During the PCJS era, the front office has drafted players that have become immediate starters their rookie years – Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, James Carpenter, John Moffitt, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson. With Alan Branch recently off to Buffalo, a lot of Seahawks fans would love to replace him with a Defensive Tackle in the 2nd round. The only problem with this is that history is not on our side.
There have been 44 players drafted in the 2nd round between 1980-2012 that have become Defensive Tackles in their NFL careers. Some sources will include 49 players but for the sake of this analysis – Jarvis Jenkins, Derek Wolfe, Jerel Worthy, Turk McBride and Brenston Bucker were removed because they were Defensive Tackles in college who were moved to Defensive End in the NFL.
It could be argued that some of the 3-4 Defensive Ends would be allotted the Justin Smith treatment if they were elected to the Pro Bowl – that is despite being listed as a Defensive End, they would be elected to the Pro Bowl as an “Interior Lineman.” Since it is highly ambiguous if a 3-4 Defensive End is categorized as a Defensive Tackle or a Defensive End – Calais Campbell is listed as a Defensive End on ESPN.com but listed as a Defensive Tackle on NFL.com – the aforementioned players were removed from the sample size. Also players drafted to play NT in a 3-4 defensive scheme were not included because those are not the type of players that the Seahawks will look to draft to play the 3tech Defensive Tackle position.
Of the 44 players that were drafted to be Defensive Tackles, 38 of those players played Defensive Tackle during their rookie year. Four of these players didn’t play because of injury – Marvin Austin with the New York Giants in 2011, James Manley with the Minnesota Vikings in 1996, Eddie Blake with the Miami Dolphins in 1992 and Bob Slater with the Washington Redskins in 1984. Leon Bender tragically died before the Oakland Raiders’ 1998 season and Russell Davis played Defensive End for the Bears during the 1999 Season (Davis was not excluded from the sample size because this was the only year of his 9 year career at Defensive End).
Only 3 rookies started the majority of the games they played in – Shaun Rogers for the Lions in 2011, Kris Jenkins started 11 of 16 games for the Panthers in 2011, and Larry Tripplett started 10 of 13 games for the Colts in 2002.
These players are definitely the exception and not the norm. The average rookie year production for the 38 Defensive Tackles is 12 game activations, 2 starts, 1.5 sacks, 17 total tackles, and .34 pass deflections. Stats don’t accurately tell how effective a Defensive Tackle is because a lot of their job is occupying Offensive Lineman so Linebackers can make the tackle.
To correct for this, pro-football-reference.com created a statistic called approximate value (AV). It doesn’t state how this value is calculated so it must be taken with a grain of salt, but nonetheless, it is still another way to measure production. The 38 2nd round rookie Defensive Tackles averaged an AV of 1.74. Since pro-football-reference.com only issues whole numbers for AV this number will be rounded up to 2.
To put this number in perspective, Seahawks players that had an AV of 2 for the 2012-2013 season were Jason Jones, Jeremy Lane, Clinton McDonald, Mike Morgan, Frank Omiyale, J.R. Sweezy, Marcus Trufant and Leon Washington. The AV is consistent with the previous stats; on average a 2nd round rookie Defensive Tackle will have the impact of a backup/situational role player.
If based on data from the past 30 years – a 2nd round rookie defensive tackle is more likely to not play a single game than he is to start the majority of the games he plays in. If he does play, then the chances are that he will be a backup/situational role player. The good news is that the average rookie Defensive Tackle is about as productive as Jason Jones was last season. Jones was activated for 12 games, had 0 starts, 3 sacks, 10 total tackles, 4 pass deflections and an AV of 2.
As stated above, rookie Defensive Tackles averaged 12 game appearances, 2 starts, 1.5 sacks, 17 total tackles, .34 pass deflections and an AV of 2. The bad news is that it is highly unlikely that he will be as productive as Alan Branch, who started all 16 games, had 1 sack, 30 total tackles, 2 pass deflections and an AV of 9.
A financial perspective brings the biggest benefit of drafting a 2nd round Defensive tackle because he would be much cheaper than resigning Branch or Jones. Brock Osweiler was selected by the Denver Broncos with the 57 pick in the draft and he signed a 4 year, $3.1 million contract with a $977,584 signing bonus. In comparison Jones signed a 3 year $9.5 million contract with the Lions and Alan Branch just signed a 1 year $3 million contract with the Bills. The production of Jones with the hope of the possible future production of Branch is something that is worth a third of the price.
In terms of future production, rookie Defensive Tackles usually significantly improve after their rookie year – 2nd round Defensive Tackles averaged 14 game activations, 6 starts, 2.5 sacks, 28 total tackles and an AV of 5 in their 2nd year. In year 2 out of 35 Defensive Tackles, 10 started all 16 games (28.57%), 23 started the majority of the games they played in (65.71%), and 32 started at least one game (91.43%). If the Seahawks choose to draft a Defensive Tackle in the 2nd round, obviously they would be drafting a player for more than just what they could provide the team during their rookie season.
To sum it all up, could the Seahawks find a player to immediately replace Branch in round 2? Highly unlikely.
Could they the find a player to add to an already dominant defensive line rotation? Likely. Would that player contribute more their rookie year than former defensive line draft picks E.J. Wilson, Greg Scruggs, Jaye Howard, Lazarius Levingston? Likely. Is this player going to have a career ending injury in training camp? Highly unlikely. Would this player become an eventual full time starter? Possibly.
Yet, despite the unlikelihood of a 2nd round Defensive Tackle becoming a full time starter, when it comes to the Seahawks, I will forever be an optimist. What was the likelihood that a 5th round Cornerback who ran a 4.56 sec 40 yard dash would become an All-Pro? Highly unlikely. What was the likelihood of the shortest QB in the NFL that was a 3rd round draft pick winning a 3 way Quarterback competition, becoming the face of the franchise, winning a road playoff game and becoming a serious contender to be on the cover of Madden 25 in just 1 year? Extremely unlikely.
What was the likelihood that a 5-11 team would be considered as having the most talented roster just three seasons later? Highly unlikely. The optimist in me says that if the Seahawks select a defensive tackle in the 2nd round he will step in for Branch just like Wagner replaced Hawthorne and the defense will be even more promising. The pragmatist in me says that the chances are that it will take time for this player to adjust to the NFL and that they won’t make significant contributions until year 2 or 3.
If you are an optimist, you can expect this player to have a Kris Jenkins type rookie year – 16 game appearances, 11 starts, 2 sacks, 34 total tackles, and an AV of 5. If you are a pragmatist, you can expect this player to have a Stephen Paea type rookie year – 11 games played, 2 sacks, 14 total tackles and an AV of 1. If you are a pessimist, you are probably that type of person that would expect this player to have a Marvin Austin type year – tears his pectoral muscle in the preseason and spends their rookie year on IR.