The NFL has a thirst for wide receivers that is never satisfied. Last year, 34 receivers were selected, and by the time this year's draft comes to an end, another 34 (or more) will be taken. Teams carry upwards of six active receivers on a roster and most teams have personnel packages that require three or four wide receivers on the field at the same time. Speed is a critical component to the position and young players with speed make teams as third and fourth receivers.
Last year, three wide receivers were drafted in the first round: Donté Stallworth (New Orleans), Ashley Lelie (Denver) and Javon Walker (Green Bay). A year later, Stallworth is going to be a starter opposite Joe Horn, and the other two just can't be considered locks to start yet.
This year, there are four first-round candidates who make the 2003 class superior to 2002. In fact, most offensive coaches and scouts I talk with consider Charles Rogers (Michigan State) and Andre Johnson (Miami) the "elite" prospects. That means they have an excellent chance to become No. 1 receiver right away. It's no secret that Rogers is headed for Detroit with the second pick, and Johnson could go to the Texans at No. 3 and definitely won't fall out of the top 10.
As soon as the two superstars are off the board, the rest of the first-round teams will turn their attention to Kelley Washington (Tennessee) and Taylor Jacobs (Florida). Washington overcame some medical issues to rise to a first-round grade and has a great upside. Jacobs is an accomplished receiver who will quickly become a No. 2 receiver for the team that drafts him. Carson Palmer was on the same team at the Senior Bowl and told me he ran the best routes of any receiver he had ever thrown to -- and he's thrown to a lot of excellent wideouts. Look for Arizona, Houston, Detroit, Jacksonville, N.Y. Jets, San Francisco, Philadelphia and the Raiders to strongly consider these four receivers when their draft number is called.
Obviously, some teams have to wait until the second round to grab a good receiver, and if last year's history is an indication of what the second round holds, it is a great place to find a receiver. In fact the second round produced more productive receivers than the first round. Antonio Bryant (Dallas), Jabar Gaffney (Houston), Andre Davis (Cleveland), Josh Reed (Buffalo), Deion Branch (New England) and Antwaan Randle El (Pittsburgh) all came out of the second round.
This year, I don't believe the second round will be as successful for a few reasons. After Bryant Johnson (Penn State) and Tyrone Calico (Middle Tennessee State), who both ran under 4.4 in the 40, the rest of the second wave of wide receivers have a speed issue or an off-the-field issue. Sam Aiken (North Carolina), Teyo Johnson (Stanford), Anquan Boldin (Florida State), Brandon Lloyd (Illinois), and Billy McMullen (Virginia) all have 40 times in the 4.6 range and that may drive a few of them into the third round. Talman Gardner (Florida State) was rising fast until he ran into some personal issues that has cast a shadow of doubt about where to take him. Because of the lack of speed among the second round talent look for Kareem Kelly (USC) and Kevin Curtis (Utah State) to get some late consideration from teams looking to take a receiver on the first day.
Last year, a number of teams didn't take a wide receiver in the draft because of their depth at the position. Just one year later, it's a big need. Atlanta skipped the receiver position until the sixth round and already has given up this year's first-round pick to sign Peerless Price. Arizona didn't take a receiver in 2002 and has already lost David Boston and MarTay Jenkins -- they need to come out of this draft with a top prospect. Detroit passed on selecting a receiver last April and will use the second overall pick to upgrade the position. As one offensive coordinator said to me, "You never have enough receiver talent, and you have to consider taking one every year because free agency just drains the talent pool."
When I was at the Jets, we hit gold taking Keyshawn Johnson with the first pick overall, and we hit it big with undrafted free agent Wayne Chrebet. This year, possible undrafted guys who could make a team as the next Chrebet include Ryan Hoag (Gustavus Adolphus), Rob Milanese (Penn), who is a Wayne Chrebet clone, and Ben Nelson (St. Cloud State) among others.
Kirwan's Hot Topics
Some key points to keep in mind as we watch the draft unfold:
- Will Charles Rogers actually be the next Randy Moss? Is there enough concern about his "masking agent" issue to scare Detroit?
- Will the Texans sit in the No. 3 spot and take Andre Johnson, or will they trade out and hope to get him a few picks later?
- Are there teams afraid of Kelley Washington's neck injury history, thus causing him to slide in the draft?
- Even though the Raider receiver corps includes Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and Jerry Porter, will they still use one of their first-round picks on a receiver?
- Which team passes on a first-round receiver because they feel they have the guy they want in the second round with Bryant Johnson of Penn State?