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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