The Difference Between A Need And A "Need": An In-depth Look at the 2011 NFL Draft

With the league frozen, and debate over the next collective bargaining agreement at an near standstill, us fans are turning towards this April's draft earlier and more incessantly than ever. In fact, I don't know about you guys, but it's starting to wear me down. There's only so much preparation you can do as a fan to get yourself ready for the big day, and with the combine yet to begin, and the NFL Draft still two months away, I'm already approaching my breaking point.

I'm writing this more for myself then for anyone who reads it and I want to attack my Patriots mock with as many facts as I can so I can more or less estimate which positions we may go to with each of our 6 selections in the first two days.

First, identify the "needs":

OLB, DE, OT, OG, C, RB, WR seems to be the general consensus

Now I just want to send this message to some commentors i read around the blog:

For a team like the Patriots. A team that went 14-2 last year. A team that has 21 players still on the roster from the last two draft cycles. A team that is notorious for having supreme depth across the board. The term "need" is more of a synonym for "open roster spot". I just want to make this point, because it truly is not dire to address all of these needs at this years draft. The fact the we have 6 picks in the first three rounds, and could literally mark off each "need" down the line one by one like a checklist is astounding and a credit to the organization. Which is why I do not think its the end of the world to draft a player like a Jimmy Smith at 28 as Rich and CameronO did over at "mocking the draft".

Now that i've said that the first thing i want to do is analyze the previous drafts and gauge what sort of positions tend to get taken early, which will help us gauge where players will like will rise and fall.

I've compiled a list of how many players were taken, by position, in the previous 10 drafts.

Round 1 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 | Mean | S.D. | Resiliency Score

QB - 1 3 4 4 3 3 2 2 3 2 2.7 0.76 72%

RB - 3 2 2 3 3 4 2 5 3 3 3 0.60 80%

WR - 6 3 3 7 6 1 6 0 6 2 4 2.00 50%

TE - 1 3 1 2 1 2 1 1 1 1 1.4 0.52 63%

OT - 3 4 3 3 2 1 3 7 4 4 3.4 1.08 68%

OG - 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 0.8 0.32 65%

C - 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 0 2 1 0.6 0.60 0%

DT - 6 4 5 3 2 3 2 3 3 5 3.6 1.12 67%

DE - 3 4 5 2 4 5 4 4 5 2 3.6 0.96 73%

OLB - 1 0 1 2 3 3 1 2 3 3 1.9 0.92 51%

ILB - 0 2 1 1 0 1 3 0 0 1 0.9 0.62 38%

CB - 5 4 5 4 5 5 4 5 2 5 4.4 0.72 84%

S - 1 2 1 1 1 2 3 1 0 2 1.4 0.68 51%

I've pulled a few data points from the chart above that i've listed to the right. I calculated the mean number of players taken at each position over the past ten years, the standard deviation from the mean for each position in the draft, and from those statistics calculated a resiliency score for each position.

I created the resiliency score to estimate about how resistent each position is from being affected by weaker draft classes at that respective positions. This data point shows a few things, the likelihood the number of players taken in this year's draft will be consistent with previous drafts, which position will generally falll out of the first round when they don't have top talent available, and which position teams will reach for due to need in the first round even though that player may not be a first round talent.

The formula for the resiliency score was simple:

(Mean - Standard Deviation)/Mean

There's a real life statistical term for the number i drew, but i can't quite remember it. The resiliency of each position rank in this order from most-least resilient:

  1. Cornerback
  2. Running Back
  3. Defensive End
  4. Quarter Back
  5. Offensive Tackle
  6. Defensive Tackle
  7. Offensive Guard
  8. Tight End
  9. Outer Linebacker
  10. Safety
  11. Wide Receiver
  12. Inside Linebacker
  13. Center

These rankings tie in pretty well with conventional wisdom. Cornerback is one of the most reliable positions to draft in the first round, just take a look at recent history and you'll see that top of the board cornerbacks have busted at a much smaller rate than say, defensive end or wider receiver.

