The Risk of Drafting WRs in First Round of NFL Draft

The 2021 NFL Draft begins Thursday April 29th with the first rounder. At least 6 wide receivers may hear their names called on Thursday, with the possibility of 3 going in the top 10. LSU WR J’Marr Chase and Alabama WRs Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are at the top of the class.

Teams like the Bengals, Dolphins, Lions, Panthers figure to be in the mix for these guys. But drafting a WR in the first round is always risky, even more so in the top 10.

In the last 10 years, 11 WRs have been drafted in the top 10

  • Corey Davis (#5, 2017)
  • Mike Williams (#7 2017)
  • John Ross (#9, 2017)
  • Amari Cooper (#4, 2015)
  • Kevin White (#7, 2015)
  • Sammy Watkins (#4, 2014)
  • Mike Evans (#7, 2014)
  • Tavon Austin (#8, 2013)
  • Justin Blackmon (#5, 2012)
  • AJ Green (#4, 2011)
  • Julio Jones (#6, 2011)

Of these 11, only 3 remain with the teams that drafted them (Williams, Evans, Jones).

Evans, Green, Jones, Cooper are all major hits. Evans just helped the Bucs win a Super Bowl. Jones is considered the best WR in football. Green has been slowed by injuries the last few years, but has long been a top 5-10 WR and Cooper has been a major part of the Cowboys offense.

White and Blackmon were catastrophic disappointments. White played 17 games, never caught a touchdown and had just 25 receptions. Blackmon caught 5 TDs in his rookie season, but off-the-field issues caught up to him quickly and he faded from the league by mid-2013.

Austin is still in the league as a gadget player, but never fulfilled his potential as a top WR.

Ross is still young but trending in the major disappointment category. He has a chance at a new beginning with the Giants, though is likely their #4 WR entering 2021.

Watkins hasn’t lived up to #4, but hasn’t been a total disappointment either as he has bounced around from the Bills, Rams, Chiefs and now Ravens.

Williams and Davis still have potential and are only entering year 5, with Williams still with the team that drafted him (Chargers) and Davis moving on to a new team (Jets).

Beyond the Top 10

None of these WRs were taken in round 1 – Stefon Diggs, Michael Thomas, Chris Godwin, Adam Thielen, Keenan Allen, Tyreek Hill, Allen Robinson, Davante Adams. Plus recent All-Pros Antonio Brown and Doug Baldwin.

Look at the recent list of first round WRs, especially when compared to non-first rounders

2020

First round – Henry Ruggs III (12), Jerry Jeudy (15), Ceedee Lamb (17), Jalen Raegor (21), Justin Jefferson (22), Brandon Aiyuk (25)
Non-first round – Tee Higgins (33), Michael Pittman (34), Chase Claypool (49),

This first round class has a chance to be extremely special.

2019

First round – Marquise Brown (25), N’Keal Harry (32)
Non-first round – Deebo Samuel (36), AJ Brown (51), Mecole Hardman (56), DK Metcalf (64), Diontae Johnson (66), Terry McLaurin (76), Darius Slayton (171)

Brown and Metcalf both made major impacts for teams that made the playoffs in both 2020 and 2021. Hardman was a role player on the Chiefs.

2018

First round – DJ Moore (24), Calvin Ridley (26)
Non-first round picks – Courtland Sutton (40, Christian Kirk (47), DJ Chark (61), Anthony Miller (51), Michael Gallup (81), Russell Gage (194)

Both first round WRs are pretty good and have future WR1 potential.

2017

First round – Corey Davis (5), Mike Williams (7), John Ross (9)
Non-first round – Curtis Samuel (40), Juju Smith Schuster (62), Cooper Kupp (69), Chris Godwin (84), Kenny Golladay (96)

2 of the 3 first rounders weren’t given second contracts by the teams that drafted them. The non-first rounders on this list are all highly touted WRs.

2016

First round – Corey Coleman (15), Will Fuller (21), Josh Doctson (22), Laquon Treadwell (23)
Non-first round – Sterling Shepard (40), Michael Thomas (47), Tyler Boyd (55), Tyreek Hill (165), Robby Anderson (UDFA)

Hill (47) has more career TD catches than all 4 first rounders combined (41). That should tell you what you need to know. Also, hard to believe that 5 WRs were drafted ahead of Michael Thomas.

2015

First round – Amari Cooper (4), Kevin White (7), DeVante Parker (14), Nelson Agholor (20), Breshad Perriman (26), Phillip Dorsett (29)
Non-first round – Tyler Lockett (69), Jamison Crowder (105), Stefon Diggs (146), Tyrell Williams (UDFA)

Stefon Diggs was the 20th WR dratted in 2015. 20th!

2014

First round – Sammy Watkins (4), Mike Evans (7), Odell Beckham Jr (12), Brandin Cooks (20), Kelvin Benjamin (28)
Non-first round – Davante Adams (53), Allen Robinson (61), Jarvis Landry (63), John Brown (91)

Adams and Robinson, drafted in the second round, among the best WRs in the NFL.

2013

First round – Tavon Austin (8), DeAndre Hopkins (27), Cordarrelle Patterson (29)
Non-first round – Robert Woods (41), Keenan Allen (76), Kenny Stills (144), Adam Thielen (UDFA)

26 teams passed on Hopkins, one of the best WRs in football. Austin and Patterson have been used as gadget players and running backs. Meanwhile, Woods, Allen, Thielen are all #1 WRs.

2012

First round – Justin Blackmon (5), Michael Floyd (13), Kendall Wright (20), AJ Jenkins (30)
Non-first round – Alshon Jeffery (45), TY Hilton (92), Travis Benjamin (100), Marvin Jones (166), Cole Beasley (UDFA)

All four first round WRs have been out of the NFL for a few years.

2011

First round – AJ Green (4), Julio Jones (6), Jonathan Baldwin (26)
Non-first round – Torrey Smith (58) Randall Cobb (64)

Green and Jones have been two of the best first round picks over the last 10 years.


History suggests that drafting a WR in the first round may not be the wisest decision. The chance of drafting a “bust” is much larger than the chance of drafting a Pro Bowler. If nothing else, drafting a wideout in round one does not guarantee any form of success.

Mike is an alum of the University of Cincinnati and the ultimate sports nerd.

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