While much of the attention is focused on the number of quarterbacks expected to go in the first round, I’m more curious about the number of receivers that come off the board after 32 selections.
Recently the trend has been few receivers selected the first. Look at the past four drafts:
|8||Tavon Austin||St. Louis Rams|
|27||DeAndre Hopkins||Houston Texans|
|29||Cordarrelle Patterson||Minnesota Vikings|
|5||Justin Blackmon||Jacksonville Jaguars|
|13||Michael Floyd||Arizona Cardinals|
|20||Kendall Wright||Tennessee Titans|
|28||A.J. Jenkins||San Francisco 49ers|
|5||A.J. Green||Cincinnati Bengals|
|6||Julio Jones||Atlanta Falcons|
|26||Jonathan Baldwin||Kansas City Chiefs|
|22||Demaryius Thomas||Denver Broncos|
|24||Dez Bryant||Dallas Cowboys|
Teams took a patient approach to the position, believing they can fill the need starting in the second round and later. With the high rate of busts at the position, teams favored filling other needs before nabbing pass catchers.
The lack of urgency for receivers belied the league passing more. It’s nowhere close to the near ignorance of running backs in the first round, but teams seemed to prefer a low risk selection than a wide out that probably won’t contribute much in his first year and could disappoint in the long run.
But recent mocks have increased the number of receivers selected as the draft has approached. Receivers like LSU’s Odell Beckham and Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks have joined Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin as possible first rounders.
I’m skeptical of a receiver explosion, not just for recent history, but with big, physical receivers on practically every team’s wish list, average-sized receivers (5’10”-6’0”) aren’t valued as much as they used to be.
But I relented. I squeezed five receivers into the first in this mock. It’s not as much as the six receivers taken in 2009, but the receiver position might be bouncing back.
Added to this mock are capsules on the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins. They traded their first round picks but have needs they must address when they begin selecting in the second round:
1. Houston Texans: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Texans general manager Rick Smith continues to say Houston is willing to trade this pick. But is it the best move to pass on a generational talent like Clowney? Unless the Texans are getting multiple first round picks, they’re staying put and will be very happy with Clowney.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
It sounds like the Rams will probably trade this selection. If it doesn’t happen, St. Louis takes Watkins because they don’t have an undisputed number one receiver. WR Tavon Austin is better as a complimentary slot receiver and returner.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
The need for a franchise quarterback is obvious for the Jaguars, but players like Mack don’t come around very often. It worked out very well for Jacksonville when they drafted LB Kevin Hardy second overall in 1996. They hope for a similar return from Mack.
4. Cleveland Browns: QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida
The Browns re-signed center Alex Mack and signed free agent OT Paul McQuistan to play on the right side. With LT Joe Thomas anchoring the blind side, Cleveland should be able to provide a safe environment for a new face of the franchise.
5. Oakland Raiders: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Selecting Manziel makes the spirit of former owner Al Davis smile. Manziel is a perfect fit for the Raiders because he has the confidence and attitude Oakland was historically known for. The much-maligned Manziel could either lead the Raiders into a new era or be the latest Raiders error.
6. Atlanta Falcons: OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
Atlanta’s pass protection was shoddy (44 sacks allowed), and their Steven Jackson-led running game was terrible (last in the NFL). The addition of Robinson (along with the return of good health) could make the offense scary again.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
The Buccaneers seemingly addressed all holes through free agency, giving them the luxury to select an impact player. Trading WR Mike Williams cleared the path for Evans to line up opposite of WR Vincent Jackson for an intimidating receiver duo.
8. Minnesota Vikings: LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
If Minnesota is going to draft a quarterback, they won’t do it with this selection. The Vikings take Mosley because they are thin at linebacker and LB Chad Greenway is 31 years old. The Vikings are a possible candidate for trading back into the first to select a passer.
9. Buffalo Bills: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
It’s going to take more than just signing OG Chris Williams to plug a porous offensive line. If E.J. Manuel is to become the Bills’ franchise quarterback, he needs better protection than the 48 sacks Buffalo allowed last year.
10. Detroit Lions: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Let’s see. The Lions play the Green Bay Packers (sixth-ranked pass offense) and the Chicago Bears (fifth) twice a year. Hard to think of a better idea for Detroit.
11. Tennessee Titans: OLB/DE Anthony Barr, UCLA
If new Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt switches to a 3-4 defense, he will need an outside linebacker able to rush the passer and drop into coverage. Barr and OLB Akeem Ayers could be the bookends Tennessee needs.
12. New York Giants: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
LT Will Beatty isn’t guaranteed to keep his job after January surgery to repair a broken leg. With QB Eli Manning’s safety in mind, New York selects Lewan to watch Manning’s back.
13. St. Louis Rams: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Playing in the toughest division in the NFL, the Rams know they need a great defense to compete in the NFC West. Many of the pieces are in place. Adding a difference-maker like Clinton-Dix to the secondary gets St. Louis closer.
14. Chicago Bears: DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Defensive tackles Henry Melton and Corey Wootton walked away from an awful run defense (No. 32 overall, 161.4 yards per game). Chicago needs to refresh the defensive line, and the Bears can get off to a great start with the top defensive tackle in the draft.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Though the pass defense finished ninth overall, starting cornerbacks Ike Taylor and William Gay combined for just one interception. Taylor is also entering his 12th season, so it’s time to find his replacement.
