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.
15 Apr 2008
by Sean McCormick
Remember the good old days when the draft had rules? You know, like "When there are two top quarterbacks available, at least one of them has to be good?" Or "An elite left tackle prospect is the safest pick you can make?" If you are feeling nostalgia for those easier times, let us introduce you to the 2002 draft, when those rules went by the wayside. Once again, Football Outsiders continues its annual tradition of looking back six years with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Our draft review looks at the good picks, the bad picks, and the things every general manager knows now and wishes he had known then.
Conventional wisdom: There was some disagreement as to whether Fresno State's David Carr and Oregon's Joey Harrington was the better player, with some preferring Carr's pinpoint accuracy and others praising Harrington for his clutch play in big games (remember Joey Heisman, anyone?). The two were neck-and-neck at the top of most draft boards. Indeed, their careers have been near mirror images, but not in the way most people expected. Carr and Harrington have each thrown for just over 14,000 yards, they've each got a sub-60 percent career completion rates, and they've each thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. Most importantly, both Carr and Harrington have played for three teams in six years.
Highest pick: David Carr, Fresno State, first overall to the Texans.
Best player: David Garrard, East Carolina, 108th overall to the Jaguars. Before Garrard's breakout 2008 season, this entire class was looking like a wipeout. Garrard didn't impress quickly enough to keep the Jags from drafting Bryon Leftwich the following year, but he kept improving and went from steady backup to spot starter to franchise quarterback.
Biggest bust: It would be easy to peg Carr simply because he was the first overall selection, but he was drafted by an expansion team and therefore destined to get his brains scrambled in his first few seasons. Harrington was the first selection of the Matt Millen era, and in some ways he was responsible for much of what was to come, as Millen threw good money after bad by trying to add enough receiving talent to make the Harrington pick look a little better. Harrington has performed competently as a backup and spot starter in Miami and Atlanta, but he will likely never get a shot a starting job again.
Best value: Paging Mr. Garrard. Mr. Garrard, please come to the white courtesy phone.
Other noteworthy picks: Tulane's Patrick Ramsey was seen by many as a rising prospect, and Steve Spurrier liked him so much he waived the standard "needs to be an ex-Florida Gator" quarterback clause. Ramsey's career got off to a pretty good start, but it collapsed in the course of a single game when Bill Parcells and the Cowboys exposed all the holes in Spurrier's Fun-and-Gun blocking schemes. The Redskins got rid of Spurrier, but Ramsey never really recovered.
Conventional wisdom: There was no truly elite prospect at running back, but most people preferred Boston College's William Green to Michigan State thumper T.J. "Tur-"Duckett. UCLA's DeShaun Foster and Miami's Clinton Portis were also expected to receive late first-round consideration.
Highest pick: William Green, Boston College, 16th overall to the Browns.
Best player: Brian Westbrook, Villanova, 91st overall to the Eagles. Westbrook, like Tiki Barber before him, was considered too small to be an every-down back in the NFL Unlike Barber, Westbrook toiled in relative obscurity at Division I-AA Villanova, so not many pro teams were paying attention as he shattered the NCAA all-purpose yards mark. But the Eagles knew all about the local product, and they jumped on him in the third round.
Biggest bust: William Green. Cleveland coach Butch Davis passed over his former player Clinton Portis in favor of the bigger Green, and the move blew up in his face, as Portis was named Offensive Rookie of the Year. Green was largely unproductive on the field, and he was unable to shake the off-the-field problems that had plagued him throughout his college career.
Best value: Chester Taylor, Toledo, 207th overall to Baltimore. Taylor went at the bottom of the sixth round, and he has been a productive starter in both Baltimore and Minnesota. His value would look even better had some guy named Adrian Peterson not eventually become his teammate with the Vikings.
Other noteworthy picks: The Broncos selected Clinton Portis in the second round and he ran for more than 1,500 yards in each of his first two years, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Rather than renegotiating Portis' rookie contract, the Broncos traded him to Washington for star cornerback Champ Bailey and a second-round pick.
Conventional wisdom: After a talent-rich 2001 class, most observers thought this was a down year for receivers. The top talents were Tennessee's Donte 'Stallworth, Hawaii's Ashley Lelie and Florida State's Javon Walker. Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Bryant was considered to be the wild card, as he had arguably the most talent of anyone in the class, but had major character concerns.
Highest pick: Donte' Stallworth, Tennessee, 13th overall to the Saints.
Best player: Javon Walker. Green Bay traded first- and second-round picks to move up for Walker, and he rewarded the Packers by making the Pro Bowl in 2004 following an 89-catch, 1,382-yard and 12-touchdown campaign. Walker threatened to hold out for a new deal, but after Brett Favre applied public pressure, Walker reported to camp. He promptly tore his ACL in the first game of the 2005 season, and in the ensuing off-season the Packers traded him to Denver for a second-round pick.
