Safer bet for the Rams at No. 2: Wideout or tackle?

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When the 2014 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday, May 8, the most interesting team to watch -- for the second-straight year -- will be the St. Louis Rams . Jeff Fisher and Les Snead sport two first-round picks once again in 2014.

The first comes at No. 2 courtesy of the Washington Redskins (still paying off that Robert Griffin III trade!) and the second at No. 13. 

There's a very nice confluence of need and value for St. Louis, as wide receiver and offensive line are two of the deeper positions in this draft, particularly up top. 

We can't simply assume they're going to take a combo of WR-OT; too much can happen between the top of the draft and the middle for that to be guaranteed. Also: it's the draft.

It would also be unfair to rule out Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack at No. 2. This is Jeff Fisher we're talking about after all and those pass rushers represent special talent. 

But logic dictates the Rams will decide between drafting a wide receiver or an offensive lineman at No. 2. I'm of the opinion that Sammy Watkins -- head and shoulders the top wideout in the draft -- is the second-best player in this draft behind Clowney. Greg Robinson of Auburn, a mauler in the run game, and Jake Matthews of Texas A&M, a more proficient pass-protection technician, are both very good options for St. Louis as well.

But which position is safer to draft that high? Let's examine how well these players have done over the past decade.

Via Pro-Football-Reference's awesome Draft Finder tool, here's a list of all wide receivers taken in the first round of the NFL Draft in the last 10 years.

 Misc GamesReceiving 
RkYearRndPickPlayerPosTmPBCarAVGGSRecYdsTDCollege/Univ
1 2013 1 8 Tavon Austin WR STL 0 6 13 3 40 418 4 West Virginia
2 2013 1 27 DeAndre Hopkins WR HOU 0 5 16 16 52 802 2 Clemson
3 2013 1 29 Cordarrelle Patterson WR MIN 1 8 16 5 45 469 4 Tennessee
4 2012 1 5 Justin Blackmon WR JAX 0 9 20 18 93 1280 6 Oklahoma St.
5 2012 1 13 Michael Floyd WR ARI 0 11 32 19 110 1603 7 Notre Dame
6 2012 1 20 Kendall Wright WR TEN 0 14 31 17 158 1705 6 Baylor
7 2012 1 30 A.J. Jenkins WR SFO 0 1 19 1 8 130 0 Illinois
8 2011 1 4 A.J. Green WR CIN 3 34 47 47 260 3833 29 Georgia
9 2011 1 6 Julio Jones WR ATL 1 27 34 33 174 2737 20 Alabama
10 2011 1 26 Jonathan Baldwin WR KAN 0 4 33 11 44 607 2 Pittsburgh
11 2010 1 22 Demaryius Thomas WR DEN 2 32 53 39 240 3698 30 Georgia Tech
12 2010 1 24 Dez Bryant WR DAL 1 36 59 45 293 4104 40 Oklahoma St.
13 2009 1 7 Darrius Heyward-Bey WR OAK 0 19 72 63 169 2380 12 Maryland
14 2009 1 10 Michael Crabtree WR SFO 0 31 63 61 279 3629 22 Texas Tech
15 2009 1 19 Jeremy Maclin WR PHI 0 27 59 57 258 3453 26 Missouri
16 2009 1 22 Percy Harvin WR MIN 1 39 55 43 281 3319 20 Florida
17 2009 1 29 Hakeem Nicks WR NYG 0 36 70 59 311 4622 27 North Carolina
18 2009 1 30 Kenny Britt WR TEN 0 21 57 30 157 2450 19 Rutgers
19 2007 1 2 Calvin Johnson WR DET 4 65 106 101 572 9328 66 Georgia Tech
20 2007 1 9 Ted Ginn WR MIA 0 28 104 40 197 2604 11 Ohio St.
21 2007 1 23 Dwayne Bowe WR KAN 1 43 103 97 472 6401 44 LSU
22 2007 1 27 Robert Meachem WR NOR 0 26 92 33 171 2800 27 Tennessee
23 2007 1 30 Craig Davis WR SDG 0 7 26 2 51 558 2 LSU
24 2007 1 32 Anthony Gonzalez WR IND 0 16 40 12 99 1307 7 Ohio St.
25 2006 1 25 Santonio Holmes WR PIT 0 47 103 89 381 5963 36 Ohio St.
26 2005 1 3 Braylon Edwards WR CLE 1 41 112 93 359 5522 40 Michigan
27 2005 1 7 Troy Williamson WR MIN 0 8 49 24 87 1131 4 South Carolina
28 2005 1 10 Mike Williams WR DET 0 12 56 30 127 1526 5 USC
29 2005 1 21 Matt Jones WR JAX 0 22 54 15 166 2153 15 Arkansas
30 2005 1 22 Mark Clayton WR BAL 0 27 83 65 260 3448 14 Oklahoma
 Misc GamesReceiving 
RkYearRndPickPlayerPosTmPBCarAVGGSRecYdsTDCollege/Univ
31 2005 1 27 Roddy White WR ATL 4 81 141 119 685 9436 55 Ala-Birmingham
32 2004 1 3 Larry Fitzgerald WR ARI 8 72 156 155 846 11367 87 Pittsburgh
33 2004 1 7 Roy Williams WR DET 1 42 115 94 393 5715 44 Texas
34 2004 1 9 Reggie Williams WR JAX 0 23 79 53 189 2322 18 Washington
35 2004 1 13 Lee Evans WR BUF 0 48 117 95 381 6008 43 Wisconsin
36 2004 1 15 Michael Clayton WR TAM 0 22 95 56 223 2955 10 LSU
37 2004 1 29 Michael Jenkins WR ATL 0 39 130 79 354 4427 25 Ohio St.
38 2004 1 31 Rashaun Woods WR SFO 0 1 14 0 7 160 1 Oklahoma St.
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/4/2014.

