In the age of fantasy football, the receiver position has become one of the most high-profile of all. They're the rock stars. Odell Beckham. Julio Jones. Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown ... in terms of name recognition, you could argue receivers outpace just about every position except quarterback. And, while this year is considered by many to be a weak receiver class -- relative to the last two, anyway -- don't be shocked to see three or four guys go in Round 1.
The first round will get the most fanfare. Guys like Mississippi's Laquon Treadwell, Baylor's Corey Coleman, Notre Dame's Will Fuller, and TCU's Josh Doctson will get TV face-time waiting in the Green Room before donning their caps up at the podium with Roger Goodell. But there's plenty of talent lurking in the second and third rounds and beyond.
If a team doesn't come away with Treadwell or Doctson on the first day, there's no need to panic. If you look at NFL teams' drafting habits over the last ten years, you can see where they think they can find the most value when it comes to receivers.
Teams have drafted most receivers in the second, third and fourth rounds of the draft over the last decade. And that's where the smartest teams usually find their best pass catchers.
NFL DRAFT YEAR
|WRs TAKEN IN THE 1ST RD||WRs TAKEN IN THE 2ND RD||WRs TAKEN IN THE 3RD RD||WRs TAKEN IN THE 4TH RD||WRs TAKEN IN THE 5TH RD||WRs TAKEN IN THE 6TH RD||WRs TAKEN IN THE 7TH RD||TOTAL WRs TAKEN|
Day two produces a ton of talent
Last year, second-rounders Dorial Green-Beckham (32 catches, 549 yards, four touchdowns) and Devin Funchess (31 catches, 473 yards, five touchdowns) produced in key roles for their teams. Tyler Lockett, the Seahawks' third-round pick, was named an All-Pro returner while catching 51 passes for 664 yards and six touchdowns as a receiver.
Washington's Jamison Crowder, a fourth-round pick, grabbed 59 catches for 604 yards and two touchdowns. Stefon Diggs of the Vikings was the second-most productive rookie receiver last season with 720 yards and four touchdowns; he was a fifth-round pick. Oakland's Amari Cooper was the only receiver taked in the first-round last year, out of six, who had more than 500 receiving yards.
Going back a year, the Jags' selection of Allen Robinson (80 catches, 1400 yards, 14 touchdowns in 2015) in the second round looks like a brilliant one. The same goes for the Dolphins' choice of Jarvis Landry (110 catches, 1157 yards, four touchdowns in 2015).
The Cardinals certainly love their choice of John Brown (65 catches, 1003 yards, 7 TD) in the third round, and Donte Moncrief (64 catches, 733 yards, six touchdowns in 2015) is looking like a much better pick for the Colts. Martavis Bryant got the Steelers 14 touchdowns in two years before he was suspended this offseason, so you could even say that's a pretty good value for a fourth-round pick.
Looking back to the 2013 Draft, Terrance Williams has quietly emerged as a solid No. 2 for the Cowboys (52 catches, 840 yards, three touchdowns in 2015). Keenan Allen (215 catches and 16 TD in three seasons) was a third-round pick who has quickly emerged as a No. 1 receiver in San Diego.
Alshon Jeffrey, Mohamed Sanu, T.Y. Hilton, Travis Benjamin, and Jairus Wright were all picked between rounds two and four in the 2012 draft. Torrey Smith, Randall Cobb, and Cecil Shorts came out of those rounds in 2011, as did Golden Tate, Brandon LaFell, Emmanuel Sanders, Eric Decker, and Andre Roberts in the 2010 draft.
With the amount of high-quality receivers picked in that range, it's pretty clear why teams are making pretty significant runs on receivers after the first round.
However, there's a cliff in terms of talent and the volume of receivers picked once the fifth round starts.
Identifying the cliff
When it comes to the grades teams give to players in the draft, it's common that there will be clusters of players at each position with similar grades. For example, say a team likes three or four receivers who are all slated somewhere in the third and fourth rounds -- if that team has given each of those receivers the same grade, they have some flexibility and can either 1) trade back and hope to get one of their guys a little later, or 2) draft another position and wait it out until their next pick. They may have another cluster of receivers on their board with slightly lower grades, but still like them enough to draft them a round down the line.
However, if this team sees a huge drop-off in the talent level coming up, that's what's referred to as a "cliff." If the cliff is coming up, there's often a run on a certain position as teams scramble to get the last of the best players at a certain position. These cliffs can show up anywhere in the draft, depending on the year and the depth of talent.
Historically speaking, for a normal receiver class, that cliff happens in the fourth round. While an average of 4.9 receivers are taken in that round dating back ten years, just 3.4 are taken in the fifth. There's always a mad dash to grab the last remaining receivers before you start dealing with the players who have more question marks and fewer of the desirable traits teams are seeking.
Taking a look at the entire draft, if we're going by history, about 18 receivers will be off the board by the end of the fourth round. If your team is one of many clubs looking for that next big-time talent at the receiver position, consider that after the first four rounds are over, you're looking at the 19th, 20th, 21st or worse ranked player at that spot. There's a reason teams miss so often on late-round receivers. Being the 20th best at any position means scouts and evaluators see major flaws.
Teams may have different grades assigned to players than other teams or draft analysts, but statistically speaking, if you're picking a receiver anywhere past the fourth round, you're going to be looking at guys with a long way to go before they'll ever crack an NFL team's depth chart at the position.
These are the players that scouting departments have downgraded significantly for serious issues in one area or another, often more than one. Many of the guys with solid grades from scouting departments, won't be doing shit for their teams after three years (or less).
This isn't a shock. That's how the draft works, and speaks to something teams keep in mind as the draft moves along: When will the "runs" on certain positions happen?
History tells us that as we inch closer to day three and into the latter part of round four, expect a run on the final group of second tier of receivers.
After the fifth round, as history has shown us, there's usually another run on receivers. Those players are typically the raw athletes or players ticketed for a specific special teams role. By the end of the draft, an average of 25-40 receivers are on new teams.
It's a small wonder that guys like Doug Baldwin, who tied for the league-lead in touchdowns (14) last season, ever slip through the cracks to undrafted free agency.
Does the first round give you the most value?
Obviously, first-round receivers have produced. Amari Cooper went over 1,000 yards in his rookie year. Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks, and Kelvin Benjamin all rep'd the 2014 class well. Nuk Hopkins (2013) is a superstar. Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright (2012) have produced consistently for their teams as well. No one is complaining about having A.J. Green or Julio Jones on their rosters. There's research that shows that first-round receivers have the longest and most productive careers.
But despite the success of those names, there are plenty of others who have not lived up to their billing, like Tavon Austin, Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Blackmon, A.J. Jenkins, and Jonathan Baldwin. First-round picks are worth an exponentially higher amount of draft capital. Is spending a first-round pick on a receiver good value when there are highly talented guys in the second and third rounds?
That's a question each team has to ask itself. The Steelers haven't drafted a receiver in the first round since 2006. The Packers haven't done it since 2002, and you have to go all the way back to 1996 for the last time the Patriots used a first-round pick on a receiver. Do they know something other teams don't?
The value and longevity of receivers position has become similar to that of the running back position. The average length of a career for wideouts has dipped below three seasons. It's getting riskier to take a receiver in the first round.
Last year when teams took six receivers, a six-year high, in the draft's opening round. Will middling results from Phillip Dorsett, Nelson Agholor, and Devante Parker cause teams to steer away from taking receivers on the first night? We'll find out soon enough.
What is clear now is that there will be talented receivers available in the second and third rounds this year. If your team skips a receiver in round one, they'll probably be fine. They might even be better off.