Feb 21, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; North Carolina offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper speaks at a press conference during the 2013 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Draft 1st Round Guard Picks, A History

With the quality of both Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper in the 2013 NFL Draft and the need for a quality starting guard on the offensive line for the Jacksonville Jaguars, taking a guard may not be the oddest choice the NFL has ever seen.  Guards are generally considered less valuable than a quality left tackle, but when you are surrendering 50+ sacks a season and your quarterback desperately needs a fighting chance to show he was worth a first round selection, it makes sense that Warmack or Cooper are taken as high as number two in this year’s draft.  Some fans are very pro guard selection.  Others favor more conventional selections like quarterback Geno Smith or pass rushers such as Barkevious Mingo or Bjoern Werner.

Knowing the oddity of picking a guard at number two, I decided to do some research.  What is the history of first round guards?  When was the last time a guard was taken in the top five?  Better yet, who was the highest taken guard and when was he taken?

Here’s a breakdown of guards taken in the first round by decade:

  • 2010 – current:  4
  • 2000 – 2009:  6
  • 1990 – 1999:  13*
  • 1980 – 1989:  19
  • 1970 – 1979:  15
  • 1960 – 1969:  11
  • 1950 – 1959:  2
  • 1940 – 1949:  2
  • 1936 – 1939:  1

The two most recent first round guards have been Stanford’s David DeCastro (pick 24) and Kevin Zeitler (pick 27).  It would appear that guards are back on the rise of being first round picks after having a top of 19 taken in the first round during the ’80s.

So, what about guards taken in the top five and who was picked highest?  By my count there have been 12 (11*) guards taken in the top 5 since the NFL draft began in 1936.  In reverse chronological order, they are:

  • Leonard Davis, 2001, Pick 2
  • *Jonathan Ogden, 1996, Pick 4
  • Bill Fralic, 1985, Pick 2
  • Chris Hinton, 1983, Pick 4
  • Ken Huff, 1975, Pick 3
  • John Hicks, 1974, Pick 3
  • John Hannah, 1973, Pick 4
  • Tom Mack, 1966, Pick 2
  • **Randy Beisler, 1966, Pick 4
  • John Niland, 1966, Pick 5
  • Fritz Barzilauskas, 1947, Pick 3
  • Rudy Mucha, 1941, Pick 4

*Odgen played tackle in college and the NFL but is listed as a guard by NFL.com draft history for his rookie season at left guard

**Beisler played both sides of the ball at guard, defensive tackle, and defensive end

August 30, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers guard Leonard Davis (68) on the sideline against the San Diego Chargers during the third quarter at Candlestick Park. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the San Diego Chargers 35-3. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Davis, Fralic, and Mack were all picked at number two overall and enjoyed (Davis is still playing) long careers.  Davis has bounced through four teams and spent the 2012 season sitting the bench with the San Francisco 49ers.  He has been a three time Pro Bowler (2007-2009), and a one time All-Pro.  Fralic played for the Atlanta Falcons for eight seasons before ending his final season in Detroit in 1983.  He was a four time Pro Bowler (1986-1989), two time All-Pro, and named to the 1980s all decade team.  Mack spent his entire 13 season career with the Los Angeles Rams.  He was named to 11 Pro Bowls (1967-1975, 1977, 1978), was a four time first-team All-Pro, and a four time second-team All-Pro.  Mack is enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

If Warmack or Cooper truly are stud guards – and it appears they may be – the Jags had better know.  Being picked in the top five of the draft as a guard puts in you in some pretty impressive company.  The Jags will have to weigh the pros and cons, but if they feel the move is worth it then they should abandon conventional picks and go for their guard.  How do Warmack and Cooper compare to these lofty players?  I’m a mediocre armchair GM at best and comparing across decades would be even harder.  I have no idea.

Pick a guard at number two overall may get some questions, but after picking a punter in round three the year before, I think the Jags will be alright.

– Luke N. Sims

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