Think a defensive end in the first round of the NFL Draft will solve Buffalo's pass rushing woes in 2009? Think again. The transition from college to the pros is no different for defensive ends then it is for any other position; it simply takes time to make the physical and mental adjustments. Taking a defensive end in first round of the draft may increase a team's chances for long term success, but it does not mean immediate improvement. The same holds true, even for the most highly sought after athletes. Listed below are first year stats for the defensive ends taken in the first round of the NFL draft the past three seasons. Take a gander and then follow the analysis below to my ultimate conclusion: Buffalo should pass on defensive end in the first round.
Round 1 of 2008 NFL Draft
Chris Long (2nd overall - St. Louis): 16 games, 40 tackles, 1 forced fumbles, 4 sacks
Derrick Harvey (8th overall - Jacksonville): 16 games, 19 tackles, 0 forced fumbles, 3.5 sacks
Lawrence Jackson (28th overall - Seattle): 16 games, 29 tackles, 0 forced fumbles, 2 sacks
Phillip Merling (32nd overall - Miami): 16 games, 26 tackles, 0 forced fumbles, 1 sack
Round 1 of 2007 NFL Draft
Gaines Adams (4th overall - Tampa Bay): 16 games 38 tackles, 0 forced fumbles, 6 sacks (had 6.5 sacks this past season)
Jarvis Moss (17th overall - Denver): 6 games, 12 tackles, 0 forced fumbles and 1 sack (2.5 sacks in 2008)
Round 1 of 2006 NFL Draft
Mario Williams (1st overall - Houston): 16 games, 47 tackles, 0 forced fumbles, 4.5 sacks (14 and 12 sacks the past two seasons respectfully)
Tamba Hali (20th overall - Kansas City): 16 games, 61 tackles, 5 forced fumbles, 8 sacks (8 and 3 sacks the past two reasons respectfully)
Note: I've excluded four players from this analysis: Vernon Gholston, who was taken 6th overall by the Jets played 3-4 in New York and had a disappointing first season with 13 tackles and no sacks. I also excluded Adam Carriker from the 2007 draft because he has played DT with the Rams since entering the league (he had 2 sacks in his first season), as well as Kamerion Wimbley (Cleveland) and Manny Lawson (San Francisco) who have both played OLB since joining the league in 2006. Wimbley had 10 sacks in his first season, but no more than 5 in the past two. Lawson has never had more than 3 sacks in a season.
- The first year for NFL defensive ends is rough. Out of the 8 players who actually played defensive end in their first season, the highest sack total was 8 in the first year (Tamba Hali).
- 2008's star studded class particularly struggled to get to the passer in their first season. Chris Long lead the pack with 4 sacks. The highly talked about (especially around here) Vernon Gholston had 0 sacks.
- Even sure fire stars such are Mario Williams didn't necessarily light it up in their first season (4.5 sacks). Although he later proved to be well worth their lofty draft status (14 and 12 sacks the past two seasons).
Drafting a highly sought after defensive end in the first round of the NFL draft does not guarantee immediate production. Actually, the stats suggest just the opposite; Don't expect a big change in Buffalo's pass rushing stats if they decide to take a rookie defensive end in the first round (unless he gets help in other areas as well, most notably, a blitzing free agent linebacker).
This confirms my initial reaction: address the center position in round 1. It is true that taking a center in the first round is not common, but the ones who have been taken have had quite a bit of success. Defensive end must be addressed and it should be done in free agency. Dick Jauron and company are coaching for their jobs this season. They can't afford to wait a year or two for a young defensive end to develop. It's time to make a move and be aggressive. Go after guys like Suggs who can come in and make an immediate impact on the defense. Leave the first round of the draft for a player/position that can make an immediate impact. If they don't, they just might not be around long enough to reap the benefits of their selection.