Epic Fail: The Wide Receiver Draft Class Of 2012

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 09, 2013



By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts 40-Yard Chug Champion (@footballfacts)

The 2013 NFL draft is little more than two weeks away. And once again teams, personnel executives and fans are lusting after a glitzy Shiny Hood Ornament wide receiver like a horned-up chain gang lusting after a blonde car wash bimbo.

These folks stupidly believe a high-priced wide receiver will turn their loser into a winner, their pretender into a contender.

If we had feelings, we’d feel so sad for our misguided little pigskin pups, wandering across the frozen valley of gridiron ignorance, mushing hopelessly along with no direction and no clue.

Even the pigskin “pundits” are helpless to resist the sexy temptress of the glitzy wide receiver.

Mike Mayock is the top draft guru at NFL Network, and is certainly an analyst with great connections and knowledge. Yet even he gushes like a smitten teenager at the mere thought of a Shiny Hood Ornament.

Here’s what he said when the Arizona Cardinals stupidly picked wide receiver Michael Floyd with the No. 13 overall pick in the 2012 draft:

"I love this marriage. I'll tell you something right now, there is not a better role model for him in the NFL at the wide receiver position than Larry Fitzgerald. He will mentor this kid and get the most out of him."

Here’s what the Cold, Hard Football Facts said about the same draft pick:

“Michael Floyd was a huge mistake as a first-round pick. The 'pundits' will tell you that he gives the Cardinals another WR opposite Larry Fitzgerald who will do all the proverbial bullsh*t that 'pundits' like to talk about: he’s 'another weapon' on offense who will open up the ground game, etc, etc. Disciples of the Cold, Hard Football Facts know that no such thing will happen.”

As we saw in 2012, no such thing did in fact happen: the Cardinals passing game was the worst in football, even with two glitzy big-name wide receivers in their arsenal. We confidently knew the Cardinals season would unfold the way it did because we are armed with the Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law.

Floyd was hardly the only mistake we saw among wide receivers in the 2012 draft. As you’ll see below, every wide receiver taken high in the draft proved an epic failure – and one of them perhaps cost his team a Super Bowl victory.

The Most Overvalued Position in Sports
The Cold, Hard Football Facts Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law tells us that wide receiver is the most overvalued position in football and maybe in all of sports.

These hood ornaments are bright, shiny and sexy. They sparkle and glisten in the autumn sun. But they are merely showpieces. They don’t make the engine under the hood of an NFL team run any better.

Wide receivers are at best beautiful accents on a smooth-running machine; think Jerry Rice being drafted by the dominant 18-1 Super Bowl champ 49ers in the 1985 draft.

The 49ers that drafted Rice had just finished No. 2 in scoring offense, lapped the field in the playoffs and easily dispatched record-setting Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX, 38-16, despite fielding an offense without a single 1,000-yard receiver. Running back Roger Craig led the team with 71 receptions.

At worst, wide receivers are gaudy showpieces that make a mockery of the rusty pile of junk to which they’re attached; think Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions.

He led the NFL with 12 TD receptions in 2008, for the only 0-16 team in NFL history; last year he hauled in 122 passes for a record 1,964 yards, for an ugly 4-12 loser.

The 2012 draft provided yet another year of evidence that chasing those glitzy wide receivers in the first round will do little to nothing to change your fortunes – especially if you suck at quarterback.

Four wide receivers were taken in the first round of the 2012 draft, led by Justin Blackmon, nabbed by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the No. 5 overall pick. These four wide receivers produced very modest numbers and zero impact.

The 2012 season, in fact, merely proved yet again that glitzy, speedy wide receivers will do little to nothing to elevate bad passing teams. In fact, the first two teams to draft wide receivers in 2012 went on to become the worst passing teams in football last season.

NFL teams drafted 33 wide receivers in 2012, including four in the first round and five in the second round.

These nine receivers were the players so fast, so gifted, so talented in the eyes of conventional wisdom that teams were duped into drafting them, despite the many decades of evidence telling us it’s almost always a bad decision to expect big impact out of a young highly drafted wide receiver.

The 2012 season was an epic fail all around for these poor teams. Here are the rookie numbers of each of the wide receivers drafted in the first two rounds last year.

 RdPick Player Team

Games

Rec.

Yards

YPC

TD

1

5

Justin Blackmon

Jacksonville

15

64

865

13.5

5

1

13

Michael Floyd

Arizona

16

45

562

12.5

2

1

20

Kendall Wright

Tennessee

15

64

626

9.8

4

1

30

A.J. JenkinsSan Francisco

3

0

0

0

0

2

33

Brian QuickSt. Louis

14

11

156

14.2

2

2

43

Stephen Hill

N.Y. Jets

11

21

252

12

3

2

45

Alshon Jeffery

Chicago

10

24

367

15.3

3

2

54

Ryan BroylesDetroit

10

22

310

14.1

2

2

63

Rueben Randle

N.Y. Giants

16

19

298

15.7

3

Let’s grade each 2012 first-round wide receiver and examine how they prove that the Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law is the closest thing to gridiron gravity there is in football – an irrefutable truth with which will only create great personal pain if you choose to test it.

