So, how good should we have expected Aaron Curry to be? Just for the heck of it, I took a look at all linebackers picked between the #2 and #6 picks in the NFL draft from 1991 to 2004. 2004 was so that I could get a good sense of how well a guy's career has gone and 1991 was, well, arbitrary. I had to start somewhere. I decided to look at this range of picks instead of, say, all linebackers drafted because a. I am lazy and that would take too long, and b. I don't think it gives an accurate assessment on how guys who are drafted relatively early in the 1st round as LBs end up working out in the NFL.
For the lack of a better metric to use, I'm going to look at these guys by Approximate Value, which is one of those pro-football-reference stats which is a kind of analog to Bill James' AV score he came up with back in the 80s. It's a quick and dirty way to determine how good a player is. I'll look at players' first couple years and their overall value. Curry, for references' sake, has an AV of 12 so far (5 his rookie year, 7 last year).
What does his cohort say? Well, I see a lot of decent but not super-spectacular guys in here. There is Boulware and Lavar Arrington to compare Curry to (and Curry doesn't come out well) but over the 2nd half of the little mini-study in particular it seems that teams really weren't getting in the habit of drafting LBs that early, period.
A second way of looking at this - the AVs of all guys picked 4th - also follows. Between these two things, I think we can make a couple of assumptions about Curry, linebackers, and what Seattle should expect from him:
- Players do make splashes at the 4th pick, obviously. There are several future Hall of Famers drafted during this 14 year period who went around the time that Curry did.
- For the most part, those players started out much, much better. It's unfair to compare Curry with an Edgerrin James, but #4s also included Jonathan Ogden, who is grossly underrated by AV, and Peter Boulware, who combined with Ray Lewis to form a virtually unstoppable linebacking corps in Baltimore in the early 2000s.
- For guys who started out with an AV in the 12-14 range as Curry has, the 50th percentile looks a lot more like "steady, if unspectacular performer".
- There are a couple of busts as well at this point. Aaron Curry has already more or less outperformed all of the busts.
In conclusion, I think that if Curry doesn't turn into a world-beater, and it's looking to me like he's not going to be that guy, but he does wind up being an NFL quality starter (which he was last year and which he looks to me like he will be this year as well) I don't think Seahawks fans ought to be declaring him a bust. It could have been a lot worse, and I think giving a guy a hard time because he didn't end up going on that 90th percentile success track will only lead to more broken expectations in the future.
1991: Mike Croel, Denver Broncos: 14 AV after 2 years, 40 career, 0 Pro Bowl appearances. Croel started with a bang, registering 10 sacks from the right inside linebacker position for the Broncos, but never lived up to the hype he created for himself after that. Eventually he moved to 3 other teams, ending his career in 1998 with your Seattle Seahawks.
1992: Quentin Coryatt, Indianapolis Colts: 9 AV after 2, 34 career, 0 Pro Bowls. Coryatt was supposed to revitalize the Colts' linebacking corps in '92 and, well, didn't. I think most Indy fans from this time kind of forget him in favor of the bigger bust in Steve Emtman, but at least Emtman had the courtesy to get hurt instead of just not play well. Also drafted in the 1st that year: Robert Jones, who started for the Super Bowl Cowboys at MLB a couple years but otherwise was a role player.
1993: Marvin Jones, New York Jets: 6 AV after 2, 63 career, 0 Pro Bowls. Jones didn't start his rookie season and only got into 9 games overall. He was better his second year but for his career he was a solid but not spectacular starter, getting into 129 career games for the Jets before calling it quits in 2004. Pickings in the 1st round that year were pretty slim at LB: the other two guys drafted combined to play in a total of 8 years in the NFL.
1994: Trev Alberts, Indianpolis: 2 AV after 2, 4 total, 0 Pro Bowls. Well, I think you can see why Indy was still able to get Peyton Manning in '98. Alberts is the first bona fide bust on this list. Then again, the next guy picked was Trent Dilfer, who was solid for Seattle but took a long, long time to reach that level of averageness. Jamir Miller was picked later in the round; he turned into a capable player with one Pro Bowl season with the Cardinals.
1995: Nobody. The first LB picked was Mark Fields by the New Orleans Saints, who turned out to have a better career than anybody in Curry's cohort so far. He only started 113 games but made the Pro Bowl twice and would have had a higher career AB than Marvin Jones had he not missed all of 2001. Oh yeah, and also Derrick Brooks was picked towards the end of the 1st round. He ended up being pretty good, I think.
1996: Kevin Hardy, Jacksonville Jaguars: 13 AV after 2, 73 career, 1 Pro Bowl. Hardy had one All-Pro season, a year which also put him on the First Team All-NFL squad. Otherwise, I think "solid but not spectacular" defines him pretty well. Jags fans probably kick themselves or at least their GM, as Ray Lewis was drafted much later on in the round.
1997: Peter Boulware, Baltimore Ravens: 16 AV after 2, 69 career, 4 Pro Bowls. I think Boulware is the level that people expected Curry to achieve. So far though, I think that's probably more of a best case scenario than the likely one. That was a great year for top LBs, it looks like, as James Farrior, who just didn't make this list because he was picked 8th, was also on the boards when Boulware was nabbed.
1998: Nobody. Keith Brooking and Takeo Spikes were selected in the middle part of the round but were passed over early on in favor of such luminaries as Andre Wadsworth, the great Ryan Leaf, and Curtis Enis. Also Grant Wistrom and Charles Woodson, so people weren't *completely* firing blanks.
2000: Lavar Arrington, Washington Redskins: 20 AV after 2, 51 career, 3 Pro Bowls. Arrington, of course, started his career with a bang, got hurt in his 5th season, and was never the same after that. So far, it's safe to say that he was also several miles better than Curry his first 2 years.
2001: Nobody. Although 3 defensive linemen were taken with the first 6 picks, not a single linebacker was drafted in the 1st round.
2002: Nobody, unless you counted Julius Peepers. And, well, why would you do that? The lone LB drafted in the first round this season was Napoleon Harris of the Rrrrrrrrraidas, who turned into a 5 year starter at MLB.
2003: Nobody, although 4-time Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs was picked 10th.
2004: Nobody. Jonathan Vilma and DJ Williams were picked during the 1st though.
2004: QB Philip Rivers (0 1st 2 years, 82 career, 3 Pro Bowls)
2003: DT DeWayne Robertson (15, 38 career, 0 Pro Bowls)
2002: T Mike D Williams (12, 24 career, 0)
2001: DE Justin Smith (14, 82, 2)
2000: WR Peter Warrick (11, 30, 0)
1999: RB Edgerrin James (42, 136, 4)
1998: CB Charles Woodson (26, 119, 7)
1996; T Jonathan Ogden (23, 115, 11)
1995: WR Michael Westbrook (11, 43, 0)
1994: DE Willie McGinest (14, 109, 2)
1992: KR Desmond Howard (3, 20, 1)