A Look At The “Safe” Route In The NFL Draft

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 14, 2011 – 7:42 am

Are you getting excited yet? The 2011 NFL Draft is now only 2 weeks away. Soon all the pre-draft speculation and hype will finally be over and we’ll get down to business.

In exchanging ideas with fans about the draft this year, one opinion I hear frequently is that beyond Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton – who will almost surely be off the board before the Vikings pick at #12 – there are no QBs in this year’s draft class who are ready to come in and be the starter right off the bat. Certainly the current NFL labor dispute only fortifies that opinion because as of right now a newly-drafted QB is not allowed to come to the team’s facility to begin learning his new offense.

With that being the case, many Vikings fans prefer the team make a “safer” selection by selecting a DE with the #12 pick. In fact, if you look around at many mock drafts, the general consensus is the Vikings will take a pass-rushing specialist with their 1st-round pick.

But is that the safe pick? And is going the safe route the best method?

After reading a recent article by John Clayton of, I think it’s more than fair to question the “safe pick” method. Clayton’s piece begins by referencing recent comments made by former Dolphins GM Bill Parcells regarding the 2008 NFL Draft, in which Parcells and the Dolphins chose the safe route by taking OT Jake Long. When the Dolphins selected Long, QB Matt Ryan was still on the board.

Obviously hindsight is always 20/20, so it’s a bit unfair to criticize Parcells for his choice. Plus, Long is certainly no slouch. He’s been to 3 Pro Bowls in 3 seasons and looks to be destined for a fantastic career. But to Clayton’s point, even the best OT can’t change the fortunes of a franchise. Ryan was eventually drafted by the Atlanta Falcons and has been to the playoffs twice. The Dolphins went to the playoffs in 2008, but followed that up with consecutive 7-9 campaigns.

Clayton uses two more examples of the safe route not working: St. Louis taking DE Chris Long #2 overall in 2008 (with Ryan on the board) and Seattle taking LB Aaron Curry at #4 overall in 2009 with Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman still on the board. After those examples, Clayton points out the Rams abandoning the safe route and taking a stab at a QB in 2010 by selecting Sam Bradford #1 overall, even with DT Ndamukong Suh – considered the “safe” pick – on the board. The Rams went 7-9 after going 1-15 the season prior.

But the assault on the safe route doesn’t end there. Clayton points out in his piece that of the 17 DEs taken in the 1st round since 2007, only 1 has gone to a Pro Bowl – Washington’s Brian Orakpo. If you check out Clayton’s article, he lists the other 16. Take a quick look at that list and you’ll notice that many of them were considered “safe” picks, only to not work out for their teams (at least not yet).

So am I saying that the Vikings should take a QB with their 1st-round pick this year? Not necessarily. I’m only pointing out, with the help of Clayton’s article, that shying away from taking a QB in favor of a safer route is not necessarily the way to go, either. In fact, Clayton points out that the safe route, at least recently, is actually to take an offensive lineman in the 1st round. Of the 27 offensive linemen taken in the 1st round since 2006, 26 are full-time starters right now.

Although the Vikings have bookend OTs in Phil Loadholt and Bryant McKinnie, don’t assume the team has discounted the possibility of taking an offensive lineman in the 1st round. VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman is committed to truly taking the best player available, and that could very easily be an offensive lineman. If that happens, the rookie lineman could play an interior position on the Vikings offensive line or the Vikings could move one of their tackles to guard to make room for the rookie.

That’s a lot to think about for one blog entry, but I thought Clayton’s piece was interesting, especially given the specific circumstances surrounding the Vikings in this draft.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below this entry.

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