Recent Champs Drafted Defense First

NFL Draft Recent Champs Drafted Defense First

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The draft has come and gone.

As much as I enjoy the lead-up to and process of draft weekend, I’m glad it’s over.

Now that it is, the projections and analysis of the draft got me thinking about what really works. I thought, “What makes a draft truly successful? How have teams that won the Super Bowl drafted leading up to their win? Is there a pattern within their strategies?”

When researching the past 10 Super Bowl winners, I was interested to find that five times the winning team was from the AFC, and five times the winning team was from the NFC. Also, each division in football has been represented by the Super Bowl winner at least once in the last 10 years.

But when specifically looking at the players selected by the last 10 Super Bowl champions, I only went back to each team’s first draft choice of the five drafts that preceded their Super Bowl win. Between free agency and average contract lengths, that seemed like the appropriate window to look through to gain the clearest picture of how recent Super Bowl winners utilize their first draft picks each year.

In all, there were 49 players in that sample (Aaron Ross overlapped, as the Giants won in both 2011 and in 2007). Some of these players were picked in the second round, as Super Bowl-winning teams countered their late first-round position with a trade back to acquire extra selections.

Of the 49 players selected first in the last five drafts by the last 10 Super Bowl winners, 30 of them have played defense. That equates to 61.2 percent.

Of those 49 players, there were two positions selected most often (seven times each): defensive tackle and cornerback. Defensive end was common, too, as that position was selected six times, followed by outside linebacker (five times).

We all know how vital it is to have a legitimate franchise quarterback running the show for your team if you want to seriously compete for a championship. That said, if you have to take one in the first round, it means you don’t have one that’s good enough already.

Just three times in the last 10 years has a Super Bowl winner selected a quarterback with their first pick in the five drafts that preceded their championship:

Joe Flacco to Baltimore in 2008

Ben Roethlisberger to Pittsburgh in 2004

Philip Rivers to the New York Giants in 2004

In other words, when recent Super Bowl-winning teams have built their rosters, 93.9 percent of the time they’re taking a non-quarterback with their first pick.

How does all this relate to the 2016 Ravens? To answer that, let’s first look to their last five “first” picks:

– Breshad Perriman, Wide Receiver, 2015: No game experience

C.J. Mosley, Inside Linebacker, 2014: 175 tackles, 15 passes defensed, Pro Bowl selection in rookie campaign

Matt Elam, Safety, 2013: 89 tackles, two passes defensed in 34 career games (playoffs included)

Courtney Upshaw, Outside Linebacker, 2012: Six sacks and four forced fumbles in 60 career games (playoffs included)

Jimmy Smith, Cornerback, 2011: 49 passes defensed and nine interceptions in 69 career games (playoffs included)

As you can see, Baltimore has mostly followed the trend of drafting a defensive player with its first draft choice each year. Mosley has probably been the best of that group, as he’s started every game, recorded seven sacks, been credited with five turnovers, and made the Pro Bowl in his rookie year. Smith has struggled at times, but for the most part, he’s been successful (especially during the game-clinching goal line stand in Super Bowl XLVII).

We know that recent Super Bowl winners usually draft defense first. We also know that two of the last three Super Bowl MVPs have been outside linebackers (Von Miller, Super Bowl 50; Malcolm Smith, Super Bowl XLVIII).

What does this tell you? Defense, and sacking the quarterback in particular, is the fastest way to a Super Bowl championship.

Seven weeks ago, Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti gave his thoughts on how the Ravens should approach the 2016 NFL Draft:

“I have images of defense winning Super Bowls and three weeks after I had my end of the year press conference, we see what pressure did. We see what Denver’s pressure did to [Tom] Brady in the AFC championship game and we saw what pressure did in the Super Bowl.”

The six defensive players the Ravens drafted this year recorded a combined 95 sacks in their college careers.

Bisciotti’s words were heard, loud and clear.

Baltimore can now add that potential to a defense that will be led by (a presumably-healthy) Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, as well as burgeoning talents like Brandon Williams and Za’Darius Smith.

Ben Roethlisberger is 34, Andy Dalton is 0-4 in the playoffs, and the Browns can’t be certain Robert Griffin III will stabilize their quarterback position. With the pass-rushing prowess the Ravens have at their disposal this year, they have a strong chance of getting to the opposing quarterback on a consistent basis and reclaiming the AFC North title.

It certainly looks as if defense does still win championships, even in the offense-happy NFL.

Mr. Bisciotti cast the vision. Ozzie Newsome made the moves.

Now, it’s up to the players.

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Mike Fast

About Mike Fast

Mike was born and raised in Baltimore. But after a year at York College of Pennsylvania, transferred to Towson University. At York he hosted various radio shows and wrote for The Spartan (the school's newspaper). In 2005, he spoke on a panel at the 2005 IBS conference in Manhattan regarding college game day presentation. At Towson, Mike was a public address announcer for multiple sports and majored in Mass Communication, with a focus in sports broadcasting. From 2012-13, he's covered Ravens training camp, and since 2012, he's been the social media coordinator for Johns Hopkins during their home men's lacrosse games. Mike got live a life-long dream when he attended Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans and witness the Ravens become world champions! If you choose to do so, follow Mike Fast on twitter: @MikeFastNFL More from Mike Fast


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