Last year I unveiled my Draft Commandments, a list of six “intentionally adamant” edicts about best draft practice based on years of observing what has, and has not, worked in previous NFL drafts. I even evaluated Washington’s 2021 draft through the lens of the commandments as a post-mortem of the event. Spoiler: The team graded out fairly well.
I’m still trying to figure out how best to revisit the Commandments before this year’s draft, but that process was rendered easier when a regular poster asked me to weigh in the wisdom of taking a wide receiver in the first round of this year’s draft.
Turns out, it would be a violation of the first Commandment:
1. Thou shalt not draft offensive skill positions (other than QB) in the first round.
An excerpt of the original explanation is below:
MattinBrisVegas’ piece on drafting WRs earlier this offseason is really the icing on the cake, concluding that you’re actually more likely to find the best WRs in the second round, likely after the athleticism junkies and Combine warriors are off the board.
As with WRs, I’ve written about tight ends before. Suffice it to say, not only are almost none of the top tight ends in the league first round picks, nearly all the best tight ends take at least a year or two to come into their own. Most teams are looking for first round picks to contribute immediately. The instances of first round TEs being able to do so is vanishingly small.
So, long story short, take these positions off your first round board. Sure, grab a wide receiver in the second, and perhaps take a tight end or running back in the third (or later), but don’t you dare think about taking one on Day 1.
Matt’s piece really put the stake through the heart of the notion that in order to find a talented WR, you have to land him in the first round, but like any good life-draining legend, it’s proven hard to kill.
The Trends are Changing!
Almost as soon as Matt’s evaluation of draft talent had been published, people were coming out of the woodwork to assert that with the 2020 WR class, something had changed. WRs were better coming right out of college, or evaluators had figured out how to better assess WR talent. Nevermind the fact that both the 2020 and 2021 drafts were heavily confounded by the COVID-19 disruptions associated with shortened seasons, cancelled Combines, and a host of other factors that interfered with the usual process. Is it true? Now, two years in, how does the 2020 draft class of WRs look?
As in Matt’s analysis, I’ve ranked WRs by a variant of their “career approximate value”:
Cumulative Performance of WRs Drafted in 2020
What stands out first is that Justin Jefferson, the 5th WR selected in 2020, has been an absolute beast, collecting over 3,000 yards receiving in his first two years in the league. He’s truly in a class of his own.
Of the next 4 highest performing WRs, 3 were taken in the second round. Of the top 10, 5 were taken in the second round. The top WR taken, Henry Ruggs, is 10th on this list. The second one taken, Jerry Jeudy, is 7th.
Overall, the pattern - if there can be said to be one - is entirely consistent with the conclusion from Matt’s article last year, below:
To the extent that the first few WRs selected in each draft class are the most highly rated by NFL teams (we only really know how one team rated each of them), I don’t think the most highly-rated WR prospects are the ones you want to pick. I’d rather take the ones who are still on the board in the second round or later, after the first few have been taken, and save my earlier picks for positions that are easier to project.
The 2021 class, which is really still too early to evaluate, did have three high performing WRs taken with the top 3 WR picks in the first round of the draft (Jamarr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, and Devonta Smith), but even in this case, Amon-Ra St. Brown, selected in the 4th round, was the third highest performing WR.
Will second rounders Elijah Moore and Rondale Moore step up in the coming years to compete with the Big 3? It’s hard to say, but it’s certainly not inconceivable. In any case, so far, 2021 looks like it could potentially be a bit of an outlier, but it’s really too early to tell.
But What About This Year?
As is the case essentially every year, there are a bumper crop of WR prospects who have worked draftniks into a frenzy. The Ohio State duo of Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. The injured speedster from Alabama, Jameson Williams. The injured contested catch WR from USC, Drake London. The aspiring Deebo Samuel clone, Treylon Burks. The Combine freak, Christian Watson. Add to that list Dotson, Pickens, Tolbert, and Ross, among others.
At the end of the day, there are a solid 10 to 15 top WR prospects whose performance most “experts” would be very hard-pressed to accurately estimate over the course of the next several years. Some will surely bust. Others will almost certainly pan out as eventual WR1s.
If history is our guide, it’s very likely that a roughly equal numbers of WRs taken in the first and second round will occupy that second category, and Washington would be wise to focus its first round efforts elsewhere this year.
A trade back from number 11, picking up at least a third round pick, would allow for flexibility in round 1, with the opportunity to potentially grab a difference making WR in round 2 if one presents himself, and, if so, to retain some Day 2 draft capital to add depth to the existing line-up.
Bonus Content: It goes without saying that the team should not even contemplate considering a tight end or running back in the first round this year (or ever). With the simultaneous decline of Zeke Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, and Saquon Barkley, any discussion of using first round picks - much less high first round picks - on running backs should be grounds for automatic disqualification from the War Room.
What do you think? Should Washington consider a WR in the first round of the draft this year?
This poll is closed
Absolutely, it should be a priority.
They should think about it.
They should wait until at least the second round.