Now I'm going to use this data to point out a few interesting facts and make a few bold predictions for the first round:

  • The two most reliable positions in the first round are cornerback and runningback. On average 3 running back and 4.4 cornerbacks are taken in the first round.
  • The last time only one runningback was taken in the first round was was all the way back in 1984.
  • Mark Ingram will not be the only running back taken in the first round.
  • There are five potential first round cornerbacks: Patrick Peterson, Prince Amukamara, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Harris, and Aaron Williams
  • All five will be taken in the first round.
  • The last year no Tight End was selected in the first round was 1999.
  • Both the Falcons and the Jets will take a good long look at Kyle Rudolph at the end of the first round.
  • In the last 10 Drafts on average: 3.6 DT, 3.6 DE, and 1.9 OLB were selected in the first round. In other words 9.1 players that are considered "pass rushers"
  • The most pass rushers to be taken in the first round in recent history was in 2003. 11 pass rushers were selected that year.
  • This year, 16 Pass rushers are projected as potential first round picks. (Nick Fairley, DeQuan Bowers, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus, Robert Quinn, Cameron Jordan, JJ Watt, Aldon Smith, Adrian Clayborn, Corey Liuget, Akeem Ayers, Ryan Kerrigan, Phil Taylor, Cameron Heyward, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Justin Houston.)
  • It would be completely unprecedented to see that many pass rushers come off the board before we select at number 33.
  • A player like Akeem Ayers, Ryan Kerrigan or Adrian Clayborn will be available when we pick at 33.
  • On average 3.4 offensive tackles were taken in the first round in the last 10 years.
  • There are only five offensive tackles who I project as worthy first rounders (Nate Solder, Gabe Carimi, Derek Sherrod, Tyron Smith, and Anthony Castonzo)
  • It would not be unprecedented to see all 5 of those players come off the board before we select at 28, let alone 33.
  • It might be smart to address the offensive line earlier on in the draft, and draft a pass rusher at the beginning of the second. If we decide not to do that. I think we should hold of drafting an offensive lineman until 60 & 74.
  • Players like Mikel Leshoure, Kyle Rudolph, Ryan Williams, Aaron Williams, Jonathon Baldwin, and Torrey Smith are all candidates to hop up into the first around and when they do, we'll reap the rewards at 33.

Alright so that's a start. But all i have so far is the recent history of how the entire league drafts. And we all know that there is certainly a gap, for better or worse, between how the rest of the league drafts, and how Bill Belicheck drafts. So lets looks at Bill's pick history for the first three rounds. (ordered from most to least recent)

Round 1 Selections:

Devin McCourty - CB - 27th

Jerod Mayo - ILB - 10th

Brandon Meriweather - S - 24th

Laurence Maroney - RB - 21st

Logan Mankins - G - 32nd

Vince Wilfork - NT - 21st

Benjamin Watson - TE - 32nd

Ty Warren - DE - 13th

Daniel Graham - TE - 21st

Richard Seymour - DT - 6th

Round 2 Selections:

Rob Gronkowski - TE - 42nd

Jermaine Cunningham - DE - 53rd

Brandon Spikes - ILB - 62nd

Pat Chung - S - 34th

Ron Brace - DL - 40th

Sebastian Vollmer - OT - 58th

Terrence Wheatley - CB - 62nd

Chad Jackson - WR - 36th

Marquise Hill - DE - 63rd

Eugene Wilson - S - 36th

Bethel Johnson - WR - 45th

Deion Branch - WR - 65th

Matt Light - OT - 48th

Round 3 Selections:

Taylor Price - WR - 90th

Brandon Tate - WR - 83rd

Tyrone McKenzie - ILB - 97th

Shawn Crable - OLB - 78th

Kevin O'Connel - QB - 94th

David Thomas - TE - 86th

Ellis Hobbs - CB - 84th

Nick Kaczur - OL - 100th

Guss Scott - DB - 95th

Brock Williams - DB - 86th

JR Redmond - RB - 76th

A few things that stick out to me:

  • Bill Belicheck has only drafted two running backs in the first 3 rounds in his entire tenure with the patriots.
  • Bill Belicheck has only had a running backs rush for 1,000 yards twice (Corey Dillon - 2004, Benjarvus GreenEllis - 2010)
  • Benjarvus GreenEllis is a exclusive rights restricted free agent under the current CBA. If that holds in the new CBA, he will be back next year.
  • The patriots will not draft a running back until day 3.
  • Bill Belicheck has a poor history in the third round.
  • The patriots past five third round picks have played a total of only 25 games. (Taylor Price 1, Brandon Tate 18, Shawn Crable 6, Tyrone Mckenzie 0, Kevin O'connel 0)
  • Ellis Hobbs and Nick Kaczur are the only 3rd round draft picks to go on to have consistent careers starting.
  • The following four trades work under the draft pick value chart.