 

Justin Blackmon No. 5 overall to Jacksonville – epic fail

Blackmon led all rookie wide receivers with 865 receiving yards. But the impact on the Jaguars was literally non-existent.

Jacksonville finished No. 28 in Real Passing Yards Per Attempt (5.38 YPA); No. 28 in Offensive Passer Rating (74.68); No. 28 in completion percentage (55.9); and No. 29 in Real Quarterback Rating (65.85).

In each case, they barely improved over the dismal numbers they posted in 2011, despite dishing out a huge contract and a No. 5 overall pick to a wide receiver.

Oh, the 2012 Jaguars also went 2-14, the worst team in franchise history, and scored 255 points, just 12 points better than their output in 2011.

Compare Blackmon's lack of impact in the passing game to the profound impact on a team’s passing fortunes of the top rookie quarterbacks drafted in 2012: Robert Griffin III in Washington; Andrew Luck in Indianapolis; Russell Wilson in Seattle

It proves one of the foundations of the Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law: quarterbacks make wide receivers; wide receivers do not make quarterbacks.

The Jaguars did not need Blackmon. They need a quarterback. Blackmon is useless without one. Drafting him was a futile gesture on a team with profound weaknesses up and down the lineup.

 

Michael Floyd No. 13 overall to Arizona – epic fail

The Jaguars might have been a very bad passing game. But the 2012 Cardinals ran away with the Triple Crown of passing ineptitude like Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

The Cardinals tumbled to the bottom of every major measure of passing success after their foolish decision to fall in love with a Shiny Hood Ornament in the 2012 draft.

In doing so, they passed on a rookie quarterbacks such as Russell Wilson, who merely lifted the Seahawks from No. 26 in Real Passing YPA (5.57) in 2011 to No. 7 in Real Passing YPA (6.92) in 2012, right behind Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

The Cardinals finished 31st in scoring last year (250 points). Keep in mind, this was a team with not one but two marquee Shiny Hood Ornaments in Fitzgerald and Floyd. They were each useless without a quarterback.

 

Kendall Wright No. 20 overall to Tennessee – epic fail

The Titans tried to ease the transition into the Jake Locker Era by chasing a Shiny Hood Ornament in the draft to help the young QB get the ball down field.

It didn’t work.

Wright led the team with 64 catches, but for just 626 yards – a dismal average of 9.8 YPA. Compare that production to veteran Nate Washington, who caught just 46 passes but for 746 yards (16.2 YPC).

Both Wright and Washington caught four TDs, so the veteran was far more likely as a  percentage of touches to get in the end zone, too.

The Titans finished just 23rd in scoring offense (330 points) and went 6-10, one of the worst teams in franchise history.

 

A.J. Jenkins No. 30 overall to San Francisco – epic fail

No player in 2012 proved the unbearable futility of drafting wide receivers early better than did Jenkins.

He barely dressed, never stepped on the field and caught zero passes. Yet the 49ers marched inevitably onto the Super Bowl behind brilliant performances from not one but two different quarterbacks – without a single contribution from the player to whom they devoted their top draft pick.

The 49ers might have been that one step better in 2012 had they drafted, say, a stud offensive lineman to shore up their lone weakness: a porous group of Offensive Hogs.

The 49ers largely thrived despite this unit: they were No. 20 on the Offensive Hog Index, No. 25 protecting the passer and No. 25 converting third downs.

This weakness continued to haunt them in the Super Bowl: Colin Kaepernick was sacked three times and the 49ers simply couldn’t covert in key situations: 2 for 9 on third down and 0 for 1 on fourth down. Two of Baltimore’s three sacks came on third downs.  

It’s quite possible the decision to draft a Shiny Hood Ornament wide receiver in the first round instead of an actual impact player cost the San Francisco 49ers a Lombardi Trophy – especially during a tightly contested Super Bowl in which any one single impact player could tipped the scoreboard in the 49ers favor.

 

The Second-Round Picks – epic fail

Five more wide receivers were nabbed in the second round – with correspondingly less than success than the epic failures in the first round.

The five wide receivers taken in the second round of the draft, in other words, among the 64 best players coming out of college last year, combined for 97 catches for 1,383 yards and 13 touchdowns.

The worst of the bunch was the highest pick: Brian Quick to St. Louis with the No. 33 overall pick – the first pick of the second round.

Quick, essentially a first-round pick, caught just 11 passes for 156 yards and 2 TDs.

Even worse, he wasn’t even the best rookie receiver on his own team. That honor went to Chris Givens, a fourth-round pick, who caught 42 passes for 698 yards and 3 TD.

The success of Givens over Quick highlights another aspect of the Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law, which tells us that you don’t have to chase sexy, big-name receivers to get sexy, big-name results. History is littered with big-name dud wide receivers and small-name studs who nobody saw coming. 

