Wide Receiver Folly

A.J. Green will likely be the first receiver taken in the draft

Wide receivers are flamboyant. They make the highlight reel catch and do the dance that gets them a bill from Roger Goodell.

Picking a wide receiver in the draft isn’t all that different. The wide receiver is the sexy pick. Everyone loves to love the guy who catches the touchdown. They put six points on the board. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.

The high draft pick wide receiver may become an immediate fan favourite but would teams be wiser to spend those picks on a guy who could help make an impact on a less fan friendly part of the roster?

In short, yes.

The wide receiver is similar to the running back. Thanks to guys like Cadillac Williams and Reggie Bush, recently, the drafting of a franchise running back has fallen out of favour with front offices around the league. Heck, there might not even be one running back taken in the first round this year.

The surplus of talent at the running back position was seen around the league this year. I wrote about it briefly during the season, dubbing the running back the dime a dozen position.

Take a closer look, you’ll find out the wide receiver isn’t all that different.

In Sports Illustrated columnist Don Banks’ latest mock draft he has top receiving prospects A.J. Green and Julio Jones both going in the top ten at four and six respectively. Banks dubbed Green “that rare receiver worthy of a top-five investment.”

Green might be a special talent but recent evidence thwarts the thought that he is worthy of a top five choice. This is not to say that Green will be a bust in any way. However, finding potentially similar quality production at the wide receiver position in later rounds of the draft is much more plentiful than other positions like linebacker or defensive end.

In the last three seasons no less than seven receivers drafted outside of the first round worked themselves into the top fifteen in total receiving yards. In 2009 and 2010 there were at least 3 players in the top fifteen who were drafted in the seventh round or went undrafted.

Granted, special talents Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson are players that you consistently find at the top of the league and will most likely continue to hold those top spots for years to come.

Nevertheless, seeing such gifted players like Terrell Owens, Brandon Marshall and Hines Ward drafted in the 3rd round and later should start to give you second thoughts. There may not be too many wide receivers drafted in the top ten but the sizeable amount of top receivers in the league who were drafted in the middle rounds makes you think that that a top ten pick could be put to better use even if a possible special receiving talent is on the board.

Teams like the Bengals and Browns are in dire need of a big game receiving threat but there’s a reason those teams sit at fourth and sixth overall. Those picks can be utilized more effectively.

Obviously, this is not to say that you’re not finding impact players in the later rounds for other positions. But the fact of the matter is that finding your diamond in the rough, needle in the haystack, or whatever you want to call it, is no doubt harder in later rounds for some of those non-skill positions.

Wide receivers, like running backs, are sold at the dollar store. It’s the nature of the position. Tons of incredibly skilled receivers get overlooked.

Why then are teams using their early picks on wide receivers then?

Yes, it’s nice to have a franchise receiver that can catch 100 balls for over 1000 yards on a consistent basis but it isn’t like these guys can’t be found elsewhere. They may not quite be a dime a dozen like their colleague running backs but it’s pretty damned close to that.

Try giving Matt Millen a call because I’m sure he’d be glad to divulge his secrets of the wide receiver. I wonder if Charles Rogers will ring a bell?

In 2008, the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers decided on a couple of wide receivers, one just a bit better than the other. The Raiders went style over substance, which predictably hasn’t quite panned out for them and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

The 49ers have found a receiver in Crabtree who would probably be in the 1000 yard category if he had anyone decent to get the ball to him. That’s the problem though. At the time and to this day the 49ers are still not ready to win and are a team with holes to fill throughout the roster. Can’t the number one wide receiver slot on the depth chart wait?

A.J. Green seems to be a consensus star in the making but Julio Jones, alternatively, is far from it. Jones had serious issues with drops in his College days at Alabama, is an unpolished route runner, and is said to not play with full effort on every play.

Jones’ speed and size are big pluses but to me it sounds like he’s not worth a top ten selection. Certainly, the Browns could use a real threat like Jones that would allow Colt McCoy to fully develop. In spite of this, it would be silly to use a number six pick on a guy who is far from a sure thing. At some point in the future management should be able to find a guy that can establish himself as a receiving threat in the NFL without burning that highly coveted top ten pick.

The Marques Colston’s, Wes Welker’s and Miles Austin’s of the world are out there and waiting to be given a chance. With needs in so many other places, lottery teams have to start moving away from the idea of wide receivers. Like the running back, you can find your wide receiver gem, it just might take some patience.

