Breaking down the first round

Projecting the first round of the NFL Draft is like trying to predict the weather. It’s not an exact science and despite mountains of information and analysis, one little change (such as trading picks) can throw the whole thing out of whack.

Roger GoodellICONPredicting the names that will come out of Roger Goodell's mouth on draft day is not an exact science.

Still, thousands of people take part in mock draft challenges and proposition bets every year at draft time in an effort to put their knowledge and data to the test. With the volume of people and websites currently covering the NFL, there’s enough free information available on the open market to give anyone with enough dedication the opportunity to accurately project at least part of the first round.

Historical data is one avenue of information that can help shed some light on the upcoming decisions that will be made by 32 teams looking to upgrade their rosters at the end of April. These statistics can help us determine which positions come at a premium as well as help reveal any tendencies the 32 NFL front offices may have when it comes to selecting players.

Today we’re going to take a look back at the first round of the last ten NFL drafts (2001-2010). But before we begin, here are some notes to keep in mind:

-318 players have been selected in the first round since 2001. Why not 320? Because the 2001 and 2008 first rounds featured only 31 draft picks.

-This analysis was compiled from the databases over at NFL.com. Keep in mind that two positions (linebackers and defensive backs) are broken down a bit differently. At linebacker, players can fall under one of four categories: LB, ILB, MLB and OLB. The same thing goes for defensive backs, who can fall under one of four categories: CB, SS, FS and DB.

-There is a chart at the end of this article that breaks down the draft picks at each position for the last ten years.

-CLICK HERE to check out Wes Bunting’s most recent Mock Draft.

QUARTERBACKS

Cam NewtonIt only takes one team to say "yes."

Total Selected: 27 (8th most out of 14 positions)
Average Per Year: 2.7
Most Selected: 4 (2003, 2004)
Least Selected: 1 (2001)

First Overall Selections: 8 (S. Bradford in ‘10, M. Stafford in ‘09, J. Russell in ‘07, A. Smith in ‘05, E. Manning in ‘04, C. Palmer in ’03, D. Carr in ’02, M. Vick in ’01)

First Round Picks in 2011: Blaine Gabbert (Missouri) and Cam Newton (Auburn) are locks, while Ryan Mallett (Arkansas) and Jake Locker (Washington) are realistic options as well. Dark horse candidates include Christian Ponder (FSU) and Colin Kaepernick (Nevada).

RUNNING BACKS

Total Selected: 30 (7th most out of 14 positions)
Average Per Year: 3.0
Most Selected: 5 (2008)
Least Selected: 2 (2002, 2003, 2007)

First Overall Selections: 0

First Round Picks in 2011: Mark Ingram (Alabama) should expect to hear his name called, but this appears to be a down year for the running back position. Mikel Leshoure (Illinois) is starting to get some buzz.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Total Selected: 40 (1st out of 14 positions)
Average Per Year: 4.0
Most Selected: 7 (2004)
Least Selected: 0 (2008)

First Overall Selections: 0

First Round Picks in 2011: Julio Jones (Alabama) and A.J. Green (Georgia) are in and could hear their names called in the top-ten. Jon Baldwin (Pittsburgh) and Leonard Hankerson (Miami) are two solid prospects, as is Titus Young (Boise State).

TIGHT ENDS

Total Selected: 14 (9th out of 14 positions)
Average Per Year: 1.4
Most Selected: 3 (2002)
Least Selected: 1 (2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010)

First Overall Selections: 0

First Round Picks in 2011: There’s a good chance that this could be the first time in the last eleven years that a TE has not been selected in the first round. If the streak is going to stay alive, Notre Dame’s Kyle Rudolph will likely be the guy.

CENTERS

Total Selected: 6 (13th out of 14 positions)
Average Per Year: 0.6
Most Selected: 2 (2009)
Least Selected: 0 (2001, 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008)

First Overall Selections: 0

First Round Picks in 2011: Mike Pouncey (Florida) should follow in his twin brother’s footsteps. Stefen Wisniewski (Penn State) is another potential candidate.

