Explosive draft day findings
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 23, 2006
Few plays are more exciting than a wide receiver hauling in a long bomb. Conversely, few decisions in football are more likely to bomb than selecting a wide receiver with a first-round draft pick.
You can thank the steely nerved Pigskin Bomb Squad called the Cold, Hard Football Facts for igniting the draft-day discussion with some explosive findings.
We looked at the past 10 drafts (1996-2005) and discovered that selecting a wide receiver in the first round is the single-worst decision your team can make on draft day. This recent history shows that first-round wide receivers have a shockingly high chance of bombing in the NFL. Just a handful of first-round wideouts over the past 10 years have flourished.
Not only does drafting a wide receiver bode poorly for your future, it bodes poorly for your past, too: Struggling teams are more likely than good teams to seek salvation in the form of a fleet-footed wideout (Hello, Matt Millen! – pictured here with the second of his criminally negligent three consecutive first-round wideouts, Roy Williams). More often than not, all these teams find is continued failure.
Interestingly – and really, this is little more than a statistical anomaly – the last five Super Bowl victors all went on to championship glory soon after losing or dumping their most recent No. 1-pick wideout.
The routine failure of wide receivers is particularly shocking when you consider, as we reported last week, that they have been drafted more often in the first round than any other position over the past 10 years – 45 times to be exact. Apparently, NFL GMs and coaches continue to refute the obvious lessons of the Cold, Hard Football Facts and cling to the belief that a mesmerizing wide receiver is the key to future success.
We looked back on the careers of the 45 wide receivers selected in the first round since the 1996 draft. We then placed each of them in one of five categories. You'll see in no uncertain terms that the duds far outweigh the studs.
- 3 of these 45 are NFL Superstars, rising above the expectations of even a first-round selection and likely to end up in the Hall of Fame.
- 5 are Big-Time NFL Performers, giving the solid career performance one would reasonably expect from a top pick.
- 14 are NFL Journeymen, decent pro performers, but not quite what teams and fans expected out of their top selection.
- 8 are NFL Scrubs, serviceable second- or third-tier receivers who have clearly underperformed the expectations of a first-round pick.
- 9 are outright Busts, barely making a dent in the big leagues. These are players who were once touted as elite NFL performers but whose names today you'd hardly recognize.
- 6 were drafted last year and the Cold, Hard Football Facts feel it's too early in their careers to categorize any of these players. But, as you will see, all of the first-round wide receivers selected in 2005 underperformed the expectations of a top pick in their rookie campaign.
- A spreadsheet highlighting the career numbers of all 45 wideouts can be found here.
Put another way, 37 of the 45 first-round wide receivers selected since 1996 have failed to live up to expectations. Outright Busts, meanwhile, outnumber Superstars 3 to 1. Sure, there's some room for debate among our classifications, and some observers may move some fringe players up or down into different classifications.
But all the manipulation in the world will not change the Cold, Hard Football Fact that wide receivers are a high-risk, low-reward first-round selection, with a tremendous possibility of failure.
How incapable have our first-round wideouts been? Well, it would be more than reasonable for a team to assume that their big-money, first-round draft pick might make a Pro Bowl once – just once – in their career. But our 45 wide receivers defy this conventional wisdom.
- 34 of the 45 have failed to make a single Pro Bowl (Koren Robinson, a No. 1 pick for Seattle in 2001, made his first Pro Bowl last year as a kick returner in Minnesota. He was not included for our purposes among those who have made a Pro Bowl.)
- These 45 wide receivers have collectively made just 28 Pro Bowl appearances.
- The three Superstars on our list account for more than half (16) of those 28 appearances: Marvin Harrison (7, pictured here), Randy Moss (5) and Torry Holt (4).
- The 42 other wide receivers have made just 12 Pro Bowl appearances among them.
Bad teams, bad decisions
Besides the fact that wide receivers are likely to fail, there's another reason why their selection is a bad sign for your team. Picking a first-round wide receiver is more often than not a sign that your team sucked the previous year.
Put most simply, bad teams and bad organizations tend to opt for receivers in the first round more often than good teams. Why bad teams are so thrilled by wide receivers remains a short-lived mystery we will answer next week. But suffice it to say that of the 45 wideouts selected in the first round since 1996:
- 22 were picked by teams with losing records the previous year
- 15 were picked by teams with winning records
- 6 were picked by teams with more than 10 wins
- 12 were picked by teams with more than 10 losses
In recent years, teams have continued to suck the season AFTER drafting a first-round wide receiver, too.
In 2005, six desperate teams selected wideouts in the first round:
- Five of those six teams sucked the following season (Cleveland, Minnesota, Detroit, Baltimore and Atlanta).
