We are currently working through our NFL Draft metrics and mathematical analysis on this year's Wide Receiver class. The obvious WR question everyone has for me is -- "whether to take Julio Jones or A.J. Green", so that's obviously where my attention went right to looking at the early data. I can tell you right now...we have some potential, obvious red-flag problems with one of them (teaser alert, keep coming back to read about why!). I also will make the case that there is another WR that should be in the Top-2 WRs...possibly that mystery WR could/should be the # 1 WR of the class, ahead of Green and Jones. Again, stay tuned.
If your first reaction to that last statement was, "what do you know about anything" and/or "that's ridiculous" and/or "you're just trying to be contrarian"...I beg of you to stay with me the rest of the article so I can (at best) totally change you thinking about WRs and the NFL Draft on this, or at minimum (and this really my goal) to make you at least stop and think about it.
What has captured my attention so far on these 2 WRs (Jones, Green), is the absolute "given" that it is with everyone that these are two no-brainer, no-questioning future NFL elite WRs. If you are one to project them in the Top-10/15 overall in this years draft, then that's what you are essentially saying. Jones and Green are typically Top-10/15 Mock Draft picks with no doubting whatsoever. My simple question is "why"? More to the point..."Why do YOU believe that..."?
Seriously, why do you believe that?
Think about that for a moment...(insert jeopardy music here).
I'm not kidding, why do YOU think that? It's key to the next 5 minutes of this article -- why do you think Julio Jones and/or A.J. Green are no-brainer, future elite NFL WRs?
Outside of a person who has watched every game, of every WR eligible for the draft; and has done so for years -- none of us really have much of a great case to make. Even someone who has watched every game of every eligible WR this year, we are then at the mercy of what that person's eyes see? Likely no one reading this has watched nearly all the eligible WRs play, but maybe you "saw" A.J. Green have awesome game and/or make an awesome catch against an Auburn or Julio Jones was "sweet" against the likes of a Tennessee...that's the basis for your argument/feeling? That's not a real premise. Even if you watched every A.J. Green game, you likely didn't watch every Julio Jones game, or Randall Cobb's, or Jonathan Baldwin's or Leonard Hankerson's, or...you get the point.
I am amazed how people can get so attached to one particular player/prospect, with really no basis in full reality. I'm also amazed that if anyone questions their limited view "belief", they will passionately "fight" you (literally or figuratively) on it if you disagree. They are so passionate on just a "hunch", or on very limited data -- it always confounds me why anyone so strongly believes something they have little study in.
The "zealous fans", are the minority of people reading this. Fans who have a near "religious" belief that Julio Jones and/or A.J. Green are hands-down the best WRs in the 2011 NFL Draft. I probably cannot get through to them to even consider otherwise.
Their is a larger group of great football fans who accept the Jones/Green "scriptures". The larger group of fans have busy real lives, other interests, and smartly rely upon the research done by others/experts in order to make their own assessments -- these are the folks I'd like to speak to and ask to just consider the following information before you leap out too far on Julio Jones or A.J. Green..
For those reading this that can honestly assess that their reason for thinking of Julio Jones and A.J. Green as "holy" WR's, is because...well...that's all you're being fed in the media -- then thank you for your honesty...and don't leave me yet; thinking I am going on a media rant, trust me...this is going to be eye-opening, but let me set this up properly first.
It is a reasonable thought process of a reasonable football fan -- Todd McShay, Mel Kiper, or almost everyone else of national recognition -- they are all saying Jones/Green are Top-10/15 picks, so they must be Top-10/15 picks! It's logical to think, "they study it more than I/you do". I don't blame Kiper or McShay for the upcoming problem I'm going to present, because Green and Jones will probably be Top-10/15 picks. The real issue is -- I blame us, the fan...for not questioning these evaluations harder.
Any of us can find out the truth of this WR problem on the internet. What is that truth? The simple truth is -- most NFL teams, and thus most "Draft Gurus", get high draft pick WRs wrong (wrong = they don't amount to much in the NFL) a heavy majority of the time. Where is the truth found? It is on the internet. Where can you go to find it? Simply go look at the NFL WR draft picks from 2000-2010.
