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.
09 May 2014
compiled by Andrew Potter
For this year's NFL Draft, we're bringing in our usual in-season Audibles at the Line feature, combining our Twitter feeds with e-mail discussion. Both Friday and Saturday morning, we'll have a selection of tweets from us and a few reader tweets we found particularly insightful. To follow these tweets live during the first three rounds of the draft, or to contribute your own thoughts or a question for the FO staff, you can use hashtag #FOAud. We then also had an e-mail conversation among the staff writers after the first round of the draft was over.
After both Thursday and Friday, we will compile a digest of tweets and e-mails to produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed, not entirely grammatically correct, and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
Audibles is still being written from our point of view, meaning the comments in this feature are often written from a fan perspective as much as an analyst perspective; in order to properly accuse FO writers of bias, please check our FAQ.
Tom Gower: Weird, the team with the first pick selects the most talented player in the draft.
Rivers McCown: So now that this is settled, what's the trade-up cost for Bridgewater or Manziel?
Scott Kacsmar: Greg Robinson to the Rams. Can't be any worse than Jason Smith, right?
Tom Gower: It's not taking a punter in the third round, but as a Titans fan I'm A-OK with the Jaguars taking Bortles at #3.
Rivers McCown: It's a good thing we gave these teams the extra two weeks to overthink things.
@TCBullfrog: Note to all future mock drafters—always be sure to put in a huge mistake by Jacksonville in your mock
Aaron Schatz: Seriously. If we judge not based on how players develop, but on whether teams get value with picks, Cleveland just won the night.
Aaron Schatz: Oh, I like you Khalil Mack. Please don't fall to the "Raiders first-rounders never develop quite right" curse.
@MilkmanDanimal: I am perfectly OK with the Mike Evans pick in that I am not vomiting obscenities like Manziel would have caused.
@matthew_carley: Gilbert makes CLE a sick pair of corners. Gilbert toys with WRs as he runs downfield, so talented. He clowns about a bit, but he can.
Ben Muth: The Titans want their offense to be a terrible hotel room with great water pressure in the shower.
@matthew_carley: Good lord, the Rams line is Quinn, Brockers, Donald and Long. The second Fearsome Foursome. Terrifying.
Aaron Schatz: Yes, but can they sing?
Danny Tuccitto: identifying teddy bridgewater as best QB in the draft: $100k. drafting johnny manziel instead: priceless.
@MilkmanDanimal: Unless scouts discovered multiple hobo corpses in Teddy Bridgewater's crawl space, this makes no sense.
Scott Kacsmar: Before the season (hell, after too) Bridgewater was the top QB and Clowney was the best defender. Texans could get them both. Damn.
Danny Tuccitto: If all these smart people I follow are right, congrats to MIN for escaping mediocrity.
Aaron Schatz: I think the first round really once again highlighted the value of trading down. I love what Cleveland did, picking up a first-round pick next year to go down five spots. What are the odds Buffalo actually finally puts up a winning record next year? Not really very good. And Cleveland ended up getting the CB they wanted anyway. And Seattle trading out of 32 made a ton of sense. I've got to think that the offensive lineman they need will still be there at 40.
I'm not an expert on the talent quality of these kids but the pick that had me scratching my head was Jimmie Ward to San Francisco. They took a free safety last year in the first round and they just signed Antoine Bethea to play strong safety. I've got to think they're planning to use Ward at nickel some, or else it doesn't seem like the best use of resources.
One other thought: That Minnesota trade has to be killing Texans fans. I don't know if Houston's front office planned on taking Bridgewater 33rd, but I do know they need a quarterback and the consensus best quarterback left is Derek Carr, the player Houston fans absolutely, positively do not want to root for.
Rivers McCown: When I sit down with the Texans FOA chapter, I hope to break the record for number of expletives edited. Just telling you now.
Danny Tuccitto: Agreed. SF using Ward as a slot corner is the only way that pick makes sense...or at least is (perhaps) better than trading down at that spot.
