In the 2020 NFL Draft, teams selected a record 13 wide receivers in the first two rounds, up from 12. Election of Henry Rags III to the 59th Parliament. Denzel Mims’ choice. Each of the 13 scored at least 220 yards through the air last season, and eight had at least 500 yards. Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson, No. 22, gained 1,400 yards; Buffalo traded that pick to the Vikings in a swap for star Stephon Diggs, but Diggs outgained the rookie by just 135 yards.
The production has exceeded that of the best in the draft. Fifth-round pick Darnell Mooney (631 yards and four touchdowns) was Chicago’s No. 2 receiver, while fourth-rounder Gabriel Davis (599 yards at 17.1 per catch) and undrafted Tyrone Johnson (398 yards at 19.9 per catch) added depth for the Bills and Chargers, respectively. In all, 23 freshmen caught at least one ball in each game. It may not be the highest bar, but rookies quickly become useful players at the position.
That high success rate didn’t start in 2020 – of the 29 wideouts who were their team’s No. 1 receiver (two teams were led by a tight end, one by a running back), 15 were in the last three seasons, 12 in the last two.
If the projections are correct, this year’s selection could be just as productive. In his latest draft, Mel Kiper Jr. predicts. 14 wide receivers in the first two rounds; Todd McShay predicts a more conservative 10, but that remains a possible continuation of the trend. While there were only three times nine or more wideouts in the first two rounds in the 10 years from 2009 to 2018, this is the third consecutive year.
You never want to go too far in TRENDING!!! If something happens three times. They finished with 21 wideouts in 2014 and 15 draft picks in the first two rounds before the averages dropped again. But it would certainly make sense that we would see an increase in the value of receivers on draft boards for a number of reasons.
1. NFL teams go through more
Let’s start with the obvious. In the last three seasons alone, the total number of starts is up 6% and the total number of starts is up 6%. The impact of more and more teams setting up an analytics department will be more passive, because it’s a more effective and explosive way to move the game forward, and has been for some time. Last year’s 45% success rate (in this case calculated by the frequency of games with an expected number of extra points, or EPA, greater than zero) was easily the highest in the last ten years.
With the pass rush becoming more important and effective, quarterbacks are getting paid more than ever. Seven of them are currently under contract with at least $100 million in guaranteed money, and 16 active QBs average at least $23.5 million per year (only four non-QBs earn that much), but to maximize the effectiveness of these increasingly important stars, you need guys who can reliably catch the pass and do damage with it.
Even some running backs are becoming more valuable for their pass-catching abilities: Although those numbers are slightly lower in 2020, at least partially due to injuries to some stars, 37 RBs caught at least 30 passes and three scored at least 600 receiving yards in 2019, compared to 26 and one, respectively, in the previous 10 years. But if you need guys to get well-paid quarterback passes, it makes sense to draft players with a receiver in the feature designation.
2. Varsity teams go through more
In 2016, the overall pass rate* in college football was 49.4%. Twelve FBS teams finished in the top 60%, while 11 teams finished below 40%. Of the teams in the Associated Press’ top 10 for the year, only two (USC and Clemson) were above 50.4 percent, Alabama was at 46.7 percent and the other three were below. Most of the top teams took the time to organize a race anyway.
In 2020, after just four seasons, the average success rate was 52.2%, with 23 teams above 60% and six above 40%. Of the top 10 teams on the year, they were all at 49.0% or better with their upgrades complete, Alabama was at 50.8% even with many more throws in the trash.
There is always diversity in college football, and there always will be. The diverse talents that exist in this sport will always require creativity and, in some cases, extreme tactics. But the average college football team throws more than it did a decade ago, and more importantly, the elite teams, the ones that recruit all the elite recruits, do it too.
