Which receivers were truly most effective with the ball in their hands last season? We look at the leaders in YAC+ for 2014 and the last nine years.
27 Apr 2009
compiled by Bill Barnwell
On Saturday, we at Football Outsiders conducted a six-hour live chat that featured about 1000 comments from FO writers and readers alike. At the same time, Mike Tanier went to New York and live-blogged the draft, its picks, and his thoughts on each of the 64 Day One selections on behalf of the New York Times. On Sunday, myself, Aaron Schatz, and Doug Farrar chatted with ESPN.com readers as Day Two wound up about guys who didn't make the cut and what we thought about seemingly every team's draft.
We've gone through, pared down a lot of the commentary, mashed up all these different sources, and created a special version of our "Audibles at the Line" column featuring both writers and readers discussing the NFL Draft.
The second part of our three-part series looks at the latter half of the first round.
Mike Tanier: While he lists at 275 pounds in some sources, English will probably be at his best playing in the 260-pound range. He can play with his hand in the dirt as the outside defender in the Chargers' 3-4 scheme, which is really a 50 front that requires linebackers to play like defensive ends. English needs refinement, but the Chargers will only need him for about 20 snaps per game, and he'll provide insurance as defenders like Shawne Merriman get older and more expensive.
Doug Farrar: Whoa.
Vince Verhei: I'm going to refer to him as English Larry.
AlanSP: I like English a lot, but I don't see where he plays with Phillips and Merriman already in place...
Peter: When Goodell said "Larry" I couldn't think of a single player that it could be.
jackgibbs: A.J. Smith is a genius. Ours is not to wonder why.
ineedawittyname: Now who will Cleveland take? Maclin? Matthews? Wells?
Bill Barnwell: Could maybe even trade down again.
That's exactly what happens, as the Bucs trade up...
Vince Verhei: Not ... Freeman, would they?
Bill Barnwell: Wow. That seems ... unnecessary.
Vince Verhei: Jon Gruden: "Hey, don't ask me what they're doing!"
Mike Tanier: No wonder Freeman has scouts divided. Some think Freeman has the potential to be an all-time bust. Others point to his measurables -- his 6-foot-6 height, an arm strong enough to throw NFL out routes and comebacks -- and see a player who will thrive once he escapes a K-State program that lacked the talent to compete in the Big 12. Still others point to his rushing totals -- 412 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2008 -- and hang the dreaded "Athlete Playing Quarterback" label on Freeman.
Freeman supporters bristle at the APQ label. "In Josh's case, he's a quarterback playing quarterback who happens to be an athlete. That's the subtle difference between Josh and someone else," said Terry Shea, a former NFL coach who has been training with Freeman. Freeman demurs when writers pin his poor stats on his not-ready-for-prime-time teammates -- "Those are my guys, dude," he told The Sporting News on March 17, "You want to blame someone, blame me." -- but the fact remains that he didn't have the supporting cast that Matt Stafford or Marc Sanchez enjoyed. "He definitely could be better than what we saw at Kansas State," quarterback expert Dave Lewin told me.
TomC: Mayock says the only thing Freeman needs is to speed up his delivery. Good thing they've got Leftwich to tutor him.
MilkmanDanima: I stepped away to hang myself, but, even in death, I hate the Freeman pick.
Peter: Michael Oher last in the green room? Who could've predicted that?
Vince Verhei: It BLIND SIDED me.
KenO: Bill -- can you take away Vince's posting privileges until he apologizes for that pun?
Bill Barnwell: I am disappointed in you, Vince.
Vince Verhei: I entertain me, that's all that matters.
Mike Tanier: Ayers really stood out on game film when playing against Michael Oher and Andre Smith. He's a defender who can seal the edge, hold the point of attack, shed his blocker and make plays against the exterior run. The Broncos need Ayers to solidify a run defense that fell apart too often last season. This is the first logical move Josh McDaniels has made since he left New England. Let's bask in the moment, because the Eagles are about to pick, and this theater is going to explode in cheers or boos. Probably boos.
Bill Barnwell: Really, really dislike the Ayers pick. Think he's going to bust. Seven sacks in two years. Yeesh.
SGreenwell: Listen, when a guy gets seven sacks in two years, and comes from a program fraught with character issues, you NEED to get him.
Andrew: But look at him take out that tackling pylon!
Cleveland trades down again, this time with Philly...
Vince Verhei: Cleveland HATES THIS DRAFT.
Rocco: Man, Cleveland is going to own the sixth round of the draft.
Mike Tanier: Booooooooooooooo.
Sorry, I am from Philly. It's a reflex. Maclin turns 21 on May 11th. As the 20th pick in the draft, he's due to earn millions of dollars in guaranteed money. So Maclin earned more before his 21st birthday than I will make in my entire career, and he'll be living within 10 miles of me to rub it in. At least I can buy a beer legally. I may have to drown my sorrows.
