Breakdowns

Using First-Round Pick for a Wide Receiver Might Be Poor Draft Strategy

A record 13 wide receivers were selected within the first two rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft — six in the first round and seven in the second. In Week 5, the Philadelphia Eagles got dismantled by second-round rookie WR Chase Claypool of the Steelers. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s own first-round WR Jalen Reagor is currently on IR and hasn’t played since Week 2. The juxtaposition between Claypool and Reagor begs the question:

Are first-round wide receivers worth the draft price if you can get the same, if not better, production from a second- or third-round receiver?

Let’s look at recent history:

Since 2017, there have been 37 receivers drafted in the first three rounds — seven first-round WRs, 16 second-round WRs and 14 third round WRs.

Among this group, here are the top 12 receivers in terms of yards per game:

And here’s the breakdown of those 12:

  • 2 (29%) of the first-round receivers drafted since 2017 made the list
  • 5 (31%) of the second-round receivers since 2017 made the list
  • 5 (36%) of the third-round receivers since 2017 made the list

Of the top 12 receivers in touchdowns per game, 10 were drafted in the second and third rounds – six in the third round alone.

Since 2017, six receivers drafted in the second and third rounds have made a Pro Bowl. No first-round wide receivers since 2017 have made a Pro Bowl.

It’s safe to say that since 2017, second- and third-round receivers have outperformed the first-round receivers over that span. The recent poor play of some first-round wide receivers has put a bad taste in the mouths of some, but it shouldn’t ruin the idea of taking a wide receiver in the first round. There are plenty of former first-round receivers who have met or exceeded expectations. Once-in-a-generation talents like Julio Jones, Calvin Johnson and Odell Beckham Jr. come to mind, but with the good there is also the bad. There are plenty of receivers who have not been worth a first-round draft pick. See: Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, Corey Coleman.

Plenty of receivers who weren’t drafted in the first round have played like they should have been, players such as Devante Adams (second round), Tyreek Hill (fifth) and Allen Robinson (second). Plenty of receivers who were drafted outside the first round have not panned out (Jalen Hurd, Amara Darboh, ArDarius Stewart, for example). In those cases, however, team’s can take solace that they didn’t expend the draft capital of a first-round pick.

(Although Eagles fans may never get over the fact that they drafted receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in the second round in 2019 when D.K. Metcalf was still on the board. Arcega-Whiteside has 11 career receptions, Metcalf has 80.)

Given the recent lack of success of first-round receivers and the increased success of second- and third-round receivers, it at least makes sense that teams should consider using first-round picks on other positions and use less expensive draft capital on wide receivers.

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