Why the Ravens should pass on drafting a wide receiver in 1st round
By Kevin Van Valkenburg
Apr 17, 2009 | 6:00 PM
I like Darrius Heyward-Bey a lot. As a person, he's just about everything a reporter could ask for. He's a smart, funny guy who is a great quote, mainly because he isn't afraid to tell you what he thinks. It's no secret that wide receivers have become the Beyonces and the J-Los of the NFL. Most of the good ones are divas who need constant pampering, or else they'll throw tantrums, but Heyward-Bey doesn't fit that mold. He's a great kid. I want to see him succeed in the NFL, and fulfill the ridiculous potential he has because he possesses the rare combination of size (6 feet 3) and speed (4.3 in the 40).
But if I were Ozzie Newsome, I'd let someone else take that risk. Because even though Maryland had quarterback issues throughout Heyward-Bey's career, which helps explain his underwhelming production, it's way too easy to fall in love with wide receivers prior to the draft. Wide receivers are like race horses. When they're young, everyone has their theories, but no one really has any idea which ones will be good, and which ones will be a waste. I went to a horse auction a few years ago after the Preakness and watched an entire room full of trainers throw around thousands of dollars on horses just hoping to find one good one in 10. It was a good primer for this year's draft.
The success rate of wideouts drafted in the first round in the last 10 years is pitiful. And Heyward-Bey is no different. There are a lot of Ravens fans, as well as NFL GMs, mesmerized right now by his physical tools, but when it comes to the first round, you're more likely to get burned by potential than you are pleasantly surprised by it. Wide receivers are the hardest position in the NFL to evaluate, there is no way the Ravens should take that gamble, even on someone with character like Heyward-Bey, despite the continued lobbying of Maryland fans. (Frankly, they should know better than anyone that Heyward-Bey can drive you mad with his inconsistency.)
Windows aren't open very long in the NFL. After getting to the AFC championship game last year, the team would be better off signing a proven player (Torry Holt?) or trading for a potential star (Anquan Boldin) than they would playing the lottery of picking a wideout in the first round, hoping he'll emerge three years from now. Because that's the best-case scenario: three years before the pick even begins to pay off, if at all.
There were no wide receivers drafted in the first round last year, but let's look at wide receivers drafted in the first round over the 10-year period from 1999, the year before the Ravens won the Super Bowl, to 2008. The results (below) should scare you.
Even when you find a player who is productive, there is a decent chance he'll be a headcase. And finding a star at the bottom of the first round? You're about as likely to find one in the second or third round. You just end up paying your misses a lot less money. With as well as the Ravens evaluate defensive talent, they should just continue to draft defenders and trade them for proven receivers. Because look how easy it is to miss on wideouts.
Let's look at the results on a year-by-year basis.
1999 -- Torry Holt (Rams, 6th), David Boston (Cardinals, 8th), Troy Edwards (Steelers, 13th).
Pro Bowl WR drafted in Round 1: Holt, Boston
Pro Bowl WR drafted outside Round 1: Marty Booker, Donald Driver, Sean Morey (special teams).
Analysis: Boston's one Pro Bowl selection almost shouldn't count, since he was suspected of steroid use throughout his career, and eventually tested positive for both steroids and growth hormone. He was also charged with a DUI late in his career. Holt is a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, and one of only a handful of wide receivers in the last 10 years (as you'll soon learn) who justified being selected as high as he was. Edwards, despite a prolific college career, was a total bust.
2000 -- Peter Warrick (Bengals, 4th), Plaxico Burress (Steelers, 8th), Travis Taylor (Ravens, 10th), Slyvester Morris (Chiefs, 21st), R. Jay Soward (Jaguars, 29th).
Pro Bowl WR drafted in Round 1: None
Pro Bowl WR drafted outside Round 1: Laveranues Coles, Dante Hall (kick returner).
Analysis: Of those five players, only Burress came close to living up to his potential (although he was still named to zero Pro Bowls), and he only did it with his second team (Giants), and then proceeded to screw that up by shooting himself in the leg with a handgun at a New York City nightclub. Morris was hobbled by injuries and Soward's career wrecked by substance abuse. Taylor never had a 1,000-yard season with the Ravens, and was arrested and tasered by police outside a Minneapolis night club in 2007.
2001 -- David Terrell (Bears, 8th), Koren Robinson (Seahawks, 9th) Rod Gardner (Redskins, 15th), Santana Moss (Jets, 16th), Freddie Mitchell (Eagles, 25th), Reggie Wayne (Colts, 29th).
Pro Bowl WR drafted in Round 1: Robinson, Moss, Wayne.
Pro Bowl WR drafted outside Round 1: Chad Johnson, Chris Chambers, Steve Smith, T.J. Houshmandzadah, Alex Bannister (special teams selection).
Analysis: A little better track record than the previous season, but still more busts in Round 1 than Pro Bowlers. Even then, alcohol problems derailed the career of Robinson, Moss didn't truly emerge as a consistent threat until he was with his second team, and it took Wayne four seasons of playing with the league's best quarterback before he emerged as an elite wideout. Terrell lasted only four seasons in the NFL, and neither Gardner nor Mitchell is still in the league.
Analysis: A bad draft for wide receivers in general. Worth pointing out that Lelie is now playing for his fourth team, Walker his third, and Stallworth his third. Stallworth is also facing second-degree manslaughter charges for an alleged DUI.
2003 -- Charles Rodgers (Lions, 2nd), Andre Johnson (Texans, 3rd), Bryant Johnson (Cardinals, 17th).
