Draft risk study: Defensive ends   

Updated: May 9, 2007, 1:47 PM ET

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By position: QB | RB | WR | O-line | DE | DT | LB | CB | S | Study wrap

Mike Mamula. One name says it all. Since players like Lawrence Taylor (technically an outside linebacker), Reggie White and Bruce Smith terrorized quarterbacks in the 1980s and '90s, teams have continually been on the hunt for players who can provide pressure off the edge. This has resulted in some great picks on draft day, but has also resulted in workout warriors like Mamula being drafted based on "upside" and never living up to that potential on the field.

Like wide receiver, defensive end has the feel of a "boom or bust" type of position -- one where guys either come in and make marked contributions (Simeon Rice) or they are in and out of the league within a few years, having failed to make an impact (Mamula, Cedric Jones). Note that some DEs eventually move to defensive tackle.

Success criteria, first-round defensive ends

Since DEs are brought in, generally, to generate sacks, I thought I would be remiss to leave this out as a measuring stick. I've set the bar pretty low, at an average of four sacks per season, with a benchmark, again, of 80 games played. A Pro Bowl appearance, as usual, will cancel out underperformance in another category.

Team Pick Player, School Games Sack avg. Pro Bowls Bust?
Chargers 8 Burt Grossman, Pittsburgh 85 7.25 0 No
Bears 12 Trace Armstrong, Florida 211 7.0 1 No
Jets 14 Jeff Lageman, Virginia 122 4.7 0 No
Saints 19 Wayne Martin, Arkansas 171 7.5 1 No

The Lageman pick might have done more to build the Mel Kiper brand than any other draft event, as the pick prompted Kiper to say that "obviously the Jets have no idea what the draft is all about." Lageman turned out OK and the rest of this class was solid as well, although Grossman may not have proved worthy of the No. 8 pick. Armstrong played an astonishing 211 games.

Team Pick Player, School Games Sack avg. Pro Bowls Bust?
Bucs 4 Keith McCants, Alabama 88 2.25 0 Yes
Raiders 11 Anthony Smith, Arizona 98 8.2 0 No

The McCants pick was famously bad, and I am reminded that it has really never been fun to be a Bucs fan. Smith was a very good defensive end on some very mediocre Oakland teams.

1991: No first-round defensive ends

Team Pick Player, School Games Sack avg. Pro Bowls Bust?
Dolphins 12 Marco Coleman, Georgia Tech 207 4.7 1 No
Bears 22 Alonzo Spellman, Ohio State 123 4.7 0 No
Chargers 23 Chris Mims, Tennessee 104 5.3 0 No
Lions 26 Robert Porcher, South Carolina State 187 7.9 2 No

Overall, not a bad class valuewise. Coleman and Mims were both solid and Porcher was a standout on bad Detroit teams for years. The physically gifted but erratic Spellman was really the only problem here, but by the numbers anyway, he avoids the bust tag.

Team Pick Player, School Games Sack avg. Pro Bowls Bust?
Bengals 5 John Copeland, Alabama 107 3 0 Yes
Bucs 6 Eric Curry, Alabama 75 1.8 0 Yes

Ahh, remember the year of the Alabama bookends? Both of these guys were disappointing journeymen, considering their lofty draft slots. Copeland eclipses our longevity metric, but his three sacks per year and no Pro Bowls compel me to attach the bust label. Chris Slade, Mike Strahan and Michael McCrary all came off the board later, and all were more productive players.

Team Pick Player, School Games Sack avg. Pro Bowls Bust?
49ers 7 Bryant Young, Notre Dame 176 6.4 4 No
Saints 13 Joe Johnson, Louisville 117 5.8 2 No
Cowboys 23 Shante Carver, Arizona State 48 2.9 0 Yes

Young became a stalwart for San Francisco, and Johnson had a long, solid career as well. Carver is the only bust in this group -- he was a long, lean DE who never really assimilated on the pro level and was last seen in the XFL.

Team Pick Player, School Games Sack avg. Pro Bowls Bust?
Rams 6 Kevin Carter, Florida 192 8.3 1 No
Eagles 7 Mike Mamula, Boston College 77 5.3 0 Yes
Vikings 11 Derrick Alexander, Florida State 73 4.1 0 Yes
Jets 16 Hugh Douglas, Central State (Ohio) 138 8.0 3 No

Mamula was, of course, the first Mike Mamula. The pre-draft, increase-your-stock-by-specific-workouts trend started with Mamula, who turned in a Herculean combine performance followed by an undistinguished career. It is a trend that has continued, but agents now routinely pay tens of thousands of dollars for these preseason workouts. Douglas and Carter were both very good players. And Mamula, despite his infamous bust label, had some OK numbers -- there are many others who were worse busts than him.

Team Pick Player, School Games Sack avg. Pro Bowls Bust?
Cardinals 3 Simeon Rice, Illinois 166 11.9 2 No
Giants 5 Cedric Jones, Oklahoma 73 3.0 0 Yes
Bucs 12 Regan Upshaw, Cal 110 3.8 0 No
Vikings 16 Duane Clemons, Cal 142 5.0 0 No
Bucs 22 Marcus Jones, North Carolina 84 4.0 0 No

The brothers Jones (actually unrelated) were the only two truly disappointing players in this group, with Clemons and Upshaw -- the two Cal ends -- both providing quality performances for their teams at times. Rice, however, is the star of this group -- worthy of his No. 3 status. He has become such a fixture in Tampa that one forgets his time languishing in NFL purgatory (Arizona).

