1st Round Underclassmen Cornerbacks Success Rate Using Approximate Value

I was doing some research on 1st round underclassmen cornerbacks that have been drafted over the years and came across this article a few years back by Pat Kirwan on NFL.com. Kirwan looked at the risk involved by position of the underclassmen drafted in the 1st round going back ten years at the time. I am focusing on cornerbacks here, so went right to his risk grade of 2 of that position. It happens to be the highest risk according to him by the positions that received a grade in his article.

I wanted to take a closer look using the Pro Football Reference Approximate Value (AV) method that I used in the 1st round tackle article I did this week and compiled the underclassmen cornerbacks drafted in the first round going back to 1997. I then went through and listed their AV rating by year for their first 4 years in league as well as how many Pro Bowl selections they have garnered. It is so hard to come up with a baseline for each year as the corners need have a standard same as any other first round corner that was drafted. You just can not compare the underclassmen corners against other underclassmen corners. After spot checking around over various other non-underclassmen corners and using my own knowledge and stats of how players performed, I settled on a baseline of 5 as a fair measuring stick for rookie first rounders at this position. In reality how can a corner, in today\’s NFL, be expected to come in and instantly be anything more than just an above average contributor? It happens, but is very rare.

In the rookie season, as you can see below, 10 of the 22 corners (45%) on this list met this number. In my opinion though, a 4 or better can be debated depending on the team and how the player was used. It is so hard to quantify that though. In year two however, there better be a jump and thus the measuring stick for a first rounder is an 8. 9 of 20 players that have played two seasons meet this bar. Again 45%. By years three and four your first rounder needs to have an AV of 9 or better to start justifying his draft pick in my opinion based on my research. They should be your top corner on the team and making an impact. As you can see below, the corners that have an AV of 9 or higher in years three and four drops to 28 and 22 percent respectively and none of those were drafted after pick 26. That player being Lito Sheppard who has only had an AV of 9 or higher twice in his 9 year career.

Judging by those numbers, and the opinion of Kirwan, you can see indeed that drafting an underclassmen cornerback who will live up to his draft position in the first round is mighty risky. Sure every pick is a gamble in the draft. I understand and accept that, but reducing your risk where you can is a must.

In the 2011 draft class, there are 5 corners that grade out as being possible first rounders. 3 of these are underclassmen: Patrick Peterson, Brandon Harris and Aaron Williams. Peterson also is in the talk of perhaps being a player that could be drafted easily in the top 3 picks if not first overall. Harris and Williams are projected to be late first round or early second round guys and the Steelers might have a shot at drafting one of the two. In addition, both Harris and Williams are the 4th and 5th corners on the board. Seems mighty risky if you ask me.

I am actually starting to think that if the Steelers do not trade way up to draft Prince Amukamara from Nebraska, that they will pass on a corner alltogether in round 1. The other top 5 corner not mentioned thus far is Jimmy Smith, but with his character concerns, he might already be off of the Steelers draft board altogether. The 2011 cornerback draft class is pretty deep and value is to be had in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. The Steelers would have to likely move all the way up to the top 10 from 31 to land Amukamara and I think that might be too costly from a trade stand point for them to do. If Harris or Williams are guys they have sights on and think either will fall to the second round, they might be inclined to trade out of the 1st to an early 2nd round spot. Although right now I do not see that happening. These late first round underclassmen corners are mighty risky as history has shown us.

Results

TotalsYear 1Year 2Year 3Year 4
Baseline AV5899
# Players22201818
# Players = or < AV#10954
% # Players = or < AV#45%45%28%22%


1st Round Underclassmen Cornerbacks From 1997-2010

PlayerTeamPick #YearYear 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Pro Bowls
Shawn SpringsSeattle31997411861
Chris CantyNew England29199723110
Charles WoodsonOakland41998121513107
R.W. McquartersSan Francisco28199851280
Champ BaileyWashington71999716111110
Nate ClementsBuffalo212001568121
Willie MiddlebrooksDenver24200101120
Jamar FletcherMiami26200112110
Phillip BuchanonOakland17200237550
Lito SheppardPhiladelphia262002151542
DeAngelo HallAtlanta82004491173
Ahmad CarrollGreen Bay25200457100
Chris GambleCarolina28200469660
Pacman JonesTennessee6200569N/A30
Fabian WashingtonOakland23200545260
Antonio CromartieSan Diego192006113671
Johnathan JosephCincinnati24200655480
Darrelle RevisNew York Jets14200771122153
Aqib TalibTampa Bay202008286N/A0
Vontae DavisMiami25200946N/AN/A0
Joe HadenCleveland720104N/AN/AN/A0
Kareem JacksonHouston2020105N/AN/AN/A0

I am, I'm me. 40 something, retired and a life long Steelers fan.