Print and Go Back ESPN.com: AFC South [Print without images]

Thursday, March 26, 2009
Breaking down the AFC South's approach to WRs

By Paul Kuharsky
ESPN.com

 
  Getty Images
  Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne and Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Reggie Williams: the Reggie that worked and the Reggie that didn't.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The Colts have an all-time great at quarterback. The Jaguars and Titans do not.

No. of WRs Drafted Since 1997, By Team
Team No. of WRs drafted Avg. overall draft choice
Green Bay 19 144.5
Tennessee 17 121.1
Atlanta 16 143.6
Denver 16 127.6
Chicago 15 121.5
Cincinnati 15 125.0
Pittsburgh 15 111.4
Baltimore 14 123.9
Buffalo 14 141.3
N.Y. Giants 14 118.7
Kansas City 13 120.9
New Orleans 13 151.9
Tampa Bay 13 140.8
Minnesota 12 137.5
Oakland 12 166.6
Philadelphia 12 106.5
San Francisco 12 142.9
Seattle 12 153.7
St. Louis 12 119.7
Arizona 12 116.3
Cleveland 11 102.0
Jacksonville 11 137.9
Detroit 10 102.2
N.Y. Jets 10 135.6
Washington 10 113.7
Carolina 9 116.6
Dallas 9 153.3
Miami 9 109.1
New England 9 133.4
San Diego 8 107.1
Indianapolis 7 98.4
Houston 6 114.2
Source: Keith Hawkins of ESPN Research
The Colts drafted a Hall of Fame receiver in 1996. The Jaguars and Titans did not.

Look at the history of those three teams in the AFC South at wide receiver over the last dozen years, and Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison have done a lot to skew the comparison.

Even so, just over a month before the 2009 draft, it's hard not to try to sort through the different approaches at receiver by the division's three receiver-needy teams.

Harrison was in Indy before Manning, but the Colts have made it a priority to provide weapons for their quarterback. The Jaguars and Titans, meanwhile, are run-based teams that have failed to find the downfield threats that would open things up.

Jacksonville and Tennessee have missed in different ways.

The Jaguars swung and missed three times when they spent first-round picks on receivers -- R. Jay Soward, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones all busted -- while the Titans spent high picks on other positions while managing to develop only one Pro Bowler, Derrick Mason, out of 17 drafted wideouts.

We're leaving the Texans mostly out of this conversation for two reasons -- they don't have as much of a draft history to examine and receiver doesn't rank as one of their big needs heading into this draft.

But Houston is included in these capsules, in order of the number of receivers drafted since 1997, for context:

Tennessee:
Receivers drafted: 17 (Second in NFL)
Average overall pick: 121.1 (15th)
Average round: 4.06
Average draft value pick: 86th
First-rounders: 1
Passing offense since 1997: 17th
Philosophical summation: The Titans haven't spent a first-rounder on a receiver since they passed on Randy Moss for Kevin Dyson in 1998. They've thrown a lot of mid- and late-round picks at the position and hope to make things work with willing blockers in a run-first offense that has not consistently stretched the field on the outside under Jeff Fisher. They won't usually play kids who don't know the entire offense early on and like to talk about how they don't need an All-Pro caliber No. 1 guy to succeed.

Jacksonville:
Receivers drafted: 11 (Tied for 21st)
Average overall pick: 137.9 (23rd)
Average round: 4.55
Average draft value pick: 62nd
First-rounders: 3
Passing offense since 1997: 14th
Philosophical summation: They've not been afraid to spend first-round picks on receivers and haven't found a star in three stabs with R. Jay Soward, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones. Indications are, however, they aren't afraid to swing again. They want a big-time weapon for David Garrard to be the quarterback they envision and may well grab Michael Crabtree or Jeremy Maclin at No. 8 in the first round if one of them is available. Veteran Torry Holt, a free agent, is visiting the team Thursday.

Indianapolis:
Receivers drafted
: 7 (28th in the league)
Average overall pick: 98.4 (First)
Average round: 3.29
Average draft value pick: 60th
First rounders: 2
Passing offense since 1997: First
Philosophical summation: Surrounding Manning with weapons is always a priority. The Colts got an all-time great in 1996 with Marvin Harrison, and rather than thinking they could supplement him with bit players, they spent more resources to surround him -- with Reggie Wayne in round one of the 2001 draft, with free agent Brandon Stokley in 2003 and by drafting Anthony Gonzalez in round one in 2007. They could well grab another at No. 27 in this draft.