The only opinion I have that I didn't post on Twitter is that it seems like most of the smart punditry out there has concluded that the Browns' QB analysis leak was a smokescreen, and therefore it was Barzini -- err, Manziel -- all along. Yet, if that's true, my thought is "Seriously? Deception-based arbitrage at No. 22 when the remaining 10 teams in the first round (at the time of the leak) are never taking a QB? Seems like being too cute by half."
Tom Gower: I liked Cleveland trading down. I don't like that they paid a higher price to move up from 26 to 22 than New Orleans did to go from 27 to 20.
I liked that Houston and St. Louis didn't overthink themselves with the first two picks.
I liked that Minnesota went up and got the quarterback they wanted with the 32nd pick.
I didn't like that New England paid first-round guarantee money for a major injury risk instead of taking him in the second round where they've taken all their big injury risks (Ras-I Dowling, Rob Gronkowski, didn't Patrick Chung come out as an injury concern, probably others I'm missing off the top of my head as well).
I think the Titans made the weirdest move of the first round when they took a tackle after they already have their two starting tackles. And after signing Michael Oher to a big deal, they won't be benching him. GM Ruston Webster apparently cited Seattle's difficulties replacing Walter Jones as part of the reasoning for the pick. I get Michael Roos is older and 2014 is his last year under contract, but there's a difference between reasonable planning for the future and going overboard in need avoidance and I think the Titans crossed the line.
Beyond that, it's all about how good the players were and where they were chosen. I certainly have my opinion on those things (Ja'Wuan James at 19?!), but insert the old line about the value of opinions.
Cian Fahey: Teddy is clearly the best value for me. I think it will be hard for them to start Matt Cassel over him after watching both in camp. In that offense, with Kalil, Peterson, Rudolph, Patterson, Jennings, Wright, Sullivan, they can immediately become very good.
The Gilbert pick was bemusing and I didn't really like the trade down from the Browns. Obviously they got a great price, but they also passed on a great receiver who would have perfectly complemented Josh Gordon and made their offense so difficult to deal with when you add Manziel.
Picks are great, but acquiring superstar talent immediately is always better.
No idea what the Jaguars are doing. Bortles is going to take a long time to be a quality starter in my opinion and I'm not sure he'll ever be that. Not to mention the other quarterbacks fit their offense much better.
Scott Kacsmar: I like Mack falling to the Raiders, Matthews in Atlanta, Ebron in Detroit, Mosley in Baltimore, Clinton-Dix in Green Bay and Dennard in Cincinnati. A lot of good fits by teams who just stayed where they were and let the pieces fall. Minnesota trading up for Bridgewater was a great ending to the night. I didn't think they could get out of the first round with passing on both Bridgewater and Manziel. They had to get a QB and they did it with the guy most thought was the best one in this draft. The pro day reaction was absurd and I'm happy the kid can say he's a first-rounder. Also good to see Mike Zimmer's not going to be a defensive tyrant and ignore the most important position in the game. Cleveland had a fun night and certainly a great trade with Buffalo, because you just know that 2015 first-round pick is going to be a high one. It's Buffalo, for crying out loud. I don't know if Manziel will translate to the NFL, but should be fun to see him try in a defensive division.
Now for what I didn't like, or downright hated at times. The Steelers seemingly have used the 15th pick in the draft to replace Larry Foote at inside linebacker. I have no clue what they were thinking. They have three first-round picks at linebacker and Jason Worilds was a second-round pick. That should be enough at one unit. You don't need two good interior linebackers, because in an ideal scenario, Worilds and Jarvis Jones would play outside and Timmons is still young and productive. The holes on the defensive line and in the secondary are far more pressing and should have been addressed instead. Notice how four safeties went in the first round. I'm not sure there have been four first-round safeties in the last four drafts combined. That's the Seahawks' success having an impact on the league.
