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The Potential Impact Of Seventh Round Choices

Posted by Matt Terl on April 28, 2010 – 2:09 pm

When the Redskins selected two offensive linemen with the their seventh-round selections in the NFL Draft — on top of fourth-overall selection Trent Williams — I figured fans would be happy. (In fact, I used a headline that was meant to convey exactly that, although the syntax threw more than a few people off.) Here they are, O people: the offensive linemen for whom you have cried out. Repeatedly!

And, for the most part, that was correct. People were happy. There was new offensive line depth. Birds chirped, rainbows bowed, and all was right with the world.

Except… the emails keep trickling in suggesting that being happy about two seventh-round picks is ridiculous. That these guys — Erik Cook and (pictured above) Selvish Capers — are never going to contribute. That Williams is the only guy from the draft who really matters.

The only mainstream media member I’ve seen get in on the act is Rick Snider, the venerable Redskins beat reporter currently with the DC Examiner. The morning after the draft, Snider tweeted:

I wouldn’t get too caught up in #Redskins taking 3 OL. 2 were in 7th. Probably never see the field. Count it as 1 OT in draft.

(To Snider’s credit, he was there well ahead of my emailers. I may not agree with his conclusion, but at least he reached it swiftly.)

Once the number of emails in accord with Snider’s sentiment reached a certain, undefinable critical mass, I figured it was time to just stop vaguely disagreeing and start looking at some numbers. Fortunately, they weren’t too tough to find: I really didn’t have to go much beyond the basic arithmetic of counting last year’s starting lineups.

Here’s how it broke down, and it really isn’t particularly pretty:
There are five spots along the offensive line. Multiply that by 16 games and you get 80 potential offensive line starters for the season.

Two of those positions were started by the same (drafted) players for all 16 games of the 2009 season — Casey Rabach (3rd round, 2001) at center and Derrick Dockery (3rd round, 2003) at left guard.

That’s 32 starts accounted for right there, with players selected in the top three rounds of the NFL Draft who actually started at the positions they were expected to. Of the remaining 48 starts that were in flux:

  • 18 of them were started by undrafted free agents: Stephon Heyer and Edwin Williams
  • Three more (21 total) were started by Will Montgomery, a 7th round selection who arrived as a FA
  • Another eight (29 total) were started by Mike Williams. Yes, Williams was a high draft pick (fourth overall, in fact), but he joined the Redskins as a free agent project after a couple of years completely out of the league.
  • If you’re willing to include Levi Jones, a former high pick who sat on the street for five months after being released outright by his previous team, and who was signed here midseason, the total jumps to 37 out of 48 starts.

What all of those bullet points are saying is that 37 out of a possible 48 offensive line starts last year were made by guys who were either undrafted free agents or guys who were signed off the street without too much competition for their services.

But wait! Of the eleven remaining starts, a total of seven of them were made by Chris Samuels and Randy Thomas, high-round draft choices and projected starters who were ruled out by injury. But they each started consistently until the injuries, and probably shouldn’t be lumped in with “starts that were in flux.”

The remaining four starts in that stretch? Chad Rinehart, yet another third-round pick, and yet another guy who saw his end season end on injured reserve.
The point is, it’s not a longshot to assume that these seventh-round picks might have to contribute, and that they deserve to be “counted” as offensive line selections from draft day. No matter what my emailers and Snider believe.

(And all of that math stuff ignores the probability that, if the team had selected, say, a RB and a QB in those spots, the very same people would be emailing me to say, “Oh, they couldn’t even be bothered to use those late-round picks on OL. Typical Redskins, settling for undrafted guys at the most important spots on the field.”)

Heck, it’s not even impossible that they not only “have to contribute,” but that one of them turns out to be a valuable find. Some of the greatest Redskins linemen of all time — Joe Jacoby, Jeff Bostic, and Mark Schlereth leap immediately to mind — were undrafted or late-round picks. So, in short: yes, it’s still worth being excited that these linemen are coming in, and, yes, they actually “count” as draft picks. Now the birds can start chirping and the rainbows can start bowing once more. All is still right with the world.

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