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Beat the House: WR Edition

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Here are parts 1, 2, and 3.  This is the fourth installment of an on-going series:  If you are new to the site, please read the prior installments for an explanation of what this is.

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He tried everything, but Browns fans still hated him.

This is bross-like length.  I apologize ahead of time.

I understand why picking a wide receiver high is a sexy pick.  They sell jerseys and they are fun to watch.  Throw it deep and let Larry Fitzgerald go get it.  Throw a screen to Andre Johnson and watch as he sheds tackles for long gains.  I understand why it could be great.  

Having a game breaking WR is one of the greatest weapons that a NFL team can have.  Ask any coach that has had a motivated Randy Moss.  They change the game, even when they aren't being thrown the ball.  

Is the risk worth the reward in taking a WR early?

Going back to the '99 draft, there has been 46 WR's taken in the first round, for an average of 4.2 every year.  How many of those WR's are worth the pick?

After getting a lot of help from DBN, especially Danvail, we have made some changes in the system.  First of all, we have switched to football outsiders for the data.  If you haven't been there, you should check them out.  They have made my life much easier.  We used Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement or DYAR.  If you need a breakdown on what that means, here is a link explaining it.

As for the scoring we went with the following:

6 points for Elite (a top 10 rank in DYAR)

3 points for #1 WR (a top 32 rank in DYAR)

1 point for a starter WR (a top 64 rank in DYAR)

So we went back and looked at every WR drafted since '99.  We also looked into a draft myth/rumor/common belief, does it really take three seasons to see a WR come into their own?  Does a great WR show signs in the first two years?  

Wide Receivers taken in the first round ranked by points;

 

  1. Reggie Wayne [39 points total, 3 in first two years]
  2. Tory Holt [35 points total, 7 in first two years]
  3. Larry Fitzgerald [27 points total, 6 in first two years]
  4. Andre Johnson [24 points total, 6 in first two years]
  5. Santana Moss [19 points total, 0 in first two years]
  6. Plaxico Burress [19 points total, 3 in first two years]
  7. Lee Evans [14 points total, 4 in first two years]
  8. Santonio Holmes [13 points total, 6 in first two years]
  9. David Boston [12 points total, 3 in first two years]
  10. Javon Walker [12 points total, 3 in first two years]
  11. Donte Stallworth [12 points total, 4 in first two years]
  12. Roddy White [10 points total, 0 in first two years]
  13. Roy E. Williams [10 points total, 2 in first two years]
  14. Calvin Johnson [8 points total, 7 in first two years]
  15. Ashley Lelie [8 points total, 4 in first two years]
  16. Anthony Gonzalez [6 points total, 6 in first two years]
  17. Michael Clayton [6 points total, 6 in first two years]
  18. Braylon Edwards [6 points total, 2 in first two years]
  19. Michael Jenkins [5 points total, 1 in first two years]
  20. Dwayne Bowe [5 points total, 4 in first two years]
  21. Koren Robinson [5 points total, 3 in first two years]
  22. Peter Warrick [4 points total, 0 in first two years]
  23. Bryant Johnson [4 points total, 0 in first two years]
  24. Travis Taylor [3 points total, 0 in first two years]
  25. Rod Gardner [3 points total, 3 in first two years]
  26. Reggie Williams [3 points total, 0 in first two years]
  27. Matt Jones [3 points total, 2 in first two years]
  28. Robert Meachum [3 points total, 0 in first two years]
  29. Percy Harvin [3 points total, 3 in first season*]
  30. Jeremy Maclin [3 points total, 3 in first season*]
  31. Hakeem Nicks [3 points total, 3 in first season*]
  32. Mark Clayton [2 points total, 1 in first two seasons]
  33. Kenny Britt [1 point total, 1 in first season*]
  34. David Terrell [1 point total, 1 in first two seasons]
  35. Freddie Mitchell [1 point total, 0 in first two seasons]
  36. Troy Williamson [1 point toal, 1 in first two seasons]
  37. Troy Edwards [0 points]
  38. R. Jay Soward [0 points]
  39. Sylvester Morris [0 points]
  40. Charles Rogers [0 points]
  41. Rashaun Woods [0 points]
  42. Ted Ginn [0 points]
  43. Craig Davis [0 points]
  44. Darrius Heyward-Bey [0 points]
  45. Michael Crabtree [0 points, but was on the verge]
  46. Mike Williams [0 points]
So, what do we make of this info?

