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Where in the NFL Draft are the best WRs selected? History shows it wasn’t in the first round

A historic number of receivers could be selected in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft, with three projected for the top 10: Marvin Harrison Jr., Rome Odunze and Malik Nabers.

According to FOX Sports Stats & Research, during the common draft era (since 1967), the most receivers selected in the first round was seven, which occurred in 2004. Most receivers selected in a single draft was 59, which occurred in 1968 and 1976.

Since the draft expanded to seven rounds in 1994, the most receivers selected in a single draft were 36 in 2003, 2020 and 2021. Over the past five drafts, an average of 10 receivers have been selected over of the first two rounds.

“A growing number of today’s most dynamic athletes are choosing to catch touchdowns over alley-oops or fly balls,” said FOX Sports NFL Draft analyst Rob Rang. “Additionally, the sophisticated offenses taught at the prep and college levels are producing much more refined pass catchers than in the past.”

And draft history shows that these polished pass catchers can be found well beyond the first round. For example, in our FOX Sports NFL wide receiver rankings from last season, seven of the 10 were not first-round picks. Only one – WR Ja’Marr Chase of the Cincinnati Bengals – was drafted in the top 15.

According to ESPN, the receiver position has had the lowest success rate recently, based on first-round picks signing second contracts with the teams that drafted them. The data, which covered 20 projects between 2000 and 2019, showed a success rate of just 27% for recipients.

Last year, Rams fifth-round pick Puka Nacua set the NFL rookie record for receptions and receiving yards, the latest example that talented receivers can be found later down the board draft.

In 2021, Nacua’s teammate Cooper Kupp achieved the rare triple crown of most receiving yards, catches and receiving touchdowns and was voted Super Bowl MVP. The Rams selected Kupp in the third round of the 2017 draft.

Jim Nagy, a former NFL scout and now executive director of the Senior Bowl, believes the strength of this year’s draft is the depth at receiver.

“For me, what will be most remarkable is what happens on day two,” Nagy said. “Last year we had seven senior bowlers on Day 2, and I feel like we’ll have 10 or 11 this year. I think there could be a really big run on Day 2. So, It’s not just the top three rounds, this will be one of the best drafts we’ve seen in a while at the position.

“You will be able to start in the fourth or fifth round. You cannot hope to find Puka, but there will still be good players on the third day.”

NFL Draft: Final predictions on where the top WRs will land

(RELATED: What can the NFL Draft history of top 10 QB selections tell us about the 2024 class?)

Rams head coach Sean McVay said that regardless of draft position, it’s important for his organization to match skills and character with the right person for his team.

“How good a job can we do identifying our types of guys and the people that we have a vision for that isn’t just about getting caught up in, okay, who are these high-level guys?” McVay said. “But there’s a real fit. There’s a real buy-in. There’s something that we really love and respect about their game and that fits into our ecosystem.”

Wide receiver salaries have also increased, which affects their value in the draft. The deductible amount for receivers has increased from $12 million to $22 million over the past decade.

The most recent example of an undervalued prospect being paid is Detroit Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, who agreed to terms on a four-year, $120 million contract on Wednesday with a reported record $77 million guaranteed for a receiver.

St. Brown was a fourth-round pick of the Lions in the 2021 draft, when 16 receivers were selected before him.

(LEARN MORE: The Sum God: How Amon-Ra St. Brown’s Record WR Deal Affects Other Stars)

The Chargers moved on from two of the best receivers in franchise history this offseason, trading Keenan Allen and releasing Mike Williams due to salary cap restrictions. However, new Chargers general manager Joe Hortiz doesn’t seem too worried about replacing them.

“I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again and I’ll say it next year and I’ll say it in five years: I can promise you that wide receiver will be a deep position in the draft every year,” Hortiz said. “It’s just the way the game has evolved and changed.

“It’s a passing game, or it’s certainly increased over the last 20 years. The players come out more polished. … High school players go through all these 7-on-7 camps and they just develop their game. They” They are much more refined and ready to play at the NFL level when they have the necessary skills and reach that level. »

Marvin Harrison Jr.’s best moments during the 2023 season

Rams general manager Les Snead, however, is a little skeptical that 7-on-7 drills prepare receivers to play in the NFL.

“I think there’s an element of, if you play 7-on-7 too much, you create that skill, let’s say, without the defenders going to tackle,” Snead said. “You might make it this false sense of confidence about what it’s really like to play football when you’re wearing pads.

“You’re not in pads, so you move better. You can run routes in certain areas that you would never encounter if you had pads, depending on the angles the defender has to hit you at. … (But) you get There are a lot of kids now who can ride routes virtually all year round.”

Nagy said no matter where you select them, receivers will always have value because of their ability to put the ball in the end zone.

“You have to have guys who can score touchdowns,” he said. “It’s nothing new. That’s what the draft has always been based on: finding guys who can score on offense and finding guys who can get to the quarterback on defense.”

However, when it comes to the most productive receivers, you may not have to pick them in the first round.

Eric D. Williams has been reporting on the NFL for more than a decade, covering Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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