38 wide receivers gives us an average of 3.8 wideouts per year in the first round over the last decade. That's 8.4 percent of all draft picks, which is a pretty high number. 

Just on the "eye test" it looks like teams have gotten better about identifying talented wideouts in the draft. Do the numbers confirm that? 

To determine I totaled up the Approximate Career Value for each group of wideouts by year, divided the number of wideouts and then divided again by the years since they were drafted. It's a very rough approximation, obviously. But it gives us an idea of average annual production from these wideouts without giving earlier draft classes a huge edge.

Year
Wideouts Taken
Approximate Career Value Per Year
2004
7
3.5
2005
6
3.5
2006
1
5.9
2007
6
4.4
2008
0
N/A
2009
6
5.8
2010
2
8.5
2011
3
7.2
2012
4
4.4
2013
3
6.3

If you're in any way competent with statistics you should have four or five gigantic red flags that says "SAMPLE SIZE" waving in front of your face right now. (2008's sample is so small it doesn't exist!)

But the evidence at least indicates that first-round wideouts taken in more recent years are making a bigger impact than before. That's good news for teams taking wide receivers. 

But look at that list above. Drafting a wideout in the first round is fraught with disaster regardless of when it is. Reggie Williams (ninth overall!) to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2004 seems absolutely ridiculous in hindsight, but Darrius Heyward-Bey is already on his third team and the Jaguars don't even know if Justin Blackmon can contribute in his third year because of off-field issues. 

Busts galore in that list of wideouts. How about the tackle position?

(Quick note: PFR switched to an OL designation instead of T/G/C etc., in 2011. Hence two tables. A bunch of these guys -- the guards and centers -- won't be included in the numbers.) 

 Misc  Games 
RkYearRndPickPlayerPosTmAP1PBStCarAVGGSCollege/Univ
1 2013 1 1 Eric Fisher OL KAN 0 0 1 7 14 13 Central Michigan
2 2013 1 2 Luke Joeckel OL JAX 0 0 1 2 5 5 Texas A&M
3 2013 1 4 Lane Johnson OL PHI 0 0 1 7 16 16 Oklahoma
4 2013 1 7 Jonathan Cooper OL ARI 0 0 0 0 0   North Carolina
5 2013 1 10 Chance Warmack OL TEN 0 0 1 8 16 16 Alabama
6 2013 1 11 D.J. Fluker OL SDG 0 0 1 10 15 15 Alabama
7 2013 1 19 Justin Pugh OL NYG 0 0 1 6 16 16 Syracuse
8 2013 1 20 Kyle Long OL CHI 0 1 1 12 16 16 Oregon
9 2013 1 31 Travis Frederick OL DAL 0 0 1 8 16 16 Wisconsin
10 2012 1 4 Matt Kalil OL MIN 0 1 2 18 32 32 USC
11 2012 1 23 Riley Reiff OL DET 0 0 1 13 32 24 Iowa
12 2012 1 24 David DeCastro OL PIT 0 0 1 8 19 18 Stanford
13 2012 1 27 Kevin Zeitler OL CIN 0 0 2 14 28 27 Wisconsin
14 2011 1 9 Tyron Smith OL DAL 0 1 3 31 47 47 USC
15 2011 1 15 Mike Pouncey OL MIA 0 1 3 22 46 46 Florida
16 2011 1 17 Nate Solder OL NWE 0 0 3 28 47 44 Colorado
17 2011 1 22 Anthony Castonzo OL IND 0 0 3 19 44 44 Boston Col.
18 2011 1 23 Danny Watkins OL PHI 0 0 1 9 26 18 Baylor
19 2011 1 25 James Carpenter OL SEA 0 0 1 12 32 26 Alabama
20 2011 1 29 Gabe Carimi OL CHI 0 0 2 9 32 19 Wisconsin
21 2011 1 32 Derek Sherrod OL GNB 0 0 0 2 12 0 Mississippi St.
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/4/2014.
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/4/2014.
 Misc  Games 
RkYearRndPickPlayerPosTmPBStCarAVGGSCollege/Univ
1 2010 1 4 Trent Williams T WAS 2 3 31 56 55 Oklahoma
2 2010 1 6 Russell Okung T SEA 1 4 21 45 45 Oklahoma St.
3 2010 1 11 Anthony Davis T SFO 0 4 29 64 64 Rutgers
4 2010 1 23 Bryan Bulaga T GNB 0 3 20 37 33 Iowa
5 2009 1 2 Jason Smith T STL 0 1 9 45 26 Baylor
6 2009 1 6 Andre Smith T CIN 0 3 26 59 50 Alabama
7 2009 1 8 Eugene Monroe T JAX 0 6 26 76 73 Virginia
8 2009 1 23 Michael Oher T BAL 0 5 34 80 80 Mississippi
9 2008 1 1 Jake Long T MIA 4 6 51 89 89 Michigan
10 2008 1 12 Ryan Clady T DEN 3 6 52 82 82 Boise St.
11 2008 1 14 Chris Williams T CHI 0 4 22 69 54 Vanderbilt
12 2008 1 17 Gosder Cherilus T DET 0 6 38 91 87 Boston Col.
13 2008 1 19 Jeff Otah T CAR 0 2 13 29 29 Pittsburgh
14 2008 1 21 Sam Baker T ATL 0 4 32 70 61 USC
15 2008 1 26 Duane Brown T HOU 2 6 50 90 90 Virginia Tech
16 2007 1 3 Joe Thomas T CLE 7 7 61 112 112 Wisconsin
17 2007 1 5 Levi Brown T ARI 0 6 33 82 79 Penn St.
18 2007 1 28 Joe Staley T SFO 3 7 52 98 98 Central Michigan
19 2006 1 4 D'Brickashaw Ferguson T NYJ 3 8 52 128 128 Virginia
20 2005 1 13 Jammal Brown T NOR 2 6 48 86 84 Oklahoma
21 2005 1 19 Alex Barron T STL 0 5 27 87 75 Florida St.
22 2004 1 2 Robert Gallery T OAK 0 7 38 104 103 Iowa
23 2004 1 19 Vernon Carey T MIA 0 7 45 121 107 Miami (FL)
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/4/2014.

