A much closer look at 2011 NFL draft

May, 11, 2011
5/11/11
12:30
PM ET
The Seattle Seahawks were on the clock with the 99th overall choice in the 2011 NFL draft when the Minnesota Vikings called to inquire about a trade.

Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider had a decision to make. The team wanted to add more picks, so sliding back into the Vikings' spot at No. 106 carried some appeal. But the Seahawks had not addressed defense to that point in the draft, and Mississippi State outside linebacker K.J. Wright was a player they had been targeting.

Seattle decided to stand pat at No. 99.

"It is rare that you would find a linebacker with that much length (6-foot-4) and 4.6 speed," Carroll said after the draft. "We need that flexibility."

[+] EnlargeK.J. Wright
AP Photo/Michael ConroyK.J. Wright, who was drafted by the Seahawks with the No. 99 pick, was the last 4-3 strongside linebacker drafted.
This seemed a bit improbable. After all, teams selected 24 more linebackers over the remaining 155 selections. Surely one of them could have provided what the Seahawks wanted from Wright, right? Not necessarily. The more I studied those selections, the more I understood what Carroll was talking about. Wright was the fourth and final 4-3 strongside linebacker selected in the draft. All were gone among the top 100 selections.

The NFL has become so specialized, particularly on defense, that players are increasingly difficult to categorize. Seeking fresh perspective on the 2011 draft, I reclassified the 254 players chosen into 20 positional categories, based largely on how teams plan to use them. The process was imperfect because teams view players differently, and some players transcend easy categorization. But patterns that emerged were helpful in bringing the big picture into clearer focus.

Breaking down linebackers into five categories across 3-4 and 4-3 schemes was particularly helpful.

Teams selected one 4-3 strongside linebacker in each of the first four rounds, but none thereafter. They selected 12 4-3 weakside linebackers -- none in the first two rounds, five in the sixth and three in the seventh. That position carried less value relative to others based on when the players came off the board.

Nine of 11 4-3 defensive tackles went in the first three rounds, affirming how much teams value that position. Teams selected five 4-3 defensive ends in the first two rounds, then none until taking one in the fifth and four more in the seventh. Teams selected four five-technique defensive ends in the first round and one in the second, but none over the next four rounds.

I ultimately divided players into percentiles based on where they were selected in relation to other players from the same positional categories. Three NFC West players were the first players chosen at their specific positions. They were in the top percentile for their positions. Three, including Wright, were the last players chosen at their specific positions. They were in the bottom percentile.

The percentiles say nothing about whether individual players will succeed in the NFL. In some cases, players with lower percentiles probably carried more value at that moment in the draft based on how few prospects remained available at their positions.

Without categorizing players more specifically, we might not have any idea.

Overall, this draft featured 37 cornerbacks; 28 wide receivers; 24 running backs; 21 interior offensive linemen; 20 offensive tackles; 16 safeties; 13 tight ends; 12 quarterbacks; 12 4-3 weakside linebackers; 11 4-3 defensive tackles; 10 4-3 defensive ends; 10 3-4 outside linebackers; eight five-technique defensive ends; seven 3-4 inside linebackers; seven fullbacks; six 4-3 middle linebackers; four 4-3 strongside linebackers; four nose tackles; and two specialists. Two defensive linemen -- Kansas City's Allen Bailey and Baltimore's Pernell McPhee -- qualified as nickel pass-rushers.

And now, a look at all 35 NFC West draft choices, listed by how early they were drafted in relation to other players at their specific positions:

First quarter: 75th percentile and higher

Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals: First of 37 cornerbacks selected

Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco 49ers: First of 10 3-4 outside linebackers

Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis Rams: First of 10 4-3 defensive ends

Ryan Williams, RB, Cardinals: Second of 24 running backs, putting him in the 91.7 percentile for the position (FBs excluded)

Lance Kendricks, TE, Rams: Second of 13 tight ends (84.6)

James Carpenter, T, Seattle Seahawks: Fourth of 20 offensive tackles (80.0)

Chris Culliver, CB, 49ers: Eighth of 37 cornerbacks (78.4)

Rob Housler, TE, Cardinals: Third of 13 tight ends (76.9)

John Moffitt, G, Seahawks: Fifth of 21 interior offensive linemen (76.2)

Second quarter: 50th to 74th percentile

Anthony Sherman, FB, Cardinals: Second of seven fullbacks (71.4)

Austin Pettis, WR, Rams: Eighth of 28 wide receivers (71.4)

Kendall Hunter, RB, 49ers: Tenth of 24 running backs (58.3)

Bruce Miller, FB, 49ers: Third of seven fullbacks (57.1)

Kris Durham, WR, Seahawks: 12th of 28 wide receivers (57.1)

Daniel Kilgore, C, 49ers: 10th of 21 interior offensive linemen (52.4)

Sam Acho, OLB, Cardinals: Fifth of 10 3-4 outside linebackers (50.0)

Colin Kaepernick, QB, 49ers: Sixth of 12 quarterbacks (50.0)

Greg Salas, WR, Rams: 14th of 28 wide receivers (50.0)

Third quarter: 25th to 49th percentile

Richard Sherman, CB, Seahawks: 24th of 37 cornerbacks (35.1)

Mark LeGree, S, Seahawks: 11th of 16 safeties (31.3)

Quan Sturdivant, ILB, Cardinals: Fifth of seven 3-4 inside linebackers (28.6)

Byron Maxwell, CB, Seahawks: 27th of 37 cornerbacks (27.0)

David Carter, DE, Cardinals: Sixth of eight five-technique defensive ends (25.0)

Jermale Hines, S, Rams: 12th of 16 safeties (25.0)

Fourth quarter: Zero to 24th percentile

Colin Jones, S, 49ers: 13th of 16 safeties (18.8)

Jabara Williams, LB, Rams: 10th of 12 4-3 weakside linebackers (16.7 )

Ronald Johnson, WR, 49ers: 24th of 28 wide receivers (14.3)

Mikail Baker, CB, Rams: 32nd of 37 cornerbacks (13.5)

Pep Levingston, DE, Seahawks: Seventh of eight five-technique defensive ends (12.5)

Mike Person, C, 49ers: 19th of 21 interior offensive linemen (9.5)

Malcolm Smith, LB, Seahawks. Eleventh of 12 4-3 weakside linebackers (8.3)

Jonathan Nelson, S, Rams: 15th of 16 safeties (6.3)

K.J. Wright, LB, Seahawks: Fourth of four 4-3 strongside linebackers (0.0)

DeMarco Sampson, WR, Cardinals: 28th of 28 wide receivers(0.0)

Curtis Holcomb, CB, 49ers: 37th of 37 cornerbacks (0.0)

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