Vince Verhei: Mayock: "I completely forgot he was still on the board."
Rocco: Don't the Eagles have DeSean Jackson? What does Maclin do that Jackson doesn't?
Bill Barnwell: I agree with Rocco 100 percent. They must LOVE Maclin.
Doug Farrar: I really like the way Maclin cuts inside -- he's got really nice ability to sell routes. Isn't Jackson more the straight-line guy?
Bill Barnwell: I guess. Mayock's saying he can't run intermediate routes, though. Seems like Pettigrew would've made more sense.
Mike Tanier: Pettigrew loves to block, and he's great at it. He has a mauler's mentality when run blocking, and he can stay in as a pass protector and handle speed rushers. He has fine hands and will break a few tackles when catching a short pass, but don't expect him to beat anybody on a seam route: Pettigrew posted a ssssllllooowww 4.8 40-time at the Combine.
Bill Barnwell: Backus, Cherilus, and Pettigrew > Backus, Oher, and [TE]
Mac: Oher blindsided!
Drunkmonkey: But Oher is still there. How come they didn't take Oher? Millen is gone, you don't have to keep screwing up anymore!
Bill Barnwell: They are actually KINDA set with Backus and Cherilus. For this year, at least.
Vince Verhei: Can't talk myself into liking this. Your team sucks and needs building blocks. How do you build around a tight end?
SGreenwell: But Oher has a book about him! That worked out great for Jeremy Brown!
Doug Farrar: That shot of Pettigrew beating the crap out Orakpo must make Redskins fans feel good.
Mike Tanier: Mack has the intelligence to play center and the quickness to be effective in pass protection and on the second level. He's a hard worker who finishes his blocks, and while he's not a super athlete, he moves well enough to play in a zone-blocking system.
So why is he always lying around on the field?
Watch a Cal game, and you'll see Mack flop to the ground at least half a dozen times. Sometimes he's on top of a defender (not a bad thing), but often he's lying on the backside of a play, scrambling to get back on his feet. The problem was far worse in 2007 than it was last year, but it's still a problem: you can't simultaneously block a linebacker and sunbathe.
Mack's problem is his technique: He's a lunger. He bends his waist, leans forward, and tries to throw his body at defenders. That's no way to block: Lungers lose balance easily, and good defenders simply toss them to the turf. Mack improved his technique in 2008, but old habits die hard, particularly late in the game. When players tire, their fundamentals slip, and many of Mack's belly-flops occurred late in Oregon games.
Bill Barnwell: Wow. Mack goes WAY higher than I expected.
Doug Farrar: Whoa -- Mangini pisses off the Steelers. Big, tough guy. I think they need that kind of root toughness when Thomas and Steinbach are a little more finnesse-y.
Matt: I don't have any idea of "value" when it comes to centers but I think that's a good pick for Cleveland. He seemed to be the consensus best center.
Bill Barnwell: Absolutely not, Matt. Plenty of people had other guys ahead of Mack. Oher very well may not have been the best lineman available on their board.
Vince Verhei: Surprising, and maybe a reach, but taking the best lineman available is never a bad idea. And apparently they thought he was the best lineman available.
Andrew: If the Vikings take Harvin over Oher...
Drunkmonkey: Oher is going to blindside everybody who passed on him.
Bill Barnwell: Vikings SPRINT the pick in.
Mike Tanier: Harvin has a history of judgment lapses, dating back to high school: He was suspended for bumping an official and spitting on an opponent, among other acts of congeniality.
A poor Wonderlic school alone wouldn't torpedo a receiver with Harvin's gifts, nor would marijuana allegations or a few conduct flags. Put them all together, and here we are: Harvin joins the receiver-starved Vikings, whose head coach, Brad Childress, comes from the Andy Reid family tree. The Vikings pass offense is complicated. Harvin will have to prove he can learn it.
Harvin's role in the Florida offense raises one more concern. Like many top receiver prospects, he played in a gadget-heavy offense. Harvin didn't need perfect routes or precise footwork to get open in Urban Meyer's offense: All of the play-fakes, reverses, and threatened acts of Tim Tebow had defenders' heads spinning. Harvin could just drift into the middle of the field, catch the ball, and work his magic. With his exceptional athleticism, he could learn NFL route running and become an Anquan Boldin-type playmaker. That's where the Wonderlic scores and character issues come in: The Vikings will learn this year if Harvin is a willing or able learner.
Tim: I HATE YOU BRAD CLUELESS.
terrapin: WOW. Horrible pick. Harvin is going to suck.
Doug Farrar: Oh my goodness. Can he play quarterback?
Bill Barnwell: HE'S A WIDE RECEIVER FROM FLORIDA.
