NFL Draft – Why Teams Should Avoid WR in First Round

The 2020 NFL Draft begins on Thursday April 23. One of the most talked about topics in this draft has been the wide receiver position.

While guys like Jerry Jeudy, Ceedee Lamb, and Henry Ruggs (among a dozen others) have extremely high potential, is drafting a wide receiver really the best use of a first round draft pick?

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.

Proving the theory:

  • Of the 34 wide receivers drafted in round one since 2010, 8 of them (24%) have made at least one Pro Bowl. This includes only one WR since 2015 (Amari Cooper).
  • From 2010-2016, 22 out of 28 WRs are either no longer on the team that drafted them (via trade, free agency, or out of football).
  • Over the past decade, only TWO teams have won a Super Bowl with a WR that they drafted in the first round on their roster – Nelson Agholor on 2017 Eagles and Demaryius Thomas on 2015 Broncos.
  • Before drafting N’Keal Harry in 2019, the Patriots won 3 Super Bowls in the last decade (and appeared in 5) without drafting a WR in the first round
  • None of these WRs were taken in round 1 – Michael Thomas, Chris Godwin, Adam Thielen, Keenan Allen, Tyreek Hill (plus Antonio Brown, Doug Baldwin)
  • These guys were all top 10 picks – John Ross, Justin Blackmon, Kevin White, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Tavon Austin
  • Julian Edelman, the 232nd pick, is the last WR to win Super Bowl MVP (LIII). Before him, only 3 other WRs have won Super Bowl MVP since Jerry Rice did it in 1989 – Deion Branch and Hines Ward were not first round picks. Santonio Holmes was.

Now, let’s get even deeper into proving this idea that drafting a WR in the first round would be a mistake. Here’s a look at each first round WR class of the past decade.

2019

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

Small sample size after just one season, but Brown and Metcalf both made major impacts for teams that won a playoff game in 2020 and Hardman was a role player on the Super Bowl champs.

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)

Both first rounders have been productive in 2018 and 2019. All 7 receivers included here have breakout potential for 2020.

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), Dede Westbrook (110)

The three first round picks have combined for 28 touchdowns through three seasons. Smith-Schuster and Godwin have 34 TDs combined (17 each). Godwin was third in the league in receiving yards and Golladay was seventh.

2016

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

Thomas and Hill have each caught 32 career touchdowns, through 4 seasons. The four first round WRs have combined to catch 31 touchdowns.

2015

First round – Amari Cooper (4), Kevin White (7), DeVante Parker (14), Nelson Agholor (20), Breshad Perriman (26), Phillip Dorsett (29)
Non-first round – Devin Funchess (41), Tyler Lockett (69), Jamison Crowder (105), Stefon Diggs (146), Tyrell Williams (UDFA)

Amari Cooper is a very good WR (despite whatever Rex Ryan says). DeVante Parker had a rare 5th year breakout, exceeding 1,000 yards for the first time in his career, finishing 5th in the league with 1,202 yards. Everyone else on this list stinks. Quite simply, none have lived up to the hype.

2014

First round – Sammy Watkins (4), Mike Evans (7), Odell Beckham Jr (12), Brandin Cooks (20), Kelvin Benjamin (28)
Non-first round – Marquise Lee (39), Davante Adams (53), Allen Robinson (61), Jarvis Landry (63), John Brown (91), Quincy Enunwa (209)

This draft might be an exception, but that exception comes with caveats. Evans and Beckham are both excellent WRs. But Evans has yet to play in a playoff game and Beckham was traded shortly after signing a new contract. Watkins is good, but struggles with injuries and never lived up to being the #4 pick (he was traded by Bills after three years). Cooks is good, but will enter 2020 on his 4th team in 7 years.

Meanwhile, Adams had a down year in 2019, but is still among the league’s best WRs, and Robinson and Landry both finished in the top 15 in receiving yards in 2019.

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. Woods, Allen, Thielen were all #1 WRs in 2018 and 2019.

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 are out of the NFL, some of them for a few years now.

2011

First round – AJ Green (4), Julio Jones (8), Jonathan Baldwin (26)
Non-first round – Torrey Smith (58) Randall Cobb (64)

Baldwin was a mega bust, but was a late round pick. Both Green and Jones being picked in the top 10 has been worth it to the Bengals and Falcons, respectively. Jones did help the Falcons offense get to the Super Bowl in 2016, but as good as Green has been throughout his career, Bengals are 0-5 in playoff games since drafting him 4th.

2010

First round – Demaryius Thomas (22), Dez Bryant (24)
Non-first round – Golden Tate (60), Emmanuel Sanders (82), Antonio Brown (195)

Bryant and Thomas were both great WRs for a while, but have both fallen off a cliff. Thomas won a Super Bowl

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

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