Related: Is the NFL Combine Overrated?

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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About Chris Ross
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17 Responses to Wide Receiver Folly

  1. I see what you’re saying, but I think that if the WR is better than another less appealing player, take the WR, sure, they may be flamboyant, but the better player should get picked, unless there’s an issue such as injuries, some personal problems, or the player just doesn’t fit with the team’s style.

  2. Charles Rogers does ring a bell. He works at Old Country Buffet.

    Meehan

  3. But seriously,

    Obviously wide receiver is the sexy pick but look at Green Bay, who just won the Super Bowl. They are proof that an offensive lineman may be the most solid use of the first three rounds.

    Good piece.

    Meehan

  4. Solid article. You’re absolutely right too; for every Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, there’s a Marques Colston and Wes Welker. Not to mention the flops like Darrius Heyward-Bey and Charles Rodgers. Teams are gradually shying away from running backs, like you pointed out, and we may very well see a similar trend with wide receivers. Just look at last year’s draft; the top rookie wide receiver wasn’t first rounder Demariyus Thomas or Dez Bryant; it was fourth rounder Mike Williams.

  5. marinest21 says:

    Good article Chris, I totally agree. Building strong lines on both sides of the ball are smart moves, and in the instance of this draft, I think you’ll see a lot of teams following suit. There is an abundance of linemen who have first round talent, and productive receivers and running backs can be had in the middle-to-late rounds. However, it will be extremely interesting to see whether teams will heed your advice or start overreaching and drafting “sexy” position players (especially QBs) early. If Gabbert and Newton are gone within the first three picks, you have seven teams – the Bengals, Cardinals, Titans, Niners, Vikings, Dolphins, and Jaguars – from picks 4-16 who may get desperate and pluck a passer (Locker, Mallet, Dalton, Stanzi). I am not sure who you root for, but if this happens, some damn good prospects are falling to my Chargers at 18.

  6. I don’t think receivers are overrated. If you can get a player who puts the entire focus of the defense on him, that is unbelievably helpful. Having the best corner cover the wide receiver, plus getting help over the top with safeties and sometimes linebackers just opens up the offense elsewhere.

    I don’t attribute the Austins, Colstons, and Welkers as showing that receivers have low value and therefore good ones can be found later, but rather that teams didn’t scout them well enough or those players just beat the odds. If those drafts could be redone, don’t you think they all would be drafted in the first round? Quarterback is the most important position in all of sports and teams wouldn’t be very smart if they didn’t use premium picks on getting a strong supporting cast for their franchise quarterback along with stopping opposing quarterbacks.

    Wide receivers are one of the highest paid positions in football, right up there with pas rushers, offensive linemen, and shutdown corners. If there wasn’t a market for star receivers, teams wouldn’t be willing to shell out huge contracts or draft them first or second overall. As teams pass the ball more and more, and defenses get more and more apt to stopping the pass, the demand for receivers will go up until the game changes again. Colleges are moving towards the spread offense which will produce more receivers which will give more teams options to draft in the first round until the market for receivers gets over-saturated.

    Everyone has a different philosophy for building a team. That’s what’s great about football. It’s the ultimate team game and a weak link anywhere will drag your team down. Some people put a premium on a star wide receiver, a guy you can count on in crunch time, your go-to guy. Others build up the trenches. Still others build up on strictly offense or defense. Each situation is different, and that’s the beauty. I respect that you guys don’t like wide receivers early, and I see your point of view. I don’t see it as wrong, just different than mine.

  7. Totally agree, especially about the Browns – great writing for a 19 y/o – keep it up bro!

  8. chappy81 says:

    I don’t think I’d criticize someone for taking a receiver early. If you need one then you need one. I guess they could wait, and if it’s a diva type receiver with a checkered past, I’d wait, but if he seems like a character guy I’d take him. I agree that all teams should be building their front lines though, and usually they won’t have to spend as much on that top pick because it isn’t as glamorous of a position. Playing devils advocate though, there’s guys at every position that are busts in the draft. So I don’t think you can completely pin the bust tag on just receivers and running backs. We just talk about those ones more than the busted linemen…

  9. voodoovos says:

    A wr wont make you a Super Bowl winner alone, but a WR can make the difference in winning a Super Bowl. My favourite example is Keyshawn Johnson. However outstanding the Bucs D was, without Mr ‘Gimme the Damm Ball’ I don’t think Tampa made the big dance. He may not have made the big catches but he sure as heck drew the coverage.

