What position does the eventual Super Bowl winner choose first in the draft before winning the championship?
Safeties: Did you know that over the last thirty-two years, a team whose first draft pick was a safety never went on to win the Super Bowl that year? I began wondering if there was a pattern to good teams finding the last, missing piece in the draft, and then making the jump to Super Bowl champion. I stopped at thirty-two years ago because that’s when the Bears won the Super Bowl, I am nothing if not an idiot Bears fan, and why the hell not? This is what my exceedingly unscientific research revealed. The New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts both drafted safeties first in 2017, so I have eliminated them as possible Super Bowl contenders.
Quarterbacks: The Bears, the Chiefs, and the Texans also have no shot of winning the Super Bowl this year. They all chose quarterbacks with their first picks, and if the missing piece on your roster is a quarterback, you have no shot of drafting a rookie who will take you to the Super Bowl. For the Chiefs and the Texans this is probably bad news, because they both field teams that at least flirt with contention. The Bears were one of the worst teams in the league last year, so nobody expects the Chicago eleven to make the jump to Super Bowl contender in one draft.
Tight ends: I would also eliminate the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams, and New York Giants from title contention. In the past thirty-two years a team that drafted a tight end first won the Super Bowl once, the Steelers in 2005, after they drafted Heath Miller. The Buccaneers are not the Steelers, so I don’t see the magic happening there. The Giants have a better championship history, but they seem too far away from being a great team, so I don’t see them making the jump either. Sometimes it surprises me the Rams are still in the NFL.
Offensive tackles: I also am eliminating the Denver Broncos from consideration for this year’s Super Bowl championship. They chose an offensive tackle with their first pick. In the past thirty-two years a team that drafted an offensive tackle first won the Super Bowl twice. The bad news for Denver is the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl in 1996 and 2010, both years in which they chose an offensive tackle with their first pick, but the Pack had Hall of Fame quarterbacks both times. The Broncos just signed Brock Osweiler, so I’ll just stop there. The good news for the rest of us is the Packers didn’t choose an offensive tackle first this year, so that may eliminate the Packers from contention.
Linebackers: Another four teams look bleak for Super Bowl contention, the Lions, the Cardinals, the Dolphins, and, dare I say it, the Steelers. They all drafted linebackers with their first pick, and linebacker-first teams only won the Super Bowl twice, Baltimore in 2012 after drafting Courtney Upshaw, and San Francisco in 1989 after drafting Keith DeLong. The Cardinals and Lions could probably draft the second coming of Jesus and still not compete, and the Dolphins are a train wreck after losing their starting quarterback. The Steelers could make the jump. They have the right coach, quarterback, and team history, so it never surprises anybody when the Steelers are good. Nonetheless, I don’t have a lot of confidence in their ability to turn it on this year and rise to the top.
Defensive ends: Now things get a bit more interesting. Since 1985 three teams drafted defensive ends with their first picks and then went on to win the Super Bowl. The 2015 Broncos drafted Shane Ray, the 2003 Patriots drafted Ty Warren, and the 2001 Patriots drafted Richard Seymour. In 2017 seven teams drafted defensive ends first, Cleveland, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Dallas, and New England. Sheer numbers alone make defensive end the position most likely to succeed. I doubt Cleveland, San Francisco, or Washington is ready to make a serious run at the Lombardi trophy. Philadelphia seems a little closer, not a favorite by any stretch, but definitely a team on the rise. That leaves Atlanta, Dallas, and New England as strong candidates to win the Super Bowl. Atlanta has to overcome the terrible loss to the Patriots in last year’s Super Bowl, Dallas always finds a way to not find a way under Jerry Jones, Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension for example, and I’m hoping New England doesn’t repeat. I suffer Patriots fatigue and would like to see somebody, anybody, different this year.
Wide receivers: Teams that chose a wide receiver first won the Super Bowl four times in the last thirty-two years, Dallas in 1993 with Kevin Williams, Denver in 1998 with Marcus Nash, St. Louis in 1999 with Torry Holt, and Tampa Bay in 2002 with Marquis Walker. It should be noted that Marquis Walker never played in a single NFL game. Tampa Bay’s first draft pick in 2002 who actually played in a game was running back Travis Stephen, and he played in only one NFL game. For a team that was about to win the Super Bowl, Tampa Bay had a spectacularly bad draft. That one game played was enough to get Stephens a Super Bowl ring, however, which is one more ring than Dan Marino ever won. This year Tennessee, Los Angeles Chargers, and Cincinnati all chose wide receivers first, but San Diego and Cincinnati wasted an awful lot of talent over the past ten or fifteen years, and I can’t see them getting it right this year. Maybe Marcus Mariota can lead the Titans to glory, but I find it hard to imagine. I don’t think it will be wide receiver this year.
Running backs: To my surprise, running backs proved to be the missing pieces six times. In 1990 the Giants chose Rodney Hampton, in 1995 Dallas chose Sherwin Williams, in 2000 the Ravens chose Jamal Lewis, in 2006 the Colts chose Joseph Addai, in 2008 the Steelers chose Rashard Mendenhall, and in 2013 the Seahawks chose Christian Michael. During a time when running backs were considered less valuable than at any other time in NFL history, they somewhat flew under the radar and maintained their importance. In 2017 Jacksonville, Minnesota and Carolina all took running backs first. Jacksonville will be lucky to win a coin flip, Minnesota is attempting to play NFL football without an offensive line, but Carolina is a team to watch. Christian McCaffrey might be just what they need to return to the Super Bowl.
Cornerbacks: On seven different occasions the eventual Super Bowl champion chose a cornerback with its first pick in the draft. Who knew? In 1986, 2007, and 2001 the New York Giants chose cornerbacks first and then went on to win the Super Bowl. The Redskins did it in 1987, the Cowboys in 1992, the Saints in 2009, and the Patriots in 2016. In 2017 the New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, and Green Bay Packers all chose cornerbacks first. Let’s just stop laughing and eliminate the Bills right now. The Saints, Ravens, Raiders, and Packers all have Super Bowl caliber quarterbacks, but Derek Carr is easily the least of those four. It is very conceivable that Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, and Aaron Rodgers could lead their teams to the Promised Land, but I hold a personal bias against Flacco. Of the three, Flacco struck me as more of a passenger on a great team rather than the driver that Brees and Rodgers are. Still the Ravens do a lot of things right, and they may have put another good team around Flacco.
Defensive tackles: Finally, tied with cornerback for most common missing piece is defensive tackle. Seven times teams that drafted defensive tackles first went on to win the Super Bowl that year. The Bears and William Perry in 1985, San Francisco and Danny Stubbs in 1988 and Bryant Young in 1994, Washington and Bobby Wilson in 1991, Denver with Trevor Price in 1997, and New England with Ty Warren in 2003 and Dominique Easley in 2014. In an era where pass rushing defensive ends and linebackers are more coveted, only one team drafted a defensive tackle first in 2017, Seattle. Gulp. Seattle has the quarterback, the coach, an already stout defense, and now they’ve added Sheldon Richardson from the Jets and early second round pick Malik McDonald from Michigan State.
Based on the odd, nonscientific theory of good teams adding the missing piece on draft day, these are the teams I think have the best chance to win the Super Bowl this year.
- Green Bay
- New Orleans
- New England
If you’re going to Las Vegas, put your money on Seattle. If you want your kid to be an early round NFL draft pick, don’t let him play guard. Somebody will win the Super Bowl reguardless.