179,402: That’s the number of yards the NFL gained in total last year.
123,639: That’s the number of pass yards the NFL gain in total last year. That’s a market share of 68.91%. I’m not telling you anything new by saying it’s a passing league; I only aim to give you some insight on how much of passing league the NFL has become.
Whole offseasons are spent “loading up” in the passing game when there is a perceived deficiency and in some cases, even when there isn’t. To win in the NFL, you must be able to win through the air. For example, the Eagles offseason, desperately referred to as “Weapons For Wentz”, saw them bring in former Chicago WR Alshon Jeffery and former Ravens and 49ers WR Torrey Smith. In the draft, serious draft capital has been spent on players like Odell Beckham, Julio Jones, and AJ Green to provide some juice in the passing game. Is it worth it?
With the debate raging over Wide Receiver rankings and draft strategy over the who and when, I decided it was time to take a look at what you can expect when your favorite team takes a WR in the top half of the first round, or waits to fill that need in the 4th round.
For this study, I broke down the draft into 8 sections: Top of the 1st round (1-16 overall), Bottom of the 1st round (17-32 overall), 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th round.
First I took a look at the abysmal 2012 wide receiver class. Troubled WR Justin Blackmon would end up being the headliner, but not after some extreme vetting by the very interested Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Having heard rumblings of Blackmon’s lifestyle, the Bucs decided to send a scout to Blackmon’s favorite bar for a week. Every night, without fail, Blackmon would show up and proceed to essentially buy the bar. This convinced the Bucs to trade back from 5th overall to 7th overall with the Jaguars, who selected Blackmon. His troubles with alcohol have been well documented, leading to a short, disappointing stint in the league.
The next WR selected in the 2012 was Michael Floyd by the Arizona Cardinals with the 13th overall selection. He’s had his own troubles with alcohol and has had other struggles with onfield consistency. Despite all this, the top half of the 1st round outperformed any other section of the draft, averaging 34 receptions, 506 yards, and 3 TDs per player over the last 5 years. You can blame Titans WR Kendall Wright and 49ers WR AJ Jenkins for that criminally poor production taking the title, as the bottom half of the second round averaged a meager 30 receptions, 347 yards, and 1.8 touchdowns per player over the last 5 years.
There was a glimmering ray of hope for the 2014 wide receiver class however. Bears WR Alshon Jeffery was found in the 2nd round, and in the 3rd round Bengals WR Mohamed Sanu and Colts WR TY Hilton are holding strong. Still, the 3rd round only averages 33 receptions, 469 yards, and 2.48 touchdowns per player over the last 5 years, only good enough for 2nd. The only other bright spots of the draft were Lions WR Marvin Jones being taken by the Bengals in the 5th round and Dolphins WR Rishard Matthews going in the 7th round.
The 2013 draft saw the bottom half of the first round take the title in a slight improvement, depending on how you look at it. The Rams selected WR Tavon Austin with the 8th overall pick, but the Texans got a dynamic DeAndre Hopkins in the bottom half of the 1st round at the 27th overall pick. Hopkins average of 79 receptions, 1,121 yards, and 5.75 TDs per year was enough to vault his section over the top half of the first round despite Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson’s pedestrian career.
The second round was full of busts with Justin Hunter, Robert Woods, and Aaron Dobson, but the third round rebounded with Chargers WR Keenan Allen and Cowboys WR Terrence Williams both being taken. Kenny Stills was taken in the fifth round by Miami and boosted the 5th round, but overall, if you took a WR in 2013, chances are you didn’t end up with a starter.
2014 was a boon for teams that needed a boost in the passing game. Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks, and Kelvin Benjamin were all selected in the first round and all had at least one productive season. The second round saw productive members in Jordan Matthews, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, and Jarvis Landry. The third round saw some hits with Donte Moncrief and John Brown, while the 4th round added Martavis Bryant.
The top of the 2014 draft is by far the most successful of the bunch with a 75 reception, 1,129 yard, and 8.78 touchdown average per player over the last 3 years. The bottom half of the 1st placed 2nd among all qualifying sections over the 3 year study, and the 2nd round placed 4th overall.
So far we’ve had 2 of 3 classes top producers, on average, come from the top half of the 1st round, which should come as no surprise. What do the final results show? Well, I can tell now, if you’re Team Anti WR in the 1st Round, and decide to wait until the 4th round, anything over 9 receptions a year would be above average, and that’s not ideal. In fact, after the 3rd round, Kenny Stills and Marvin Jones are the only receivers drafted from 2012-2014 to average over 40 receptions a year.