17th Overall (950 Points) + 74th Overall (220 Points) = 13th Overall (1150 Points)

28th Overall (660 Points) + 74th Overall (220 Points) = 19th Overall (875 Points)

17th Overall (950 Points) + 92nd Overall (132 Points) = 15th Overall (1050 Points)

28th Overall (660 Points) + 92nd Overall (132 Points) = 22nd Overall (780 Points)

  • Option number 1 and 4 are both worth considering. It could mean the difference between drafting (Robert Quinn and Gabe Carimi) and (Ryan Kerrigan and Anthony Castonzo). We're a team, again, whose "needs" are really more like positions with a roster spot or two available. Just something to consider.
  • Bill has been very successful drafting offensive line prospects in the first three rounds. He's selected 4 offensive lineman. Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer, and Nick Kaczur. All four went on to start. (and nick kaczur wasn't selected until well into the compensation portion of the third round.)
  • Bill's had 3 first rounders that can be considered busts: Daniel Graham, Ben Watson, and Laurence Maroney.
  • All three were drafted to become offensive threats. We don't need a tight end anymore, and as i stated above, i don't think we need to draft a running back. Just something to feel good about.

Its impossible, even with all the information we go through in this process, to know who will be available when we pick at seventeen and onward. Instead i like to slot the prospects into categories. Put a broad stroke assessment on the pool of players. I do this to figure out which players i think are worth drafting at each pick, how likely it will be their available, and if their available, do they play a position that we can address just as well later on in the draft.

What this also does is lets us know where in the draft we can go for best player available and try to draft a stud regardless of position.

There are four needs that we really should address at some point in the first 3 rounds:

  • Outside Linebacker
  • Defensive Line
  • Offensive Tackle
  • Offensive Guard

So here are their groupings

Pass Rushers:

Class A (Early First Round)

Nick Fairley - DaQuan Bowers - Von Miller - Marcell Dareus - Robert Quinn

Class B (Mid First Round)

Cameron Jordan - JJ Watt - Aldon Smith

Class C (Late First Round)

Adrian Clayborn - Corey Liuget - Akeem Ayers - Ryan Kerrigan - Justin Houston

Class D (Early Second Round)

Phil Taylor - Cameron Heyward - Muhammad Wilkerson - Drake Nevis

Class E (Second - Third Rounders)

Jeremy Beal - Brooks Reed - Christian Ballard - Stephen Paea - Bruce Carter - Mason Foster - Sam Acho - Allen Bailey - Jabaal Sheard - Dontay Moch - Marvin Austin - Jerrell Powe

Class F (Third - Fifth Rounders)

Markk Herzlich - Greg Jones - KJ Wright - Pernell McPhee - Greg Romeus - Steven Friday - Cliff Mathews - Jarvis Jenkins - Sione Fua - Jurrell Casey - Lawrence Wilson - Thomas Keiser - Bruce Miller - Ross Homan - Ryan Winter - Chris Carter - Kenrick Ellis - Ian Williams - Lawrence Guy

Offensive Lineman

Class A (Middle of the First)

Gabe Carimi - Nate Solder - Tyron Smith - Mike Pouncey

Class B (Late first - Early Second)

Derek Sherrod - Anthony Castonzo - Ben Ijalana - Stefen Wisniewski

Class C (Second Rounders)

John Moffit - Dan Watkins - Marcus Gilbert - Marcus Cannon - Rodney Hudson

Class D (Late Second - Third Rounders)

Jake Kirkpatrick - Clint Boling - Joseph Barksdale - Chris Hairston - James Carpenter - Tim Barnes

Class E (Third to Fourth Rounders)

Lee Ziemba - Jason Pinkston - James Brewer - Will Rackley - Derek Hall - Dermarcus Love

Class F (Fifth - Seventh Rounders)

Derek Newton - Darius Morris - Other prospects

What sticks out to me from doing this, is what most of us already know. There is a lot of depth at OLB/DE in the late second/early 3rd round range. Which brings me to my big final point.

It is not necessary to draft a pass rusher at 17 and it would be even more unwise to take a pass rusher at 28. That does not however mean WE SHOULDN'T draft a pass rusher at 17. For me the patriots draft hinges on three pass rushing prospects.

  • Cameron Jordan
  • JJ Watt
  • Aldon Smith

The three prospects I have listed as Class B pass rushing prospects. Will one of them fall to us at 17? Any one of them is worth the pick at 17 in my opinion. Each fits the mold of a Patriots puss rusher perfectly and each have a chance to go as high as the top ten.

