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Success rate of first-round wide receivers this century

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I’m gonna tell you the odds. Sorry, Han.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

If you believe the rumors, the Broncos will be drafting a wide receiver in the first round if one of the “Big 3” are still available at 15.

This prompted me to ponder how often first-round wide receivers are “successful.” Most teams that are consistently successful in the NFL use their first-round picks on players that are at least above-average starters. Unfortunately the Broncos have not really done that in recent years. Bradley Chubb is definitely an above-average starter (at least). Noah Fant is arguably one as well, but the other four of our last six first-round picks were not. Maybe Bradley Roby qualifies, but Garrett Bolles, Paxton Lynch and Shane Ray are/were decidedly below average for/at their positions.

There have been 77 wide receivers taken in the first round of the draft this century. The most taken in any year was seven in 2004. Six times there have been six or more wide receivers taken in the first round, but over the past decade, the number of first-round wideouts has been consistently lower than six.

Year WRs Drafted in round 1
2019 2
2018 2
2017 3
2016 4
2015 6
2014 5
2013 3
2012 4
2011 3
2010 2
2009 6
2008 0
2007 6
2006 1
2005 6
2004 7
2003 3
2002 3
2001 6
2000 5

So now we get into the discussion of what makes a first-round pick at WR a successful pick?

If you use first-team All Pro selections, then only nine of the 77 first-round picks have qualified and only eight of those were as wide receivers (Corderelle Patterson made first team All Pro as a punt/kickoff returner).

If you use first team Pro Bowl selections, then 21 of these first-round wide receivers have done that. Here’s the full table with current career stats for those who are still playing:

