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Elite speed at wide receiver and its effect on draft spot

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Will Henry Ruggs’ 40 time push him into the top 10? Should Denver trade up for him?

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos did not throw deep very often (or very well) in 2019. This was partly due to having only one viable deep threat on the team, Courtland Sutton, after we traded away Emmanuel Sanders. Of the five most frequent deep passing teams in 2019 (125 or more deep attempts), only Green Bay had a lone viable deep target, Davanta Adams. The other four teams: Tampa Bay, Detroit, LAC and Kansas City, all had at least two deep threats. The Broncos threw deep only 77 times in 2019. I discussed this at length here. One way to ensure more deep pass attempts in 2020 is to get another deep threat to pair with Sutton. Deep threats tend to be speedy wide receivers. Speedy WRs tend to get drafted in the first two rounds.

Over the past 30 NFL drafts there have been 39 WRs taken in the top 10. Some of those guys were taken in the top 10 despite running “poorly” in the 40 at the Combine, while others were taken in the top 10 based almost completely on their 40 time.

Mike Evans ran a 4.53 40 at the Combine; he was still drafted seventh overall. Larry Fitzgerald ran a 4.48; he was taken third overall. J.J. Stokes ran a 4.51 at the Combine. He was still taken tenth overall. Michael Westbrook ran the same 4.51 and was taken fourth overall.

On the flip-side, Darrius Heyward-Bey ran a 4.25, but only caught 13 total TD passes during his three years at Maryland. He was still drafted seventh overall. Corey Davis didn’t run at the combine because of injury, but he was still taken fifth overall. Note that there have been two different Mike Williams who play(ed) WR in the NFL and were drafted in the top 10.

Year Pick Player DrAge Tm From To 1st Tm AP ProBowl Starter CarAV Rec Yds TD College/Univ
2017 5 Corey Davis 22 TEN 2017 2019 0 0 3 14 142 1867 6 West. Michigan
2017 7 Mike Williams 22 LAC 2017 2019 0 0 1 15 103 1760 12 Clemson
2017 9 John Ross 22 CIN 2017 2019 0 0 2 5 49 716 10 Washington
2015 4 Amari Cooper 21 OAK 2015 2019 0 4 5 39 357 5097 33 Alabama
2015 7 Kevin White 23 CHI 2016 2018 0 0 0 2 25 285 0 West Virginia
2014 4 Sammy Watkins 21 BUF 2014 2019 0 0 6 36 284 4244 31 Clemson
2014 7 Mike Evans 21 TAM 2014 2019 0 3 6 49 462 7260 48 Texas A&M
2013 8 Tavon Austin 23 STL 2013 2019 0 0 4 25 215 2006 15 West Virginia
2012 5 Justin Blackmon 22 JAX 2012 2014 0 0 1 9 93 1280 6 Oklahoma St.
2011 4 A.J. Green 23 CIN 2011 2018 0 7 8 68 602 8907 63 Georgia
2011 6 Julio Jones 22 ATL 2011 2019 2 7 8 94 797 12125 57 Alabama
2009 7 Darrius Heyward-Bey 22 OAK 2009 2018 0 0 5 22 202 2897 16 Maryland
2009 10 Michael Crabtree 21 SFO 2009 2019 0 0 9 53 637 7499 54 Texas Tech
2007 2 Calvin Johnson 21 DET 2007 2015 3 6 9 78 731 11619 83 Georgia Tech
2007 9 Ted Ginn 22 MIA 2007 2019 0 0 7 52 409 5702 33 Ohio St.
2005 3 Braylon Edwards 22 CLE 2005 2012 0 1 5 41 359 5522 40 Michigan
2005 7 Troy Williamson 22 MIN 2005 2009 0 0 2 8 87 1131 4 South Carolina
2005 10 Mike Williams 21 DET 2005 2011 0 0 2 12 127 1526 5 USC
2004 3 Larry Fitzgerald 21 ARI 2004 2019 1 11 16 92 1378 17083 120 Pittsburgh
2004 7 Roy Williams 22 DET 2004 2011 0 1 7 42 393 5715 44 Texas
2004 9 Reggie Williams 21 JAX 2004 2008 0 0 3 23 189 2322 18 Washington
2003 2 Charles Rogers 22 DET 2003 2005 0 0 0 4 36 440 4 Michigan St.
2003 3 Andre Johnson 22 HOU 2003 2016 2 7 12 95 1062 14185 70 Miami (FL)
2001 8 David Terrell 22 CHI 2001 2005 0 0 1 11 128 1602 9 Michigan
2001 9 Koren Robinson 21 SEA 2001 2008 0 1 5 35 294 4244 16 North Carolina St.
2000 4 Peter Warrick 23 CIN 2000 2005 0 0 4 27 275 2991 18 Florida St.
2000 8 Plaxico Burress 23 PIT 2000 2012 0 0 9 69 553 8499 64 Michigan St.
2000 10 Travis Taylor 22 BAL 2000 2007 0 0 6 32 312 4017 22 Florida
1999 6 Torry Holt 23 STL 1999 2009 1 7 11 99 920 13382 74 North Carolina St.
1999 8 David Boston 21 ARI 1999 2005 1 1 5 37 315 4699 25 Ohio St.
1997 7 Ike Hilliard 21 NYG 1997 2008 0 0 7 43 546 6397 35 Florida
1996 1 Keyshawn Johnson 24 NYJ 1996 2006 0 3 10 78 814 10571 64 USC
1996 7 Terry Glenn 22 NWE 1996 2007 0 1 9 67 593 8823 44 Ohio St.
1995 4 Michael Westbrook 23 WAS 1995 2002 0 0 6 38 285 4374 26 Colorado
1995 8 Joey Galloway 23 SEA 1995 2010 0 0 10 77 701 10950 77 Ohio St.
1995 10 J.J. Stokes 22 SFO 1995 2003 0 0 4 40 342 4293 30 UCLA
1993 7 Curtis Conway 22 CHI 1993 2004 0 0 9 61 594 8230 52 USC
1992 4 Desmond Howard 22 WAS 1992 2002 0 1 1 17 123 1597 7 Michigan
1991 10 Herman Moore 21 DET 1991 2002 3 4 8 80 670 9174 62 Virginia

