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NFL Draft: Gold Gloves, Glaring Goobers, and Geometric Game-changers

Last April there were just four wide receivers taken in the first two rounds of the 2010 NFL Draft. Of the four, just one – Dez Bryant – made an impact (for only half a season). Of the seven wideouts taken in round three, just two –  Emmanuel Sanders and Jordan Shipley – showed they’re capable of having somewhat productive NFL careers. And then, of course, who could forget round four? After all, it did produce Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams and Oakland’s Jacoby Ford. Both are destined to probably be impact starters in 2011 if there’s a season to be played.

In 2009, six wide receivers were selected in the first round, five of which have become impact players – Jeremy Maclin, Hakeem Nicks, Michael Crabtree, Kenny Britt and Percy Harvin. However, at the same time, there were also at least five selected between rounds three and six that have made huge impacts, two of which – Austin Collie and Mike Wallace – have perhaps produced the largest bang of their draft class.

In 2008, no wide receivers were taken in the first round, and of the 10 selected in round two just three – DeSean Jackson, Jordy Nelson and Eddie Royal – have made their presence felt on the field. Mario Manningham, Earl Bennett and Andre Caldwell were all selected in round three, and they have better combined production than the other seven overvalued in round two. Of course, there’s Pierre Garcon and Steve Johnson, who weren’t selected until rounds six and seven, yet you could make a case that they’re in the top four among receivers selected in this 2008 class.

Furthermore, I estimate that from 2005-09 the percentage success rate (impact according to their draft day value) among wide receivers drafted in the first two rounds has been about 40 percent (17 of 42). It’s not a bad percentage if you’re talking NBA three-point shooting. However, for teams in need of an elite wide receiver from the 2011 draft class, a 40 percent past success rate isn’t exactly going to massage a team’s first- and second-round draft strategy.

Yes, there have been great success stories to come out of the first two rounds in the past decade – Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne. But with those success stories come huge disappointments – Troy Williamson, Charles Rogers and David Terrell.

So the question remains: where is the best value for teams looking for help at wide receiver?

Personally, I like to think it’s typically between rounds three and five, but truthfully it all depends on the pool of talent. This draft class includes two first-round worthy receivers in A.J. Green and Julio Jones, whom I believe could live up to their lofty Top 10 expectations. After Green and Jones though, it will probably be hit or miss, as the success rate depicted above indicates.

Of course, a big part of success in the NFL also depends on opportunity, but as we’ve seen so many times before, talented players at any position usually rise up no matter where they’re drafted and what kind of opportunity they’re faced with.

Now, it’s virtually impossible to place every single wide receiver in this class on a team and come up with a logical projection. I mean, let’s face it, as fantasy owners and football enthusiasts we like to have as much factual information before making any kind of cautious predictions. However, because I often like to sand against the grain, I’m going to have some fun and give some insight on which players I believe have the best chance at success.

Smooth like Percy Jackson …

Jerrel Jernigan – The former Troy star is rising up draft boards like boiling water, and for good reason. Jernigan has had fantastic workouts both publicly at the combine, and privately for teams like the Atlanta Falcons. Despite his size (5-foot-9, 190 pounds) he isn’t afraid to go across the middle, runs good routes, is great after the catch and has the potential to be a special teams star. Some like to compare him to DeSean Jackson, while others see Percy Harvin. I’ll just call him a playmaker with huge potential. Chance of Success: 85 percent

Determined like Donald Smith …

Terrance Toliver – It was hard to not spot Toliver last season if you watched any kind of SEC football. Playing for the LSU Tigers gained him plenty of exposure to ensure his name will be called in the mid rounds of the NFL draft. However, I see something much more than a big school, physical specimen. I see a young man who has raised his level of play in big games/situations (Offensive MVP of the Cotton Bowl), and is determined to be a NFL wide receiver. During the LSU pro day in March, Toliver battled through a right hamstring injury to complete position workouts in front of all 32 NFL teams. Furthermore, Toliver catches with his hands away from his body, and is physical after the catch. I really like his chances at the next level as a Donald Driver-Steve Smith type player. Chance Of Success: 80 percent

Fierce like Hines Johnson …

Randall Cobb – Cobb is one of the more well-rounded receivers in this class, and is one of few who could start right away for an NFL team. He is a superb route runner, does a good job as a perimeter blocker in the run game and is highly versatile (lined up as Kentucky’s wildcat quarterback, slot and outside receiver, and return man). Cobb is one of my favorite receivers in this class, and will follow in the footsteps of former Wildcat receiver Steve Johnson with a Hines Ward twist. Chance Of Success: 85 percent

Others to keep an eye on (not every prospect included) …

Chance Of Success: 70-75 percent – Leonard Hankerson, Jeremy Kerley, Vincent Brown and Torrey Smith.

Chance Of Success: 60-69 percent – Niles Paul, Edmond Gates, Jonathan Baldwin, Kealoha Pilares and Dane Sanzenbacher.

Chance Of Success: 50-59 percent – Jeff Maehl, Tandon Doss, Titus Young and Denarius Moore.

While Hankerson has the tools to be elite, his success will depend on whether or not he has the drive to get there. The Hawaii receiver that NFL teams will be more intrigued with is Pilares, who has had outstanding workouts, but does have some knee concerns, which will probably keep him from being a mid-round pick. And Doss is an intriguing prospect with special teams prowess. However, he comes from the same school as NFL flop James Hardy.

Overall, I would give this class of wideouts a B grade when it comes to NFL and fantasy potential.

Thanks for reading!

Eric Huber is a staff writer for fantasysharks.com.

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