Year Rnd Pick Player Tm From To AP1 PB St CarAV G GS Rec Yds TD College/Univ
2019 1 25 Marquise Brown BAL 2019 2019 0 0 0 8 14 11 46 584 7 Oklahoma
2019 1 32 N'Keal Harry NWE 2019 2019 0 0 0 1 7 5 12 105 2 Arizona St.
2018 1 24 D.J. Moore CAR 2018 2019 0 0 2 16 31 25 142 1963 6 Maryland
2018 1 26 Calvin Ridley ATL 2018 2019 0 0 1 14 29 15 127 1687 17 Alabama
2017 1 5 Corey Davis TEN 2017 2019 0 0 3 14 42 36 142 1867 6 West. Michigan
2017 1 7 Mike Williams LAC 2017 2019 0 0 1 15 41 21 103 1760 12 Clemson
2017 1 9 John Ross CIN 2017 2019 0 0 1 5 24 19 49 716 10 Washington
2016 1 15 Corey Coleman CLE 2016 2018 0 0 2 6 27 19 61 789 5 Baylor
2016 1 21 Will Fuller HOU 2016 2019 0 0 4 18 42 41 156 2231 16 Notre Dame
2016 1 22 Josh Doctson WAS 2016 2019 0 0 2 9 34 26 81 1100 8 TCU
2016 1 23 Laquon Treadwell MIN 2016 2019 0 0 2 6 53 16 65 701 2 Mississippi
2015 1 4 Amari Cooper OAK 2015 2019 0 4 5 39 77 72 357 5097 33 Alabama
2015 1 7 Kevin White CHI 2016 2018 0 0 0 2 14 5 25 285 0 West Virginia
2015 1 14 DeVante Parker MIA 2015 2019 0 0 3 23 70 45 235 3419 18 Louisville
2015 1 20 Nelson Agholor PHI 2015 2019 0 0 5 21 71 62 224 2515 18 USC
2015 1 26 Breshad Perriman BAL 2016 2019 0 0 0 11 51 10 95 1561 11 Central Florida
2015 1 29 Phillip Dorsett IND 2015 2019 0 0 0 14 71 15 124 1634 11 Miami (FL)
2014 1 4 Sammy Watkins BUF 2014 2019 0 0 5 36 76 73 284 4244 31 Clemson
2014 1 7 Mike Evans TAM 2014 2019 0 3 6 49 90 89 462 7260 48 Texas A&M
2014 1 12 Odell Beckham NYG 2014 2019 0 3 5 49 75 71 464 6511 48 LSU
2014 1 20 Brandin Cooks NOR 2014 2019 0 0 6 51 88 77 402 5730 34 Oregon St.
2014 1 28 Kelvin Benjamin CAR 2014 2018 0 0 4 22 61 52 209 3021 20 Florida St.
2013 1 8 Tavon Austin STL 2013 2019 0 0 4 25 96 50 215 2006 15 West Virginia
2013 1 27 DeAndre Hopkins HOU 2013 2019 3 4 7 59 110 110 632 8602 54 Clemson
2013 1 29 Cordarrelle Patterson MIN 2013 2019 3 3 2 26 111 33 195 1955 10 Tennessee
2012 1 5 Justin Blackmon JAX 2012 2014 0 0 1 9 20 18 93 1280 6 Oklahoma St.
2012 1 13 Michael Floyd ARI 2012 2018 0 0 3 28 102 51 266 3959 25 Notre Dame
2012 1 20 Kendall Wright TEN 2012 2017 0 0 3 28 82 45 339 3858 19 Baylor
2012 1 30 A.J. Jenkins SFO 2012 2014 0 0 0 2 28 3 17 223 0 Illinois
2011 1 4 A.J. Green CIN 2011 2018 0 7 8 68 111 111 602 8907 63 Georgia
2011 1 6 Julio Jones ATL 2011 2019 2 7 8 94 126 125 797 12125 57 Alabama
2011 1 26 Jonathan Baldwin KAN 2011 2013 0 0 1 4 33 11 44 607 2 Pittsburgh
2010 1 22 Demaryius Thomas DEN 2010 2019 0 4 8 69 143 128 724 9763 63 Georgia Tech
2010 1 24 Dez Bryant DAL 2010 2017 1 3 7 61 113 99 531 7459 73 Oklahoma St.
2009 1 7 Darrius Heyward-Bey OAK 2009 2018 0 0 5 22 144 71 202 2897 16 Maryland
2009 1 10 Michael Crabtree SFO 2009 2019 0 0 10 53 143 139 637 7499 54 Texas Tech
2009 1 19 Jeremy Maclin PHI 2009 2017 0 0 8 51 114 112 514 6835 49 Missouri
2009 1 22 Percy Harvin MIN 2009 2016 0 1 4 43 75 61 353 4026 22 Florida
2009 1 29 Hakeem Nicks NYG 2009 2015 0 0 4 40 92 67 356 5081 31 North Carolina
2009 1 30 Kenny Britt TEN 2009 2017 0 0 5 35 116 76 329 5137 32 Rutgers
2007 1 2 Calvin Johnson DET 2007 2015 3 6 9 78 135 130 731 11619 83 Georgia Tech
2007 1 9 Ted Ginn MIA 2007 2019 0 0 7 52 187 83 409 5702 33 Ohio St.
2007 1 23 Dwayne Bowe KAN 2007 2015 0 1 8 49 125 112 537 7208 44 LSU
2007 1 27 Robert Meachem NOR 2008 2014 0 0 1 26 103 35 178 2914 27 Tennessee
2007 1 30 Craig Davis SDG 2007 2010 0 0 0 7 25 2 51 558 2 LSU
2007 1 32 Anthony Gonzalez IND 2007 2011 0 0 1 16 40 12 99 1307 7 Ohio St.
2006 1 25 Santonio Holmes PIT 2006 2014 0 0 6 47 112 91 389 6030 36 Ohio St.
2005 1 3 Braylon Edwards CLE 2005 2012 0 1 5 41 112 93 359 5522 40 Michigan
2005 1 7 Troy Williamson MIN 2005 2009 0 0 1 8 49 24 87 1131 4 South Carolina
2005 1 10 Mike Williams DET 2005 2011 0 0 2 12 56 30 127 1526 5 USC
2005 1 21 Matt Jones JAX 2005 2008 0 0 1 22 54 15 166 2153 15 Arkansas
2005 1 22 Mark Clayton BAL 2005 2011 0 0 5 27 83 65 260 3448 14 Oklahoma
2005 1 27 Roddy White ATL 2005 2015 1 4 10 88 171 149 808 10863 63 Ala-Birmingham
2004 1 3 Larry Fitzgerald ARI 2004 2019 1 11 16 92 250 248 1378 17083 120 Pittsburgh
2004 1 7 Roy Williams DET 2004 2011 0 1 7 42 115 94 393 5715 44 Texas
2004 1 9 Reggie Williams JAX 2004 2008 0 0 3 23 79 53 189 2322 18 Washington
2004 1 13 Lee Evans BUF 2004 2011 0 0 7 49 118 104 381 6008 43 Wisconsin
2004 1 15 Michael Clayton TAM 2004 2011 0 0 5 22 95 56 223 2955 10 LSU
2004 1 29 Michael Jenkins ATL 2004 2012 0 0 6 39 130 79 354 4427 25 Ohio St.
2004 1 31 Rashaun Woods SFO 2004 2004 0 0 0 1 14 0 7 160 1 Oklahoma St.
2003 1 2 Charles Rogers DET 2003 2005 0 0 0 4 15 9 36 440 4 Michigan St.
2003 1 3 Andre Johnson HOU 2003 2016 2 7 12 95 193 187 1062 14185 70 Miami (FL)
2003 1 17 Bryant Johnson ARI 2003 2011 0 0 4 25 139 74 314 3938 16 Penn St.
2002 1 13 Donte' Stallworth NOR 2002 2012 0 0 4 39 115 60 321 4837 35 Tennessee
2002 1 19 Ashley Lelie DEN 2002 2008 0 0 4 35 107 59 217 3749 15 Hawaii
2002 1 20 Javon Walker GNB 2002 2009 0 1 3 39 83 46 267 4011 31 Florida St.
2001 1 8 David Terrell CHI 2001 2005 0 0 1 11 54 29 128 1602 9 Michigan
2001 1 9 Koren Robinson SEA 2001 2008 0 1 4 35 96 70 294 4244 16 North Carolina St.
2001 1 15 Rod Gardner WAS 2001 2006 0 0 4 25 91 62 242 3165 23 Clemson
2001 1 16 Santana Moss NYJ 2001 2014 0 1 9 73 197 135 732 10283 66 Miami (FL)
2001 1 25 Freddie Mitchell PHI 2001 2004 0 0 1 13 63 17 90 1263 5 UCLA
2001 1 30 Reggie Wayne IND 2001 2014 1 6 13 117 211 197 1070 14345 82 Miami (FL)
2000 1 4 Peter Warrick CIN 2000 2005 0 0 4 27 79 60 275 2991 18 Florida St.
2000 1 8 Plaxico Burress PIT 2000 2012 0 0 10 69 148 138 553 8499 64 Michigan St.
2000 1 10 Travis Taylor BAL 2000 2007 0 0 7 32 101 90 312 4017 22 Florida
2000 1 21 Sylvester Morris KAN 2000 2000 0 0 1 6 15 14 48 678 3 Jackson St.
2000 1 29 R. Jay Soward JAX 2000 2000 0 0 0 2 13 2 14 154 1 USC

