Thursday, April 19, 2012
Questioning how teams value WRs in draft
By Mike Sando
Thank you, former St. Louis Rams defensive tackle D'Marco Farr, for raising an interesting point regarding drafted wide receivers.
The top three teams in passing yardage last season -- New Orleans, New England and Green Bay -- have combined to invest one first-round draft choice in receivers since 2006.
The implication is clear: Teams can flourish in the passing game without regularly investing early picks in wideouts, a point to consider as mock drafts widely project Justin Blackmon to the Rams with the sixth overall choice. The adage about the NFL as a quarterback-driven league seems to gain momentum.
But the broader context is this: Teams do not regularly draft wide receivers in the first round, regardless of where those teams rank in passing yardage.
Teams have chosen only 11 receivers in first rounds since 2006, the year Farr used as a start point. Teams have drafted 29 defensive linemen, 26 offensive linemen, 24 defensive backs and 14 quarterbacks in first rounds over the same period. Teams have drafted the same number of receivers as linebackers and running backs in these first rounds (allowing for some overlap between defensive ends and outside linebackers).
The chart shows round-by-round receiver selections since 2007 for 11 strong passing teams. I've chosen 2007 as the starting point because it encompasses the past five drafts.
The list includes the teams whose quarterbacks finished among the top 10 in Total QBR last season, plus the New York Giants, who won the Super Bowl thanks largely to Eli Manning's strong play. These teams have drafted fewer receivers than other teams on average, but slightly more of them in the first and third rounds.
None of these teams has drafted a receiver in the fourth round since 2007; teams tend to grab them in the third round, then wait til the last three rounds to fill out their rosters.
Houston, with Andre Johnson to anchor its receiving corps, has drafted only one receiver in any round over the five-year period in question (Trindon Holliday, a sixth-round choice in 2010, was a returner).
The NFL is a passing league. Receivers are important, but drafting one early isn't always a requirement for success. The Saints have drafted only two receivers in any round since 2007, yet they had the most prolific offense in the league, with tight end Jimmy Graham a big part of their success.
How teams use weapons in combination becomes critical, too. A No. 1 receiver becomes more effective with a strong option from the slot taking off pressure. Teams with gifted tight ends have another advantage.
Do the Rams absolutely, positively have to draft a wide receiver sixth overall this year? Of course not. But if they can find the next Calvin Johnson or even the next Hakeem Nicks -- two of the seven first-round wideouts drafted by teams in the chart -- what would be so bad about that?