Grothe Investor: There are few better big game players this decade than Harvin. Problem was the not-so-big games and his injuries.
Bill Barnwell: Ike Hilliard was a great big game player too.
Vince Verhei: Wow, that was dumb. Best-case scenario, he's a project he has to learn how to run routes, and this team is Super Bowl ready. Dumb dumb dumb.
After the Ravens trade up...
Mike Tanier: Take it from a 15-year classroom vet: Oher isn't the only learning-disabled kid on the gridiron. Or, keep in mind that Ole Miss changed offensive schemes every year, yet Oher managed to learn the new plays and terminology well enough to line up on Saturday. "In learning football, he's ahead of the curve because of the merry-go-round of coaches (at Ole Miss)," Neal McReady of Rivals.com told me in March. "He's very coachable. He's proven that."
Oher was too good to pass up at this pick, and he improves the depth on a young Ravens offensive line. He's a run blocker, and that's what the Ravens need most in their back-to-the-1960s offense.
SGreenwell: "Take me in the seventh round, I don't care." -- Oher. Good times.
DJ Any Reason: When did Maria Sharapova become a stylist instead of a tennis player?
Josh: Sharapova can help Stafford make every shot a power shot.
Mike Tanier: Jerry's age brings another problem. He's three years older than the typical prospect, meaning that he's as good as he'll ever get. The Falcons are getting a solid player, a one-gap, 3-technique tackle who will hustle and disrupt plays in the backfield. They aren't getting a guy who will register 12 sacks two years from now. Still, you can understand why the Falcons would prefer high-character guys, and they need to bolster their defensive line to keep pace with the hard-running Panthers and high-flying Saints. Jerry's a safe pick for a team that earned some draft-day benefit of the doubt with their exceptional performance last April.
Mike Tanier: While a few of my Big Ten sources say Davis' attitude problem is overblown, tape shows him making mental errors in coverage and missing arm tackles when he has a clear shot at his receiver. Coach Ron Zook had to discipline him twice, and Pro Football Weekly Draft Preview says that Davis has a habit of exaggerating injuries and avoiding practice. PFW compares him to DeAngelo Hall: A great talent who will bounce around the league because he causes coaching migraines.
Of course, Bill Parcells knows what he's doing. The Dolphins were thin in the secondary, Davis is the best athlete on the board, and Tony Sparano's staff can provide the structure to keep a troubled player in line (see Ricky Williams). Eagles coach said once that when covering receivers, you have to "put big on big." When covering Randy Moss, you have to put troubled talent on troubled talent.
Bill Barnwell: "Inconsistent on and off the field." Does that mean he only smokes weed some days?
The Pats trade down again and the Packers grab...
Mike Tanier: While cooling heels on the bench, Matthews proved he had the mettle to serve as a special-teams ace. He worked his way into the lineup as a strongside linebacker, then shifted to the defensive line in 2008. No one doubted his effort, athleticism, or intelligence, but Matthews couldn't stay healthy. He sustained several broken fingers and elbow sprains during his career, a sign that Matthews must perfect his hand technique and learn to protect himself better.
The Trojans used Matthews as a pass rusher, but I think he's a better player in space. He has the quickness and awareness to drop into coverage, and he'll be a better run defender when chasing and taking away cutback lanes than he would be battling tight ends on every snap. The new-look Packers defense is taking shape, with B.J. Raji clogging the lanes while Matthews helps Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk form what could be a dominating linebacking corps. This defense is built with Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte in mind. The Packers have really helped themselves in the last two hours.
Silentlaw: Did they just draft Triple H?
Bill Barnwell: That would explain the Muscle Milk t-shirt.
johonny: You draft Clay Matthews you get a player for the next 100 years.
Mac: So, only the teams that already have running backs are taking running backs?
Tom: I love how (just because Berman knows that Brown is the pick over Wells) that he authoritatively tells us that Wells "doesn't fit the Colts' style" and that at some point the team needs to run to ball. What a soothsayer.
Mike Tanier: Don't let Brown's size fool you: The 5-foot-10 waterbug can squat over 600 pounds. Watch him play, and you'll have Brian Westbrook flashbacks: quick cuts, smart decisions in the open field, and surprising power at the ends of runs.
(If you are a Giants fan and you are experiencing Brian Westbrook flashbacks, lie on the floor with a damp cloth over your head. If symptoms persist, contact a Patriots fan having David Tyree flashbacks. It will make you feel better.)
Mike Tanier: The Bills need an upgrade on the offensive line; too often, backs Marshawn Lynch and Freddie Jackson did their best work just getting back to the line of scrimmage. Wood is a ready-to-play talent, but like top pick Aaron Maybin, he's not a difference maker on a team that needs a jolt of pure athleticism. This is a skimpy haul for a team with two No. 1 picks.
