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Receivers, draft capital and the Denver Broncos over the last five drafts

Denver has invested heavily on receivers, but has little to show for it over the last four seasons.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Like everything I write here, this will be based on statistics and rankings.

It seemed like the Denver Broncos had been using a lot of draft capital on receivers recently so I looked up how much. Over the last five drafts the Broncos have the most draft capital invested (DCI) on receivers (WRs and TEs) in the league. DCI is calculated by summing the expected career AV for pick by draft slot. The Broncos have used 78.2 units of DCI on 13 receivers over the last five drafts. That ranks first in terms of DCI (see below):

Rank Team DCI Receivers Drafted DCI/ Receiver
1 DEN 78.2 13 6.0
2 CIN 70.5 7 10.1
3 BAL 69.6 10 7.0
4 PHI 62.9 8 7.9
5 SFO 52.0 10 5.2
6 TEN 52.0 6 8.7
7 PIT 48.8 7 7.0
8 LAR 46.7 8 5.8
9 CAR 46.6 7 6.7
10 MIA 44.7 5 8.9
11 ATL 44.6 6 7.4
12 NYJ 42.2 7 6.0
13 ARI 40.5 7 5.8
14 LAC 38.8 6 6.5
15 DET 38.8 7 5.5
16 LVR 38.2 6 6.4
17 JAX 37.8 8 4.7
18 CHI 36.5 7 5.2
19 MIN 36.3 11 3.3
20 SEA 34.4 10 3.4
21 DAL 32.3 7 4.6
22 NYG 32.0 3 10.7
23 TAM 31.7 6 5.3
24 CLE 31.5 6 5.3
25 IND 28.8 7 4.1
26 HOU 27.9 7 4.0
27 GNB 26.7 8 3.3
28 WAS 24.4 9 2.7
29 NWE 24.4 6 4.1
30 BUF 23.7 8 3.0
31 KAN 16.9 5 3.4
32 NOR 11.1 4 2.8

The Broncos also have the most receivers drafted 2017-2021 with thirteen, two more than the second place team Minnesota. If you sort that table by DCI per receiver, the Broncos drop to thirteenth. That means that while we have used some high draft picks on receivers (Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant, Jerry Jeudy), but we have also used some very low draft picks on receivers. The split is two day one picks (Fant and Jeudy), three day two picks (KJ Hamler, Sutton and Carlos Henderson) and eight day three picks.

If we focus solely on the day one and day two picks (first three rounds), the Broncos drop down to second in terms of DCI over the last five drafts. The Broncos have used 60.7 DCI units on day one and day two receivers while the Bengals have used 66.6 (they must be evil). The Chiefs are the lowest here with only one receiver taken on day or day two over the last five drafts (Mecole Hardman - 56th overall pick in 2019).

Again if we sort this table by DCI per receiver, the Broncos fall to eighth with 12.1. The Falcons move up to first at 19.9. They have only taken two but they have both been really high value picks (Kyle Pitts with the 4th picks this year and Calvin Ridley with the 26th in 2018).

Rank Team DCI on day1 and day2 receivers Receivers drafted DCI/Receiver
1 CIN 66.6 4 16.7
2 DEN 60.7 5 12.1
3 BAL 59.5 6 9.9
4 PHI 53.8 4 13.5
5 TEN 46.6 4 11.7
6 SFO 44.2 4 11.1
7 PIT 43.6 5 8.7
8 CAR 40.6 4 10.2
9 MIA 40.6 3 13.5
10 ATL 39.7 2 19.9
11 LAR 35.9 4 9.0
12 LAC 34.6 3 11.5
13 ARI 33.6 4 8.4
14 LVR 32.1 3 10.7
15 CHI 30.6 3 10.2
16 NYG 30.1 2 15.1
17 NYJ 27.5 3 9.2
18 DET 26.9 2 13.5
19 JAX 26.8 3 8.9
20 MIN 24.6 2 12.3
21 NWE 23.6 3 7.9
22 DAL 23.2 2 11.6
23 TAM 22.2 2 11.1
24 SEA 22.0 3 7.3
25 IND 20.7 2 10.4
26 GNB 19.1 3 6.4
27 CLE 19.1 2 9.6
28 HOU 17.6 3 5.9
29 BUF 17.1 2 8.6
30 WAS 13.5 2 6.8
31 NOR 10.9 2 5.5
32 KAN 9.0 1 9.0

Now, I know that having great receivers doesn’t help if you have have either a bad quarterback, a bad offensive line or both. In the case of the Broncos I will let you judge where you think the blame lies for the poor passing results that we have seen over the past four seasons.

Return on Investment?

Let’s focus on the three teams that have used the most draft capital on receivers over the past five drafts and see how they have fared in terms of passing offense 2017-2020. Those three teams are the Broncos, Bengals and Ravens.

Ranks Ranks Ranks
Year Team Passer Rating Passing Yds Passing TDs Team Passer Rating Passing Yds Passing TDs Team Passer Rating Passing Yds Passing TDs
2017 DEN 31 20 25 BAL 22 29 24 CIN 16 27 12
2018 DEN 27 19 25 BAL 26 22 26 CIN 25 24 16
2019 DEN 23 28 32 BAL 2 27 1 CIN 30 19 28
2020 DEN 32 26 25 BAL 14 32 17 CIN 25 27 27

With the exception of the Ravens in 2019, this table contains mostly very ugly numbers. The best ranking for the Broncos in passer rating, passing yards or passing TDs over the past four seasons is 19th (2018). All three franchises have chosen to address the problem by drafting receivers. The Broncos have drafted thirteen total, the Bengals seven and the Ravens ten.

Only the Ravens have really seen anything great come from their DCI on receivers. By combining a run first offense, a running QB and some talented receivers, they were second in the league in passer rating in 2019 and first in passing TDs, despite being 27th in passing yards. Since I don’t follow the Ravens closely, it sounds like they ran to get into the red zone and then passed to score once there in 2019. They were last in passing attempts in 2019 and first in rushing attempts and rushing yards. They were second in rushing TDs. So maybe teams were so afraid of their rushing attack that it opened up their passing game in the red zone.

I did not do a comparative analysis of the OL draft capital from the three teams or the relative play of their offensive lines during these four seasons so I don’t know how much that dragged the passing ranks down. I do know that all three teams have chosen to address the problem by drafting receivers and so far only one has been successful and that was relatively fleeting.

I don’t know why the Ravens passing attack regressed in 2020, but one possibility might be the loss of ace LT Ronnie Stanley for a large part of the season. It will be interesting to see if Stanley’s return moves the Ravens back up into the elite levels ranks for passer rating and passing TDs.

It will also be interesting to see what happens if the Broncos trade for Aaron Rodgers. Assuming that Rodgers still has most of the day one and day receivers that the Broncos have taken in the past five drafts, I would expect a jump into the elite ranks in terms of passer rating, passing yards and passing TDs. Feel free to argue with me on this in the comments.

Poll

The Broncos have used ________ draft capital on receivers over the last five drafts.

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Way too much
    (103 votes)
  • 42%
    too much
    (286 votes)
  • 41%
    the right amount of
    (279 votes)
  • 1%
    too little
    (8 votes)
676 votes total Vote Now