These Wideouts have combined for 221 seasons in the NFL.  Combined they have accumulated 333 points.  On average, they avaerage 1.5 points a season.  According to this scoring system, that is a starter or top 64 in DYAR.  Over a 6 season career that would be 9 points total.

The closest to average for this exercise is Roy E. Williams of the Dallas Cowboys (10 points in 6 seasons).  That should give you some idea what the average WR drafted in the first round should give you.

Does that excite you?  Considering I think Roy Williams kinda sucks, it doesn't make my socks go up and down, but maybe you think differently.

Our Study: What are the chances we draft a bust?

What about WR busts?

We decided that a "bust" for us would be pretty easy.  We figured a WR should average a point per season in the NFL, considering that means that he is a "starter".  If you use a first round pick on a guy who can't crack the top 64 on DYAR, on a consistent basis, is definitely not worth the first rounder that was used on him.

How many of the 46 got the bust label?  22 out of the 46 fell under the bust tag.  (In case you were wondering, only 2 rookies this season didn't make the cut, that would be DHB, who by the looks of it sucks, and Michael Crabtree who was killed by his holdout.  Even with the holdout, he barely missed the top 64.)  That is almost 50% (actually 48%) of the WR's taken in the first round didn't even rate as a starter.  That is staggering.  You take a WR in the first, it is a coin flip if he is even a starter.  Wowza.  (If you take out the rookies from '08 and '09, citing the two year rule, it changes from 20 busts in 40 WR's, an even 50%.)

Second of all, yes it takes three seasons for a WR to become a star.  Key word here is star.  Most of the WR's that we don't consider busts, made some sort of impact in their first two seasons.  I am not saying that they are stars in their first two seasons, but they at least rank as starters (top 64) or better in the first two seasons.  There have been some outliers (Tory Holt and Calvin Johnson on the star side and Roddy White and Santana Moss on the bust side) but most WR's fall into the starter category in the first two years.  You gotta see a glimpse in two seasons.

What WR's have been elite since '99?

So, who makes up the elite WR's in this league?  Well here is a quick rundown from '99 until '09: (First rounders in bold, and players with a * next to their name are in our study)

