Drafting a WR: Why Bother?
At the end of the 2010 regular season, Jordy Nelson had, in three full years, amassed 6 career NFL starts, 100 catches for 1268 yards and 6 TD’s. Despite these underwhelming numbers, Nelson was one of the most successful wide receivers taken in the 2008 NFL draft. Now with “Super Bowl Hero” on his resume and a 3 year, $13M extension, Nelson is clearly near the very top of his class. But it wouldn’t take much to top the majority of the 2008 WR class – as it could be one the worst classes of receivers to ever come out.
Since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger, there have been 141 WR’s drafted in the 1st round. 2008 was the only season without a 1st round pick being used on the position. An unfortunate result of this lack of 1st round WR’s was a nearly unprecedented run on the position in the 2nd round. By the time the Detroit Lions came on the clock at pick# 64 to open the third round, 10 WR’s had been selected in a span of 26 selections:
Just three years later, half of those 2nd round receivers (Avery, Hardy, Kelly, Sweed and Jackson) had failed to make an opening day roster. Another, Devin Thomas, was on his third team in as many years. Avery looked promising before tearing his ACL (and has resurfaced in Tennessee) but the others have been complete failures. Jackson was out of the league just a year after being drafted. None of Sweed, Kelly and Hardy have appeared in an NFL game since 2009 and amassed a cumulative 13 games started, 45 catches and 530 yards. Even the successes of the group have been underwhelming. Eddie Royal came out of the gate strong, putting up a 91 catch, 980 yard season in his rookie campaign. Between 2009 and 2010 he caught a combined 96 passes for 972 yards despite starting 22 games in that span. Simpson, is only a “success” insofar as he has gotten off to a torrid start in 2011. In his first three seasons, he had accumulated a meager 13 games played, 4 starts, 21 catches and 279 yards.
The third and fourth rounds included these gems:
More ugliness. Manningham and Bennett have been adequate #2/#3 WR’s who have failed to grab bigger roles. Doucet, Douglas and Caldwell are annual disappointments. The 4th round is a complete washout, Hawkins has stuck with the Titans (26 catches over 3+ years), Smith is on and off practice squads, the others are out of football.
Oddly enough, the strength of the 2008 class came from the late rounds:
Stevie Johnson has turned into the only bona fide #1 WR from the entire group. Morgan and Garcon have enjoyed success comparable to the 2nd and 3rd rounders. Schilens showed some ability but can’t stay healthy, Slater is a special teams standout for the Patriots and the rest of these guys are out of the league or on the fringes of rosters.
At a quick glance, the 2008 group appears to be awful. Of the 35 receivers drafted, there perhaps 3 or 4 guys who could be considered high quality players and a similar number of receivers who are useful role players. A number of the top 100 picks were quickly dumped by their original teams. What may surprise the casual football fan is that this group isn’t significantly worse than normal. In fact, it looks a bit better than a lot of other WR classes – especially if Doucet can blossom in Arizona replacing Steve Breaston and Jerome Simpson can stay healthy.
Drafting is a crapshoot regardless of position, but history tells us that with wide receivers the odds are stacked significantly against finding a quality player.