So it’s probably no coincidence that five of the top seven receivers drafted last year played for Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma or Clemson, or that four of the top five receivers drafted this year played for LSU’s 2019 championship team (Ja’Marr Chase, Terrace Marshall Jr.) or Bama’s 2020 team (DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle). Fifth-ranked Kadarius Toney of Florida played on a Bama team that was defeated in the SEC Championship.
* Pass percentage = (pass attempts + scrambles + sacks – spikes) / (plays – spikes – knees).
3. There are other top recruits at the catcher position.
From 2012 to 2016, there were an average of 12.2 running backs and 18.0 wide receivers in ESPN’s top 150 prospects. From 2017-21, those averages dropped to 11.0 running backs and 22.0 receivers, down 10% and up 22%, respectively.
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In some cases, this change can almost be considered a switch, a bit like a genre. Some of last year’s top receivers – Ohio State’s Julian Fleming (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) and Garrett Wilson (6-foot-1, 181), LSU’s Kaishon Butte (6-foot-5, 180), Maryland’s Rakim Jarrett (6-foot-1, 190), Jordan Johnson (6-1, 185) of Notre Dame and Dominique Blaylock (6-1, 187) of Georgia – have some size that, in a slightly different generation, might have found their way onto the high school backfield and become top running backs. Similarly, versatile prospects from the late 2000s like Joe McKnight (6-0, 190 as a top prospect in 2007) or DeMarco Murray (6-1, 190) could end up as receivers when they emerge as prospects in the early 2020s. But as more and more great talent moves from high school to college, one could argue that more and more of that talent will end up with the pros.
4. Ball distribution in the NFL has become more versatile. And versatility is a strong point of the 2021 vintage.
In 2010, 39% of all completions came from players drafted on the outside, 25% from players drafted in the slot, 23% from players drafted in the backfield, and 13% from players drafted at tight end. Of the 32 800-yard receivers in the league, 24 made at least 70% of their catches on the outside and only five made at least 50% of their catches on the outside.
In 2020, remote receivers still accounted for 38% of completions and online tight ends for 12%. That hasn’t really changed. But the use of slot receivers rose to 31%, while the loss in the backfield fell to 19%. Of the 36 800-yard receivers, only 14 made at least 70% of their catches from the outside and 10 made at least 50% from the slot.
The receivers move a lot more and the ball lands in more hands. While in 2010, 25 players got at least 30 percent of their team’s touches in a season (two and a half years), by 2020 that number had dropped to 12, and only Titans running back Derrick Henry got above 44 percent. At the same time, 95 players received 10-30% of their team’s touches in 2020, up from 59 in 2010. The age of egalitarianism has arrived – more opportunities for more players.
Depending on the preferences of the offensive coordinator and staff, the distribution of passes varied greatly from team to team.
The spread is quite wide, with about 14 percentage points between the maximum and minimum percentages for outdoor receivers, 16 percentage points for slot players, 19 for linebackers, and 19 for backfielders. Teams like the Jets and Texas have given passes close to league average, while the Broncos like to pass in close games, the Bills almost never throw in close games, and several teams, including the Patriots, throw almost a third of their passes to players out of the backfield.
Young receivers like CeeDee Lamb (Dallas) and Russell Gage (Atlanta) had most of their early success in the slot (85% of Lamb’s 74 receptions in 2020 came from there), but almost all successful receivers spend time there – Diggs caught 25% of his passes from the slot, Jefferson 31%, Davante Adams (Green Bay) 40%, etc.
In 2021, teams that select receivers will have to rearrange their rookies a bit, because most of this year’s prospects – in this case, the receivers seen by Kiper or McShay in the first two rounds – have spent a lot of time in the college slot.
Alabama’s Chase and Smith shone wherever they lined up, while Waddle, Tony and, to a lesser extent, Elijah Moore and Rondale Moore were particularly versatile. But nine of those 15 players caught at least 53% of their passes from the slot, and only four caught more than 70% from outside positions. The draft order for many of these players can be based on team need, and the most successful players are those who end up with teams willing to move them.
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