For as long as people have been talking about football, the debate over whether or not early round draft picks really pan out more frequently that late round picks has been a focal point of conversation. Fans watch every year as a handful of draft picks wash out of the league or never come close to reaching their full potential. If you go back almost a decade to look at the first round of the draft, how many of those players actually lived up to their draft status? Half? A quarter? Even that?!?
However, it feels like every time the draft rolls around, offensive linemen have a reputation for being the “safe” way to go in the draft. For decades, offensive linemen have not been viewed like other positions where a team goes looking for a steal or a diamond in the rough. Therefore, those taken after the 4th and 5th round aren’t considered to become NFL caliber starters. Not to say they will not, but the logic has been that the odds are much lower than at other positions. This is why teams that value good and quality offensive line play, draft linemen high. The logic is if they dominate at the collegiate level and have above average skills and technique, it will translate better and faster to the NFL.
Is this really true though, or have GM’s and analysts fallen prey to a rouse? Using the offensive line rankings for this season so far from footballoutsiders.com, we’ll break down three of the top passing and rushing offensive line’s starters, listing the corresponding round with each player identified as early round draft picks (rounds 1, 2 and 3), later round draft picks (rounds 4-7), and undrafted free agents (UDFA). At the end, we will be able to determine that, for this season, if drafting offensive linemen high really works.
- Jaguars- LT Cam Robinson (starter until injured)- Round 2, Pick 34 / LT Josh Wells- undrafted / LG Andrew Norwell- undrafted / C Brandon Linder- Round 3, Pick 93 / RG A.J. Cann- Round 3, Pick 67 / RT Jermey Parnell- undrafted
Analysis- 3 early round draft picks, 3 undrafted
2. Lions- LT Taylor Decker- Round 1, Pick 16 / LG Frank Ragnow- Round 1, Pick 20 / C Graham Glasgow- Round 3, Pick 95 / RG T.J. Lang- Round 4, Pick 109 / RT Rick Wagner- Round 5, Pick 168
Analysis- 2 first round draft picks, 1 early round draft pick, 2 later round draft picks
3. Bengals– LT Cordy Glenn- Round 2, Pick 41 / LG Clint Boling- Round 4, Pick 101 / C Billy Price- Round 1, Pick 21 / RG Alex Redmond- undrafted / RT Bobby Hart- Round 7, Pick 226
Analysis: 1 first round draft pick, 1 early round draft pick, 2 later round draft picks, 1 undrafted
- Panthers– LT Chris Clark- undrafted / LG Greg Van Roten- undrafted / C Ryan Kalil- Round 2, Pick 59 / RG Trai Turner- Round 3, Pick 92 / RT Taylor Moton- Round 2, Pick 64
Analysis- 3 early round draft picks, 2 undrafted
2. Texans- LT Martinas Rankin- Round 3, Pick 80 / LG Senio Kelemete- Round 5, Pick 151 / C Nick Martin- Round 2, Pick 50 / RG Zach Fulton- Round 6, Pick 193 / RT Julie’n Davenport- Round 4, Pick 130
Analysis- 2 early round draft picks, 3 later round picks
3. Broncos- LT Garett Bolles- Round 1, Pick 20 / LG Ron Leary- undrafted / C Matt Paradis- Round 6, Pick 207 / RG Connor McGovern- Round 5, Pick 144 / RT Jared Veldheer- Round 3, Pick 69
Analysis- 1 first round draft pick, 1 early round draft pick, 2 later round draft picks, 1 undrafted
Final Analysis of Top 3 Passing and Rushing O-Lines for 2018
Total Linemen- 31
1st Round Picks- 4
2nd and 3rd Round Picks- 11
4th-7th Round Picks- 9
As you can see, this case study proved most interesting. For the best offensive lines so far this season, only 4 of 31 players starting were first rounders, a mere thirteen percent. The majority of the offensive line starters were taken in the 2nd and 3rd rounds, which is still fairly high. However, if you add up the 1st-3rd rounders, and then the 4th-7th rounders with the undrafted guys, it’s about split down the middle. Keep in mind this case study was only done for this current season, but from what we have seen, it looks like the mental mindset of linemen needing to be drafted high to be quality starters is off the mark. As you can see, on these teams there are almost as many undrafted starters as 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th rounders, and very close to the amount of 2nd and 3rd rounders as well. The smallest group, surprisingly, is the 1st rounders.
Looks like we were all way off with how we approach offensive linemen. Thery’re much more like every other position than we realized. Time to rethink your draft formulas, GM’s.