Biggest bust: Ashley Lelie. Lelie was a premiere vertical threat for the Rainbow Warriors, but he was never able to develop into anything more once he reached the pros. Lelie also proved to have unreliable hands, and his career catch rate has hovered around 50 percent.
Best value: A tie between North Carolina's Ronald Curry and Notre Dame's David Givens. Both players were seventh-round choices, and both have been productive starters. Givens blew out his knee after signing a big free agent deal with the Titans, so Curry -- a college quarterback who switched positions in the NFL -- is likely to stand alone after another few seasons.
Other noteworthy picks: The Patriots drafted Louisville product Deion Branch in the second round, and Branch went on to become the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX with an 11-catch, 133-yard performance. Branch held out for a new contract before the 2006 season and was shipped off to Seattle in exchange for a first-round pick.
Pittsburgh took Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El in the second round and converted him into a receiver.
Conventional wisdom: The star power was up at the top of the draft, where Miami's Jeremy Shockey was touted as the new breed of tight end. Colorado's Daniel Graham was a more traditional prospect. There was also terrific depth in the class, with players like Washington's Jerramy Stevens, Brigham Young's Doug Jolley, Georgia's Randy McMichael and Michigan State's Chris Baker all considered quality prospects.
Highest pick: Jeremy Shockey, 14th overall, to the Giants.
Best player: Shockey. The Giants were so desperate to land Shockey that they gave up a fourth-rounder to move up one spot rather than risk someone else trading in front of them. Shockey's not as good as his press clippings, he's been prone to nagging injuries, and his metrics have been less than stellar, but he can attack the field vertically like few tight ends in the game.
Biggest bust: Most of the top guys had their moments, but Stevens and Jolley were ultimately disappointments. Jolley had a strong rookie season and then fell off, and he's best known as the guy who caused the Jets to pass on Heath Miller. Stevens had one excellent season in 2005, but is best known either for dropping everything thrown to him in the Super Bowl, or getting kneed in the groin by Tyler Brayton, depending on which you find memorable.
Best value: Randy McMichael was a fourth-rounder out of Georgia, yet he has caught more passes and gained more yardage than any tight end in this class save Shockey.
Other noteworthy picks: The Broncos took Boise State's Jeb Putzier in the sixth round, and he started off looking like a very dangerous receiving threat. Unfortunately, you do need to be able to block at least a little bit, and Putzier proved too much of a liability in that regard to stay on the field much.
Conventional wisdom: Much like in 2001, teams had a choice between a raw but massive Texas tackle and a lithe, more polished pass protector from a Florida school. Mike Williams and Bryant McKinnie stood alone at the head of the class, but there were quality prospects with late first- or second-round grades like Arizona State's Levi Jones, Boston College's Marc Columbo and Florida''s Mike Pearson. Nebraska's mammoth Tonoi Fonuti and Colorado's Andre Gurode were considered the best guards, and Ohio State's LeCharles Bentley was the lone elite center prospect.
Highest pick: Mike Williams, Texas, fourth overall to the Bills.
Best player: Andre Gurode, Colorado, 37th overall to the Cowboys. Gurode has made the last two Pro Bowls at center, and his health gives him the nod over fellow two-time Pro Bowler LeCharles Bentley, whose career is in jeopardy just two seasons after signing a big free agent deal with the Browns.
Biggest bust: Williams was supposed to be a left tackle in a right tackle's body, but it turns out he wasn't even a right tackle in a right tackle's body. The Bills released him in 2006.
Best value: Atlanta got themselves a starting tackle in the seventh round when they nabbed Tulsa's Kevin Shaffer. Kansas' Justin Hartwig was a nice pick for the Titans in the sixth round.
Other noteworthy picks: People were shocked when the Bengals selected Levi Jones with the 10th pick, and they were widely ridiculed for not understanding the draft process. Six years later, Jones doesn't look like much of a reach, as he has started 79 games and been one of the better tackles in the league. People still ridicule the Bengals, though, just on principle.
Conventional wisdom: It was supposed to be an excellent draft for defensive linemen, and eight were selected in the first round. Julius Peppers of North Carolina was the consensus best end, but there was debate as to whether the best tackle was Peppers' teammate Ryan Sims or one of a pair of Tennessee Vols, John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth. The wild card was where undersized but highly productive Syracuse end Dwight Freeney would go.
Highest pick: Julius Peppers, North Carolina, second overall to the Panthers.
Best player: There were a lot of good ones. The immediate success of Peppers (the Panthers were in the Super Bowl one year after this draft) gave momentum to the idea of eschewing the quarterback position when rebuilding a team that has hit rock bottom. Henderson and Haynesworth have both been dominating presences in the middle of solid defenses. The Colts surprised everyone when they took Freeney with the 11th pick, but he became one of the NFL's top pass rushers and eventually the league's highest-paid defensive player.
Biggest bust: Ryan Sims, Kansas City. Scouts fell into the classic trap of overvaluing a player who played on the same line as an established elite talent. Offenses were busy worrying about Julius Peppers, and it made Sims look better on tape than he really was.
