Pro Bowl defensive ends selected in the third round are Justin Tuck, Darnell Dockett (who later moved to tackle) and Derrick Burgess.
What about the late-round guys?
With late-round picks, most teams like to try to "throw something against the wall and hope it sticks". Since the risk is very low, the reward usually is too. Regarding defensive ends, our research shows 22 of 116 players taken (19.0 percent) as hits. The 19 percent hit rate is higher than any offensive position and is one of the highest on defense. The later rounds have yielded Pro Bowlers such as Jared Allen, Aaron Kampman, Jay Ratliff and Robert Mathis, as well as solid starters Alex Brown, Brett Keisel, Shaun Phillips and Ray Edwards.
In summation, if you plan on drafting a defensive end in the first round, it's possible that you could get a future Hall of Famer like Julius Peppers or Dwight Freeney. Unfortunately, it's twice as likely that you'll grab the next David Pollack or Gaines Adams, and hopefully you won't trade up to grab Derrick Harvey. The second round has almost as good of a hit rate as Round One, but with much less risk. Round Three features the highest hit rate of any defensive position and the late rounds have even yielded multiple Pro Bowlers. Now that you know the stats, draft accordingly.
Charlie Bernstein is the host of “The Conundrum” on the Aquarius 7 Broadcasting Network (national), and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie
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