UCrawford noted that taking a wide receiver in the top 10 is usually stupd--and I think he is right. But it appears that taking a linebacker in the first round is usually smart because it often equates to instant production. Linebackers like running backs, appear to be the most capable of playing right away in the NFL as a rookie. Since 2000, Julius Peppers is the only rookie to win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year as a non-linebacker. Linebackers have won the rest. And since 2005, three out of the four linebackers who won the award were drafted in the first round. The only exception, DeMeco Ryans, was the first pick of the second round.
What follows is a summary of some statistical analysis. I went back to 2005 and looked at the production of the first round linebackers. I did first round because there is a possibility that if Curry is taken the Chiefs may try to trade down and there will likely be linebackers available throughout the middle of the first round. I would also like to note that different websites don't agree on tackle numbers--so if you find different numbers that is probably why.
In 2008, three linebackers were drafted in the first round. Vernon Gholston, Keith Rivers and Jarod Mayo. Jarod Mayo won rookie of the year and saw action in 16 games and accumulated 128 tackles and no sacks. Keith Rivers only played in 7 games before injury and gained 37 tackles and no sacks in those games. Vernon Ghoulston was the bust of the group playing in 15 games and only getting 13 tackles and no sacks.
Like 2008, in 2007 NFL teams drafted three linebackers in the first round. Patrick Willis was drafted by the 49ers and was rookie of the year accumlating a staggering 174 tackes and 4 sacks. Jon Beason accumulated 140 tackes and zero sacks. Lawrence Timmons, drafted by the Steelers, on hd 13 tackes in 16 games. However, Timmons had a successful second season where he obtained 65 tackles and 5 sacks. I think the Steelers run one of the more complex 3/4 blitzing linebacker schemes in football and it is not surprising that it took Timmons a year to adjust.
2006 saw 5 linebackers drafted in the first round: AJ Hawk, Ernie Simes, Chad Greenway, Bobby Carpenter, and Manny Lawson. AJ Hawk and Ernie Sims both had over 120 tackles in their rookie year. Chad Greenway missed his rookie season but had 105 tackes in his second season. Manny Lawson had a decent rookie campaign with 57 tackles and 2.5 sacks, but was injured in his second season and his production has declined. Bobby Carpenter appears to be a bust with only 19 tackes in his rookie campaign. He has never had more than 19 tackles in a season.
In 2005 five linebackers were taken in the first round: DeMarcus Ware, Shawn Merriman, Thomas Davis, Derrick Johnson, and David Pollack. DeMarcus Ware, Shawn Merriman, and Derrick Johnson all had impressive rookie campaings. Derrick led the group in tackles with 95 tackles and 2 sacks. Ware had 58 tackes and 8 sacks. Merriman had 57 tackles and 10 sacks. I was surprised to see that Merriman has never had more than 70 tackles in a season. This could be because they use him as a blitzer so much or teams maybe run away from him. The other two linebackers drafted in 2005, Pollack and Davis, had less successful rookie seaons. David had 38 tackles and 1.5 sacks while Pollack had 28 tackles and 4.5 sacks. However, Davis has become a tackling machine while Pollack's (who missed all of training camp his rookie year) career was cut short due to a terrible spine injury.
Looking back I find only one true bust: Bobby Carpenter. The word is still out on Gholston who struggled in a 3-4 move. While Derrick Johnston has net been the all pro we wanted him to be, he as been a solid started for the Chiefs since he arrived. While it is clear that a pure statistical analysis is not a fair analysis, I think there is an argument to be made that rookie linebacker are able to make an immediate impact. Additionally, there appears to be a low bust rate for linebackers. Finally, the third observation I came up with is that "sacking" the QB appears to be one of those intangible things. I was surprised at how few sacks these linebackers accumlated over their career. The ones with great rookie sack numbers also had great second and third year sack numbers (Ware and Merriman mainly). The linebackers with zero or one sacks often never had more than 3 sacks in a season. The main exception appears to be Timmons who plays for the Steelers since his sack numbers are rising.
(note: I apologize for some of the grammar and spelling errors, didn't have a lot of time to clean this post up--stupid law school).