What kind of player can the Redskins expect to draft at No. 34?

Aaron Williams, Santana Moss

Safety Aaron Williams, right, in flight while trying to bring down Santana Moss during the 2013 preseason, is the kind of player available at pick No. 34. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

openingkicklogoThose who comment at The Insider have pretty quickly come to terms with the idea that the Redskins earned the No. 2 overall pick in May’s draft but won’t get to use it, and have instead started to focus on pick No. 34. And while the Super Bowl hasn’t yet been played, the Redskins have been done for a month, so it isn’t too early to start getting dreamy about draft prospects.

Mock drafts, as well as the Fanspeak draft simulator, provide an idea of which college prospect will be available at No. 34. But it’s hard to know what to make of a player fresh out of college, at least until they’ve logged some time in the NFL. So why not look at those who have? Peering into the past at players who have been taken at that spot might give an idea what to expect at No. 34.

Pro-football-reference.com’s draft finder lets us sort past drafts by pick position. So I used it to generate all the No. 34 picks of the past 40 years. What it spits out might not be all that encouraging.

The past five players drafted at No. 34: Titans WR Justin Hunter, Colts TE Coby Fleener, Bills S Aaron Williams, Vikings CB Chris Cook and Eagles S Patrick Chung, who was drafted by the Patriots. Not a bad sample, especially because the Redskins have needs in the secondary and might like to come away with a player the quality of Williams or Cook.

Six years ago, the No. 34 pick was WR Devin Thomas. Redskins fans know how that turned out. He made just 11 starts and 43 catches, and was out of the NFL after 2011. But in 2007, the Bills took LB Paul Posluszny and in 2006, the Browns took LB D’Qwell Jackson, and those guys have been career starters and difference-makers, as has guard Chris Snee, drafted by the Giants in 2004. He’s made 141 starts for New York.

Some other players taken at No. 34 who had good careers: DE Kyle VandenBosch (2001, 137 starts), LB Jamie Sharper (1997, 135 starts), WR Amani Toomer (1996, 142 starts), S Carnell Lake (1989, 171 starts) and so on. Busts include QB Browning Nagle, LB Mark D’Onofrio and LB Demetrius DuBose.

Focusing on players picked only at No. 34 might not say much about what kind of players go at that spot in this day and age. So I widened the search to picks No. 30 through 38 since 2008. Recognizable names taken in this range include three DBs last season (S Matt Elam, S Jonathan Cyprien and CB Darius Slay), as well as RB Giovani Bernard and LB Manti Teo, and RB David Wilson (2012), QBs Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick (2011), as well as return specialist Dexter McCluster, WRs Jordy Nelson and Kenny Britt, soon-to-be-free-agent-safety T.J. Ward and LBs Rey Maualuga and James Laurinaitis. Those of course, are the best-case scenarios among plenty of okay picks or duds.

In all, from 2008 through 2013, 10 wide receivers, eight safeties, six cornerbacks and running backs, five inside linebackers, four defensive ends, defensive tackles and tight ends, three tackles, two outside linebackers and quarterbacks, one center and zero guards were drafted between picks 30 and 38.

So if we’re just casting a semi-wide net and throwing darts here, a defensive back, offensive skill player or linebacker who can’t rush the passer is a good expectation for an early second-round pick. But what’s a good value?

For that, I consult research done by Brent Cohen of EaglesRewind.com. With his analytics background, he created a chart this time last year showing the ideal postitions to target in each round, based on the expected return. (Harvard Sports Analysis did something similar, but only for the first round).

Brent’s chart shows that in Round 2, a team would have a 70% chance of landing a starter at tackle or center, and 64% at guard. Other value spots to target in the round are linebacker (54%), defensive back (51%), defensive tackle (50%) and wide receiver (43%). The chart covers picks from 1999 through 2011, and shows all seven rounds, so you can map out an optimal draft strategy for the entire draft with it, should you be so inclined. (Here’s the chart without the poor values blacked out, and the accompanying post with similar theory behind it, and specific look at the second round by itself).

Armed with this info, you can now decide what the Redskins should do at No. 34, or just be lazy and scour the Web for what every mock draft on the internet has the Redskins doing.

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesdays.

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