From the day the Super Bowl ended straight through the NFL Draft in April, everyone was talking about which draft picks were going to change the fortunes of their team.
That's the perception, anyway. The reality is less than four percent of the opening day starters in the NFL will be rookies. Heck, the top pick in the draft, quarterback JaMarcus Russell, remains unsigned because he wants a deal that the Oakland Raiders aren't willing to give him. Even though Russell will eventually sign a six-year deal it will really be a five-year deal because this season is over as far as he's concerned. In fact, it is probably time to offer him a five-year deal, but that's a story for another time.
It's time to see how the 2007 draft class stood up to the first big test in the NFL and earned a starting position for opening day. There are 22 starting positions on 32 teams, which adds up to 704 starting players for opening day. I have gone through every depth chart and, granted there may be a few late changes, it looks like 25 rookies are ready to hear their name called as they leave the tunnel in Week 1.
The first thing that strikes me as interesting is how hard it is to get a second-day draft pick from a team when someone wants to trade a veteran starter like Trent Green, Daunte Culpepper, or even Byron Leftwich. Look at the second day of the draft and the only two starters on opening day are two fullbacks from the sixth round (Korey Hall, Green Bay, and Regan Mauia, Miami).
The most impressive accomplishment from somebody who wasn't drafted has to be former Penn State defensive tackle Ed Johnson, who has worked his way into a starting role for the world champion Indianapolis Colts. Granted, Anthony McFarland was lost for the season to injury, but Johnson looked like he belonged in the NFL from the day he arrived in Indianapolis.
Like last year, it's the offensive line that looks like the best risk to take on draft day if you need a starter. Eight offensive linemen drafted on the first day have made it to the first string. Levi Brown (Arizona), Justin Blalock (Atlanta), Yanda Marshall (Baltimore), Joe Thomas,(Cleveland), Tony Ugoh (Indianapolis), Sam Satele (Miami), Joe Staley (San Francisco), and Aaron Sears (Tampa Bay) all look like guys who will start for years to come.
Twelve of the 25 rookies who will start in Week 1 are on the defensive side of the ball, with the defensive line grabbing five of the spots. Nineteen defensive tackles were drafted before the Colts called Johnson to come in as an undrafted rookie, but he will not be the first undrafted player to prove the system isn't perfect. First-round selections Amobi Okoye (Houston) and Adam Carriker (St. Louis) will make an impact in their first season but don't count on their efforts to show up in stats. A great year for a first time inside player should be about 30 tackles, 4 sacks, and 10 pressures.
Finally, this looks like a very average year for rookies to win opening day spots. I have tracked this first hurdle for 10 years and 20-to-25 players is the range. By Oct. 1 there should be 30-35 rookies in the lineup and at season's end 50-60 members of the class of 2007 will be known as starters.
Only 10 percent of the 255 picks from last April's draft will start in Week 1 and by season's end maybe 22 percent will own a starting spot. That's a lot of money for job training instead of merit for production.