GUARDS

Total Selected: 7 (tied for 11th out of 14 positions)
Average Per Year: 0.7
Most Selected: 2 (2001)
Least Selected: 0 (2003, 2004, 2008, 2009)

First Overall Selections: 0

First Round Picks in 2011: Danny Watkins’ (Baylor) stock is on the rise

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

Anthony CastonzoICONBoston College's Anthony Castonzo

Total Selected: 34 (tied for 3rd out of 14 positions)
Average Per Year: 3.4
Most Selected: 8 (2008)
Least Selected: 1 (2006)

First Overall Selections: 1 (Jake Long in ’08)

First Round Picks in 2011: Anthony Castonzo (Boston College) and Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin) are the most well-known, but look out for Nate Solder (Colorado), Tyron Smith (USC), Ben Ijalana (Villanova) and Derek Sherrod (Mississippi State) to possibly make this the deepest first round for offensive tackles since 2008.

DEFENSIVE ENDS

Total Selected: 37 (2nd out of 14 positions)
Average Per Year: 3.7
Most Selected: 6 (2003)
Least Selected: 2 (2004)

First Overall Selections: 1 (Mario Williams in ’06)

First Round Picks in 2011: Despite a lengthy 2010 suspension, Robert Quinn’s (UNC) talent speaks for itself. Aldon Smith (Missouri) is a name you should become familiar with, as he should be joining the more well-known J.J . Watt (Wisconsin) and Adrian Clayborn (Iowa). Da’Quan Bowers (Clemson) could be the first No. 1 pick from the DE position since Mario Williams in 2006.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

Total Selected: 34 (tied for 3rd out of 14 positions)
Average Per Year: 3.4
Most Selected: 6 (2001)
Least Selected: 2 (2005, 2008)

First Overall Selections: 0

First Round Picks in 2011: Auburn’s Nick Fairley and Alabama’s Marcell Dareus are locks that could be joined by Corey Liuget (Illinois) and Big Phil Taylor (Baylor). Get to know the name Muhammad Wilkerson (Temple), as he has been gaining a lot of steam as of late.

LINEBACKERS

Von MillerMiller could go as high as the top-five.

Total Selected: 31 (6th out of 14 positions)
Average Per Year: 3.1
Most Selected: 6 (2006)
Least Selected: 1 (2001)

First Overall Selections: 0

Middle Linebackers Selected: 5
Inside Linebackers Selected: 2
Outside Linebackers Selected: 15
Drafted Players Listed As “LB”: 9

First Round Picks in 2011: 3-4 OLB pass-rushing specialist Von Miller (Texas A&M) could be headed for the top-five, while UCLA’s Akeem Ayers has first-round potential written all over him. Justin Houston (Georgia) should hear his name called as well. A dark horse candidate to keep an eye on is Bruce Carter (UNC).

CORNERBACKS

Total Selected: 33 (5th out of 14 positions)
Average Per Year: 3.3
Most Selected: 5 (2003, 2008, 2010)
Least Selected: 0 (2009)

First Overall Selections: 0

First Round Picks in 2011: LSU’s freakishly athletic Patrick Peterson headlines a class that includes Brandon Harris (Miami) and Prince Amukamara (Nebraska). Colorado’s Jimmy Smith has recently emerged as a potential dark horse candidate.

STRONG SAFETIES

Total Selected: 7 (tied for 11th out of 14 positions)
Average Per Year: 0.7
Most Selected: 2 (2006, 2010)
Least Selected: 0 (2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009)

First Overall Selections: 0

First Round Picks in 2011: Ahmad Black (Florida) made a little noise at the Senior Bowl, but this position is more likely to put up the big goose egg on draft day.

FREE SAFETIES

Total Selected: 5 (14th out of 14 positions)
Average Per Year: 0.5
Most Selected: 2 (2007)
Least Selected: 0 (2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010)

First Overall Selections: 0

First Round Picks in 2011: Unlikely to have any first-rounders from this group. Rahim Moore (UCLA) and Quinton Carter (Oklahoma) currently sit atop the NFP positional rankings.

DEFENSIVE BACKS*

Total Selected: 13 (10th out of 14 positions)
Average Per Year: 1.3
Most Selected: 4 (2005)
Least Selected: 0 (2004, 2008, 2010)

First Overall Selections: 0

First Round Picks in 2011: See: Cornerbacks.

*Defensive backs are drafted players who were not listed as CB, FS or SS. These are players who were designated solely as “DBs” entering the draft.

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