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Was it worth it?

Three NFL teams enter the 2010 draft without first-round picks — the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, and Carolina Panthers. The Broncos and Panthers traded 2010 first-rounders for second-rounders last year, while the Bears included their ’10 first-rounder in the Jay Cutler trade last April.

At the time, we expressed our disdain for the Denver and Carolina trades that include future first-round picks. And we talked about the ransom Chicago gave up to get Cutler. But to be fair, we wanted to go back now and examine these trades to see how the players the Broncos, Bears, and Panthers ended up with compared with the players available in the picks they would have had this year. Then we’ll make a call on whether the trade was wise.

Bears (would have had 11th overall pick) – Chicago traded a bunch of picks, including this year’s first-rounder, in the Cutler deal. But the truth is that trading for Cutler still gave the Bears a better quarterback prospect than they would have gotten at either pick. Last year, their pick would have guided them to Josh Freeman, not Mark Sanchez or Matthew Stafford. And this year’s 11th overall pick would leave the Bears out of the Sam Bradford running and hoping for Jimmy Clausen to fall to them. Given that situation, the price the Bears paid for a franchise quarterback looks almost wise – even with Cutler’s interception binge last fall.

Broncos (would have had 14th overall pick) – It’s strange to list the Broncos here, since they have Chicago’s 11th pick. But they traded their own first-rounder to Seattle to take CB Alphonso Smith with the 37th overall pick last year. I think a lot of Smith, a fellow Wake Forest grad, as a player, but at 5-foot-9 he’s probably going to be at best a nickel corner playing in the slot, not a full-time starter. Smith’s rookie season, which featured no starts in 15 games, and just 14 tackles and three passes broken up on the stat sheet, affirmed that assessment. Passing up a chance to perhaps get Joe Haden or to definitely get a corner from the group of Kyle Wilson, Devin McCourty, Kareem Jackson, or Patrick Robinson now looks pretty unwise. The Broncos will pay the price in terms of talent for not being able to delay their gratification last year.

Panthers (would have had 17th pick) – For the second straight year, the Panthers traded a future first-rounder in last year’s draft. It worked out beautifully in 2008, when the Panthers an ’09 first-rounder to take OT Jeff Otah with the 19th overall pick. Otah has started all 25 games he’s played for Carolina, and his mauling style at right tackle has been a key to the Panthers’ running game the past two years. Plus, Carolina succeeded in 2008 so that their ’09 first-rounder was 28th overall. The lineman they missed out on – Eric Wood, Eben Britton, Max Unger – aren’t Otah’s equal. In short, that move ended up being the prototype on when and how to trade a future first-rounder.

But this year, the Panthers aren’t looking as wise. Instead of giving up their ’10 first-rounder for the 19th overall pick, they traded it to San Francisco for the 43rd overall pick to take DE Everette Brown. Unlike Otah, Brown didn’t stand out as a rookie – instead, the Florida State product had just 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. That’s not horrible for a rookie, but it’s not reassuring either. I thought Brown was a first-round prospect, so you can see why the Panthers decided to jump on him when he slipped into the second round. And the fact that the team knew that Julius Peppers was on his way out after one more year heightened Carolina’s defensive end need. But now, as the Panthers consider whether Derrick Morgan, Jason Pierre-Paul, Brandon Graham, or Carlos Dunlap would have been available in their spot, it seems like they might regret being so impulsive. Brown could still turn into an effective starter, which will make the Panthers’ impulsiveness look more like foresight, but that’s no guarantee right now. Most of all, trading future first-rounders can become a pattern, as it did for Bobby Beathard (Panthers GM Marty Hurney’s mentor) in San Diego, and the need for a talent infusion makes such trades seem unavoidable in succeeding years. Eventually, Carolina will have to break this skein and pay the piper for these trades, and if it happens this year (or any other year) it will hurt.

And that price is what makes it tough for any these trades to be worth it.

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RP: Drafting NFL superstars – defense

Which positions in the draft give a team the best percentage chance of drafting a superstar? Let’s find out in this post about defense. (For offensive players, check out this post.)

Last year leading up to the draft, we took on the project of analyzing which positions in the draft had the greatest boom and bust percentages in two posts (offense and defense). But as we did that project, we realized that there is another level we need to analyze. In the top 16 of the draft (top half of the first round), teams aren’t merely looking for good players – they’re looking for great players. So we are looking at superstar percentages by position this year.

Here’s the methodology: We looked back over the drafts from 1997 to 2008, analyzing the first 16 picks in each draft. We charted how many players were drafted at each position, and then we picked the guys at each position that have become superstars. We left out the 2009 draft, since it’s too soon to indicate that any of those players are superstars. After we make our calls about who the superstars are and find a percentage, we’ll list guys who we left off the borderline of superstars. We did this so that you can change percentages on your own if you disagree with a call about who’s a superstar and who’s not.