  10. Well written piece. Interesting numbers, if you take a closer look on wide receivers. The receivers taken #1 overall have been Keyshawn Johnson and Irving Fryar have nine Pro-Bowl selections between them. Carolina drafted Jimmy Clausen last year. If I was Carolina, it would either be AJ Green or Patrick Peterson. But I’ve watched a lot of tape on both, and I’m extremely high, especially on Peterson.

  11. Bobby Charts says:

    Great points Chris, i’ve always heard the first pick for a team should be OL or DL they in the long run do the most for a football team, its all about ten yards..blocking and tackling. Unless there is a unpassable player a once in decade player at another spot. Its sounds right when you see teams that cant block for their QB or RB or defense’s that cant put pressure on anybody.

  12. puzzletrax says:

    Awesome piece.
    I agree, wide receivers and running backs are a dime a dozen and I ALWAYS wanted my favorite team (bears) to go with OL or DBs (not just because Jay Cutler was MURDERED last year) but because they are the foundation of a good team. You need to protect your QB, shut down top flight wide outs, and stop the run; then go after your big play players such as running backs, wide receivers, and quarter backs. Now, sometimes there are players that you HAVE to pick because of the talent is just amazing (Cam Newton). Wide receivers and running backs are fan favorites yes, but that’s because they score all the touchdowns and fans dig touchdowns.

  13. ahanson45 says:

    Yeah I agree. But there will always be that team that will reach for an elite receiver, so you may have to reach as well *cough* Falcons *cough* Now you can almost always find great receivers later in the draft. Mike Williams and the Bucs last year. Mike Williams was drafted in the 4th round and now considered to be one of the top 100 players playing the game.

  14. Great post, but I don’t think the Atlanta Falcons read it. ;o) I was shocked to see what they gave up to get Jones. I didn’t think he was a top 10 pick either, so to use 5 draft picks to move up and get him at #6 seems rediculous. I see that Cleveland picked up Greg Little in round 2. Little is also a big and physical reciever, similar to Jones in those respects. Seems to me that Cleveland got the better end of the deal.

  15. Justin Dacey says:

    Hey man, thanks for the comment on the post. I agree with you about Atlanta giving up way too much for Julio especially with the concerns that follow him. I think the Falcons were looking at it as a way to get younger and add depth. Ryan is the quarterback of the future and with Michael Turner solid at the RB position, adding Jones gives opposing defenses another threat to worry about. Also, Jones comes into a situation where he won’t necessarily have the pressure to produce as a “Number 1″ wide receiver but will have the opportunity to do so with coverages focused on stopping Roddy White.

    As for your blog post, I completely agree. I think WR’s are overrated in a sense but it takes a “complete” team to hide your weakness at WR. The Patriots are able to function and be one the best offenses in the NFL because of a solid O-line and one of the best quarterbacks in the league. When you have the luxury of having multiple options WRs are overrated.

    I would rather have one of the best defenses in the league rather than one of the offenses which is one of the reasons why I was somewhat disappointed by the Lions’ draft.

  16. Theo says:

    Hey man, while I think the wide receiver situation just depends on the situation. I don’t think the Bengals should have taken A. J. Green with their first-round pick considering they have a lot of other needs across the board, especially since no one is going to be throwing the ball at Green next year in Cincinnati. In that situation drafting a receiver is not really that helpful except to raise interest in the franchise, as your post says. Because receivers are generally inconsistent players that sometimes have character issues, its tough to know what fourth-rounders will later be starters. Cincinnati has Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham as young receiving options on the roster in addition to Ochocinco, who we don’t know if he’s leaving yet or not. But the flipside of this is that the vast majority of receivers drafted in those rounds don’t become deep threats. Cleveland took a receiver in 2009 in the second round: Mohamed Masaquoi. Not exactly an elite threat. I personally wish Green had fallen to us, and in that situation we would have taken him. But it’s the way it goes. For some teams, like the Colts, taking a reciever later is helpful. I do think they are sometimes overvalued, but it all depends on the team, the need, and the prospect.

    • Theo says:

      Of course I wish Cleveland had not traded down in the draft as far as we did, and I actually think the Julio Jones trade will work out well for Atlanta. But that is just me.

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