Paul: Steve Young just called Wood a great player. That makes 28 for 28 on great players in the first round, according to him.
Insancipitory: How many toughtest players in this year's draft can there be?
Mac: Wood looks like a five-year-old. A huge five-year-old.
Zach: Where do the Giants go here? Nicks? Britt? Britton? Maualuga?
Bill Barnwell: If it were up to me, I'd take Louis Delmas.
Mike Tanier: Nicks was the right pick here: He's more ready to contribute than Kenny Britt. The Giants don't need a developmental receiver; instead, they need a big short-route specialist who can work underneath and crack block. Nicks may only have 30 to 35 catches as a rookie, but he'll be a stick-mover, which is what the Giants needed the most.
Bill Barnwell: Fourth year in a row the Giants take a wide receiver in the first three rounds. Giants offense was not any worse without Plax, of course. But no one remembers that.
Matt: Herm says big receivers can get up and "get the jump ball." Is there any evidence for this, I mean it seems plausible to say that a big receiver can get balls that are thrown higher, but who cares how tall a guy is if he isn't a good enough athlete to actually jump high enough to get it, or react quick enough.
Bill Barnwell: I dunno. Chambers, for all I lambaste him for, is awesome on jump balls.
terrapin: Merril Hodge from twitter "Wood center brings lunch pal smart and uses hands well" HUH?
SGreenwell: Terrapin: I think he's saying that he's a lunch pail player, smart, and uses hands well. Sounds like a prom date, hi-oh!
buzzorhowl: Why am I the only person who remembers all the passes Braylon dropped last year?
Vince Verhei: You may be the only person with a big enough brain. He dropped a LOT of passes last year. Nobody could possibly remember ALL of them.
Philly Homer: God, watching Gruden speak without expletives is disconcerting, it's like watching a one-legged man run.
Bill Barnwell: Every time they show one of the college prospects on TV, it feels like the commercials they show on late night TV for phone sex lines.
SGreenwell: What do you think Roger does in the back between picks? I like to imagine that he's drinking martinis and playing million dollar poker hands.
Drunkmonkey: Goodell finds new girls for the guys at the draft.
Bill Barnwell: Suspends people for random reasons.
Mike Tanier: There aren't many secrets about Britt's character. He was suspended against mighty Morgan State for violating a team rule, and Rutgers coaches often needed to take Britt down a notch. If quarterback Mike Teel didn't get Britt the ball when he was open, Britt let him know. Britt has Michael Irvin confidence, which could lapse into Keyshawn Johnson arrogance or Chad Johnson eccentricity if unchecked. For his part, Britt has been saying the right things in offseason interviews. "People have been saying a lot of things about my game, especially about my attitude which we know is not true," he told the Newark Star-Ledger. "Let them keep saying what they're saying. I've got to prove them wrong."
Vince Verhei: In all fairness, it's only been 11 years since Tennessee took a wide receiver in round one (Kevin Dyson, 1998). Of course, it's also been a NEED for 11 years...
Mike Tanier: This was a predictable pick. Edgerrin James had a late-season Renaissance, but he's nearing the end of the line. Tim Hightower had everyone excited for a few weeks early in the year, but he averaged under three yards per carry by season's end. The Cardinals finished 30th in the NFL in offensive line yards, and they needed a back who could generate yardage on his own. Wells is just that kind of power back. He won't make a major contribution to the Cardinals' passing game, but Edge is still available for third down duties, and since Anquan Boldin is apparently staying put, the Cardinals won't have enough balls to go around to the running backs, anyway.
Mac: Beanie, running backwards might work against Northwestern, but I don't advise it in the NFL. Or even the NFC West.
Vince Verhei: If ever a team should have drafted a running back, it was Arizona there.
Mike Tanier: "Beanie" followed by "Ziggy." It's funny how these things work out. Hood got the nickname "Ziggy" from his grandmother, who luckily didn't read Doonesbury. He has better pass-rush technique than the other top tackles in the draft class, though his sack totals (13 in four years) don't reflect it. Hood can spin, stunt, and disengage from blockers, only to arrive late to the quarterback. At the NFL level, that will make him a role player, not a star. Luckily, the Steelers know just what to do with a player like Hood. He'll spend a year or two on the bench, slowly developing into a clearly specified role.
Doug Farrar: I interviewed Ziggy for the Washington Post. Nice kid, but I wasn't aware that he had ankle flexion issues...
Bill Barnwell: Hood's probably an end for the Steelers, not a tackle, right?
KJT: Ziggy, I think, is better as an end for the Steelers. Not nearly big enough for the nose.
Karl Cuba: Maybe Pittsburgh are going to feed him one of those infinite pizzas.
(Coming tomorrow... Part III.)
68 comments, Last at 29 Apr 2009, 6:06pm by tuluse