By Zachary Hirsch
In a league where dominant #1 receivers headline the most potent offenses, the wide receiver position is now more important than ever. When looking at the four Conference Championship Teams, a trend is evident. All four teams possess elite talent at the wide receiver position. Tyreek Hill, Deebo Samuel, Davante Adams, and A.J. Brown have all been able to elevate their team’s passing game and scare opposing defensive coordinators. These true number one wideouts take away attention from their team’s number two receivers, and most importantly make their quarterbacks life easier in a passing league.
Although all four receivers are deployed in different ways, they’re almost equally important to their team’s success. The Super Bowl Champion Chiefs throw as much as anybody in the league. Tyreek Hill is a perfect fit for their offense. Mahomes and Andy Reid love to push the ball down the field and Hill may be the league’s fastest player.
The Super Bowl runner-up, San Francisco 49ers prefer to use their receivers in a different way. Head Coach and play-caller, Kyle Shanahan has a unique zone-block run scheme and is able to carve out running lanes better than anybody. Their reliance on the run-game almost makes having elite wide receiver talent even more important. When Garoppolo was forced to pass in key situations, Deebo Samuel and mid-season addition Emannuel Sanders were counted on to make big plays when it absolutely mattered most.
The Green Bay Packers have a passing attack lead by future hall of fame quarterback, Aaron Rodgers and #1 receiver Davante Adams. In the Packers two playoff games Adams consistently came up big, producing 17 receptions for 298 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The surprise team of the bunch the Tennessee Titans ran a true run-first offense. They were committed to run the ball with star running back Derrick Henry and dared the opposing defense to try to stop them. The one thing I believe their offense had been lacking in past seasons was an explosive Number One Receiver. A.J. Brown racked up yards after the catch and stretched the field keeping opposing defenses from loading the box on every play. Not only did Derrick Henry have a career year but the sensational rookie wideout, Brown was one of only two players to average more than twenty yards per catch. These big plays complimented the Titans run game and carried the Titans to the Conference Championship Game.
I hear the network’s most experienced journalists say things every draft like “teams win with defense”, “it’s a quarterback-driven league” and “it all starts with coaching” are those really accurate? I admit that they were all true sayings in the past, the evidence suggests that if your receivers aren’t getting separation, you aren’t getting to the Super Bowl these days. Of the final four teams, only San Francisco had a dominant defense. While there is no arguing the greatness of Aaron Rodgers or that Patrick Mahomes is the best young quarterback today neither Ryan Tannehill or Jimmy Garoppolo is considered close to elite. The best quarterback of all time, Tom Brady played for the best coach in NFL history, Bill Belichick and the team fielded elite defense and special teams units but even the best of the best couldn’t hold off the rest after big-play receivers, Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon exited the team due to off-field issues.
Scouting the wideouts carefully is also extremely important. It often takes a couple of seasons before a team really knows if their early-round investment paid off. Having a rookie wide receiver play at or near Pro Bowl level is becoming increasingly rare. Since 2015 the only wideouts that were able to eclipse the thousand-yard mark in their first year have been Tennessee Titans receiver, A.J. Brown last season with 1,051 yards, New Orleans Saints Wide Receiver Michael Thomas in 2016 with 1,137 yards, and current Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper in 2015 who had 1,070 yards for the Oakland Raiders.
With pro-ready Wide Receivers being so rare, how highly coveted should the Wide Receiver position be in the NFL Draft? How many receivers in a class should be expected to be able to have a significant role in their offense?
The 2020 Receiver Class is a special one. It is regarded by me and most experts as not only one of the best receiver classes in recent memory but potentially the deepest in NFL history. Jerry Jeudy, Ceedee Lamb, Henry Ruggs, Justin Jefferson, Tee Higgins, Brandon Aiyuk, Laviska Shenault Jr., Denzel Mims, Jalen Reagor, Michael Pittman Jr, KJ Hamler, Bryan Edwards, and K.J. Hill each have elite potential and Mystic Zach predicts they may all off the board within the first two rounds.
With your favorite NFL team having up to thirteen top-flight wide receivers with first or second-round grades to choose from, why shouldn’t they wait to select a Wide Receiver? The dropoff at a position like Offensive Tackle from the first to the second round is much steeper than the Receiver position. The New York Jets, for example, have a lot of holes on their team on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Will they be more reluctant to target the Wideout position with their first pick?
The last time a Wide Receiver class was this highly touted was the 2014 NFL Draft Class. In 2014 the Buffalo Bills held the ninth overall pick. Future star NFL Wide Receivers like Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, and Jarvis Landry all lasted until the ninth pick and beyond.
The Bills, however, traded the ninth overall pick, their first-round pick the following year, and a fourth-round pick the following year to trade up for the fourth pick. Buffalo then selected Sammy Watkins. Watkins lasted only three seasons in Buffalo, surpassing 1,000 yards just once before eventually being shipped off to the Los Angeles Rams. Was trading up for Watkins a better idea than staying put and drafting somebody like Odell Beckham Jr.? I didn’t think so then and with the benefit of hindsight, we all know it wasn’t the right option.
I think this NFL Draft is full of top-flight talent. Trust me, this isn’t your typical wide receiver class! Before a team like the Denver Broncos considers trading up from the fifteenth position this year to select their favorite receiver, I think they should remember the lesson we learned from the Sammy Watkins trade and not learn the hard way giving up valuable draft assets for a negligible gain.
The 2020 Draft can truly be franchise-altering. If you’re an NFL General Manager, you can’t afford to miss. Copy the top teams and take the right wideout and you may be receiving consideration as the NFL Executive of the Year. If you don’t heed my mystic advice and drop the ball in a class this deep you could be looking to catch on with another team in 2021.