1999: 5 out of top 10 were first rounders, none in our study (not a shock there, they are rookies)
  1. Jimmy Smith
  2. Cris Carter
  3. Randy Moss
  4. Isaac Bruce
  5. Tim Brown
  6. Marvin Harrison
  7. Patrick Jeffers
  8. Marcus Robinson
  9. Michael Westbrook
  10. Keyshawn Johnson
2000: 4 out of 10 were first rounders, with one being in our study
  1. Randy Moss
  2. Isaac Bruce
  3. Terrell Owens
  4. Tory Holt*
  5. Ed McCaffery
  6. Amani Toomer
  7. Rod Smith
  8. Marvin Harrison
  9. Derrick Alexander
  10. Cris Carter
2001: 6 out of ten, including two from our study
  1. Marvin Harrison
  2. Terrell Owens
  3. Derrick Mason
  4. Jerry Rice
  5. Rod Smith
  6. Tory Holt*
  7. Jimmy Smith
  8. David Boston*
  9. Tim Brown
  10. Kevin Johnson
2002: Three out of ten and we were 1 for ten with study
  1. Marvin Harrison
  2. Amani Toomer
  3. Hines Ward
  4. Laverneus Coles
  5. Joe Horn
  6. Plaxico Burress*
  7. Donald Driver
  8. Jerry Porter
  9. Dennis Northcutt
  10. Jerry Rice
2003: 4 out of 10, with two of them being in our study.
  1. Randy Moss
  2. Tory Holt*
  3. Derrick Mason
  4. Chad Johnson
  5. Marvin Harrison
  6. Justin McCareins
  7. Hines Ward
  8. Darell Jackson
  9. Bobby Engram
  10. Santana Moss*
2004: By far the best season for our WR study with 5 out of 10, with 4 being in our study.
  1. Reggie Wayne*
  2. Musin Muhammad
  3. Michael Clayton*
  4. Brandon Stokley
  5. Joe Horn
  6. Javon Walker*
  7. Nate Burelson
  8. Tory Holt*
  9. TJ Houshmanzadeh
  10. Randy Moss
2005: 3 out of 10 with only 2 of those in our study.
  1. Steve Smith
  2. Chad Johnson
  3. Santana Moss*
  4. Donald Driver
  5. Eddie Kennison
  6. Hines Ward
  7. Kennan McCardell
  8. TJ Houshmanzadeh
  9. Larry Fitzgerald*
  10. Rod Smith
2006: 6 out of 10, with 4 being in our study
  1. Marvin Harrison
  2. Reggie Wayne* (Think Peyton was good this season?)
  3. Lee Evans*
  4. Chad Johnson
  5. TJ Houshmanzadeh
  6. Terry Glenn
  7. Terrell Owens
  8. Larry Fitzgerald*
  9. Marques Colston
  10. Roy E. Williams*
2007: 4 out of 10 were first rounders, with three being from the study
  1. Randy Moss
  2. Reggie Wayne*
  3. Terrell Owens
  4. Wes Welker
  5. Marques Colston
  6. Chad Johnson
  7. Greg Jennings
  8. Larry Fitzgerald*
  9. Andre Johnson*
  10. Bobby Engram
2008: 4 out of 10 with all four being in the study.  Interesting that this was the first season 1st rounders captured 1-3
  1. Andre Johnson*
  2. Larry Fitzgerald*
  3. Roddy White*
  4. Vincent Jackson
  5. Steve Smith
  6. Reggie Wayne*
  7. Hines Ward
  8. Antonio Bryant
  9. Anquan Boldin
  10. Chad Johnson
2009: 3 out of 10 with only 2 being in our study
  1. Sidney Rice
  2. Vincent Jackson
  3. Wes Welker
  4. Miles Austin
  5. Randy Moss
  6. Reggie Wayne*
  7. Marques Colston
  8. Steve Smith NYG
  9. Hines Ward
  10. Santonio Holmes*
What do all of these stats mean?

Again, out of 110 "chances" at an elite season, first rounders were 47 for 110.  That is 43%.  Not looking too good for first rounders are elite theory.  That is ALL first round WR's not just the ones that we care about.  What about the ones we care about?  I needed to go deeper. 

Our Study: Elite WR's

To do this, I had to make some changes in the evaluation.  Like I said right above, even the bona fide star WR in the NFL don't always become elite right away.  

To combat this, I am not going to count the rookie WR's from '09 (I would have added in '08, but there were none).  Taking them out takes the total number of WR's for this study from 46 to 40.  I also took out the first two seasons of this study (even though Tory Holt was elite in his sophomore season), I worried that it would skew the numbers too much.  Doing this takes our total seasons from 11 down to 9.

We are looking at 40 WR's over 9 seasons.  That is 90 chances for a WR to log an elite season.  Counting only those seasons, our draft study WR's accounted for 24 elite seasons out of a possible 90, or 27%.  Scarier still, those 24 seasons were made up of only 12 different players.  Yikes.  Only 12 of the 40 players drafted had put up an elite season.  30%.  You have a 30% chance to draft a WR that will have at least ONE season in the top 10.  Those odds suck.  As a team we will be dropping 40 million on a 30% chance?

Conclusion:

This study is not perfect.  WR's more than any other position on the field depend on their team mates doing their jobs.  There is no way for me to factor this in.  That being said, I think this is a pretty in depth look at drafting a WR.

So, with all the holes that we have on this team, why should we risk the number seven pick on what at best looks like a 50-50 shot at becoming a solid starter for this team?  Add in the fact that our QB situation is far from settled, it seems very unlikely that Dez Bryant would be a good pick with the seventh pick.

Unlike the Quarterback article, I wasn't very surprised at what I have found (If you didn't read it, we found out that a QB taken outside of the first round has damn near no chance at becoming a decent NFL starter).  WR's are the high wire act of the NFL draft.  When it goes right, it goes right in a big way.  When it goes wrong, splat.  

Winning in the NFL without an elite WR is possible.  Drafting them is damn near blind luck.  So why take the risk in the first round?