In 2004, seven misguided teams selected wideouts in the first round:
- Six of those seven teams sucked the following season (Arizona, Detroit, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Tampa and San Francisco).
In 2003, three foolish teams selected wideouts in the first round:
- All three teams sucked the following season and for years before (Detroit, Houston and Arizona).
- These three teams are a combined 31-65 (.323) since selecting wide receivers in the first round of the 2003 draft.
And consider this: Just two teams have selected three first-round wide receivers over the past 10 years. These two teams are the worst franchises in football, Detroit and Arizona.
Notice a trend? Bad teams make bad draft-day decisions. These bad decisions routinely involve wide receivers.
Dump a first-rounder, win a Super Bowl
Of the 45 wide receivers selected in the first round over the past 10 years, only three have won a Super Bowl:
- Torry Holt caught 52 passes for Super Bowl XXXIV champion St. Louis in 1999.
- Travis Taylor caught 28 passes for Super Bowl XXXV champion Baltimore in 2000.
- Keyshawn Johnson caught 76 passes for Super Bowl XXXVII champion Tampa Bay in 2002.
Interestingly, teams are more likely to win a Super Bowl if they DUMP a first-round wide receiver.
This year's two Super Bowl participants, Seattle and Pittsburgh, reached the big game immediately after dumping their most recent first-round wideout.
Seattle's Koren Robinson, a first round pick in 2001, had been a notorious underachiever. The Seahawks released him before the 2005 season, and he signed with Minnesota. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck went on to a career season and the team reached the first Super Bowl in franchise history. Robinson and the Vikings tanked.
Pittsburgh's Plaxico Burress, a first-round pick in 2000, had also been a notorious underachiever – and a disruptive loudmouth to boot. The Steelers shipped him off to the N.Y. Giants before the 2005 season and proceeded to win their first Super Bowl in 26 years, led by the youngest Super Bowl-winning quarterback in history (Ben Roethlisberger). Burress and the Giants were shut out in a wild-card playoff loss.
These are not isolated incidents.
St. Louis won its first Super Bowl in 1999, the season after it unloaded Eddie Kennison, a first-round pick in 1996. Kennison has since gone on to have a decent career, but he was a notorious underachiever his first three years in the league with St. Louis, catching just 96 passes and scoring 10 TDs. (Of course, St. Louis made one of the rare great WR decisions of the past 10 years, selecting Superstar Torry Holt in the 1999 draft.)
Tampa Bay won its first Super Bowl in 2002, its first year without notorious underachiever Reidel Anthony, a first-round pick in 1997.
New England won its first Super Bowl in 2001, a year in which troubled 1996 first-round pick Terry Glenn was benched by coach Bill Belichick. It has since won two more Super Bowls with a receiving corps led by 2nd-round pick Deion Branch, 7th-round pick David Givens and 8th-round pick Troy Brown.
The Class of 1996
The failure of first-round wide receivers is even more astonishing when you consider that many of the most successful receivers of the last 10 years came from the Class of 1996. This group included Superstar Marvin Harrison, Big-Time Performers Keyshawn Johnson and Eric Moulds, and solid Journeymen Terry Glenn and Eddie Kennison.
The Class of 1996 was, far and away, the best first-round receiving corps of the past 10 years. In fact, it was one of the best in history.
But this historic anomaly has been followed by abject, repeated and astonishing failure, starting with the four-man Class of 1997.
This ignominious group of goats in 1997 included outright Busts Yatil Green, Reidel Anthony and Rae Carruth, who's currently serving 18 to 24.* The best of the bunch was Scrub Ike Hilliard, who has caught just 403 passes and 28 TDs in his nine-year NFL career. It's not quite what the N.Y. Giants had in mind when they selected the Florida stud with the No. 7 overall pick nine years ago.
If we remove the five players from the stellar Class of 1996, we discover that 34 of the 40 first-round wide receivers selected since then have failed to live up to expectations.
- 2 of these 40 are NFL Superstars.
- 3 of these 40 are Big-Time NFL Performers.
- 12 of these 40 are NFL Journeymen.
- 8 of these 40 are NFL Scrubs.
- 9 of these 40 are outright Busts.
- 6 of these 40, the entire Class of 2005, failed to impress last season.
(*For the record, we do not count injuries or off-field incidents as an excuse for being a bust. Either you live up to expectations or you don't. If wide receivers seem to get injured or wind up in trouble more often than players at other positions, it merely serves to prove our point that they are poor first-round selections.)
So, the Cold, Hard Football Facts prove in no uncertain terms that wide receivers are notoriously poor first-round draft choices. After the draft, we'll tell you why they fail so frequently and show you that there's little correlation between big-name wide receivers and overall team success.
In other words, we'll explain why there's little reason to select a wide receiver with a No. 1 pick.
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