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 2000-2010, here are some of the facts we’ve encountered about the positions on the interior line.
Aside from the near vestigial fullback position, the three positions on the interior line are the most replaceable on offense. Sure every team would love to have road-graters to pave the way for a powerful rushing attack, but those players can surely be found in the middle to later rounds of the draft…..or can they?
Our research tells us that if you’re going to select an interior offensive lineman in the first round of the draft, what you’re giving up in value you may be getting in longevity. Interior lineman selected in Round 1 have a fantastic 62.5 percent (10 of 16) hit rate (hits are solid starters). To break it down further, guards are batting 55.6 percent (5 of 9) and centers are hitting at a 71.4% clip (5 of 7). The Patriots and Buccaneers are pleased with their selections of Logan Mankins and Davin Joseph respectively, both of which earned trips to Hawaii. Before you begin to be enamored with first-round offensive guards, Mankins and Joseph along with Steve Hutchinson (drafted by the Seahawks back in 2001) are the only first-round guards to earn a Pro Bowl selection in the past ten years.
As good as the numbers look for interior linemen in Round 1, there is an awfully small sample size, due to the lack of impact of the position. Since the value of a second-round pick is significantly decreased over a first-round pick, Rounds 2 or later seem to be a more fitting spot for the interior line. Although second-round interior lineman don’t have the lofty 62.5 percent hit rate as their first-round counterparts, they are hitting at a second-round best 48.1 percent (13 of 27). Guards are a cool 7 of 14 (50 percent) and centers are 6 of 13 (46 percent). The second round has yielded solid starters such as Max Unger, Eric Steinbach and Chris Snee, along with Pro Bowlers Andre Gurode and Ryan Kalil. With the highest second-round hit percentage of any position on both offense and defense, Round 2 seems like a solid place to draft your guard or center of the future.
How do the stats look in Round Three?
Interior linemen selected in the third round have a 34.4 percent hit rate (11 of 32), the highest among any position. The third round has produced solid starters like Seattle’s Sean Locklear, Baltimore’s Marshall Yanda, Vince Manuwai, formerly of Jacksonville and Pro Bowler Nick Hardwick of the San Diego Chargers.
What do the late-round picks look like?
Just as all of our positions, the interior line hits take a sizable tumble when we look at the late rounds. Still, the interior line has a hit rate of a shade over 14 percent in Rounds 4-7, still the best of any offensive position. Solid starters such as Dan Koppen (Patriots), Eugene Amano (Titans), Eric Ghiaciuc (Bengals), Jason Brown (Ravens then Rams), Floyd Womack (Seahawks), Uche Nwaneri (Jaguars), Willie Colon (Steelers), Mark Tauscher (Packers) and Pro Bowler David Diehl (Giants) were all found in the later rounds.
In summation, if you’re thinking about spending a first-round pick on an interior lineman, the odds say that you’re likely to get a solid starter, but the lack of value at the position will overshadow the value of the pick. The second round seems to be a good spot to select your linemen, especially centers as we’ve found a pair of Pro Bowlers and still a near 50 percent hit rate. The third round boasts the loftiest hit rate of any position (34.4 percent), and it’s possible to get a long-term starter with a compensatory pick. Late round picks have worked out, but like any position, the odds are overwhelmingly against finding one (about 7:1). Now that you have the facts, draft accordingly.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering 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