football Edit

The NFL Draft's big money positions

Ronnie Sanley
Ronnie Sanley (AP Images)

MOCK DRAFT 2.0: Farrell | Gorney

The route to making big money in the NFL? Be an offensive tackle.

Since the 2010 NFL Draft, more offensive tackles have been taken in the first round than any other position. In three of the last four years at least five players at that spot have been drafted in round one.

That trend slowed in the 2016 NFL Draft when only four – Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley, Michigan State’s Jack Conklin, Ole Miss’ Laremy Tunsil and Ohio State’s Taylor Decker – were first-round selections.

And it might further slump in the NFL Draft later this month, when possibly only two or three offensive tackles are taken in the opening round. It is considered a weak draft class at that position with Utah’s Garrett Bolles, Alabama’s Cam Robinson and Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk leading the group.

Still, offensive tackles have led the way since the 2010 draft, and it speaks to how important that position remains year-in and year-out.

“It’s such an important position, you can see some reaches in this draft,” National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell said. “I just don’t think it’s as strong. There aren’t too many franchise-looking guys but it’s such a position of need, especially with the quarterback being such an important position.

“There should be lower numbers with this group but it wouldn’t surprise me to see teams late in that first round reach on some guys.”

Following the 32 offensive tackles drafted during that stretch is cornerback where 31 have been taken.

Five corners have been selected in the opening round in each of the last three NFL Drafts as teams continue to ramp up their outside coverage. Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, Ohio State’s Eli Apple, Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves, Houston’s William Jackson and Miami’s Artie Burns were first-round picks a year ago.

There's another loaded cornerback group that goes at least 10 deep this cycle, so expect a bunch of players at that position to go early as well. If not in the first round, it’s expected many of them will be swooped up by the end of round two.

Ohio State is back again with Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley available, Florida boasts Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor and Washington’s Sidney Jones could be a steal later on after he recently suffered an Achilles injury at his pro day.

The cornerback trend could continue since so many top high school prospects have thrived on the college level.

“Last year was loaded at corner, too, and that’s going to continue because for us at the high school level the last four or five years at cornerback has been unbelievably deep," Farrell said. "You see a lot of taller, marquee guys who are going to be high draft picks.

“I’m surprised Lattimore has jumped to No. 1 after looking at this list six, seven months ago. I’m surprised Conley has moved up so much. That speaks to the caliber of talent Urban Meyer recruits. This is a deep group and you’re going to see in the second, third and fourth rounds, guys taken who will be All-Pros.”

Wide receiver and defensive end have each had 27 first-round draft selections since 2010.

It’s highly possible that the defensive end spot takes a jump ahead after the upcoming NFL Draft since that position is loaded at the top with Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett expected to go No. 1 to the Cleveland Browns and then Stanford’s Solomon Thomas, Tennessee’s Derek Barnett and others expected to be taken early.

Myles Garrett
Myles Garrett (AP Images)

Wide receiver – with Washington’s John Ross, Clemson’s Mike Williams and Western Michigan’s Corey Davis – is considered a little light in this draft class.

After those two positions, linebacker has had 26 first-round draftees since 2010 followed by defensive tackle with 23. Only 19 quarterbacks have been taken during that stretch, with 2016 being a banner year since Cal’s Jared Goff went No. 1 overall to the Los Angeles Rams followed by North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz as the second pick to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Quarterbacks are almost certainly not going that high in this draft, but Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky could be early picks. It’s possible Notre Dame’s Deshone Kizer and/or Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes are first-round selections as well, although there is a sense not many are thrilled with this quarterback crop.

“Teams won’t do what they did last year,” Farrell said. “Last year hurt this crop of quarterbacks. Goff being thrown into playing late hurt everybody’s perspective on quarterbacks. It doesn’t help that next year’s class is supposed to be very deep at the position. When Goff and Wentz went one-two, I was surprised. I thought they should have gone in the 10-20 range.

“That’s what I think will happen this year. We all know what I think of Watson. If I were to pick one guy it would be Watson and that’s the guy I would trade up for, but it doesn’t seem like anybody is going to do that.”

Fourteen interior offensive linemen have been selected in the first round since 2010 followed by 12 safeties, 10 running backs and only three tight ends, although that number could trend up after this draft since it’s a loaded group led by Alabama’s O.J. Howard.

Could there be a shift at running back as well? Less than a dozen have been selected early in the last six drafts, but there is so much discussion and debate this cycle about that position with so much high-level talent.

LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon have made the position one of high interest again, especially after Ezekiel Elliott, the lone first-round running back selection a year ago, had such a tremendous rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys.

“You had (Todd) Gurley and (Melvin) Gordon, both have done well, and then you had Elliott, if these guys are successful you’ll see that number continue to rise,” Farrell said. “Elliott comes in and proves to be arguably a top three running back in the league and that helps the position.

“There are probably going to be three in this first round, maybe four. A couple of them will flop and then you’ll see some fear moving forward with that position again.”