Much was made about how the New York Giants "reached" for Justin Pugh over other players in the 2013 NFL Draft (a claim that was also made here by me), but something I wanted to explore is the success rate of offensive linemen drafted early in the NFL draft. I classify early as first or second round -- those are the rounds you expect to get starters from. The rest of the rounds you hope you do.
Top 32 offensive tackles rated by Pro Football Focus:
Of the 32 highest ranked offensive tackles in the league-26 of them were drafted in the first two rounds.
17 of the 26 that were drafted in the first two rounds were drafted in the first rounds.
There is a perception that good players can be found throughout the draft and that is true, but the majority of good offensive linemen seem to come from the first round. There is enough evidence to suggest there is a high correlation between first-round tackle and successful player, but there is a question about whether or not Pugh can hack it at offensive tackle.
So the other question that arises is how often does a first-round offensive linemen bust?
Here are the first round offensive linemen drafted since 2008:
Jake Long, Ryan Clady,
Chris Williams, Branden Albert, Gosder Cherilus, Jeff Otah, Sam Baker, Duane Brown
Jason Smith, Andre Smith, Eugene Monroe, Alex Mack, Michael Oher, Eric Wood
Trent Williams, Russell Okung, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati, Maurkice Pouncey, ((
Bryan Bulaga ))
Tyron Smith, Mike Pouncey, Nate Solder, Anthony Castonzo,
Danny Watkins, James Carpenter, Gabe Carimi, Derek Sherrod (INJURY)
Matt Kalil, Riley Reiff, David Decastro, Kevin Zeitler
Since 2008 there have been 32 tackles drafted in the first round. Of the 32 drafted Chris Williams, Jeff Otah (in large part because of injury), Jason Smith (not as good as No. 2 pick, but still been a starter), Bryan Bulaga, Danny Watkins, Gabe Carimi, and Derek Sherrod (a lot of injuries in his still young career) are the only players I would say are classified as busts. Bulaga I wouldn't say is a bust yet, but perhaps in time. Watkins and Carimi are possibly going to be cut this year.
Even if we count all seven of those players as busts that's 25 out of 32 players that have begun what appear to be successful NFL careers. Imagine any draft in which 25 first round picks were productive NFL starters -- it'd be perhaps the best first round in the history of the NFL.
These points are not absolute truths, but do give an insight into what the Giants might have been thinking when they selected Pugh over a player like Sharrif Floyd or Xavier Rhodes with the 19th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Pugh might never be an All-Pro player, but based on recent history it seems like there's a very good shot that Pugh will be a productive NFL starter -- and for a team that already has a number of play makers on offense (David Wilson, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz) and a franchise quarterback -- it might be exactly what the Giants need to help find the consistency that has been lacking for their offense at times.
I still do not love the Pugh pick, and it certainly is not as exciting as when the Giants selected Nicks or David Wilson, but there is a lot of wisdom in taking an offensive linemen in the first round -- it's a position that might show a disproportionately higher success rate early in the draft.