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Re-thinking the “logic” of tanking, part II: The non-QB division

Miami Dolphins Voluntary Veteran Mini Camp Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

This is Part II in a series on the dangers of “tanking.” You should read Part I first. It’s not really something to be read in segments but it was too long. I say this because I know there will be dissenting opinions and you may have thoughts and I want to read your comments of dissent, but it may have been addressed in part one.

Back to the Seahawks.

Let’s say the 3-8 scenario applied to the 2019 Seattle Seahawks, then you’d know that 3-13 might give them the first overall pick in 2020. There is no “early consensus” on the first overall pick next year, but quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, and Jake Fromm are already in the conversation and that’s enough for me to assume that a QB will probably go first. Of course this is far from guaranteed, but when almost 3 out of 4 first overall picks are QBs and there are a few good prospects ahead, it at least makes it likely.

Why Seattle would go 3-13 this year, I have no idea, but an injury to Wilson seems probable if things got that bad. As does his return. In the world of make pretend, maybe the Seahawks trade down, but let’s consider one of the other two positions at play here: offensive tackle and defensive end.

Since ‘98, Mario Williams, Courtney Brown, Jadeveon Clowney, Myles Garrett, Jake Long, and Eric Fisher have gone first overall. As of this writing, none of them went to the Super Bowl. Not even with other teams. Williams, Clowney, and Long seem to fall into a group of being “very good players” who have not helped teams in the playoffs. The Texans didn’t reach the playoffs until Williams’ sixth year in the NFL, and then when they went 2-14 and landed Clowney, he missed most of his first two seasons; despite this, Houston improved to 9-7 in 2014 without nearly any help from their top overall pick. Long was a Pro Bowl rookie as the Dolphins went from 1-15 to 11-5, but when his time in Miami was over they were still just 0-1 in the playoffs with him.

Fisher is a step below those guys and has been a good left tackle, but is not special — a good time to point out that sometimes the draft looks like it did in 2013, the worst first round in history. Garrett, it’s too soon to say, but he’s at least a “very good player” and now working in tandem with Mayfield.

Going back two decades, no non-QB first overall pick has gotten to the Super Bowl with the team that selected him. They’ve combined for nine playoff games: six by Fisher, three by Clowney, making it three playoff wins. And looking at all players to go first since 1998, that makes just Peyton and Eli Manning to win a Super Bowl with the team that selected them, plus Cam Newton, Alex Smith (as backup half the time), and Jared Goff to reach the Super Bowl.

Just the first overall pick is too small of a sample size? Ok, let’s focus on every position other than QB and widen our scope out to “top 3.”

36 non-QBs have been selected in the top-3 from 1998-2018:

The two most valuable players in that time might be Joe Thomas and Larry Fitzgerald, and both will finish their careers having experienced more losses than nearly any player to step on the field, which is due to a combination of longevity and loyalty.

Players to win a Super Bowl with their team: Von Miller. Reggie Bush.

Moving on...

Out of 36 players, only Miller and Bush won a Super Bowl. Maybe that’s fair, it’s hard to win a Super Bowl, right? Other players in this group include Julius Peppers, Ndamukong Suh, Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Joey Bosa, Lavar Arrington, and Chris Samuels. Some very nice turnouts for those players. But when asking the questions again — “Did he make them better?” “Did he make them good?” — there weren’t many returns of Yes to both.

Miller stepped into the NFL making a case as the best pass rusher in the league from day one. He’s that good. And yet Denver was not a serious contender until they signed Manning one year into Miller’s career. Post-Manning, Miller is again experiencing double-digit loss seasons. Also, the Broncos were a better team than the Seahawks in 2010. They finished with a higher DVOA and beat Seattle by 17 points in the regular season. But Denver picked 23 picks higher because the Seahawks were in such a terrible division.

Those Broncos are also a funny example because after selecting Miller they went on that run with Tim Tebow in 2011 to finish 8-8 when they could have easily been a 4-12 team. They also won an unexpected playoff game. They also finished with the 25th overall pick and opted to trade down twice and ended up with Derek Wolfe, a pivotal player to their 2013 and 2015 Super Bowl seasons.

In 2012, they could sell Manning on a defense capable of carrying Tebow to a playoff win and not one that let the QB down to finish 4-12. Maybe it didn’t matter that much, I’m only speculating, but I’d venture to guess someone like Peyton wouldn’t risk the end of his career on a franchise that was just as bad at building a supporting cast as Indy was.

Back to all those other top-three selections. Bad teams remain bad. Out of these 63 picks made in the top 3 since 1998, eight have been made by Cleveland, five by Detroit, five by the Rams, and four by Houston. That’s nearly one-third of those picks going to four teams and they’ve combined to win five playoff games in the years after making those picks.

There are seven teams who haven’t picked in the top three in any of the last 22 years: Seahawks, Patriots, Packers, Ravens, Steelers, Vikings, and Cowboys. Which group would you rather be a part of?

The teams on the top-3 list to win the Super Bowl in any year afterwards include the Colts, Broncos, Saints, Giants, and Eagles. That’s it and none of those teams have picked in the top-3 more than twice. Few would say that Bush was monumental in New Orleans’ 2009 run, while Carson Wentz wasn’t even around for the 2017 playoffs.

Top-3 picks are sexy but they underwhelming when you stop to take the wider look at the picture. The success rate of the defensive ends and offensive tackles has only been about 50/50 in the top three. The wide receivers have hit on three of the five (Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, plus Braylon Edwards and Charles Rogers) but they rarely saw their teams win. Running backs may not matter and even if they did, you might get Ronnie Brown or Trent Richardson, not Saquon Barkley or Bush. And many people consider Bush to be a bust while Barkley still only has one year under his belt.

I still can’t believe that a running back who went third overall was out of the NFL by the time he was 25 not because of injury but because of talent. Seriously, look at how many players out there are capable of playing running back...

So if you want Seattle to tank after a 3-8 start because you want them to draft a player at a position other than QB — perhaps OT Andrew Thomas of Georgia or DE Chase Young of Ohio State or WR Jerry Jeudy of Alabama — you’re rooting for them to drop five more games and prove to be even more hopeless against opponents than they’d already proven in order to be in the position to take a guy who could just as easily be Robert Gallery as Jake Long. Or Braylon Edwards as easily as he could be Andre Johnson. Or Solomon Thomas just as easily as it could be Mario Williams.

And in either case, the good or the bad, you’re still a franchise that has to probably win +10 games the next year if you want a shot at the number one seed and we know that the Seahawks have never reached the Super Bowl without being the number one seed. But if Seattle had finished 8-8 instead, picked 18th, traded down three times, the distance to contending has usually proven to be much shorter. Especially under Pete Carroll, who took the Seahawks from 7-9 and middling in 2011 to being the best team in the NFL by the end of the 2012 season.

With James Carpenter and Bruce Irvin as his two most recent first round picks.

Next time I’ll address trades and why being a terrible team is actually not a good thing.