I'm not a big fan of the Buccaneers taking Mike Evans. I'm just not sure we'll ever see him reach his full potential now that he's in a Lovie offense with a WR1 that's basically his prototype in Vincent Jackson. I believe in WR's filling complementary roles and they have two guys who are very similar as their starters now. I think Sammy Watkins in Tampa Bay and Mike Evans in Buffalo actually would make those offenses better. People brought up Josh McCown's success with two big guys (Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery) in Chicago, but I don't think that's the greatest comparison to what a Jackson-Evans duo will bring. Marshall catches a lot of short passes and isn't the greatest deep threat. Tampa Bay basically has the San Diego setup with Jackson and Malcom Floyd, but Evans is far better than Floyd. That offense worked, but it also had a great tight end (TB's lacking here) and Rivers loved to check down to an elite receiving back. So I'm just not too thrilled with where Evans and Watkins landed.
Cian Fahey: Aaron Donald in between Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn = OH MY GOD!
Scott Kacsmar: Agree with Cian that Watkins in Cleveland would have been a nice pick. Again, complementary roles. Patriots had the perfect "high and low" setup with Randy Moss and Wes Welker. You run Josh Gordon deep and intermediate with Watkins underneath and Cameron at tight end, and they could have still got Johnny Manziel later to manage that trio.
Aaron Schatz: Honestly, there's a reasonable chance that Cleveland gets a very good possession receiver when they have, oh, let's say... the ninth and 12th picks in 2015. It's not Watkins vs. Gilbert. It's Watkins vs. Gilbert and a top 12 pick next year.
Danny Tuccitto: I'll go ahead and agree with Cian that Teddy was best value, and with Tom that Lewan pick was a first-round solution to a later-round problem.
Scott Kacsmar: All I know is this is the first time I actually am looking forward to the start of a Cleveland Browns season. Just on building hype and interest alone they've nailed things.
Rivers McCown: Didn't St. Louis announce they were playing Robinson at guard? That seems overthink-ery to me.
I liked the Mike Evans pick. Chris Owusu was No. 2 on the wideout depth chart. That seems like a "kill it with fire"-type scenario, regardless of possible skill set duplication.
Matt Hinton: As a college guy you learn quickly to separate college production from pro potential – you won't hear me fulminating on the fate of, say, Tajh Boyd – but the reality of Teddy Bridgewater bumping up against the second round truly boggles the mind. I had assumed reports of his stock falling out of the top dozen or so picks were silly-season filler, or (at worst) some kind of lame attempt at behind-the-scenes gamesmanship from front offices.
It's one thing to scrutinize a guy's size or level of competition, or even his accuracy after he just finished leading the nation in completion percentage. In this case, though, they seem to have conjured a bear market out of thin air. And it worked, because none of those concerns existed four months ago, the last time Bridgewater played in an actual game. (He was brilliant in that game, too, for the record.) Which is what made them so hard to take seriously until Thursday night.
How does a guy who walked off the field as the presumptive number one pick on December wind up barely slipping in under the gun in May without having taken a single snap in between?
Rivers McCown: Small knees. Not being the "face of the franchise." A bad pro day. Small hands.
Putting aside the fact that I am peeved that the Texans didn't deem him worthy of a trade-up for a second, this is something that Matt Waldman has been harping about for a while now. The standards imposed on him have been utterly ridiculous. I am very curious as to what teams know that we don't that is informing this decision in a rational way. If there is anything like that, anyway.
Danny Tuccitto: Might I suggest the "emperor has no clothes" explanation?
Scott Kacsmar: Right after Mayock put down the Bridgewater pro day, he even brought up how amazing JaMarcus Russell was at his. So Mayock basically gave the foundation for "We're talking about pro days?" in all its Allen Iverson glory, yet he seemed to take it seriously. Bridgewater dropped from his No. 1 quarterback to being tied with Mettenberger at No. 5, all after a pro day and without any further real games being played. He also seems to have used the bad pro day to further scrutinize the tape. I don't know how he could have possibly seen enough to make such a drastic change in his rankings, so either he just does this stuff to drive ratings and attention to NFL Network, or it's true that no one knows what the hell they're talking about when it comes to scouting draft prospects.