In the past decade, let's look at all the WR's taken with picks 1-15 overall in the NFL Draft. Let's just "drink in" this list for a second:
- (2000) Peter Warrick (#4)
- (2000) Plaxico Burress (#8)
- (2000) Travis Taylor (#10)
- (2001) David Terrell (#8)
- (2001) Koren Robinson (#9)
- (2001) Rod Gardner (#15)
- (2002) Donte' Stallworth (#13)
- (2003) Charles Rogers (#2)
- (2003) Andre Johnson (#3)
- (2004) Larry Fitzgerald (#3)
- (2004) Roy Williams (#4)
- (2004) Reggie Williams (#9)
- (2005) Braylon Edwards (#3)
- (2005) Troy Williamson (#7)
- (2005) Mike Williams, USC (#10)
- (2007) Calvin Johnson (#1)
- (2007) Ted Ginn Jr (#9)
- (2009) Darrius Heyward-Bey (#7)
- (2009) Michael Crabtree (#10)
19 WR's selected within the first 15 picks over the last 10 years...with only 3 good/elite/potential HOF WR's...and the other 16 of them almost complete whiffs, nothing much in-between. Braylon Edwards maybe, kinda an in-between...but not elite, that's for sure. 16 of 19 WR draft "failures" (considering the high pick and money spent), for an 84.2% failure rate.
In the past decade, there has never been a situation where both of the Top-2 selected WRs have actually both been a wise pick. In fact, when 1 of the 2 highest selected WR's in the NFL Draft did produce a superstar WR (Calvin Johnson-2007, Fitzgerald-2004, Andre Johnson-2003); then the other WR selected in that Top-2 duo was a complete disaster (Ted Ginn Jr-2007, Roy Williams-2004, Charles Rogers-2003). The "odds" of the first 2 WRs taken in the NFL Draft both paying off "big"...and I stopped looking after 1996 (15 years felt right for "current" history); so 1996-2010 the odds of BOTH of the Top-2 WRs selected being a good/great success = 0.0%.
I know, "this year is different" you might say...maybe it will be with Julio Jones and A.J. Green, but it's tough overcoming a 0.0% historical trend of both of the Top-2 WRs selected becoming NFL stars/elites. With those odds, not knowing anything else, the smart money would be that at least one of Julio Jones or A.J. Green is going to be a flat out bust. Also remembering that there is a 84.2% failure rate of any Top-15 WR. Any WR drafted in the past 15 years, selected with a Top-15 overall pick has a huge likelihood to be a bust. How confident are you now on both Jones and Green?
Millions of man hours studying, millions of dollars in people/research, people paid in the media to study it full time...and an 84.2% failure rate. This is the group you now trust whole-heartedly for your 2011 WR information?
At this point you might think "well, there is a risk on anything in the Draft" or "maybe 15% is good, or as good as can be expected?" Put yourself running this business of an NFL franchise -- you're going to invest millions of dollars on a position (WR) that only returns on your investment 15% of the time, the other 85% you get virtually nothing...wasted money. You would be fired at a certain point for that track record (see Matt Millen for reference). What if I told you there was a statistically better way, a more probable path to successfully drafting a WR...and that way was cheaper, much, much cheaper?
In the last decade -- The best WR (according to me, and most not arguable) in the NFL draft vs. the best WR of the first 3 WRs selected:
*first we'll list the best WR I think was taken after the 3rd WR came off the board, then show the best representative WR among the first 3 WRs who were taken...