16. Dallas Cowboys: S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
Just when Dallas thought their pass defense couldn’t get any worse, it did. The Cowboys’ pass defense in 2012 was the worst in franchise history…until 2013. Dallas hasn’t solved the problem despite the variety of ways they have tried. Maybe they get it right with Pryor.
17. Baltimore Ravens: OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame
RT Michael Oher left in free agency, but he won’t be missed by the Ravens. Martin won’t protect QB Joe Flacco’s blind side, but he will help make Baltimore’s pocket a safer place after the Ravens allowed 48 sacks in 2013.
18. New York Jets: TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Even though the Jets lost three O-linemen in free agency, the biggest problem with QB Geno Smith’s protection was he held on to the ball too long. Adding Ebron gives Smith an additional safety blanket to go along with his two new free agent receivers and RB Chris Johnson.
19. Miami Dolphins: OG Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA
In Little Havana, QB Ryan Tannehill piñatas are sold because they’re accurate: no quarterback absorbed more sacks last year (58) than Tannehill—that's not good for business for the Dolphins. Miami selects Su’a-Filo to help protect their developing franchise passer.
20. Arizona Cardinals: DE Dee Ford, Auburn
With CB Antonio Cromartie signed, the Cardinals can turn their attention to the front seven. OLB John Abraham led the team in sacks with 11.5, but how long can the 35-year-old Abraham keep that production up? Ford will be groomed to replace the veteran.
21. Green Bay Packers: NT Louis Nix, Notre Dame
Good, massive nose tackles like Nix are hard to come by. And with more teams playing 3-4 defenses, the competition for them is very competitive. Nix will learn for a year behind 34-year-old Ryan Pickett and prepare to start in 2015.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
Because the Eagles’ offense was prolific, the pass defense was assaulted—good enough for the league's worst. Three players were added to the secondary through free agency, but improving the pass rush will ease the burden on the defensive backs.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
After not allowing a single 300-yard game in their first nine wins, the Chiefs gave up five in their final eight games, including two 400-yard explosions. The last: 443 yards surrendered to Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck in their playoff loss. With that still fresh in Kansas City’s memory, they add much-needed depth to the pass defense.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
DE Michael Johnson isn’t a huge loss sack-wise, as defensive tackle Geno Atkins is expected to be back from an ACL tear and DE Margus Hunt is a developing project. Ealy is ready now to add to a balanced pass rush.
25. San Diego Chargers: CB Jason Verrett, TCU
The Chargers had secondary problems in 2013. Playing in the AFC West doesn’t help either. Four games with the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs make adding Verrett a necessity for San Diego.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
A new quarterback gets a new toy. QB Blake Bortles gets to lead an offense loaded with talent: free agent RB Ben Tate, WR Josh Gordon and TE Jordan Cameron welcome Benjamin to an offense with the pieces to have a big 2014.
27. New Orleans Saints: DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
The playoff loss to the eventual champions served as a lesson for the Saints. Unable to score and force the Seattle Seahawks into a game of catch up, New Orleans was steamrolled by Seattle’s physical run game. The Saints hope that, with Jernigan, they’ll be ready next time.
28. Carolina Panthers: OT Morgan Moses, Virginia
While the loss of three wide receivers, including career Panther Steve Smith, is big, it’s not as significant as losing three offensive linemen—including two starters. Moses has the daunting task of filling the shoes vacated by retired OT Jordan Gross.
29. New England Patriots: DT Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
It will be a surprise if the Patriots stay put instead of trading out of the first round. If they hold their ground, Tuitt makes sense with defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly coming off injuries and a handful of barely adequate replacements shuffled in and out of the rotation last year.
30. San Francisco 49ers: WR Allen Robinson, Penn State
San Francisco is all set at receiver for now with a fully healthy Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin re-signed for two more years. But Boldin is 33 years old, and his decline is possible, so the 49ers stay a step ahead and add Robinson. Robinson’s big pro day boosts him into the first round.
31. Denver Broncos: CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
Signing CB Aqib Talib was a great move, but he can only shut down his side of the field. Cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie both left as free agents, leaving one starting slot open. Fuller will compete for the position, but would still provide depth even if he doesn’t win the starting spot.
32. Seattle Seahawks: WR Odell Beckham, LSU
With the injury history of WRs Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice, plus the free agency departure of WR Golden Tate, the Seahawks tab Beckham as an immediate punt returner and eventual starting receiver.
Out of the First Round
Trading a first round pick (which became the No. 26 overall selection) for RB Trent Richardson turned out to be a mistake, as the former No. 3 pick in 2012 averaged just 2.9 yards per carry with Indianapolis.
Losing leading rusher Donald Brown in free agency makes running back a priority for the Colts. They also need an upgrade at defensive tackle after allowing 125.1 rushing yards per game.
The Redskins compensated for having just six selections in this year’s draft by being active in free agency. They focused on the defense by adding several players at all three levels and fortified the offensive line.
Tight end still is a need. Fortunately Washington is in a position to select one at the top of the second round.
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