So the factor that will effect the patriots draft isn't if all of them will be there at 17, we all know that won't be the case, but if any of them will be available.

The depth of this years pass rushing class could be a double edge sword when it comes to the stock of these top defensive prospects.

Yes, it has teams all around the league thinking pass rush heading in to this years draft. We also know that there are serviceable defensive ends to be had in the late second/early third round range. Is it really possible that 50% (8/16) of the draft picks prior to the patriots selection at 17 will be a pass rusher, leaving them with none of the class A or B pass rushers, when there is such great talent to be had later if the teams just wait? I say no, its actually very unlikely, which is why i feel i'm now prepared to construct my patriots mock for the first three rounds.

17th - A Class B Pass Rusher - Preferred in this Order

  • Cameron Jordan
  • Aldon Smith
  • JJ Watt

28th -Best Player Available

33rd -Best Player Available

60th - A Class C Offensive Lineman - Preferred in this Order

  • John Moffit
  • Danny Watkins
  • Rodney Hudson
  • Marcus Gilbert
  • Marcus Cannon

74th - Best Player Available

90th - A Class E Pass Rusher - Preferred in this Order

  • Sam Acho
  • Jeremy Beal
  • Brooks Reed
  • Christian Ballard
  • Mason Foster
  • Allen Bailey
  • Jabaal Sheard
  • Jerrell Powe
  • Marvin austin
  • Bruce Carter
  • Stephen Paea

4th - Will Rackley OT/Lehigh

5th - Greg Romeus OLB/Pittsburgh

6th - Jacquizz Rodgers RB/Oregon State

Now for my actual predictions:

  • 17th Overall Pick: Cameron Jordan DE/California
  • 28th Overall Pick: Brandon Harris CB/Miami
  • 33rd Overall Pick:Akeem Ayers OLB/UCLA
  • 60th Overall Pick: John Moffit OG/Wisconsin
  • 74th Overall Pick: Leonard Hankerson WR/Miami
  • 90th Overall Pick: Allen Bailey DE/Miami
  • Fourth Rounder: Will Rackley OT-OG/Lehigh
  • Fifth Rounder:Greg Romeus OLB/Pittsburgh
  • Sixth Rounder: Alex Green RB/Hawaii

Thus concluding my patriots mock draft. Although I didn't write this fanpost to cram another mock draft down your throats, their still fun to make.

The main point is this. Much is being made of the going for a pass rusher in the first round. And any patriots mock without us getting one at either 17 or 28 is well... mocked. But the most important thing to remember is if there is some sort of unheard of run on pass rushing talent at the beginning of the first round, leaving us with options like Kerrigan and Ayers at 18 and Heyward and Houston at 28. We shouldn't feel the need to reach for a defensive lineman.

These other teams are at a disadvantage to the patriots. They have needs, unlike the patriots, who have "needs". These teams who draft pass rushers in the first round, are going to have to address other positions in the second and third round. Where they'll be filling positions at starter and second string. Which is going to send pass rushers in Class D and E tumbling into our laps where we might not anticipate.

My mock above has us taking a defensive lineman at 17. But that defensive lineman is Cameron Jordan. A players whose value could go as high as the top 10. But, if our options sway from Cameron Jordan and Aldon Smith to Akeem Ayers and Ryan Kerrigan its important to put that "need" on the back burner.

Likewise, I think the offensive line is something that can be addressed towards the middle of the draft. If you went for a pass rusher at 17 and most of the good tackles are off the board when we pick again at 28, we shouldn't draft for need and take an Anthony Castonzo or reach for a guy like Ben Ijalana.

For the sake of my point. Here is what my patriots mock would be If both Class A and B pass rushers are not available at 17.

17th: Gabe Carimi OT/Wisconsin

28th: Brandon Harris CB/Miami

33rd: Phil Taylor DT/Baylor

60th: Brooks Reed OLB-DE/Arizona

74th: Danny Watkins G/Baylor

90th: Allen Bailey DE/Miami

Fourth Round: Will Rackley OT-OG/Lehigh

Fifth Round: Greg Salas WR/Hawaii

Sixth Round: Alex Green RB/Hawaii

That all i got. Thanks for reading my post. Its by all means imperfect. But I hoped to make a few interesting point and provide a unique perspective on this years draft.


The views expressed in these FanPosts are not necessarily those of the writers or SB Nation.