Just 35 tackles taken in the first round in the last decade and, again, using the eye test it seems a little less "busty" right? Robert Gallery was an outright disaster (especially taken one pick before Larry Fitzgerald) and Levi Brown cost the Arizona Cardinals a decade plus of Adrian Peterson

You could also (easily?) make the case that the wideout group has a lot more home runs than you'd find in the tackle group. Guys like Joe Thomas and Duane Brown are studs, but everything about the tackle group screams "solid" more than anything.

Year
Tackles Taken
Approximate Career Value Per Year
2004
2
4.2
2005
2
4.2
2006
1
6.5
2007
3
6.9
2008
7
6.1
2009
4
4.8
2010
4
6.3
2011
5
5.9
2012
2
7.8
2013
5
6.4

The data appears to back it up. Again: sample size is small and this is far from a perfect way to evaluate and compare positions.

The reality is tackle production's a lot harder to gauge than wideout. I'm not sure I'd say Eric Fisher had more "value" than DeAndre Hopkins in 2013. 

But what you see is a little less variance from the tackles.

The wideouts who bust out tend to have much bigger busts but much bigger breakouts. 

Having Julio Jones and A.J. Green in that 2011 class helps. But one thing I noticed in looking at this: top-five wide receivers are a lot more likely to be successful, generally speaking, than guys taken later in the round. Perhaps that's just something that is generally true; more talented players are available at the high end of the draft. 

The jury's still out on Justin Blackmon (5th overall, 2012) and Braylon Edwards (3rd, 2005) are the only guys who stand out as top-five picks who haven't been a slam-dunk success and both those guys have seasons with 800-plus receiving yards.

Things are a little more dicey when it comes to top-tier tackles taken in the draft. Though none of Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson set the world on fire their first year, there's data that shows tackles can oftentimes take a big leap in performance in their second year. It's too early to rule on them one way or another as tackles taken in the top five.

Matt Kalil (4th, 2012) established himself early as a potential cornerstone. Trent Williams (4th, 2010) has been very good when he's healthy. Jason Smith (2nd, 2009) was a massive disappointment for the Rams (irony!). Jake Long (1st, 2008) is now with the Rams after the Miami Dolphins let him go. Joe Thomas (3rd, 2007) is one of the best tackles in the game still. Levi Brown (5th, 2007) is not. D'Brickashaw Ferguson (4th, 2006) has been nothing but steady for the New York Jets . Gallery (2nd, 2006) was an epic bust. 

In other words, recent history says there's a little more safety in taking a wide receiver in the top five. The elite talent located at the top of the draft seems to rise. Tackle isn't quite as sure a thing, though the jury's still out on some of the young guys.

There's also a fine line when you talk about top-5 and top-10; plenty of wideouts taken from 5-10 in the last decade have been serious disappointments. 

Whether it's Robinson, Matthews or Watkins, the Rams are going to get a good player. And they might end up going in a completely different direction, like a pass rusher or a trade. But Watkins could give them the biggest chance for hitting a home run with the second-overall pick.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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