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Four First Round Defensive Linemen

by Chase Stuart on May 18, 2014

in Trivia

The St. Louis Rams may have had the best defensive line in football in 2013. At defensive end, the Rams had two stars in Robert Quinn (the Defensive Player of the Year) and Chris Long (who has recorded 33 sacks over the past three years). As part of the RG3 trade, St. Louis traded down in the first round of the 2012 draft and wound up selecting defensive tackle Michael Brockers, who had a breakout sophomore season. The other defensive tackle spot was manned by Kendall Langford, a solid if unremarkable 28-year-old player. That defensive line helped St. Louis record a sack on 9.2% of all pass plays in 2013, the second highest rate in the NFL (behind Carolina).

Then, the Rams drafted a defensive tackle in the first round of the 2014 Draft. And not just any defensive tackle, but Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, the combine superstar who led the nation in tackles for losses last year. Assuming Donald replaces Langford in the lineup, that gives the Rams for first round picks on the defensive line, which brings us to the first trivia question of the day.

Can you name the last team to have four different defensive linemen who were drafted in the first round start 8+ games in a season?

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But unlike that mystery team, each member of the projected front line of the 2014 Rams defense was drafted in the first 14 picks: Long was the 2nd selection, Donald was the 13th pick, and Quinn and Brockers were both taken 14th overall. In fact, no defensive line — not even the various Fearsome Foursomes of Rams1 yesteryear — have had four first round defensive linemen drafted in the top fourteen.

But can you name the one team to have four first round defensive linemen selected in the top sixteen to start 8+ games in a season?

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Finally, I want to close with a note about the 1987 Cowboys. For about a decade, Too Tall Jones and Randy White were mainstays on the defensive line: Jones was the first pick in the ’74 draft, White the second pick in the following draft. Beginning in 1981, John Dutton (the 5th overall pick of the Colts in 1974) moved into the starting lineup at tackle next to White. Harvey Martin, a third round pick, was a starter in Dallas until 1983, but the following year he was replaced at RDE by Jim Jeffcoat, the Cowboys first round pick in 1983. That gave the Cowboys four first round starters on the defensive line starting in 1984, and the trio played together for three straight seasons.

In 1987, Dutton was replaced by Kevin Brooks, a player the Cowboys drafted in the first round in 1985. That would be like the Rams drafting another first round defensive linemen next year and keeping him as a reserve for two seasons. But it gets crazier: in 1987, Dallas selected Danny Noonan with the 12th pick! Since Dutton and Noonan — who were both Cornhuskers, by the way — were both on the team in ’87 behind a front line of Jones/Brooks/White/Jeffcoat, that gave the Cowboys six defensive linemen with first round pedigrees. Jeff Fisher, the ball is in your court.

  1. The problem for those Rams: Deacon Jones was a 14th round pick, and started from 1961 to 1971. Then, Larry Brooks was drafted in the 14th round in 1972, and he became an instant starter. []

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Kibbles May 19, 2014 at 11:09 am

The 2005 Denver Broncos (aka the infamous “Browncos”) featured Courtney Brown (#1 overall), Gerard Warren (#3 overall), Ebenezer Ekuban (#20 overall), and Trevor Pryce (#28 overall), though Ekuban was a rotational player who only logged 4 starts that year. Just for fun, Denver also threw in Marco Coleman (#12 overall) and John Engelberger (#35 overall) off the bench.

Those Broncos teams at the end of the Shanahan era were pretty addicted to acquiring aging former 1st rounders on the defensive line. In addition to those six, they had Daryl Gardener (#20 overall) in ’03, Ellis Johnson (#15 overall) and Luther Elliss (#20 overall) in ’04, Kenard Lang (#17 overall) in ’06, Simeon Rice (#3 overall), Sam Adams (#8 overall), and Jarvis Moss (#17 overall) in ’07, and Dewayne Robinson (#4 overall) in ’08. That’s thirteen DIFFERENT 1st round pick defensive linemen over a 6-year span, only two of which were actually drafted by the Broncos themselves. If you were over 30, played on the defensive line, and had been drafted in the first round, it was a near-certainty that you were going to wind up playing in Denver.

In case anyone thinks that might have been a fluke or an example of the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy, look at Shanahan’s time in Washington. He joined the Washington football franchise in 2010 and promptly signed Vonnie Holliday (19th overall) and Adam Carriker (13th overall), and in 2011 added Kentwan Balmer (#29 overall) and drafted Ryan Kerrigan (#16 overall). In fact, I think that Albert Haynesworth might be the only past-his-prime former 1st round defensive lineman Mike Shanahan *DIDN’T* like (well, Daryl Gardener, but even then there was a honeymoon period). Some people just have a type.

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Richie May 19, 2014 at 8:55 pm

“The problem: Deacon Jones … started from 1961 to 1971.”

I hate problems like that!

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