Best value: Green Bay was able to nab Iowa's Aaron Kampman in the fifth round, and he has paid off with 41 sacks, third-best in the class behind Freeney and Peppers.
Chicago made an excellent pick when they took Florida star Alex Brown in the fourth round. Brown was considered too undersized to be an every-down player, but he has been a consistent pass rush threat.
The Raiders took UCLA product Kenyon Coleman in the fifth round, and while he didn't work out with Oakland, he's proved to be a nice fit in a 3-4 defense, first with Dallas and then with the Jets.
Other noteworthy picks: UAB defensive end Bryan Thomas put together one of the great combine performances of all time, running a 4.47 40 at 267 pounds, a 4.01 short shuttle and doing 33 reps on the bench. Thomas was selected 22nd overall by the New York Jets, and though he has had one solid season as an outside linebacker in the 3-4, he has never shown the elite speed that made him a first-round pick.
Conventional wisdom: Northwestern's Napoleon Harris was the lone first-round talent in a weak crop of linebackers. The expectation was that this would be the weakest position group in the draft, and for the most part that expectation proved to be correct.
Highest pick: Napoleon Harris, Northwestern, 23rd overall to the Raiders.
Best player: Not a single player in this class has sniffed the Pro Bowl, but Harris, UCLA's Robert Thomas, Kansas State's Ben Leber and Georgia's Will Witherspoon have all been steady contributors.
Biggest bust: The Cardinals selected North Carolina State's Levar Fisher with the 49th pick, but Fisher only lasted two years with the team and managed only 68 tackles.
Best value: Leber and Witherspoon went within two picks of each other in the third round and they both turned out well. Leber has played for San Diego and Minnesota, Witherspoon for Carolina and St. Louis.
Other noteworthy picks: The Rams made Robert Thomas a surprise first-round pick when they took him at 31, but he lasted only three years in St. Louis. California's Scott Fujita was nice value in the fifth round for Kansas City.
Conventional wisdom: This was considered to be a good group, with Texas' Quentin Jammer, Miami's Philip Buchanon and Oklahoma safety Roy Williams leading the way. Three members of the Hurricanes secondary were selected between the 17th and 27th picks, as Buchanon, corner Mike Rumph and safety Ed Reed came off the board in rapid succession. Florida's Lito Sheppard carried a late first-round grade and ended up going 26th overall to Philadelphia.
Highest pick: Quentin Jammer, Texas, fifth overall to the Chargers.
Best player: Ed Reed. Reed has been the best ball-hawking safety in the league from the moment he stepped on the field. He is a freelancer and can be beaten on double moves because he's always looking for the big play, but you can't argue with four Pro Bowls and three All-Pro selections in six years. Reed's 34 interceptions nearly double the 19 of his next-closest competitor, Roy Williams.
Biggest bust: Mike Rumph, Miami, 27th overall to the 49ers. Rumph was a big corner who couldn't run at all. San Francisco realized their mistake and moved Rumph to safety after only two seasons, and when that didn't work out, they traded him to Washington for receiver Taylor Jacobs. Rumph started only 19 games in four years and managed only three interceptions.
Best value: The Vikings were able to get great value in the fourth round when they selected North Carolina State corner Brian Williams, who played four years in Minnesota before moving on to Jacksonville. Philadelphia was able to add two starters in two consecutive second round picks when they took Colorado safety Michael Lewis and South Carolina corner Sheldon Brown back-to-back. Houston got themselves an excellent nickel back and a passable starter when they took Kansas State corner Demarcus Faggins in the sixth round.
Other noteworthy picks: Many people thought the Cowboys had landed a steal when they took troubled Ohio State corner Derek Ross in the third round. Ross had five interceptions as a rookie, but off-the-field issues quickly curtailed his career and he was out of the league by 2004.
Conventional wisdom: It wasn't a big year for kickers and punters. The most interesting prospect was Travis Dorsch of Purdue, a first-team All-American placekicker who also won the Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter.
Highest pick: Florida kicker Jeff Chandler, chosen fourth in the fourth round (102nd overall) by San Francisco. He played a grand total of 13 NFL games.
Best player: Baltimore chose Ohio University punter Dave Zastudil in the fourth round (112nd overall) and he did not completely suck.
Biggest bust: Dorsch. Cincinnati chose him 11th in the fourth round (109th overall) and his entire NFL record consists of one game, which happened to be one of the worst single-game performances by any punter in NFL history. After sitting for 13 weeks, Cincinnati activated Dorsch for their Week 14 game in Carolina. Steve Smith returned two of his punts for touchdowns, and Dorsch shanked another punt for a miserable 10 yards.
Best value: North Carolina kicker Jeff Reed went undrafted. Pittsburgh signed him halfway through the season and he has been kicking for the Steelers ever since. He owns a Super Bowl ring now. Seriously, NFL people, stop wasting your draft picks on kickers and punters.
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