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WRs in First Round (1 Viewer)


Wide Receivers: Picked Early and Traded Often

By JOHN BRANCH, The New York Times

(April 27) - More than ever, N.F.L. teams are searching for the next great wide receiver, and they often reach for one early in the draft. But no position represents such a perplexing dichotomy, if not outright risk.

Receivers have never been more important to the game, driving teams to snag them by unprecedented numbers on draft day. But receivers are widely viewed as interchangeable, too; if you lose one or do not land the one you want, simply grab another.

Thirteen wide receivers have been chosen in the first round of the past two drafts, more than any other position. Yet a dozen receivers with Pro Bowls on their résumés have been traded in the past two years, too.

"It's a contradictory position for that reason," Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi said.

On draft day, teams are increasingly unable to stop themselves when an enticing receiver is there for the choosing. Four receivers were among the top three selections the past three years. The Detroit Lions have chosen a receiver with a top-10 pick three years in row.

Seven receivers, a record for the position, were chosen in the first round in 2004. Six followed in 2005. The position with the second-most first-rounders the past two years? Cornerback — the players assigned to cover the receivers — with 11.

"It is probably the position with the most conjecture of any position in the draft," Accorsi said of receivers. "There were these theories for years that you can't pick a receiver high up."

That axiom has been axed, perhaps too eagerly. Receivers tend to disappoint, even if the duds at receiver do not garner the same amount of attention as the quarterbacks who annually find themselves on the unsympathetic lists of draft busts.

Four receivers have been chosen with the fourth overall choice the past 25 years — Kenny Jackson (1984), Desmond Howard (1992), Michael Westbrook (1995) and Peter Warrick (2000). In 31 combined seasons (Warrick is still playing, with the Seattle Seahawks), they averaged 26 receptions and compiled one 1,000-yard season.

In 2005, 19 wide receivers gained 1,000 yards or more. The Lions offer a microcosm of the allure of receivers and the pressure on quarterbacks. The team is 16-32 since 2003; its prized receivers have averaged 27 receptions and 382 yards a season. But Detroit has decided that its struggles rest largely with its top draft choice in 2002, quarterback Joey Harrington, who is likely to be traded.

"We always talk about the mortality rate of quarterbacks taken in the first round," said the longtime Dallas Cowboys personnel director Gil Brandt, now a draft analyst for NFL.com. "There's a bigger mortality rate for wide receivers in the first round than there is for quarterbacks."

Like quarterbacks, few receivers shine as rookies. Last year, six receivers were drafted in the first round, including three in the top 10. None finished in the league's top 50 in receptions or yards.

The struggle usually continues. Of the 19 receivers drafted in the first round since 2002, only one had 1,000 yards receiving in 2005 — Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, who was chosen third in 2004.

But statistics, of course, can bolster both sides of an argument, and there is an unmistakable correlation between draft status and production. Of last season's top 20 reception leaders who played wide receiver, 14 were former first- or second-round selections. Two others were chosen in the third round.

The role of receivers has increased drastically in 20 years. In 1985, seven years after the N.F.L. heavily restricted contact for defensive backs, and just as the quick-pass, catch-and-run West Coast offense was spreading across the league, five of the top six reception leaders were running backs or tight ends. Only one wide receiver, Washington's Art Monk, had more than 80 receptions.

In 2005, however, 15 of the top 16 reception leaders were wide receivers; the other was a tight end. Oakland's LaMont Jordan, at No. 25, was the top running back. Thirteen wide receivers had more than 80 catches.

Those kinds of statistics have driven teams to draft more wide receivers than any other position in the past 10 years. After a few seasons, teams often do not hesitate to get rid of them.

In a league where most veterans change teams via free agency, an uncharacteristic number of receivers have been traded since 2004. It is another sign of the dichotomy — apparently, not all receivers are interchangeable or disposable, given that teams are willing to trade for them.

Among the more than a dozen Pro Bowl receivers traded since 2004 are Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Keyshawn Johnson, Joey Galloway, Santana Moss, Keenan McCardell and Eric Moulds. Many have been moved because they are considered too high maintenance or too high priced, or both. But countless other receivers garnered nothing in return, changing teams through free agency.

"Another theory that we really haven't shaken from is that you can always get them," Accorsi said. "That is what people say: 'You can always find receivers.' And there are a lot, because colleges are playing spread formations. But we need more, too, because we are playing spread formations."

This year, perhaps only two receivers will be chosen in the first round, which would be the fewest since 1992. Florida's Chad Jackson and Ohio State's Santonio Holmes are projected mid-first-rounders.

The smaller numbers may be a reflection of the perceived depth among this year's receiving prospects. Or they may reflect a weariness of risking high choices on a position that often disappoints. Perhaps teams have simply gorged on receivers for so many years that few see the position as a critical need for their roster this year.

But if there is one statistic that may slow the rush to receivers, it is this: of the 19 first-round receivers since 2002, only three were part of a playoff team as rookies. And none have been to the Super Bowl.

"Obviously you want a home run hitter rather than a singles hitter," said Brandt, who chose only two receivers in the first round during 30 years with the Cowboys — Mike Sherrard in 1986, and Michael Irvin in 1988. "Sometimes, when you do that, you strike out a lot."

04-27-06 08:35 EDT

Interesting, but not something that most fantasy owners would be surprised at. I think the article was written with a strong bias too. Pointing out the "unsucessfulness" of the 2004/2005 draft class WRs doesn't necessarily mean "WRs chosen in the first round are often unproductive". Why not look at the QBs selected in the first round over 2004/2005:

Manning - Good

Rivers - not playing yet

Ben R. - Good

Lossman - unsucessful so far

Alex Smith -unsucessful so far

Aaron Rogers - not playing yet

Jason Campbell - not playing yet

Of those, none made it to the pro-bowl, and only Eli was in the top 10 in passing yards while Ben was in the top 10 for rating.

I think a more fair way to look at the info would be to look at players in their 5th or 6th year, and see when they were picked. What % of starting WRs were picked in the 1st round... if that's statistically lower than other skill positions, then the arguement would hold, but looking at the 2004/2005 draft class (note - 2002/2003 had only 6 WR taken, fewer than the number of QBs selected (7) while teams generally need 2-3X as many WR as QBs).


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