In sports we often now hear about the idea of efficiency. The idea being that for teams to win, they need to maximize efficiency to perform at the top levels of their sport.
This whole column was inspired because of the banter that the Cleveland Browns might take Clemson Wide Receiver Sammy Watkins with their first pick, the #4 in the 2014 NFL Draft. The Browns have a number one receiver in Josh Gordon, and my gut feeling is that Ray Farmer and the new front office taking a wide receiver at four would be the opposite of being efficient.
My starting argument for not drafting a receiver at four is that this is reported as the deepest receiver draft in NFL history, and I happen to concur with that assessment. There are 15-20 players who I have seen with a 3rd round grade or higher from experts I respect. I currently have 16 such players, and while it would be good for the Browns to draft two receivers in this draft, it seems like a position to wait on.I didn’t want to rest on my laurels though, and realized that I needed to go deeper and prove that receivers in the first round, and the top ten in general, are an incredibly inefficient use of draft picks. If you have a chance at Calvin Johnson that is one thing, but there are few worse ways to spend an early pick than on a player with a grade less than Megatron. If you don’t believe me well here is the data.
The results were fairly conclusive.
This past season, there are several different avenues we can take to prove my point. Of the top 30 receivers in total yards, only seven where former first rounders. Of the top 30 receivers with regards to receptions, only eight of the top 30 were former first rounders. Of the top 30 receivers in yards per reception, only six of the top 30 were former first rounders. I can keep going, but you get the point. The majority of the best receivers in football are just not first rounders. On average, only about 23% of the elite receivers are former first round picks. While some may say that a less than 1-in-4 chance is a worthwhile risk, when you incorporate the fact that the Browns have top five pick, it’s not the kind of risk you want to take.
Now let’s dig deeper into draft history, going back to 1999 when the Browns returned to the league and look at every top ten receiver and every first round receiver. I went from 1999-2012 and looked at every receiver taken in the early going of the draft. The idea being for any player who was selected in round one and who was unable to start in the league for five years was a bust. I think it is safe to say that any first rounder who can’t be a starter for five years can be gauged as a bust. I then gave the star label to any player who was able to make four pro bowls. This should not be hard to do with the number of players who skip out of the pro bowl every year. Exceptions were made for players who have just started their careers, then I had to infer on what I had seen.
In this 14 year period, there were 24 receiver’s taken. Of this 24 I counted five who I gave a star grade to. For the record, those players are Calvin Johnson, Torry Holt, Andre Johnson, A.J. Green, and Larry Fitzgerald. In terms of how many busts in the top ten during the same stretch, and that total came to 12. If you think I am being unfair, Braylon Edwards doesn’t cut it as a bust using this system. In terms of percentages there is a 50% bust rate, so half of all of the receivers taken in the top ten fail to be even average starters. On the other side, 21% of those players become stars. This still feels to me like a very low total. Top ten picks are supposed to be stars, not stars about 20% of the time.
During the same 14 year period, there were 55 receivers taken overall, and only eight stars. The new names I added to the star list were Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, and Roddy White. The total number of busts jumps to 28. So now the percentages are a 51% bust rate and a 15% star rate.
These odds over the 14 year period show you have a better chance with a slot machine in a Vegas casino then you do finding a difference maker at wide receiver in the top ten or even the first round. Plain and simply, the most inefficient way to use a top ten pick is on a receiver. The reports on Watkins are great. He is a can’t miss prospect. Then again so was David Terrell, Justin Blackmon, Peter Warrick and many more.
No thank you.
The Browns should focus on other positions of need early, then address the receiver later in the draft, where the percentages play more to their favor, and busts are much more acceptable.