2021 NFL Draft: WRs can be a trap for first-round picks, WFT should stay away

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Chase Hughes
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WRs can be a trap for first-round picks, WFT should stay away originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Despite the Washington Football Team already having a No. 1 receiver in Terry McLaurin, and despite the fact they just added two wide receivers in free agency with Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries, several mock drafts out there still project them to take a wide receiver in the first round on Thursday. It's an idea endorsed by a good number of media members and fans as well.

Yet, it's not just a bad idea, it's arguably a terrible one. And the reasons go well beyond the fact the position is clearly not a major need anymore, nor does it imply DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle will not be good NFL players. 

No, in fact, wide receiver is a position that very rarely can justify a first-round pick. The bust potential is inordinately high compared to other positions and no franchise should know that better than Washington.

WFT has selected four wide receivers in the first round in the last 40 years. None of them measured up to expectations: Josh Docston (2016), Rod Gardner (2001), Michael Westbrook (1995) and Desmond Howard (1992). 

But they aren't alone, as many teams have made the mistake before. According to a 2015 study by Bleacher Report, a 25-year sample of NFL drafts showed wide receivers had the lowest Pro Bowl rate of any position, at 30.3%. So less than a third of all players selected.

Wide receivers also produced the fourth-highest bust rate behind only quarterbacks, running backs and defensive linemen. If you compare the Pro Bowl rate and the bust rate, only running backs and defensive linemen give greater odds of being a flop.

Also, consider the fact more good wide receivers are found in the second round than the first round. Since the year 2000, more Pro Bowl wide receivers have been second round picks (25) than were first round picks (22). WFT, of course, found McLaurin in the third round in 2019.

Beyond the ominous draft history, the value of the wide receiver position itself is questionable, when compared to other areas of the field. When NFL.com's Bucky Brooks ranked the most important positions on the football field back in 2015, he put No. 2 wide receivers at 16th, below running back and right guard. Ironically, Brooks has WFT taking a wide receiver this year.

If you have a No. 1 receiver, as WFT arguably does, then only so many resources should be applied to the rest of the receiving corps. That is especially the case when a team like Washington has long-term needs at both quarterback and left tackle, two of the three most important positions, as ranked by Brooks and as likely agreed upon by most football observers. Every first overall pick since 1996 has been a quarterback, left tackle or pass rusher.

Part of that is likely because wide receivers, even the best ones, only touch the ball a handful of times each game. Now, that is not to say wide receivers are never worth first round picks, they just have to be extremely good to justify the resource. If you find a DeAndre Hopkins or Mike Evans, then you did well. If you land a Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green, you can change the course of your franchise.

There are also certain situations where it can make sense, ones that don't currently apply to the Washington Football Team. If you have a young quarterback who needs help in their development, getting a top-shelf pass catcher can speed up that process. Doing that in the reverse can be putting the cart before the horse.

So, despite mock drafts from NFL.com, Sporting News, Pro Football Focus and CBS Sports projecting a wide receiver to Washington, they should beware of the risk, especially when they have bigger needs at more valuable positions.