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Why the Broncos should ... pick a defensive player at No. 5

Posted Apr 12, 2018

Bradley Chubb might be the first defensive player off the board -- and he might still be available if the Broncos stand pat at No. 5.

Bradley Chubb

Depending on when North Carolina State edge rusher Bradley Chubb goes off the board, it is possible that the Broncos could hold on to the No. 5 pick and still have every defensive prospect available to them when they make their first-round pick on April 26.

And if the Broncos aim for defense, the odds of finding a standout player are decent, as 52.4 percent of the 84 defensive players drafted in the first seven picks of the draft since 1990 have become Pro Bowlers. The already-retired players in that group averaged 9.23 years of service time in the NFL, with 6.91 years as a primary starter.

If Chubb is still there, the Broncos would have the opportunity to select perhaps the best edge rusher in the draft, in a draft-pick range that has yielded a solid percentage of dominant pass rushers.

As with quarterback, the success ratio -- at least in terms of sack tallies -- drops as you go along. Consider this: Since the sack became an official statistic in 1982, 67 players have posted at least 80 career sacks.

Of those 80 players ...

  • 29.9 percent (20 of 67) were top-10 picks (including Denver's Von Miller)
  • 22.4 percent (15 of 67) were picked between selections 11 and 32
  • There are more members of the 80-sack club from the first round (35 of 67, 52.2 percent) than the other rounds and undrafted pool put together (32 of 67, 47.8 percent).

It can be argued that edge rusher is the premium position on defense that best counters the quarterback, and the chances of finding a high-end rusher are best in the first 10 picks of the draft.

Beyond Chubb, the defensive backs headline the group of defenders who could go off the board at the fifth pick, a collection that includes Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ohio State's Denzel Ward and Florida State's Derwin James.

Of the 1,383 defensive backs drafted since 1990, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com, just three -- Eric Turner (Cleveland, 1991), Shawn Springs (Seattle, 1997) and Bruce Pickens (Atlanta, 1991) were selected in the first three picks. Turner was the best of that trio, earning a pair of Pro Bowl nods before his career was tragically cut short by terminal stomach cancer in 2000.

So let's take a look at picks 4-8, which provides a sample size of 25 defensive backs since 1990 -- and also serves as the sweet spot for finding elite talent.

An incredible 68 percent of those players made the Pro Bowl, with 24 percent of them earning that honor at least five times. That group includes two likely Hall of Famers: Charles Woodson (Oakland, No. 4, 1998) and Champ Bailey (Washington, No. 7, 1999). Eight of them (32 percent) were starters for at least 10 seasons: Woodson, Bailey, Terence Newman (Dallas, No. 5, 2003), Quentin Jammer (San Diego, No. 5, 2002), Todd Lyght (Los Angeles Rams, No. 5, 1991), Mark Carrier (Chicago, No. 6, 1990), Troy Vincent (Miami, No. 7, 1992) and DeAngelo Hall (Atlanta, No. 8, 2004).

Now, here's where it gets interesting. While there is a considerable benefit to drafting a defensive back in the first eight picks, the odds of finding a Pro Bowler in picks 9-16, 17-24, 25-32 and in the first half of the second round do not fall off at the same rate as quarterbacks:

Pro Bowl percentage, defensive backs:

  • Picks 1-8: 64.3 percent (18/28)
  • Picks 9-16: 36.1 percent (13/36)
  • Picks 17-24: 28.6 percent (16/56)
  • Picks 25-32: 25 percent (12/48)
  • Picks 33-48: 26.0 percent (25/96)

So while there is a clear benefit and a relatively low risk to taking a defensive back early in the first round, the odds of success outside of the top eight picks are such that the historic value is probably best in the first half of Round 2, relative to the draft-pick investment.