Can the Redskins expect a safety drafted 51st to start immediately?

openingkicklogoThere’s been a little debate going on in the comments on whether a safety taken in the second round, where the Redskins currently pick 51st, can be expected to step in and start right away. We might as well make it into a full-fledged debate.

Because all drafts are crapshoots, and because this one is viewed as particularly strong for secondary players, looking back at the past is of limited value. But it can give us an idea of what kind of players go in Round 2 and what kind of years they have right off the bat.

Here’s a list of safeties taken in the second round the past five drafts, with games played and started as a rookie:

Year player team pick games starts
2012 Tavon Wilson Patriots 48 16 5
2011 Rahim Moore Broncos 45 16 7
2011 Jaiquawn Jarrett Eagles 54 12 2
2010 Nate Allen Eagles 37 13 13
2010 T.J. Ward Browns 38 16 16
2010 Taylor Mays 49ers 49 16 6
2009 Louis Delmas Lions 33 15 15
2009 Patrick Chung Patriots 34 16 1
2009 Jairus Byrd Bills 42 14 11
2009 Darcel McBath Broncos 48 13 8
2009 William Moore Falcons 54 2 0
2008 Tyrell Johnson Vikings 43 16 7

Those 12 players give you an idea, from name recognition alone, the kind of safety you can hope to land in the second round. Two players from the list — Byrd and Moore — made last season’s Pro Bowl. Most of the other Pro Bowlers last year were first-rounders — Eric Berry (5th), LaRon Landry (6th), Donte Whitner (8th), Earl Thomas (14th), Ed Reed (24th). Two — Thomas DeCoud (98th) and Dashon Goldson (126th) — went later than the second round.

But more relevant to the Redskins in 2013 is looking at how those second-round safeties performed as rookies.

All but one of them were active for at least 12 games and started at least once. Delmas, Ward and Allen started every game they played, and Byrd started 11 of 14, had nine interceptions and made the Pro Bowl and Sporting News’s all-NFL team.

The one player whose team took a slow approach might have gotten the best long-term outcome though. William Moore appeared in just two games as a rookie but has started 38 of 42 since and developed into a star.

There are variables and flaws in looking at it this way — is games started really an accurate measure of success? What if we extended the range of safeties considered to the third round? What if this year’s crop of safeties is better than any in the past five years? What if the players taken before pick 51 aren’t really ones the Redskins can consider? (I left them in because moving up 10-20 picks on Day 2 is possible, just as moving back would be. But everyone on this list except William Moore and Jarrett went before the 51st pick.)

The Redskins can expect to get a player capable of starting as a rookie. But that could be as much a result of his draft position, and feeling forced to play someone taken that high. Over time, Allen hasn’t developed into a consistent player, Mays got sent from the 49ers to the Bengals after his second year and Tyrell Johnson started 22 games for the Vikings in his first two seasons and five afterward. He’s now on the Lions. Rahim Moore’s most memorable play to date is whiffing at the 70-yard pass Jacoby Jones caught in the playoffs, McBath has started one career game and Jarrett is buried on the Jets depth chart.

So whether you’re looking at it for this season only or several seasons, you have some best-case scenarios, like Ward, Delmas and Byrd, and some not-so-good scenarios.

Jairus Byrd, Brandon Bolden

Jairus Byrd, a safety drafted with the 42nd pick in 2009, had nine interceptions as a rookie and has developed into a consistent star for Buffalo. (Gary Wiepert, Associated Press)

The rate of these players succeeding or failing correlates to what’s found in this chart on the blog EaglesRewind, which suggests a defensive back taken in the first round stands a 76% chance at becoming a starting player. In the second round, it’s 51%, the third 20% and the fourth 17%.

There are safeties on the roster currently that might render the rookie question moot: Brandon Meriweather (a 2007 first-rounder) if healthy, is a starter. Tanard Jackson (a fourth-round pick of the Bucs in 2007) needs to be reinstated and Jordan Bernstine is recovering from a devastating knee injury. There’s Reed Doughty, DeJon Gomes and Devin Holland as well.

Here’s the NFL’s draft page. You can sort by position and draft history, but because of the various ways they coded safety – S, FS, SS and SAF — it doesn’t look like all the picks are showing up. You can always look at individual drafts by year in wikipedia (Here’s 2008, 2009 and 2012) or players on pro-football-reference (here’s Johnson, Wilson and Delmas) for more information.

The question stands: Do you expect the Redskins to draft an immediate starter at safety with pick No. 51? (take whatever liberties you need with the question and its wording)

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