We also refigured the bust percentages from last year’s post on defense and included them below, for the sake of analysis.

Defense ends/Pass rushers
Superstar percentage: 18 percent
Updated bust percentage: 35 percent (7 of 20)
Total picks: 28
Superstars: DeMarcus Ware, Terrell Suggs, Julius Peppers, Dwight Freeney, Jevon Kearse
Not-quite-superstars: Mario Williams, Shawne Merriman, Shaun Ellis, Andre Carter, John Abraham, Greg Ellis, Grant Wistrom, Peter Boulware
What we learned: Defensive end has been a trouble spot in the past, but as more teams move to the 3-4 defense and look for the Ware or Suggs types to serve as designated pass rushers, it seems as though teams are having a little better luck. But this year’s draft crop features more pure 4-3 ends like Derrick Morgan and Jason Pierre-Paul, while the 3-4 pass rushers like Brandon Graham are not as highly rated. Jared Odrick fits as a 3-4 end, which is a need position that led to Tyson Jackson being overdrafted last year. But because there’s no Ware/Suggs/Merriman type, this crop of defensive ends feels a little riskier than the crew in recent years.

Defensive tackles
Superstar percentage:
17 percent
Updated bust percentage: 38 percent (8 of 21)
Total picks: 24
Superstars: Haloti Ngata, Kevin Williams, Albert Haynesworth, Richard Seymour
Not-quite-superstars: Tommie Harris, Ty Warren, John Henderson, Marcus Stroud, Corey Simon, Anthony McFarland
What we’ve learned: Defensive tackle has always been a risky proposition, and only few of the players drafted that high have turned into game-changers. So it’s interesting to think, based on that historical perspective, about how highly Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy are rated this year. History says one, if not both, will struggle, but evaluators are in love with both players. We like both players, but the superstar percentage is a question mark we’ll raise. Oklahoma’s Dan Williams, who can play inside in a 4-3 or a 3-4, could also jump into the top 16 in this year’s draft.

Linebackers
Superstar percentage: 11 percent
Updated bust percentage: 0 percent (0 of 12)
Total picks: 18
Superstars: Patrick Willis, Brian Urlacher
Not-quite-superstars: Jerod Mayo, Thomas Davis, Jonathan Vilma, Dan Morgan, Lavar Arrington, James Farrior, Julian Peterson, Keith Brooking, Takeo Spikes
What we learned: No position has been a safer bet at the top of the draft than linebacker, which features a bust percentage of 0. But there aren’t many true game-changers in this crew either. It’s hard for a linebacker to go from a highly productive tackling machine to a game-changing impact player unless he’s a pass rusher, which accounts for the difficulty in moving up to the superstar level. So Rolando McClain and Sergio Kindle appear to be very safe picks in the teens, but teams should wonder whether they’ll break through to be impact players. We think Kindle can make that jump because his pass-rush ability, but McClain seems to be more solid than spectacular to us.

Cornerbacks
Superstar percentage:
25 percent
Updated bust percentage: 17 percent (2 of 12)
Total picks: 20
Superstars: Darrelle Revis, Champ Bailey, Chris McAlister, Charles Woodson, Shawn Springs
Not-quite-superstars: Dunta Robinson, Terrence Newman, Marcus Trufant, Quentin Jammer
What we learned: The cornerback bust percentage isn’t that daunting, and the reward for taking a player that highly can be huge, as the superstar percentage attests. Unfortunately, there’s not a Bailey/Woodson level talent in this year’s draft. The top cornerback, Joe Haden, is probably closer to the Newman/Trufant/Jammer class. All of those guys have had good careers, but they don’t reach shut-down corner status. Still, the history suggests Haden is a pick with reasonable risk and achievable reward.

Safeties
Superstar percentage:
25 percent
Updated bust percentage: 14 percent (1 of 7)
Total picks: 8
Superstars: Sean Taylor, Troy Polamalu
Not-quite-superstars: Antrel Rolle, Roy Williams
What we learned: Safety isn’t often a position that moves into the top 10, with Rolle, the late Taylor and his successor LaRon Landry as notable exceptions. But there have been a couple of superstar hits at the position, which should encourage teams who are enamored with Eric Berry’s potential this year. Positional dynamics could push Earl Thomas out of the top half of the first round, but he too has the change to be an above-average safety for a team. There’s not a lot of history here, but it’s enough to suggest that Berry can be a nice investment, especially if he falls to pick 5 or below.

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