The 2012 season was no exception: Cleveland’s Josh Gordon finished No. 3 among rookie wide receivers in both receptions (50) and yards (805) and was second in TD receptions (5).

Basically, he put up Justin Blackmon numbers. And Cleveland picked him for a song in the supplemental draft, with a four-year deal worth $5.3 million. The stupid Jaguars, fascinated by the Shiny Hood Ornament Blackmon, signed the receiver to a four-year, $19 million deal.

Apparently, they had to pay extra for all the off-field trouble.

Why Wide Receivers Are Overvalued

Wide receivers are overvalued for one basic reason: they simply do not touch the ball enough to justify big money or high draft picks.

Let's look at it this way: Detroit’s Calvin Johnson is fresh off perhaps the greatest individual receiving season in NFL history, as noted above, with 122 catches and a record 1,964 yards.

But even HE spent 94 percent of every snap on the sidelines or as a high-priced decoy.

Johnson's 122 catches equals 7.6 touches per game. There are about 130 snaps (65 per team) per NFL game. So even the greatest wide receivers touch the ball on fewer than 6 percent of all snaps. They are OVERVALUED, folks. Don’t you see it?

(Sam Monsoon of Pro Football Focus tells us via Twitter that Johnson caught a pass on 5.3 percent of all Lions snaps in 2012.)

Coupled with the fact that Johnson got in the end zone only five times and his team won just four games, you could argue that he was the shiniest, most overvalued, least impactful hood ornament in NFL history in 2012. 

Fans in Detroit shouldn't be excited by his performance. They should mock the Ford Family for attaching this oversized Shiny Hood Ornament to the rusty old Edsel of NFL franchises.

Bottom line: It is ridiculous, utterly ridiculous, to dish out megabucks to a guy who, in a great year, might touch the ball on just 5 percent of NFL snaps and do little to nothing 95 percent of the time.

That situation is, in essence, the crux of the wide receiver position. Fans “Oooh!” and “Aaahh” when this glitzy Shiny Hood Ornament makes an acrobatic 25-yard catch down the sideline. But in reality, these plays happen few and far between – certainly not enough to merit breaking the bank for one of them.

We can hear the doubters clamoring now: “But wait, Mr. Cold, Hard Football Facts. A great wide receiver will open the field underneath for the offense!”

To which we say: bullshit.

First, an “elite” speed-burner wide receiver is 0.1 to 0.2 seconds faster in the 40 than the average NFL receiver. The average quarterback has about 3 seconds to get off a pass.

So you may think that speedy wide receiver is going to make a dramatic difference in a team’s ability to “open up the field.” You may get all excited when your team picks up one of the fastest wide receivers in the draft.

But in reality, there’s little to no difference in the distance covered in those 3 seconds by an “elite” wide receiver and your average lightning-fast NFL wide receiver.

Once again, we overvalue the impact of wide receivers because of those headline-making stopwatch times without really thinking about how miniscule that difference in speed is when translated to an NFL offense.

The foundation of the Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law is that quarterbacks make wide receivers; wide receivers do not make quarterbacks.

And the Cold, Hard reality is that the only thing that opens up a field for an offense is a quick-thinking quarterback with the ability to distribute the ball to a variety of weapons vertically and horizontally, further countered by the threat that a team will run the ball at any given time.

That description describes perfectly the aforementioned dominant Super Bowl champion 1984 49ers, who drafted Jerry Rice three months later.

The 49ers, Joe Montana and later Steve Young MADE Jerry Rice an elite wide receiver; Rice did not make the 49ers an elite team. They fielded their greatest team ever without him.

Now let's look at the 2012 Lions and the 2012 Patriots. The 2012 Lions were led by an “elite” downfield wide receiver and former first-round draft pick in Johnson. The 2012 Patriots were led by an underneath slot receiver who was undrafted out of college in Wes Welker.

Johnson caught 122 passes in 2012; Welker caught 118.

But Johnson played for a Lions teams whose offense largely consisted of quarterback Matt Stafford heaving up the ball in Johnson's direction, with no threat of a run. The Lions passed the ball a record 740 times and ran the ball just 391 times.

Welker played for a quarterback who distributed the ball to a galaxy of weapons vertically and horizontally and countered that air attack with the NFL's most effective ground games: the Patriots were No. 2 in rush attempts (523), No. 1 in rushing touchdowns (25) and No. 1 in rusher rating.

As a result of these different philosophies, one which focused on a Shiny Hood Ornament and another which focused on solid team play and a division of assets, the 2012 Lions scored 372 points and went 4-12; the 2012 Patriots scored 557 points, third most in history, went 12-4 and hosted the AFC title game.

Once again, in 2012, Shiny Hood Ornament wide receivers provided glitzy showmanship and big headlines  ... while also providing close to zero impact on the actual field of play.

Yet another year of overwhelming evidence proves to us that wide receivers are overvalued.

It's evidence that desperate NFL teams will once again ignore at their own peril in the 2013 NFL draft.


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