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Fisher Draft Tendencies

There are many factors that go into draft selections, including player abilities, positional depth of the draft class, and team needs. Unfortunately for all of the Rams’ armchair GM’s, it’s unclear how these factors apply to the new regime. A consensus of mock drafts and scouting reports reveal the overall impression of player abilities and positional depth, but it’s difficult to project those impressions through the eyes of Fisher and Snead. Additionally, it’s presumptuous to project the full spectrum of team needs as seen by the new front office. On the surface it would seem that certain positions—i.e. middle linebacker and defensive end—would not be considered team needs. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these players were anointed by the previous regime. As Fisher said, “we’re starting over.”

While it’s great fun for all of us to put on our GM hats of speculative hubris and plot the picks that will return our franchise to glory, I thought I might take pause from the redundancy for a bit and delve into the mind of the man in charge—coach Jeff Fisher. I’m not ignoring the fact that GM Les Snead has major input into the draft day decisions, but it’s fair to assume that the $7 million head coach will be the capo dei capi on draft day. Here’s a look at the historical draft tendencies of Coach Fisher during his time in Tennessee—1995-2010.

My first goal was to gain an impression of the overall draft value put on certain positions. To do this, I assigned point values to all of the picks—7 points for a 1st round pick, 6 points for a 2nd rounder, 5 points for a 3rd, etc. The positions are broken down to quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive lineman, defensive lineman, linebacker, and defensive back. Listed below are the positions ranked in terms of their value, listed with their total points, along with their percentage of the total overall draft points.

Defensive Back: 111 points (22.84%)

Defensive Lineman: 106 points (21.81%)

Wide Receiver: 74 points (15.23%)

Offensive Lineman: 52 points (10.70%)

Running Back: 50 points (10.29%)

Linebacker: 49 points (10.08%)

Tight End: 27 points (5.55%)

Quarterback: 17 points (3.5%)

The leaders of this list fall in line with the conventional view of Fisher’s priorities—he’s known for having an affinity for the defensive side of the ball. What stands out is the emphasis placed on wide receivers compared to offensive lineman.

On offense, Fisher’s first priority has always been protecting the quarterback—averaging a league rank of 10th in fewest sacks allowed over his coaching career. In terms of plan of attack, the assumption has always been that Fisher favors the running game over the aerial. However, this data suggests that the offensive desire may be much more balanced. If the wide receiver emphasis continues in the 2012, the difference between Sam Bradford and Vince Young may put the prowess of Fisher’s passing attack back on the map.

The above data does well to show Fisher’s overall emphasis, but it’s a bit too ambiguous to provide a true round-by-round mock-draft-aid, because it melds quality with quantity. In order to better gauge whom the Rams might draft where, I wanted to assess the emphasis of certain positions in certain rounds. I used the same positional breakdown, and categorized them into three groups: premium picks—rounds one and two, mid-round picks—rounds three, four, and five, and late-round picks—rounds six and seven. Listed below are the positions ranked in terms of total players taken, along with their respective percentages of the total number of picks in each category.

Premium Picks—rounds one and two:

Defensive Lineman: 10 players taken (34.48%)

Defensive Backs: 5 players taken (17.24%)

Wide Receiver: 4 players taken (13.79%)

Running Back: 4 players taken (13.79%)

Offensive Lineman: 2 players taken (6.90%)

Quarterbacks: 2 players taken (6.90%)

Tight Ends: 1 player taken (3.45%)

Linebackers: 1 player taken (3.45%)

This is a bold bias, with over one-third of Fisher’s first and second round picks being spent on defensive lineman. It gives credence to the speculation that the Rams could pass on Justin Blackmon to take someone like defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Fisher has twice spent a first round pick on a receiver, but never higher than 16th overall. He’s drafted a defensive lineman in the first round four times, but again, never higher than 15th overall. He’s only drafted in the top-ten three times in his career—taking quarterback Steve McNair 3rd overall in 1995, defensive back Pacman Jones 6th overall in 2005, and quarterback Vince Young 3rd overall in 2006 (though it was widely publicized that the Vince Young pick was motivated by the wishes of Tennessee owner Bud Adams).

Even with this data delving, it’s hard to nail down exactly whom the Rams are eying at pick six. However, based on the heavy premium-pick-bias towards defensive lineman, it’s safe to assume Rams will add a defensive trench-man before the end of the second round.

Mid-round Picks—rounds three, four, and five:

Defensive Backs: 18 players taken (26.09%)

Wide Receivers: 13 players taken (18.84%)

Offensive Lineman: 11 players taken (15.59%)

Linebackers: 10 players taken (14.49%)

Defensive Linemen: 9 players taken (13.04%)

Tight Ends: 4 players taken (5.80%)

Running Backs: 3 players taken (4.35%)

Quarterbacks: 1 player taken (1.45%)

The top-end bias in the mid rounds is not nearly as egregious as it was with the premium picks, but there is an emphasis on defensive backs. Outside of Cortland Finnegan, the Rams have a long list of question marks at the cornerback position (though I do have love for Bradley Fletcher). Additionally, the team lacks a true ball-hawk center-fielder at the safety position. Expect multiple defensive backs to be taken in the middle rounds, especially if the team is unable to land Morris Claiborne in the first.

This also seems to be the earliest point Fisher is willing to use picks on offensive linemen or linebackers—two perceived needs of the current team. He found linebacker Stephen Tulloch late in the 4th round in 2006 and guard Leroy Harris in the middle of the 4th round in 2007—both solid starters in the NFL.

Late-round Picks—rounds six and seven:

Defensive Backs: 10 players taken (24.39%)

Offensive Lineman: 8 players taken (19.51%)

Running Backs: 6 players taken (14.63%)

Linebackers: 6 players taken (14.63%)

Defensive Lineman: 5 players taken (12.20%)

Wide Receivers: 5 players taken (12.20%)

Tight Ends: 1 player taken (2.44%)

Quarterback: no players taken.

Again we see an emphasis on defensive backs, a trend that’s sure to continue with the pass-happy offenses of today’s NFL. Fisher is known for taking flyers on some small school defensive backs in the later rounds. He drafted ascending Raven’s cornerback Cary Williams out of Washburn in the 7th round of the 2008 draft and Cortland Finnegan out of Samford in the 7th round of the 2006 draft. Other picks, or lack thereof, of note are at the quarterback position—only once has Fisher taken a quarterback outside of the first round. If Bradford’s backup isn’t currently on the roster, he’ll likely be found in free agency.

This investigation may not yield conclusive results on whom the Rams will take should they stay in the six spot, but it does provide some insight to Fisher’s overall emphasis and his tendencies in certain rounds. Happy amended mocking to all.

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