Pro Bowl WR drafted in Round 1: A. Johnson
Pro Bowl WR drafted outside Round 1: Anquan Boldin
Analysis: Rodgers and Johnson were both highly productive in college, but quickly flamed out in the NFL. Boldin turned out to be a great example of why workouts aren't everything when it comes to playing wideout. At the combine, he ran a 4.71 in the 40, and his rookie season with the Cardinals, he caught 101 passes. Rodgers, who ran a 4.28 in pre-draft workouts, never had a 100-yard receiving game in the NFL, and failed three drug tests before the Lions eventually released him. Bryant Johnson is with his third team and has never caught 50 passes in a single season.
2004 -- Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals, 3rd), Roy Williams (Lions, 7th), Reggie Williams (Jaguars, 9th), Lee Evans (Bills, 13th), Michael Clayton (Bucs, 15th), Michael Jenkins (Falcons, 29th)
Pro Bowl WR Drafted in Round 1: Fitzgerald, Williams
Pro Bowl WR Drafted outside Round 1: Wes Welker (undrafted)
Analysis: Although Williams does have a Pro Bowl on his resume (he was an alternate who played after an injury to Torry Holt in 2007), he's in danger of turning into a bust after catching just 19 passes in 10 games after being traded to the Cowboys. Only Fitzgerald truly lived up to his potential, becoming one of the best in the NFL at his position. Once again, substance abuse problems pop up, as Reggie Williams was arrested twice while with the Jaguars, and charged with felony cocaine possession the second time.
2005 -- Braylon Edwards (Browns, 3rd), Troy Williamson (Vikings, 7th), Mike Williams (Lions, 10th), Matt Jones (Jaguars, 21st), Mark Clayton (Ravens, 22nd), Roddy White (Falcons, 27th).
Pro Bowl WR Drafted in Round 1: Edwards, White
Pro Bowl WR Drafted outside Round 1: Johnny Mathis (kick returner).
Analysis: Another so-so draft for wide receivers. White made the Pro Bowl in 2008, but Edwards is the only player who developed into a anything resembling a star. (Although Cleveland is trying to trade him after he led the league in dropped passes last year.) Clayton has been a solid starter and may take yet another step forward, but at 5 feet 10, it's hard to imagine he'll be a dominant player. This draft was also plagued by busts. Williamson, who has size and speed comparable with Heyward-Bey, has just career 84 career catches. Williams played for three teams before being released by the Titans last year, and at one point he weighed 270 pounds. Jones was arrested in 2008 and charged with felony drug possession, and arrested again for violating his probation.
2006 -- Santonio Holmes (Steelers, 25th)
Pro Bowl WR Drafted in Round 1: None
Pro Bowl WR Drafted outside Round 1: Brandon Marshall
Analysis: Holmes has been pretty successful on the field -- he did catch the game-winning pass in the Super Bowl, and was the game's MVP -- but he's also been arrested twice, once for assault and once for marijuana possession. Marshall has also been arrested multiple times, including once for domestic violence. Marques Colston, drafted in the seventh round by the Saints, has had a promising start to his career.
2007 -- Calvin Johnson (Lions, 2nd), Ted Ginn Jr. (Dolphins, 9th), Dwayne Bowe (Chiefs, 23rd), Robert Meachem (Saints, 27th), Craig Davis (Chargers, 30th), Anthony Gonzalez (Colts, 31st).
Pro Bowl WR Drafted in Round 1: None.
Pro Bowl WR Drafted outside Round 1: None.
Analysis: It's too early to evaluate most of this draft, but that also makes a strong case for why the Ravens shouldn't be reaching for a wideout in the first round when they're one game away from the Super Bowl. Johnson is most likely going to be a star, and Bowe has compiled 2,017 receiving yards in his first two seasons. Ginn had a promising second season. Davis spent most of his second year on injured reserve.
Lastly, look at the 15 wide receivers who were in the Pro Bowl more than twice over that span, from 1999 to 2008. Only six of them were first-round picks.
Marvin Harrison, 1st-round pick (8 times)
Torry Holt, 1st-round pick (6 times)
Terrell Owens, 3rd-round pick (6 times)
Chad Johnson, 2nd-round pick (5 times)
Randy Moss, 1st-round pick (5 times)
Hines Ward, 3rd-round pick (4 times)
Issac Bruce, 2nd-round pick (3 times)
Jimmy Smith, 2nd-round pick (3 times)
Joe Horn, 5th-round pick (3 times)
Donald Driver, 7th-round pick (3 times)
Anquan Boldin, 2nd-round pick (3 times)
Reggie Wayne, 1st-round pick (3 times)
Steve Smith, 3rd-round pick (3 times)
Larry Fitzgerald, 1st-round pick (3 times)
Andre Johnson, 1st-round pick (3 times)
Of the 33 wide receivers drafted in the first round during that stretch, 11 made at least one Pro Bowl, but only Holt, Wayne, Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson played in more than one.
By comparison, 14 other wide receivers not drafted in the first round also made the Pro Bowl during that spam. And Steve Smith, Chad Johnson and Aquan Boldin all played in more than one. (I'm including the three special teams players because at least their teams got something out of those picks. If you miss on a first-round receiver and he doesn't play on teams, it was a complete waste. And you also might have to bail him out of jail.)
It's such a roll of the dice, you almost have as good a chance of finding a gem in the third round as you do the first.
So, with all that in mind, still think the Ravens should grab Heyward-Bey, or any receiver really, if he's there?