The eternal mystery of Draft Day

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 20, 2008



There are eternal mysteries that have defied mankind through the millennia.
 
Are we alone in the universe? Is there a divine power? And why do NFL teams trip over themselves each April in a race to draft first-round wide receivers when they go belly-up faster than the lake fish of Chernobyl?
 
We're fairly certain humans will uncover the secrets of their existence long before we football-loving trolls figure out why NFL teams are so fascinated by wide receivers in the first round of the draft.
 
Here's the five-wide set version of the problem:
 
ONE Teams are inexplicably blinded by wide receivers. Maybe it's the speed, the grace or the gold-capped teeth. But in the 12 drafts since 1996, NFL teams have snapped up 51 wide receivers in the first round – making it the single most frequently drafted position in the first round. More so than with running backs, tackles, defensive ends or even quarterbacks, NFL teams come to the odd conclusion that their No. 1 pick is best spent on a wide receiver who is likely to fail.
 
TWO – The problem is only getting worse. If anything, the passion GMs have for wide receivers is accelerating, with 19 first-round wideouts nabbed in the four drafts from 2004 to 2007. Of those 19, only Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald has truly lived up to the hype.
 
THREE – Teams grossly over-estimate the impact a wide receiver can have on a team. If you can name a wide receiver who had a sudden impact on the fortunes of his team, you'll be the first. The truth is that wide receiver is probably the least important position on the field, virtually incapable of making an impact on the fortunes of a franchise if it has holes defensively, on the offensive line or at quarterback. Basically, the issue is this: a lot of things need to go right before a receiver even touches the ball. He can make very little happen on his own.
 
FOUR – Teams need "building block" players before they need wideouts. Your offense could field Jerry Rice, Don Hutson, Marvin Harrison and Lance Alworth at the peaks of their careers, but if you have Tony Mandarich at left tackle and Ryan Leaf at quarterback, your offense is still going to suck. The truth is that teams should not draft a wide receiver with their first pick unless they have a legit No. 1 quarterback, a shutdown corner, a stud pass rusher and a franchise left tackle. Only then, after all the building blocks are in place, should serious resources be devoted to the ancillary wide receiver position.
 
FIVE – Stud wide receivers fail with dizzying consistency. This is really the crux of the issue here. We might understand the grip wide receivers had on NFL teams if the position so readily produced first-round studs. But it  does not. For reasons that probably have a lot to do with the qualities that make even star receivers petulant prima donnas, they fail more often than socialist economic theory.
 
Sure, teams have uncovered some first-round gems at the position. But for every Hall of Fame caliber Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss and Torry Holt taken in the first round since 1996, there have been four Yatil Greens, Marcus Nashes and R. Jay Sowards ... guys who crash and burn faster than your neighborhood OxyContin junkie.
 
The 51 first-round wide receivers taken in the last 12 years have combined for 40 Pro Bowl appearances. But more than half of those, 21 in fact, have been produced by just three players: Harrison, Holt and Moss.
 
To highlight the rate of failure by wide receivers, we divided the 51 first-round draft picks over the last 12 years into four categories: the outright Busts, the Underachievers, the Stars and the Hall of Famers. For the sake of fairness, we did not yet judge the class of 2007, because it's just too early to make any judgments yet about their careers. We break out those five No. 1 picks separately at the bottom.
 
All in all, folks, it's not a pretty picture, with the Busts outnumbering Hall of Famers 4 to 1 and Underachievers outpacing the Stars 2 to 1.
 
THE BUSTS (1997-2006 Draft)
This is pretty inglorious list of 16 first-round picks – more than one-quarter of all the receivers (46) taken in the first round from 1996 to 2006. They range from the snake-bitten (such as the oft-injured Yatil Green) to the felonious (Rae Carruth, who helped kill his girlfriend while she was pregnant with his twins).
 
Just remember when your team drafts a wideout on Saturday, that all these players were seen as saviors of their respective franchises, only to fall woefully short of a competent NFL career. If your team spent a No. 1 pick on one of these guys, you still have regrets and ponder what might have been.
 
Player
Draft
Team
Pick
Games
Rec.
Yards
Avg
TD
Pro Bowls
Yatil Green
1997
Miami
15
8
18
234
13
0
0
Reidel Anthony
1997
Tampa
16
73
144
1846
12.8
16
0
Rae Carruth
1997
Carolina
27
22
62
804
13
4
0
Marcus Nash
1998
Denver
30
11
4
76
19
0
0
Troy Edwards
1999
Pittsburgh
13
92
203
2404
11.8
11
0
Peter Warrick
2000
Cincy
4
79
275
2991
10.9
18
0
Sylvestor Morris
2000
KC
21
15
48
678
14.1
3
0
R. Jay Soward
2000
Jax
29
13
14
154
11
1
0
David Terrell
2001
Chicago
8
54
128
1602
12.5
9
0
Freddie Mitchell
2001
Philly
25
63
90
1263
14
5
0
Charles Rogers
2003
Detroit
2
15
36
440
12.2
4
0
Reggie Williams
2004
Jax
9
63
152
1958
12.9
15
0
Rashaun Woods
2004
San Fran
31
14
7
160
22.9
1
0
Troy Williamson
2005
Minnesota
7
39
79
1067
13.5
3
0
Mike Williams
2005
Detroit
10
30
44
539
12.3
2
0
Roddy White
2005
Atlanta
27
48
142
2154
14.5
9
0
 
 
THE UNDERACHIEVERS (1997-2006 Draft)
More indicting than the outright busts is that an even greater number of players, 18 by our count, have simply disappointed by the standards of a No. 1 pick. These are guys who dabbled with a potentially great season or two, but ultimately brought little to the table.
 
