First round wide receivers: Might as well flip a coin?
[Note: This is an update to a long-running analysis by Blogging The Boys lead writer Rafael Vela, in which he quantified the bust factors for every position picked in the first round of the draft]
Over the last ten years, 43 wide receivers have been drafted in the first round (only defensive backs have been drafted more often in the first round – 53 times). Of those first round receivers, 20 (44%) can be labeled as busts.
The criteria we apply for labeling someone as a bust is simple. If you become a consistent starter on your team, you’re a hit. If not, you’re a bust. We can argue till we’re blue in the face about about value or quality, but at the end of the day you have to remain a starter. For better or for worse, guys who looked promising but don’t start because of injuries are also listed as busts.
Sift through the top-tier rubble of the past ten drafts:
2000: Peter Warrick (CIN), Travis Taylor (BAL), Sylvester Morris (KC), R. Jay Soward (JAX),
2001: David Terrell (CHI), Freddie Mitchell (PHI), Rod Gardner (WAS)
2003: Charles Rogers (DET)
2006: None. Santonio Holmes was the only WR drafted in the first round.
2007: Craig Davis (SD), Anthony Gonzalez (IND)
2008: No WRs drafted in the first round
2009: Darrius Heyward-Bey (OAK). Nine catches in 11 games makes this look like a bust in an otherwise fairly strong round. However, all selections remain under review, as we’ll likely need up to three years to make a final determination.
As you can see, the chances of landing a top notch WR in the first round are basically a coin flip. Now, consider that Golden Tate, Arrelious Benn, or Brandon Lafell may be available for Dallas' first pick, depending on whether Jerry Jones moves out of the 27th spot. Odds are that two or three of these players are going to be busts. Can you tell which ones are going to be a boom or a bust? Better yet, can you tell Jerry Jones?
The second round
Picking a wide receiver in the second round carries a lower financial risk, as player contracts are lower than for first-rounders. But the bust rate remains unchanged. If we use the same criteria as we did for the first rounders, the bust rate for wide receivers in the second round is 53% (24/45). Even if we reduce the requirements and define success as having been the starter on a team for at least one season, the bust rate drops only marginally to 49% (22/45).
The top 20 WRs by draft position
In 2009, the Sporting News ranked the then top 20 wide receivers in the NFL. Of the top 20 wide receivers listed, only 9 were first rounders. The others were three second, third and seventh rounders respectively, one fourth rounder and one UFA. The best wide receivers in the game do not necessarily come from the first round. See also: Drew Pearson and Miles Austin.
As an NFL franchise, there's only so much you can do to avoid a bust.