- 2001 = Reggie Wayne, the 6th WR taken (#30) vs. Koren Robinson, as the best of the first 3 WRs selected (you also could have had Chad Johnson/OchoCinco as the 8th WR taken or Santana Moss, the 4th WR taken, or Steve Smith, the 74th WR taken)
- 2002 = Deion Branch, the 11th WR taken (#65) vs. Ashley Lelie, the best of the first 3 WRs selected (could have had Antwaan Randle-El, the 9th WR taken)
- 2003 = Andre Johnson was the 2nd WR taken and the best WR taken
- 2004 = Larry Fitzgerald was the 1st WR taken, and the best WR taken
- 2005 = Roddy White, the 6th WR taken (#27) vs. Braylon Edwards, the best of the first 3 WRs selected (could have also had Vincent Jackson, the 11th WR taken)
- 2006 = Greg Jennings, the 4th WR taken (#52) or undrafted Miles Austin, or Brandon Marshall, the 14th WR taken, or Marques Colston, the 30th WR taken -- any of them vs. Santonio Holmes, the best of the first 3 WRs selected
- 2007 = Calvin Johnson, the first and best WR taken
- 2008 = DeSean Jackson, the 7th WR taken (#49) vs. Donnie Avery, the best of the first 3 WRs selected
- 2009 = Hakeem Nicks, the 5th WR taken (#29) vs. Jeremy Maclin, the best of the first 3 WRs selected (an argument could be made for Percy Harvin, the 4th WR taken or Mike Wallace, the 12th WR taken, or Austin Collie, the 20th WR taken)
- 2010 = Mike Williams, the 14th WR taken (#101) vs. Dez Bryant, the best of the first 3 WRs selected (ultimately Bryant may best Williams, but for now it's Williams)
The last 10 NFL Draft selections of WRs; and you could say there is a...
- 30% chance the best WR in the NFL Draft is taken among the first 3 WRs selected -- over the past 10 years
- 20% chance in the past 5 years, that the best WR in the NFL Draft is taken among the first 3 WRs selected
- 60% chance the best WR will be the 5th, or greater, WR selected in the NFL Draft
- 70% chance the best WR in the NFL Draft will be selected after the 25th overall pick
- 40% chance the best WR in the NFL Draft will be taken after the 1st Round
You can also say the Draft "experts" are getting worse not better. From 1996-2005, it was rare to find a WR selected after pick #100 who had even a decent NFL impact...the best/only examples would be Donald Driver #213 in 1999, or Jerricho Cotchery #108 in 2004, or TJ Houshmandzadeh #204 in 2001, or Joe Horn, #135 in 1996, and Wes Welker undrafted in 2004.
The 10 year span above of 1996-2005 found 5 (maybe) WR "gems" after pick #100. Not great "gems", but very solid pros. In the past 5 drafts, WR talent is being found more easily after pick #100.
In the past 5 Drafts (2006-2010), WR "gems" found after pick #100:
- (2010) Mike Williams #101
- (2009) Mike Thomas #107
- (2009) Austin Collie #127
- (2009) Johnny Knox #140
- (2009) Danny Amendola, undrafted
- (2008) Pierre Garcon #205
- (2008) Steve Johnson #224
- (2008) Davone Bess, undrafted
- (2006) Brandon Marshall #119
- (2006) Marques Colston #252
- (2006) Miles Austin, undrafted
You think all this "drafting stuff" is all pure luck...?
I often have referred to "smart" teams in my articles about the NFL draft. By "smart", I mean they have proven time and time again to be ahead of the rest of the teams when it comes to personnel decisions. To me those teams are (in no particular order) NE, SD, GB, PIT, PHI, BAL, IND, NO, NYG (NO and NYG are sketchy to be with this group, but I decided to include them). Why are they "smart" teams? Besides a track record of personnel success, and a track record of finding elite QBs -- let's allow the record to speak for itself:
- Those 9 "smart" teams have won 10 of the last 11 Super Bowls
- Those 9 "smart" teams have comprised 15 of the last 22 Super Bowl participants, 68%
- 7 of those 9 "smart" teams made the playoffs in 2010
- All 9 of those "smart" teams had a winning record in 2010
- 8 of those 9 "smart" teams made the playoffs in 2009
- In the past 5 years, all 9 "smart" teams, 45 recorded seasons total -- and 42 of the 45 seasons with a .500 or better record. 93.3% of the time in the past 5 years, the "smart" teams have been .500 winning percentage or greater.