Let's put it this way: The Redskins thought they had it all figured out when they grabbed Rod Gardner with the 15th pick in the 2001 draft. But 23 TDs in a six-year career with four teams say the Redskins had it all wrong. They're hardly alone. If your team spent a No. 1 pick on one of these guys, you had some brief moments of hope and joy, but ultimately wish they had grabbed somebody else.

Player

Year

Team

Pick

Games

Rec.

Yards

Avg.

TD 

Pro Bowls

Terry Glenn

1996

NE

7

137

593

8823

14.9

44

1

Ed Kennison

1996

STL

18

176

548

8345

15.2

42

0

Ike Hilliard

1997

NYG

7

145

499

5973

12

31

0

Kevin Dyson

1998

Tenn.

16

59

178

2325

13.1

18

0

David Boston

1999

Arizona

8

75

315

4699

14.9

25

1

Travis Taylor

2000

Balt.

10

103

313

4021

12.8

22

0

Koren Robinson

2001

Seattle

9

84

263

3844

14.6

14

1

Rod Gardner

2001

Wash.

15

90

242

3165

13.1

23

0

Donte Stallworth

2002

NO

13

84

279

4213

15.1

31

0

Ashley Lelie

2002

Denver

19

94

206

3552

17.2

13

0

Javon Walker

2002

GB

20

72

252

3815

15.1

30

1

Bryant Johnson

2003

Arizona

17

77

210

2675

12.7

9

0

Roy Williams

2004

Detroit

7

55

245

3652

14.9

28

1

Mike Clayton

2004

Tampa

15

56

167

2222

13.3

8

0

Michael Jenkins

2004

Atlanta

29

61

135

1595

11.8

14

0

Matt Jones

2005

Jax

21

42

101

1392

13.8

13

0

Mark Clayton

2005

Balt.

22

46

159

1941

12.2

7

0

Santonio Holmes

2006

Pitt.

25

29

101

1766

17.5

10

0

 
THE STARS (1997-2006 Draft)
These were No. 1 draft picks well spent and  what you reasonably want out of such a high selection: someone who's a consistent high-level contributor in the NFL and even makes a few Pro Bowl appearances. They number just eight by our count. But These are guys who have been fairly consistent 1,000-yard receivers and major weapons for the teams that drafted them and for other teams they may have played for later in their careers. It would be great to get a Hall of Famer from your No. 1 pick, but that's the exception rather than the rule. If your team spent a No. 1 pick on one of these guys, you have little to complain about (though you probably still would have been better off with a franchise LT or pass-rushing DE).
 
Player
Draft
Team
Pick
Games
Rec.
Yards
Avg.
TD
Pro Bowls
Key. Johnson
1996
NY Jets
1
167
814
10571
13
64
3
Eric Moulds
1996
Buffalo
24
186
764
9995
13.1
49
3
Plaxico Burress
2000
Pittsburgh
8
118
470
7391
14.6
51
0
Santana Moss
2001
NY Jets
16
95
351
5497
15.7
37
1
Reggie Wayne
2001
Indy
30
109
494
6984
14.1
47
2
Andre Johnson
2003
Houston
3
70
371
4804
12.9
25
2
Lee Evans
2004
Buffalo
13
64
233
3727
16
29
0
Braylon Edwards
2005
Cleveland
3
42
173
2685
15.5
25
1
 
 
HALL of FAMERS (1997-2006 Draft)
No complaints here. You picked one of these four guys, you hit the mother lode. These are once in a lifetime franchise receivers. And, interestingly enough, three of the four (Harrison, Holt and Fitzgerald) are still with their original teams, while the fourth, Moss, is fresh off a record-setting season with a team that went 16-0. Like all Hall of Famers, these guys are the exceptions, not the rule. And if your team drafted one of these guys, you're pretty happy - unless, of course, you're an Arizona fan, a team that has wasted undue resources on the wide receiver position, with the utter lack of success to show for it. Fitzgerald looks like one of the great players in the game today. But he came on the heels of two patented underachievers: David Boston and Bryant Johnson.
 
Player
Draft
Team
Pick
Games
Rec.
Yards
Avg.
TD
Pro Bowls
Marvin Harrison
1996
Indy
19
175
1042
13944
13.4
123
8
Randy Moss
1998
Minnesota
21
154
774
12193
15.8
124
6
Torry Holt
1999
St. Louis
6
142
805
11864
14.7
71
7
Larry Fitzgerald
2004
Arizona
3
60
330
4544
13.8
34
2
 
THE WR DRAFT CLASS of 2007
The jury's still out on the wide receiver draft class of 2007, so we'll reserve judgement until further evidence is as at hand. Dwayne Bowe, playing while shackled by the inept Kansas City offense, had the only thing close to a break-out rookie year, while Detroit's Calvin Johnson grabbed 48 passes and 4 TD. Not bad for the position, considering that Jerry Rice himself caught 49 passes and 3 TDs his rookie year.
 
But naturally, it was a wide receiver who provided the greatest disappointment of the Class of 2007. Robert Meachem, selected by New Orleans with the No. 27 pick last year, was the only first-rounder last year who never stepped on the field.
Player
Team
Pick
Games
Rec.
Yards
Avg.
TD
Pro Bowls
Calvin Johnson
Detroit
2
15
48
756
15.8
4
0
Ted Ginn Jr
Miami
9
16
34
420
12.4
2
0
Dwayne Bowe
KC
23
16
70
995
14.2
5
0
Robert Meachem
NO
27
0
0
0
0
0
0
Anthony Gonzalez
Indy
32
13
37
576
15.6
3
0

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