Vince Verhei: Biggest winners:
Cleveland, for sure. They got a quarterback and a great defender/kick returner AND they added a high first-round pick for next year.
St. Louis. You could argue they had the league's top D-line last year, and now they are even stronger.
Buffalo. You gave up two firsts and a fourth for a wide receiver? In a draft that is filled with quality wideouts? At a position where you don't need a great guy to win a championship? Bewildering.
Biggest winner and loser:
Houston. Picking Clowney was absolutely the right move, and I can't wait to see what the Texans defense looks like next year. But then they got so, so, so close to Bridgewater, only to let him slip through their fingers. It's not like Seattle had kept their plans secret. Everyone knew they were trading down, and it's not as if they couldn't have beaten Minnesota's offer.
Scott Kacsmar: Fixing an earlier stat: there were four safeties drafted in the first round tonight. From 2009-12, there were just two (Eric Berry and Earl Thomas in 2010). After Seattle started getting widespread praise for its secondary in 2012, you saw three go last season (Vaccaro, Reid and Elam). So that's four this year, five in the previous five drafts combined for round 1. We saw a similar push with five in 2006-07 following the success of Pittsburgh (Troy Polamalu) and Baltimore (Ed Reed).
Ben Muth: This was the first year I can remember where I was really beaten down by all the pre-draft coverage. Between the Clowney and Bridgewater nitpicking,the extra two weeks of mock drafts, and everything else that goes into draft coverage in 2014, I just wanted to get the thing over with so I could focus more on the Angels' horrific bullpen. Then of course the draft actually started and I really enjoyed it, so once again the NFL wins.
I was rooting for the Cardinals to get Manziel but I knew it was a long shot because Arians seems to love big QBs. Once they traded down I was happy with the Bucannon pick. I've always liked safeties that can come up and thump when they need to and Bucannon can certainly do that. If he turns out to be 80 percent of the player Adrian Wilson was it will be a great pick.
One thing that surprised me is that I really didn't like any of the OL picks except for Mathews to Atlanta. No. 2 overall is awfully early for a guy that you don't trust to pass block enough to start him at tackle. I had no idea that the Titans felt their roster was so complete that the could take another OL that might not even start.
I know everyone loves Zach Martin, though anything Mayock says about ND kids needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but like I said on twitter, I just don't like a team going OL in the 1st three times in four years. If you're drafting an OL in the 1st round, you're expecting that guy to be around pro bowl caliber within that 1st contract. Martin probably doesn't make their line any better this year (rookies are rarely better than average starters) and after that you probably end up moving him to right tackle which will be another year of adjustment. So if things go really well for him, you finally get an above average starter in year three when Romo will be 36. Then Martin's contract is up two years later and you have a tough decision. You're already paying big money to Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick when Martin becomes a free agent (assuming Frederick fulfills the promise he showed this year), can you afford to spend big money on a third OL?
Rob Weintraub: You guys hit most of it. I wasn't wild about Ebron to Detroit, or Tennessee going Lewan there, and much as I like him personally, Dee Ford at 23 was a bit of a stretch for a one-dimensional player. Vikings made a great move as mentioned, but apparently they were trying desperately to trade up to 22 for JFF themselves. Seems like if they wanted him that badly they could have gotten him earlier. Of course, given the nature of sports, Teddy will be fab and Manziel will not. And the Browns going into Philly's pick prevented the Eagles from taking Dennard, thus leaving him for Cincy, so I'm happy about that. He was reportedly No. 8 on Cincy's overall board, so nice to get him at 24 of course.
Maybe the worst thing to come out of the draft are the tremendously high ratings the show got on ESPN and NFLN. So start planning your Memorial Day weekends around the draft starting soon!
83 comments, Last at 22 May 2014, 6:51pm by liquidmuse3