If you look at the last 15 years of the NFL Draft; and look at who ultimately was the best WR overall now in hindsight -- you will see most of the best WRs were taken after the 3rd WR came off the board. Take a look at the best (ultimately) WR taken each year -- after the 3rd WR was selected...look at the list and see if you see the hidden pattern:
- 1996 = Marvin Harrison, IND (4th WR taken at #19) was best in class
- 1997 = Derrick Mason, TEN (9th WR taken at #98) was best in class
- 1998 = Hines Ward, PIT (15th WR taken at #92) **Randy Moss, the 2nd WR taken was the best in class
- 1999 = Donald Driver, GB (27th WR taken at #213) **Torry Holt, the 1st WR taken was best in class
- 2000 = Laveranues Coles, NYJ (13th WR taken at #78) was best in class
- 2001 = Reggie Wayne, IND (6th WR taken at #30) was best in class
- 2002 = Deion Branch, NE (11th WR taken at #65) was best in class
- 2003 = Anquan Boldin, ARI (6th WR taken at #54) **Andre Johnson, the 2nd WR taken was best in class
- 2004 = Wes Welker, MIA/NE (undrafted) **Larry Fitzgerald, the 1st WR taken was best in class
- 2005 = Roddy White, ATL (6th WR taken at #27) or Vincent Jackson, SD (11th WR taken at #61) are best in class
- 2006 = Greg Jennings, GB (4th WR taken at #52) is best in class **Miles Austin or Marques Colston are potentially going to be as good/better
- 2007 = Steve Smith, NYG (9th WR taken at #51) **Calvin Johnson, the 1st WR taken was best in class
- 2008 = DeSean Jackson, PHI (7th WR taken at #49) is best in class
- 2009 = Hakeem Nicks, NYG (5th WR taken at #29) is best in class **possibly Mike Wallace or Percy Harvin or Austin Collie someday
- 2010 = Mike Williams, TB (14th WR taken at #101) is best in class **Dez Bryant may be someday
What is the pattern of that group? The pattern is -- just looking at each individual year at just the single best WR taken after the 3rd WR was selected, looking at just those WRs individually...11 of the 15 (73%) from each of the last 15 Drafts can trace back to the "smart" teams (I consider Wes Welker as a "pick" for NE, they essentially "found" him, that's sketchy I know). In this "crazy", "crap-shoot" NFL Draft process...somehow the smart teams have found really good QBs and really good WRs. Only in their WR game plan...they get their WRs later/cheaper in the Draft. They are "smart".
Smart teams aren't listening to the hype. "Smart" teams are playing "the game" with a different "set of cards" than the Draft Gurus and the rest of the media that parrot the gurus. "Smart" teams more consistently find good/elite WRs later in the draft. They are counting on the "not so smart" teams to give their future (and big money) over to Peter Warrick, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Braylon Edwards and Charles Rogers (all Top-7 overall picks since 2000, and the 1st WR taken in their respective drafts).
What's the big deal about an elite WR anyway?
For the teams who have landed a "monster" WR with one of their top picks -- was it really worth it? How great is it to have landed Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald? What have those elite WRs done for their franchise (and I realize it is not all on a WR)? Team results for C. Johnson, Fitzgerald, A. Johnson:
- 19 seasons in the NFL, combined
- 109 wins and 181 losses. a .375 winning percentage
- no Super Bowl wins, 1 Super Bowl appearance (Fitzgerald), and 4 playoff wins (all Fitzgerald)
How sure are you now about Jones and Green?
This information leaves a lot of questions on the table -- "Is the WR made more by the QB he plays with?", or "what if Calvin Johnson was with Peyton Manning", or "does it have to do with the style offense run", or "why are bad teams always bad"? There are a bunch of thought process to debate on the NFL Draft on a WR. Looking at the track record alone, at minimum -- we have to at least question whether we really want to invest all of our team's hope in a media inflated Top-15 Mock Draft WR? We also have to question the way the mainstream sports media/Draft gurus project WR talent to the NFL...as they typically just "parrot" each other and are "mostly wrong" year-in-and-year-out. That's not a hunch or a cute statement...draft gurus and most NFL teams get the WR position wrong a lot.
After we realize all these major flaws in the system, we have to ask "why should I trust anything I'm being told/sold on the high Mock Draft WRs"?
Are you really so sure that Julio Jones and A.J. Green are "locks" for success/greatness in the NFL?
*Individual analysis and research reports on the 2011 WR class are forthcoming, similar to the QB reports we have been publishing. Stay tuned...
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