What you should note from this table is that there are just as many, if not more, busts (John Ross, Kevin White, Justin Blackmon, Troy Williamson, Mike Williams {both?}, and Charles Rogers) as there are future or current Hall of Famers. Torry Holt is already in. Andre Johnson is borderline. Calvin Johnson will be in soon. Larry Fitzgerald will be once he is done. Julio Jones will be once he is done. A.J. Green has a chance. Mike Evans will if be his career continues on its current trajectory.

So let’s look at the very small subset of speed merchant (4.35s in the 40 or better) WR’s who were taken in the top 10 since 1990 - keeping in mind that some of these top 10 guys either could not or chose not to run the 40 at the combine. Joey Galloway’s time was from his pro-day.

Year Name College Drafted Height (in) Weight (lbs) 40 Yard
2011 Julio Jones Alabama 6 74.75 220 4.34
2015 Kevin White West Virginia 7 74.63 215 4.35
2009 Darrius Heyward-Bey Maryland 7 73.63 210 4.25
2005 Troy Williamson South Carolina 7 73.38 203 4.34
2013 Tavon Austin West Virginia 8 68.50 174 4.34
1995 Joey Galloway Ohio State 8 71.00 200 4.18
2017 John Ross Washington 9 70.75 188 4.22
2001 Santana Moss Miami (FL) 16 69.60 184 4.31

I threw in Santana Moss since he was taken 16th overall and the Broncos are drafting 15th. What’s crazy is that of those eight WRs, five were busts. Jones, mentioned earlier, will most likely be a Hall of Famer. Both Galloway and Moss had really good careers. With 77 receiving TDs, Galloway is 31st all-time on the career list. The majority of those ahead of him on the list are in the HoF or will be (Antonio Gates, Hines Ward, Reggie Wayne, and Rob Gronkowski).

If we look at the full list of 56 WRs who have run 4.35 or better at the Combine since 1990, we find that almost half of them, 26, were taken in the first 76 picks.

