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Jalen Ramsey, and Defensive Backs In The Draft

Florida State cornerback/safety Jalen Ramsey is going to be the first defensive back selected in the 2016 Draft. Ramsey may go as high as #3 overall to San Diego, as the first non-quarterback off the board. On a recent Bill Barnwell podcast — and by the way, he has a new podcast that you should subscribe to — Bill wondered when we will see the day when a cornerback goes first overall.

Technically, that already happened, when Colorado State’s Gary Glick was the first pick off the board in ’56 (Glick played safety, running back, and even kicked for the Steelers). But in the common era draft beginning in 1967, the highest a defensive back has been drafted is second overall, when the late great Eric Turner was drafted by the Browns. The trio responsible for that pick? GM Ernie Accorsi, head coach Bill Belichick, and
defensive coordinator Nick Saban. Those guys knew a thing or two about defensive back play, and were comfortable taking a safety with the second pick.

But in general, the first defensive back goes off the board at around the 10th pick, although it is happening a bit earlier in recent years (the median spot for the top DB has been 6 over the last 15 drafts). The graph below shows the slot where the top defensive back was taken in every draft, and no, that 1974 Draft is not a bug:

draft DBs

The table below shows the first defensive back selected in each draft since 1967. The only cornerback to go #3 overall? Shawn Springs.

YearFirstPlayerCareer AV
201511Trae Waynes1
20148Justin Gilbert3
20139Dee Milliner6
20126Morris Claiborne12
20115Patrick Peterson63
20105Eric Berry38
200914Malcolm Jenkins40
200811Leodis McKelvin27
20076LaRon Landry37
20067Michael Huff33
20056Adam Jones47
20045Sean Taylor31
20035Terence Newman68
20025Quentin Jammer52
200120Adam Archuleta32
200015Deltha O'Neal47
19997Champ Bailey112
19984Charles Woodson110
19973Shawn Springs61
199611Alex Molden23
199522Tyrone Poole45
19949Antonio Langham29
199312Patrick Bates8
19925Terrell Buckley59
19912Eric Turner52
19906Mark Carrier69
19895Deion Sanders117
19883Bennie Blades45
198710Rod Woodson141
198625Rod Jones34
198511Richard Johnson20
19846Mossy Cade9
198310Terry Kinard53
198225Rod Hill7
19814Kenny Easley60
19808Mark Haynes70
197925Rick Sanford33
19789Keith Simpson30
197710Gary Green61
19765Mike Haynes105
197517Louis Wright87
197450Bill Simpson53
197313Burgess Owens46
19727Willie Buchanon59
197114Clarence Scott59
197017Bruce Taylor45
19693Leroy Keyes19
196812Jim Smith3
196721John Charles30

As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments.

  • 1974 is really pretty weird. In ’75, there were five DBs taken in the first round; in ’76, two went in the top 10. In ’73, three went in the first round, and in ’72, five went in the top 20. Of course, it simply wasn’t a good class, too: none of the DBs taken in ’74 made a Pro Bowl as a DB.

    • Josh Sanford

      I am really impressed by the consistency in the quality of picks from 1987 to 2011. They have generally produced a good amount of value. I think it’s safe to say that the first QB taken in these same drafts has not produced as much reliable value over such a long period as have the DBs. More hit or miss.

      • Richie

        My instinct is that QB’s are usually forced up to the top of the draft by desperate teams, where DB’s are only taken that high when they grade out that well. I think desperate teams talk themselves into QB picks.

        • I agree.

          • Josh Sanford

            That’s absolutely the case. It seems like an almost universal exception to the best-available grid through which draft picks are supposed to pass.

  • Roger Kirk

    I recall reading a great argument, possibly on this site. If a lot of people bid on something, some will be too high and some too low, so the successful bidder will be someone who bid too high. This has been borne out by free agent signings and trades for high draft picks in recent years, and this year looks to be no exception.

    • Roger Kirk

      Oops, that was supposed to go after Chase’s comment below.