Team Pick Player, School Games Sack avg. Pro Bowls Bust?
Bengals 14 Reinard Wilson, Florida State 93 4.0 0 No
Redskins 17 Kenard Lang, Miami 153 4.8 0 No
Oilers 18 Kenny Holmes, Miami 98 5.5 0 No
Jaguars 21 Renaldo Wynn, Notre Dame 152 2.3 0 No
Eagles 25 Jon Harris, Virginia 24 1.0 0 Yes
Broncos 28 Trevor Pryce, Clemson 121 7.1 4 No

There is another trend developing: two DEs from the same school going in the first round. It stands to reason that on a college team with two adequate DEs, one providing a consistent pass rush would only help the other. Holmes has had flashes and Lang has hung around, even reinventing himself as a 3-4 OLB in Cleveland. Wilson was a little disappointing given his hype and Pryce has been a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Wynn escapes bust status because of his durability and longevity. Does anyone remember Harris?

Team Pick Player, School Games Sack avg. Pro Bowls Bust?
Cardinals 3 Andre Wadsworth, Florida State 36 2.6 0 Yes
Rams 6 Grant Wistrom, Nebraska 132 6.1 0 No
Panthers 14 Jason Peter, Nebraska 38 1.9 0 Yes

Again, two DEs from one school: Peter and Wistrom from Nebraska. Wistrom enjoyed a solid career, Peter was a huge bust. Ditto for Wadsworth, who battled knee injuries.

Team Pick Player, School Games Sack avg. Pro Bowls Bust?
Titans 16 Jevon Kearse, Florida 97 8.9 3 No
Cowboys 20 Ebenezer Ekuban, North Carolina 107 3.5 0 No
Seahawks 22 Lamar King, Saginaw Valley State 58 2.4 0 Yes
Falcons 30 Patrick Kerney, Virginia 121 7.64 1 No

While Ekuban and King have been disappointments, Kerney has enjoyed a solid career. Kearse, while he looked like a perennial All-Pro early on, has tailed a bit. Ekuban is right on the edge of bust status, falling below 4.0 sacks per year, and making no Pro Bowl trips; however, his longevity keeps him off the list.

Team Pick Player, School Games Sack avg. Pro Bowls Bust?
Browns 1 Courtney Brown, Penn State 62 3.1 0 Yes
Jets 12 Shaun Ellis, Tennessee 108 7.25 1 No
Jets 13 John Abraham, South Carolina 81 8.91 3 No
Bills 26 Erik Flowers, Arizona State 58 1.0 0 Yes

The Brown and Tim Couch selections are perhaps most indicative of Cleveland's problems during this era. Ellis and Abraham -- while different types of DEs -- have both been very good.

Team Pick Player, School Games Sack avg. Pro Bowls Bust?
Bengals 4 Justin Smith, Missouri 95 6.8 0 No
Patriots 6 Richard Seymour, Georgia 87 5.1 5 No
49ers 7 Andre Carter, Cal 85 6.4 0 No
Packers 10 Jamal Reynolds, Florida State 18 1.0 0 Yes

Seymour has been the quintessential 3-4 DE/DT and a star player for the Patriots. Smith, after a slow start, has really established himself as a Bengal. Reynolds never made an impact in Green Bay.

Team Pick Player, School Games Sack avg. Pro Bowls Bust?
Panthers 2 Julius Peppers, North Carolina 76 10.1 3 No
Colts 11 Dwight Freeney, Syracuse 79 12.75 3 No
Jets 22 Bryan Thomas, Alabama-Birmingham 77 1.62 0 Yes
Saints 25 Charles Grant, Georgia 80 6.0 0 No

Peppers and Freeney alone make this a sensational class.

Team Pick Player, School Games Sack avg. Pro Bowls Bust?
Ravens 10 Terrell Suggs, Arizona State 64 10.1 2 No
Patriots 13 Ty Warren, Texas A&M 63 2.0 0 No
Bears 14 Michael Haynes, Penn State 43 1.6 0 Yes
Eagles 15 Jerome McDougle, Miami 19 1.0 0 Yes
Raiders 32 Tyler Brayton, Colorado 63 2.0 0 No

Haynes did nothing for the Bears and McDougle did nothing for Philly other than make headlines for surviving a gunshot wound. Perhaps Philadelphia should place a moratorium on drafting DEs in the first round -- it hasn't been kind to them (McDougle, Harris, Mamula). Suggs has done exactly what he was supposed to do in Baltimore, which is generate pass rush from the 3-4 OLB position, and Warren has been a rotation guy inside for New England.

Crunching the Numbers: First-Round DEs, 1989-2003
Number of DEs drafted: 54

Notable busts: Andre Wadsworth, Mike Mamula, Cedric Jones, John Copeland, Eric Curry, Keith McCants

Number of busts: 17

Bust percentage: 31 percent

Number of DEs with at least one Pro Bowl appearance: 18

Pro Bowl percentage: 33 percent

Borderline players (could be called busts): Reinard Wilson, Renaldo Wynn, Ebenezer Ekuban

For the sake of comparison
Percentage of first-round LB busts: 16 percent
Percentage of first-round QB busts: 53 percent

Defensive end is a popular position -- one of the most frequently called on draft day. It is also one that I think can be skewed by pre-draft workout heroics and the presence of quality defensive end teammates (see: Jay Moore and Adam Carriker, Nebraska, this season).

While not quite as safe as linebacker, defensive end is still a pretty solid choice on draft day for teams looking to improve their defense at a relatively low risk. The only thing that gives me pause about this study though, is the presence of several borderline guys who put up middling numbers and barely escaped the bust label. Maybe I was too easy on the metrics.

Ted Kluck is not a scientist, rather he is the author of three books, including "Facing Tyson: Fifteen Fighters, Fifteen Stories" (Lyons Press 2006) and a full-fledged draft geek. He recently spent a season playing professional football as a member of the Battle Creek Crunch (GLIFL) where he was, without a doubt, a bust.



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