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  1. #1
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    Kirwan: History, depth could keep Hawk out of top five

    History, depth could keep Hawk out of top five
    By Pat Kirwan
    NFL.com Senior Analyst

    (April 5, 2006) -- The NFL draft is getting closer, and there are teams that spend a lot of time on the history of where certain position players are selected.

    We regularly hear about the "elite" positions like quarterback, pass-rushing defensive ends, cover corners, defensive tackles with rare size/speed ratios, and offensive left tackles. The great ones at these positions get gobbled up quickly year in and year out. When multiple players end up the evaluation process with the same numerical grades, the position they play usually is the deciding factor.

    With that in mind, this draft has the terrific Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk in the top 10 on every draft board. In fact, former Cleveland Browns head coach Butch Davis lists him as his top defensive player in the draft, which makes him a top-five player. The consensus opinion of the NFL personnel people and coaches I have spoken with is Hawk is about No. 5 or No. 6 on most draft boards at this early stage of "stacking" the draft board.

    Now the draft historians take a look at the success rate of taking a linebacker in the top of the draft. Linebackers have a checkered past in the draft.

    I went back as far as 1990 to look at the NFL draft patterns for all linebackers in the first round to see if there is a case to take Hawk as high as fifth in the draft, or is closer to 10th -- the comfort level people who study these patterns would like to see. (I eliminated the 'tweeners who became defensive ends; even though they were listed as linebackers, they were drafted to put their hand on the ground and rush the passer.)

    There were some interesting patterns over the past 16 years that will be discussed in war rooms around the league.

    Since 1990, there have been only 39 outside linebackers drafted in the first round, and only 15 inside/middle linebackers to hear their name called in the opening round. Let's take it a step further and look at how many of those 54 linebackers were drafted in the top 10 picks. Only eight outside linebackers and six inside/middle linebackers were top-10 selections since 1990. That's less than one per year.

    With Hawk up near the top of the board, I drilled down to see how many linebackers have been selected in the top five picks.

    Now the numbers are down to seven outside 'backers and only two inside guys. That's nine linebackers in the top five over the past 16 years. The average draft position in the first round for all linebackers is the 15th or 16th spot. The linebackers of note who have been picked late in the first round are Derrick Brooks (No. 28 in 1995), Ray Lewis (No. 26 in 1996) and Al Wilson (No. 31 in 1999), which looks as good or even better than the group drafted in the top five.

    NFL LINEBACKERS PICKED WITH A TOP FIVE PICK

    1990 Junior Seau
    1991 Mike Croel
    1992 Quentin Coryatt
    1993 Marvin Jones
    1994 Willie McGinest, Trev Albert
    1995 None
    1996 Kevin Hardy
    1997 Peter Boulware
    1998 None
    1999 None
    2000 LaVar Arrington
    2001 None
    2002 None
    2003 None
    2004 None
    2005 None
    As you can see, the pattern of drafting linebackers in the top five picks has really dropped off, so it will be difficult for Hawk to reverse this trend even though he deserves to be recognized as a top player in this draft. Hawk has 368 career tackles, 37 tackles for a loss and 14 sacks (9 in 2005).

    The depth at the linebacker position, which I believe is the deepest of all the defensive positions, could be another factor that could work against Hawk. Ernie Sims, Chad Greenway, DeMeco Ryans, Bobby Carpenter, Manny Lawson, Kamerion Wimbley and Thomas Howard among others who easily could be options for a team if it decides to select at another position early in the first round with thoughts of coming back in the early second round.


  2. #2
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    Re: Kirwan: History, depth could keep Hawk out of top five

    Position plays into it, no doubt. That was my point with Huff. Huff is only going at 9 or so because of his position.

    If he doesn't go at 5 to Green Bay, then SanFran definitely takes him. If SanFran was to lose their head, about 8 teams would trade up for him.

    .

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    Re: Kirwan: History, depth could keep Hawk out of top five

    I know position plays a part in this, but there are about 16 positions you could potentially draft for (counting OLBs together, etc.). If they were all represented equally in the top five, you'd expect a player to get drafted at any given position about once every three years on average. If you assume people won't take a P,K,C,G in the top five, that's still 12 positions and only five slots a year. So you would expect the average position to be drafted in the top 5 just a little less than half the time if all were represented equally. The fact is that positions like RB and QB tend to have a disproportionate share, so the fact that an inside linebacker is still getting drafted roughly half the time means it's still doing pretty well compared to the rest of the positions. I'm not sure if I'm making any sense here.

    The trend is interesting to observe because it has been a number of years; on the other hand I don't really think there's a stigma attached to taking a linebacker high in the draft. The point about depth is valid, but I think the issue of position is more likely to hurt Vernon Davis, Michael Huff, and even Nick Mangold more than A.J. Hawk.

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