Houston:*
Receivers drafted
: 6 (32nd)
Average overall pick: 114.2 (Ninth)
Average round: 4.00
Average draft value pick: 39th
First rounders: 1
Passing offense since 2002: 28th
Philosophical summation: They hit a home run with Andre Johnson in the first round in 2003 and have worked to build an offense around an unassuming, hard-working talent. The Texans have done r
easonably well developing Johnson's supporting cast with free agent additions Kevin Walter and Andre Davis and 2006 seventh-rounder David Anderson. With an improved line and run game, if quarterback Matt Schaub stays healthy, Johnson will remain one of the league's most feared weapons.
*--Since 2002

In the graphic below, Aaron Schatz from footballoutsiders.com suggested I look at the differences in approach at wide receiver by using a "draft value chart." A general average of draft position assumes the difference between each draft spot is the same, while the sort of value chart teams use for trading picks takes into account just how different the value is between a first-rounder and a sixth-rounder.

Average Value of WRs Drafted Since 1997 By AFC South Teams
Team WRs drafted Total points value AVG Draft value of AVG
Houston 6 3079.65 513.3 39th pick
Indianapolis 7 2101.7 300.2 60th pick
Jacksonville 11 3095 281.4 62nd pick
Tennessee 17 2701.5 158.9 86th pick

Two assessments of what this all means:

Schatz of footballoutsiders.com:

"It's a different issue with each team. The Colts have hit on their first-round receivers, the Jaguars have not. Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez. Honestly, what else have the Colts had to do to find receivers? Those three play so well that everything else they look for is slot guys and depth.

"On the other hand, the Jags have blown first-rounders on Reggie Williams, R. Jay Soward, and Matt Jones. Williams is sort of a good second guy, Soward sucked, and Jones is a mess who was totally overdrafted."

"I don't think the Titans have spent a first on a receiver since Kevin Dyson. They did a great job of drafting Derrick Mason, and have been stumbling along otherwise with lower picks that didn't work out and free agents. That's different from the Colts, though -- the Colts didn't have a chance to have lower picks not work out because their first-rounders are so good. And the starter before Wayne was drafted was [Jerome] Pathon, who was a second-rounder who had a career that was about equal to what you would expect from a guy taken with an early pick in the second round."

ESPN analyst Herm Edwards former coach of the Jets and Chiefs:

"It depends on what your philosophy is on offense, it has a lot to do with what you are trying to do. Receivers, it's always a tough deal when you draft those guys, especially high. Because the expectations on them are so enormous. It sometimes takes those guys two or three years to really get going into the system.

"If you look at Indy, they've got a system with a quarterback where all they have to do it fit the pieces they want, like the kid Gonzalez they drafted from Ohio State. You look at him now, they used him a lot in the slot, so they kind of brought him along. I think now with Marvin being gone Gonzalez will probably replace Marvin outside. When they moved him to the slot, they really took away Dallas Clark, because Clark is really their slot guy in three wideouts, they put him in the slot a lot. Now they've got a speed guy in Gonzalez, they can move him back outside and now what they'll probably do is look for another guy. They are always a year or two ahead of what they want to do.

"Tennessee, in my opinion, is more of a team that's going to try to run the ball and play physical on defense, do it that way. So their receivers are a little bit different than the guys in Indianapolis. Those guys have got to be able to block. If you look at Tennessee's receivers, they're pretty big. Jacksonville has the same kind of guys. They're more of a play-action team, they're going to try to hit the home runs. Those teams are going to pound you with their running games, try to get eight guys in the box, get one on one outside, and then from there try to hit you with the home run.

"Jacksonville, they've had some guy but none of them have really turned out. But that's a lot of teams, though. They are so hard to figure out. This year in this class is kind of unique. Five or six of the top guys are juniors. That's what makes the class so good... Now you're talking about bringing a young guy in that's going to take a little time to develop.

"The Colts, if they miss on a guy it's almost not on the radar screen, because when you think about it, he ain't going to play anyway, he's not pressed to play right now. It's been the same starters every year. Now they need one."