That is the question I wanted to examine. There are a lot of good DEs and DTs that we may have a shot at when the 8th pick rolls around, but I think that we are all overlooking that they too have a bust factor. From all the discussion we've had on this topic, I feel that we have just assumed that the defensive lineman we choose will come in and be an outstanding contributor.
"Bowers and Morgan will be unstoppable!"
"Can you imagine Fairley and Morgan on the line together?"
"Our defensive line would be set for years!"
While all these comments may be true, they also may not pan out. There are several reasons why we should choose a DL at 8- but not because they are "safer." I went back and looked at every DT and DE drafted in the top 10 in the past ten drafts. I then classified each pick as a good pick or bad pick. Some were easy, some will be controversial. This is what I found:
Jamal Reynolds: BAD PICK. This defensive end was a former 10th overall pick and notched 3 career total sacks.
Andre Carter: GOOD PICK. Carter was drafted by the 49ers and had several good seasons for the Niners and Redskins.
Richard Seymour: GOOD PICK. He was dominant for the Patriots and still has maintained a high level in Oakland.
Justin Smith: GOOD PICK. Solid contributor throughout his career.
Gerard Warren: BAD PICK. Certainly not what the Browns were hoping for when they picked him 4th overall.
John Henderson: GOOD PICK. Definitely a good choice by the Jags.
Ryan Sims: BAD PICK. I compared his stats to several d-linemen drafted in 2002 and 2003. He doesn't stack up well.
Julius Peppers: GOOD PICK. Not much of a debate here.
Kevin Williams: GOOD PICK. A beast to stop for the past decade.
Jonathan Sullivan: BAD PICK. 1.5 career sacks and was only in the league 4 years.
Dewayne Robertson: BAD PICK. Never could find his way with the Jets or Broncos.
Terrell Suggs was drafted in the top ten and Wikipedia listed him as a DE, but he's played OLB throughout his career.
Mario Williams: GOOD PICK. They call him Super Mario for a reason.
Amobi Okoye: BAD PICK. This will be a controversial choice. 10 sacks in four seasons, mediocre tackle numbers. He was the youngest player drafted into the NFL so perhaps he will hit his stride, but I'd expect more an impact from the 10th overall pick.
Jamaal Anderson: BAD PICK. 3.5 sacks in four years by this former 8th overall pick. Awful choice by Atlanta.
Gaines Adams: N/A. I don't think its fair to classify the late Adams as either a good or bad pick. For my stat totals, he will be left out.
Derrick Harvey: BAD PICK. The fact that he may not be on the Jags' roster this year is a telling sign.
Sedrick Ellis: GOOD PICK. His numbers are okay but not exactly stellar. I wavered a bit on him but I think he's made enough of an impact in New Orleans to classify him as a good pick.
Vernon Gholston: BAD PICK. One of the worst DE picks of all time?
Glenn Dorsey: BAD PICK. Another guy with minimal impact so far.
Chris Long: GOOD PICK. His sack numbers have increased for the past three years and his play this year was solid.
The following two draft classes are hard to judge since they do not have three seasons under their belt yet, so I will list my prediction, and separate the totals of players selected in 2001-2008 and the following years.
BJ Raji- Prediction: GOOD PICK. Monster impact on Green Bay's defense.
Tyson Jackson- Prediction: BAD PICK. Maybe he'll be a late bloomer but its not looking good right now.
Tyson Alualu- Prediction: BAD PICK. May become a contributor but I don't see him becoming anything great.
Gerald McCoy- Prediction: GOOD PICK. Jury's out on him as he lost most of his year due to injury, but he's sound technically and should have an opportunity to make an impact this year.
Ndamukong Suh- Prediction: GOOD PICK. Already a Pro Bowler and looks like a guy who could have an outstanding career.
With this data I did a few basic calculations. From 2001-2008, 9/19 picks turned out to be good choices. Including my 2009 and 2010 predictions, 12/24 of the choices are successful picks. From this data it seems that the bust factor on selecting a DE/DT is roughly 50%- the same as it is for other positions, like QB for example. One number that I did find quite shocking was the number of players who made the Pro Bowl. Now, with all the dropouts I expected the number to be through the roof but shockingly only 6/19 (31.5%) defensive linemen selected in the top 10 from 2001-2008 made the Pro Bowl.
So what does all this mean? Well, that selecting a defensive lineman at 8 this year is not "safer" than selecting a QB, or even WR (though I didn't go through and calculate a success rate for WR, I think the 50% success rate will apply to each position). Each pick seems equally likely to be a success or failure. The purpose of this post was simply to evaluate the question I posed in the title- the data does not support that one position is safer than the other. Just something to keep in mind as the draft approaches.