One of the annual rites of Spring is the NFL Draft, and each year, football fans everywhere hold out hope that their team will come up with the crucial missing pieces needed to propel them to a division title, and hopefully more. Unless their team needs a quarterback, which typically applies to about a third of the teams in the league in any given year, the majority of fans generally seem to want their team to select a wide receiver in round one.
This wasn't always the case, but as the NFL has shifted to more of an offensive style of play and Fantasy Football has become a billion dollar industry, it's gotten to the point where you can just about set your watch by it: if it's time for the draft then it must be time for my team to select a wideout early. It's not hard to understand why. With most NFL teams running a pass heavy offense, a WR will have the ball in his hands at least several times a game, which provides opportunities for highlight reel plays. Which is more exciting, a 300-pound lineman or a guy who runs a sub 4.5 forty and has a 38-inch vertical leap? We get it; receivers are exciting players, and at the end of the day, the NFL is still entertainment. Lest we forget, one of the main purposes of entertainment is to generate revenue, and explosive plays keep ratings high and help bring in advertising dollars.
Here's the hard truth about taking a wide receiver in the first round, though: most of them never live up to their draft status. As an example, look no further than 2015's first round. Nearly twenty percent of the players selected that year, six of thirty-two, were wideouts. Today, at least two or three of the teams that made those picks would take a different player if they had it to do over. With the fourth overall pick, the Raiders took Alabama wideout, Amari Cooper. With 155 receptions for more than 2200 yards and 11 touchdowns, Cooper has made two Pro Bowls in two years and was far and away one of the very best picks of the 2015 draft. As Dean Wormer once said, congratulations, you're at the top of the class. Next up, at seventh overall, the Bears selected West Virginia's, Kevin White. Owing in large part to suffering multiple injuries to his lower left leg, one of which required reconstructive surgery, wherein a titanium rod was placed inside the bone, White has only 19 catches for 187 yards in his first two seasons. In the same way, we argue that Jake Long would have been a better left tackle than Richmond Webb, had he stayed healthy, we can try to argue that White would have been a perennial All-Pro if not for his injuries. White, though, started only two years for the Mountaineers and was drafted based on his 2014 season, along with eye-popping combine numbers, in particular, running a 4.35 forty at 6'3", 216 pounds.
Next up, the Dolphins chose Louisville's DeVante Parker at number fourteen, and although I wasn't fond of the pick at the time, like everyone else, I'm rooting for the kid to take off this season. I wanted Miami to draft Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton, whom Cleveland chose two picks earlier. With 82 receptions for 1238 yards and 7 touchdowns his first two seasons, Parker has been a better player than Shelton to this point and should only improve. At number twenty, the Eagles selected Southern Cal's Nelson Agholor, but with just 59 catches for 648 yards and 3 scores, Agholor has underwhelmed thus far. Those numbers aren't horrible, but you expect more from a first round pick. Central Florida's Breshad Perriman and UM's own Phillip Dorsett were chosen twenty-sixth and twenty-ninth, respectively, to close out round one for receivers. Perriman has 33 receptions for 499 yards and 3 touchdowns while Dorsett, a player I wanted Miami to trade down and take, has 51 catches for 753 yards and 3 scores.
With the fifth pick in round two, the Jets chose Ohio State's Devin Smith, who has just 10 receptions for 135 yards in two years. At number forty, the Titans chose a player many Dolphin fans coveted, Oklahoma's Dorial Green-Beckham. Green-Bonehead, as he is affectionately known by some fans, has undeniable talent, with 68 catches for 941 yards in two seasons. That's the good news. The bad news is that he's now been kicked off three teams: the University of Missouri, the Tennessee Titans; they traded him for former fifth-round pick Dennis Kelly, which is essentially the same as kicking him off the team, and the Philadelphia Eagles. When you've already made more than three million dollars, I guess you can afford to be a screwup. With the sixty-ninth overall pick, the Seahawks chose Tyler Lockett, who has a Pro Bowl to his credit.
There are two basic arguments against taking a receiver high in the draft. Number one, only quarterbacks and edge rushers carry a higher bust rate, and two, year in and year out, there are literally dozens of wideouts available who can be productive players at the NFL level. In 2015 alone, 34 wide receivers were drafted, and some of the best ones came later in the draft. The Redskins chose Duke's Jamison Crowder in the fourth round; Crowder has 126 receptions for 1451 yards and 9 touchdowns and is an electrifying return man, with nearly 500 return yards and a touchdown his first two seasons. But if you had to guess which receiver from the 2015 draft has the second most receiving yards of any player selected, who would it be? How about Maryland's Stefon Diggs, chosen by the Vikings with the 146th pick in the draft, with 136 catches for 1623 yards? Only Amari Cooper has more. Even in light of all the turmoil Minnesota has had at the quarterback position, with former starter Teddy Bridgewater being injured and the team having to trade for Sam Bradford, Diggs has sparkled for the Vikings. J.J. Nelson, also selected in the fifth round, by the Cardinals, has 45 receptions for 867 yards and 9 touchdowns his first two seasons.
So, in sum, in most cases, the risk outweighs the reward when it comes to drafting receivers high. If you want to trade two number ones for a Julio Jones, fine, but former Bills GM Doug Whaley tried that with Sammy Watkins, which is one reason why he's a former Bills GM. Which player was a better value, Rishard Matthews in the seventh or Leonte Carroo in the third? Nevermind, don't answer that. There are two players I most regret the Dolphins letting leave in free agency over the past twenty years: cornerback Troy Vincent in 1996 and Rishard Matthews last season. Matthews had nearly a thousand yards and nine touchdowns for the Titans last year and was one of my favorite players; for fifteen million over three years, Miami should have kept him. Then they wouldn't have drafted Carroo and we'd have a couple more draft picks on the roster. You can make all the Tom Brady excuses you want, but in the eighteen years Bill Belichick has been running the draft for New England, the Patriots have never once selected a wide receiver in the first round. Despite all this, you can be sure that when draft time rolls around next Spring, football fans the world over will once again be clamoring for their team to take a wide receiver in the first round. That's just the way it is.