So I guess you have to ask yourself: Are we getting the next Santana Moss if we draft Ruggs/Jeudy/Lamb at 15 - or are we getting the next John Ross?

Keep this in mind - 19 of the 77 wide receivers taken in the first round this century have or had fewer than 100 career receptions in the NFL.

Let’s not forget that recent first-round wide receivers have been disappointing. No receiver taken in the first round since Amari Cooper in 2015 has made the Pro Bowl. So let’s focus on the 2015 NFL class of wide receivers. That was supposed to be a very good year for WR talent.

There were 34 wide receivers taken that year in the draft. Only two have made the Pro Bowl and only one, Cooper, as a wide receiver. Tyler Lockett made it as a returner. Lockett was also the All Pro returner that season. Of those six wide receivers taken in the first, three of them have never been a starter - Kevin White, Breshad Perriman and Phillip Dorsett.

It could be that NFL teams learned in 2015 that taking wide receivers in the first round is more risky than it used to be given the inflated passing offenses in the college game. That would explain the general lack of first round wide receivers taken in the last four drafts. It could also be that there was “limited” talent at wide receiver in the last four drafts.

Either way there could be seven or eight wide receivers taken in the first two rounds this year as there were in 2015. Let’s hope that the 2020 class of wide receivers has better NFL careers than the 2015 class.