Year Name College Drafted Height (in) Weight (lbs) 40 Yard
2020 Henry Ruggs Alabama ? 72.00 190 4.27
2020 Quez Watkins Southern Mississippi ? 74.00 190 4.35
2019 Mecole Hardman Georgia 56 70.25 187 4.33
2019 Parris Campbell Ohio State 59 71.88 205 4.31
2019 Andy Isabella Massachusetts 62 68.75 188 4.31
2019 D.K. Metcalf Mississippi 64 75.38 228 4.33
2019 Terry McLaurin Ohio State 76 72.13 208 4.35
2018 D.J. Chark Louisiana State 61 75.00 199 4.34
2017 John Ross Washington 9 70.75 188 4.22
2017 Curtis Samuel Ohio State 40 71.00 196 4.31
2016 Will Fuller Notre Dame 21 72.13 186 4.32
2015 Kevin White West Virginia 7 74.63 215 4.35
2015 Phillip Dorsett Miami (FL) 29 69.75 185 4.33
2015 Chris Conley Georgia 76 73.88 213 4.35
2015 J.J. Nelson Alabama-Birmingham 159 70.25 156 4.28
2014 Brandin Cooks Oregon State 20 69.75 189 4.33
2014 John Brown Pittsburg State (KS) 91 70.00 179 4.34
2014 Dri Archer Kent State (OH) 97 67.75 173 4.26
2013 Tavon Austin West Virginia 8 68.50 174 4.34
2013 Marquise Goodwin Texas 78 68.88 183 4.27
2013 Ryan Swope Texas A&M 174 72.13 205 4.34
2012 Stephen Hill Georgia Tech 43 76.00 215 4.28
2012 T.J. Graham North Carolina State 69 71.38 188 4.34
2012 Chris Givens Wake Forest 96 71.13 198 4.35
2012 Travis Benjamin Miami (FL) 100 69.88 172 4.31
2012 Chris Owusu Stanford UDCFA 72.13 196 4.31
2011 Julio Jones Alabama 6 74.75 220 4.34
2011 Aldrick Robinson Southern Methodist (TX) 178 69.63 184 4.35
2011 Edmond Gates Abilene Christian (TX) UDCFA 71.75 192 4.31
2011 Ricardo Lockette Fort Valley State (GA) UDCFA 74.13 211 4.34
2010 Jacoby Ford Clemson 108 68.88 186 4.22
2010 Trindon Holliday Louisiana State 197 65.25 166 4.21
2009 Darrius Heyward-Bey Maryland 7 73.63 210 4.25
2009 Mike Wallace Mississippi 84 72.38 199 4.28
2009 Deon Butler Penn State 91 70.38 182 4.31
2009 Mike Thomas Arizona 107 67.88 195 4.30
2009 Louis Murphy Florida 124 74.38 203 4.32
2009 Johnny Knox Abilene Christian (TX) 140 71.50 185 4.29
2009 Tiquan Underwood Rutgers 253 73.13 184 4.31
2009 Demetrius Byrd Louisiana State UDCFA 72.25 196 4.35
2007 Yamon Figurs Kansas State 74 71.25 174 4.34
2007 Jason Hill Washington State 76 72.50 204 4.35
2006 Chad Jackson Florida 36 72.88 213 4.35
2005 Troy Williamson South Carolina 7 73.38 203 4.34
2005 Jerome Mathis Hampton (VA) 114 71.25 181 4.26
2004 Carlos Francis Texas Tech 99 69.10 198 4.31
2002 Tim Carter Auburn 46 71.90 190 4.34
2002 Aaron Lockett Kansas State UDCFA 67.40 155 4.34
2001 Santana Moss Miami (FL) 16 69.60 184 4.31
2001 Chris Chambers Wisconsin 52 71.60 210 4.33
2001 Ken-Yon Rambo Ohio State 229 72.60 196 4.34
1999 Karsten Bailey Auburn 82 71.80 205 4.33
1999 Rondel Menendez Eastern Kentucky UDCFA 69.00 178 4.24
1998 Tony Simmons Wisconsin 52 72.80 203 4.35
1995 Joey Galloway Ohio State 8 71.00 200 4.18
1992 Rico Smith Colorado 143 71.50 186 4.35

You have to go all the back to the 2015 draft to find a speed burner WR who lasted until day three. Of course, this does not count speedy WRs who were not invited to the combine. J.J. Nelson from UAB was taken with the 159th pick overall in 2015. UAB plays lower lever FBS football in conference USA. Nelson’s stats from college were decent, but nothing special (116 catches and 16 rec TDs in four seasons). Another college receiver that could fill the Broncos deep threat slot is Quez Watkins from fellow Conference USA team, Southern Miss.

In a little over two seasons, Watkins had 159 catches for 2,404 yards and 17 TDs. As a senior he averaged 18.4 yards per catch.

Watkins has the kind of speed that Mecole Hardman possesses. That speed pushed Hardman into the late second round. Hardman had a much more limited stat resume in college with only 60 catches for 961 yards and 11 rec. TDs during his two years at UGA. So if the Broncos do not get their speed burner in the first with Henry Ruggs, maybe Watkins is an option if he is there late in the second or early in the third where all five of the speed burner WRs went last year in the draft. That is also where D.J. Chark went in 2018, where Chris Conley went in 2015, and where Marquise Goodwin went in 2013.

So let’s assume that the Broncos want/need a speedy WR to “take the top off” of the defense.

Let me know in the poll how you prefer that they acquire one:

Poll

How would you prefer the Broncos get a deep threat WR for 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Trade up to get Ruggs in the top 10
    (44 votes)
  • 68%
    Stand pat and get Ruggs if he’s there at 15, but get Watkins in the 2nd (46) if was miss on Ruggs at 15.
    (499 votes)
  • 12%
    If Watkins is there at 77 get him, but maybe we don’t need to draft a speedy WR
    (90 votes)
  • 10%
    Don’t draft Ruggs or Watkins because there is another WR in the draft who will be a much better deep threat and he is (tell in comments)
    (78 votes)
  • 2%
    Don’t draft a deep threat, sign one of the aging vets who might still be a deep threat (Emmanuel Sanders, Tedd Ginn, Paul Richardson, Tavon Austin, Phillip Dorsett, etc.)
    (20 votes)
731 votes total Vote Now