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 linebacker position.
Linebackers are generally the captains of the defense and the top teams in this league, especially the 3-4 teams, have impact players at linebacker. This year’s draft has just a few elite linebacker prospects, most notably Boston College’s Luke Kuechly.
Although linebacker isn’t considered a “premium position”, the teams that have selected linebackers early have found solid success. Our research shows that of the 34 linebackers selected, 19 would be considered as hits (became solid starters) for a rate of 55.9 percent. Just recently, we’ve seen teams strike gold with Pro Bowlers such as Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, Brian Orakpo, Jerod Mayo and Patrick Willis. The 55.9 percent hit rate is the highest amongst any defensive position in the front seven.
What about Round 2?
Just as most positions, the hit rate drops from the first round to the second round. Of the 48 linebackers selected in Round Two, 19 would be considered hits (39.6 percent). Second round hits include Pro Bowlers DeMeco Ryans, David Harris and E.J. Henderson and solid starters such as Barrett Ruud, Karlos Dansby and Daryl Smith.
How does the third round look?
Not a surprise to anyone, the hit rate continues to plummet as we move from the second round to the third round. Just 19.3 percent of linebackers selected in the third round (11 of 57) would be considered as hits. Round Three has yielded such solid players like Mark Simoneau, Will Witherspoon and Pro Bowler Lance Briggs, but for each Briggs you’ll find four times as many Saleem Rasheed’s or Rocky Calmus’s. Recently, the third round hasn’t been fruitful at the linebacker position as only four of the last 22 linebackers selected have been solid starters (18.2 percent).
What about the late-round guys?
Linebackers selected in Rounds 4-7 have some of the highest hit rates of any position, perhaps due to their initial special teams contributions which gives teams a longer look at them. Of the 177 linebackers selected, 35 are solid starters for a hit rate of 19.8 percent. Linebacker is one of the only positions in which the rate actually increases in the later rounds over Round Three. Some of the later round stars include Scott Fujita, Bradie James, Cato June, Stephen Tulloch, Trent Cole, Clint Session and Kroy Biermann.
Linebacker appears to be one of the safest positions to draft in most any round across the board. If you’re a 3-4 team it appears best to find your rush-backer in Round 1, and if you’re looking for inside guys, the second round and beyond appear to be better, safer fits. Now that you have the stats, 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 <a href="http://twitter.com/#!/nflcharlie"