About three weeks ago I mentioned in passing that I’d take a game-changing wide receiver with the Green Bay Packers’ upcoming first-round pick. Despite all the catcalls, I’m not about to just slink away and quietly lick my wounds.
Isn’t it the prevailing opinion that Aaron Rodgers hasn’t been given a great supporting cast in the last several drafts? Think tight ends, think seventh-round, fifth-round and undrafted receivers, and a receiver who switched over to running back. Think five straight years of the team’s top pick being a defensive player.
Is it asking too much to once every so often expend a first-round pick on a game-changing wide receiver — on someone who should still be in his prime the day that Rodgers hangs up the cleats? If you aspire to have such a player, the odds are that he’ll be found in the first round.
Below is a list of arguably the top wide receiver on each NFL team, in the order of when they were selected in the draft (round/overall pick), along with their receiving yards in 2016 – especially if injured in 2016, their previous best receiving yardage and the year it was achieved are shown. It breaks down into 14 first-rounders, seven second-rounders, and 11 receivers chosen in the third round or later. Truly high-quality receivers rarely make it into the second round.
1/3 Larry Fitzgerald (AZ) – 1,023 yds.
1/4 Amari Cooper (OAK) – 1,153 yds.
1/4 Sammy Watkins (BUF) – 1,047 (2015)
1/4 A.J. Green (CIN) – 1,426 (2013)
1/6 Julio Jones (ATL) – 1,409 yds.
1/7 Mike Evans (TB) – 1,321 yds.
1/12 Odell Beckham, Jr. (NYG) – 1,367 yds.
1/19 Jeremy Maclin (KC) – 1,318 (2014)
1/20 Brandin Cooks (NO) – 1,173 yds.
1/22 Demaryius Thomas (DEN) – 1,083 yds. (1,619 in 2014)
1/24 Dez Bryant (DAL) – 1,382 yds. (2012)
1/27 DeAndre Hopkins (HOU) – 954 yds. (1,521 in 2015)
1/28 Kelvin Benjamin (CAR) – 941 yds.
1/30 Kenny Britt (LAR) – 1,002 yds.
2/36 Jordy Nelson (GB) – 1,257 yds.
2/42 Jordan Matthews (PHI) – 804 yds.
2/45 Alshon Jeffery (CHI) – 821 yds.
2/49 DeSean Jackson (WAS) – 1,005 yds.
2/60 Golden Tate (DET) – 1,077 yds.
2/61 Allen Robinson (JAX) – 883 yds.
2/63 Jarvis Landry (MIA) – 1,136 yds.
3/84 Mike Wallace (BAL) – 1,017 yds.
3/92 T.Y. Hilton (IND) – 1,448 yds.
3/Sup. Terrelle Pryor (CLE) – 1,007 yds.
4/100 Travis Benjamin (LAC) – 677 yds.
4/119 Brandon Marshall (NYJ) – 788 yds.
5/146 Stefon Diggs (MIN) – 903 yds.
5/153 Jeremy Kerley (SF) – 667 yds.
6/195 Antonio Brown (PIT) – 1,284 yds.
7/227 Rishard Matthews (TEN) – 945 yds
7/232 Julian Edelman (NE) – 1,106 yds.
Undr. Doug Baldwin (SEA) – 1,128 yds.
Sure, there are exceptions, but in general if you want a dominant wide receiver, drafting in round 1 is the only reliable way to do it. Picking early in the first round, which means you’ve had a very bad prior season, is the surest way to do it. The first seven receivers at the top of the above list might well all end up in the NFL Hall of Fame. However, this isn’t an option the Packers ever have, unless they go crazy and trade up.
While it’s much harder to find a great receiver near the bottom of the round, the run of Brandin Cooks, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and DeAndre Hopkins shows it can be done. These players were all chosen from 20th to 27th overall – the Packers have the 29th pick this year.
If the Packers wait until the second round, when they choose 61st overall, the quality goes down a bunch. Even so, the Packers have done fairly well recently with a series of late second-round receivers: Davante Adams (2014), Randall Cobb (2011) and Greg Jennings (2006) – but it’s been the Packers’ rare early second-rounder, Jordy Nelson, who kept this team in 2016 from sinking back into its 2015 morass.
What about the first round? The Packers last used a first round pick on a receiver 15 years ago, when they made Javon Walker the 20th overall pick in 2002. Talent-wise, Walker had the goods, but he only stayed with the team for four years, and his career only lasted eight years. Before that the Packers used the 14th overall pick of 2000 for tight end Bubba Franks and in 1988 they selected Sterling Sharpe seventh overall.
Sharpe epitomized the “WR1” and he had seven great years prior to his career-ending injury. Though Brett Favre and Sharpe only had three years together, in that time each was twice named first-team All Pro and both went to the Pro Bowl each year. Here is what Sharpe averaged in those three seasons: 105 catches, 1,285 yards, and 14 touchdowns. Glory days!
There are other reasons for the Packers to pick a wide receiver in the first round this year, which I’ll probably get around to during the long offseason. But don’t forget that Green Bay is about to begin its 25th year as, first and foremost, a passing team.
It’s their bread and butter.