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In 2003, Larry Fitzgerald caught 16 touchdowns in Pittsburgh’s first 8 games, making him one of only three players to reach those marks since 2000. The second was Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree, who had 17 as a freshman in ’07 through eight games. That was eclipsed — by three whole touchdowns — last year, when Baylor’s Corey Coleman caught 20 touchdowns through 8 games. At the time, Coleman had 58 receptions for 1,178 yards and 20 touchdowns. Unfortunately, his numbers tanked after that, thanks (i) to injuries to first starting quarterback Seth Russell and then backup Jarrett Stidham and (ii) the schedule getting significantly harder.

As good as Coleman’s numbers were, though, he didn’t even lead the country in receiving yards at that time. TCU’s Josh Doctson had 71 receptions for 1,250 yards and 14 touchdowns through eight games. In game 9, Doctson had six catches for 64 yards against Oklahoma State before suffering a wrist injury in the second quarter that effectively ended his season.

Now, neither player is being projected to go in the top half of the first round. That maybe isn’t too weird, given the inflated offensive numbers for Big 12 offenses. In a mock draft on November 2nd (which is right before the seasons went downhill for Coleman and Doctson), Matt Miller had Doctson going to Dallas at 12 while Coleman wasn’t even in Miller’s mock (I don’t know if it was because Coleman was a junior or if Miller had him going in another round). A November 16th mock by Dane Brugler had Coleman getting drafted at 29, with Doctson not being selected in the first round. A November 19th draft at the San Diego Union Tribune had the duo going in the back third (23/31) of the first round, although the same author had them going 15th and 23rd a week earlier.

One mock draft on November 6th had both players going in the second round, so I’m not suggesting that the poor end-of-season performances by both players have killed their draft stock. But on a more general level, I find it interesting that many people are not projecting any wide receiver to get drafted in the first twenty picks.

The most bullist place is at SI.com, where four writers have Coleman going 15, 24, 24, and 30, and Doctson going at 8, 22, 22, and 24.  Will Fuller is going 13th and 23rd according to two of those writers, but not in the first round for the other two; Laquon Treadwell is going 16, 23, 23, and 27.  Also at SI, Peter King has has Fuller as the first receiver off the board at 22, followed by Doctson at 23, Coleman at 24, and Treadwell at 28.

At NFL.com, none of the seven mock draft writers have any wide receiver going in the top 20! Four have Coleman going at 22, a fifth has him at 24, and two have him not being selected in round one. Doctson is being projected at 22/23/24/24/24/round2+/round2+. Six of the seven have Treadwell going at 23 to Minnesota; the seventh has him going 24th to Cincinnati. Fuller is not picked in the first round by three, picked 24th by two, and 28th by two. The Big Lead posted its mock draft yesterday, and has the quartet going in familiar places: 22, 23, 24, and 28.

Okay, that gives us 13 mock drafts to look at: Peter King; Don Banks, Chris Burke, Doug Farrar, and Greg Bedard at SI; Daniel Jeremiah, Bucky Brooks, Charles Davis, Lance Zierlein, Charley Casserley, Chad Reuter, and Curtis Conway at NFL.com; and Jason McIntyre at the BigLead.  In those 13 mocks:

  • The Vikings go wide receiver at #23 in all 13! Treadwell was selected 8 times, Fuller twice, Doctson twice, and Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard once.
  • The Bengals go wide receiver at #24 in 12 of 13! Cincinnati took Coleman 5 times, Doctson 4, Fuller twice, and Treadwell once.
  • The Texans, owners of the 22nd pick, were given a wide receiver in 9 of 13 drafts: Coleman four times, Doctson three, Fuller once, and Treadwell once.

That’s 39 draft picks at 22, 23, or 24, and 34 of those picks were used to take wide receivers. Doug Farrar at SI is the big outlier: he has three wide receivers going in the top 16: Doctson at 8 to Cleveland, Fuller at 13 to Miami, and Treadwell at 16 to Detroit.

Otherwise? 11 of the other 12 writers have zero wide receivers going in the top 21; the 12th (Bedard) has Coleman at 15 and then no other wide receiver until 23. Let’s broaden our sample: a 14th mock, from PFT, has Coleman going at 15 to Tennessee and the 2nd wide receiver off the board to Minnesota at 23. If you want a 15th mock, ESPN’s NFL Nation has zero wide receivers in the top 21, before the familiar 22-23-24 selection of three wide receivers.

Want five more? At CBS, each of Rob Rang, Dane Brugler, Pete Prisco, and Will Brinson have exactly three wide receivers going in the first round, and all four writers have those players going at 22/23/24. The fifth writer, Jared Dubin, has Treadwell and Doctson going at 19 and 20 (to Buffalo and Cleveland via trade), before going with three wide receivers at 22/23/24, too.

That’s 20 mock drafts, and you see Minnesota takes a wide receiver in all 20, Cincinnati takes a wide receiver in 18, and Houston takes a wide receiver in 15. In addition, in 16 of the 20 drafts, no wide receiver gets drafted in the first 21 picks, with Farrar, Bedard, Florio at PFT, and Dubin being the four outliers.

Part of the reason for this is that there seems to be little preference among either of the B12 receivers, Fuller (who was dominant at Notre Dame) or Treadwell (who led the SEC in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns last year). None of those players have separated themselves from the pack, which could lead teams to decide not to “reach” for any player. It’s telling that in the four mock drafts that have a wide receiver going in the top 21, Farrar and Florio have Doctson going first, Bedard has Coleman going first, and Dubin has Treadwell going first. Meanwhile, neither Daniel Jeremiah or Charley Casserley has Doctson going in the first round!

If these four wide receivers are all in the same tier, it makes sense that they might all “fall” as a group. But let’s be clear: it would be a fall. In the last 30 drafts, just three have seen 21 picks go by without a wide receiver: 20061, 20082, and 2010.3 In two-thirds of the last 30 drafts, a wide receivers has been selected in the top 8!

I am no draftnik, but it seems like way too neat of a fit to have zero wide receivers go in the top 21, before scratching off three to Houston, Minnesota, and Cincinnati. The draft is not nearly as much about need as mock drafts think, and I think many mock drafters suffer from a bit of groupthink. And, with four really good (but maybe not great) and equivalent wide receiver prospects, I can see how it would feel odd to say, slot them in at 10, 15, 23, and 24. But that’s rarely how the draft unfolds.

So, yeah, I think we see a wide receiver go before 22 to Houston. And the longer the draft goes without any wide receiver selected, the more compelling it will be for a team to grab the top wide receiver off its board. Assuming that’s still the case at 20, that’s what I expect the Jets to do. And my guess would be that Treadwell is the pick (unless Bryce Petty can sell the team on Coleman), as an heir apparent to Brandon Marshall (a player to whom Treadwell has been expressly compared).

  1. When Santonio Holmes was the only receiver taken in the first round. []
  2. When no wide receivers went in the first round, but Donnie Avery went 33rd overall, one of ten wide receivers — including Jordy Nelson and DeSean Jackson — to go in the second round. []
  3. Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant went at 22/24; I guess 2010 was a draft without any elite wide receivers, too. []
  • Richie

    I wonder why Farrar has the Dolphins taking a WR. WR is probably the ONLY position that the Dolphins don’t need to fill. Unless Randy Moss falls to 13, I can’t see any reason why the Dolphins would take a receiver. Jarvis Landry is looking to be at least a very good WR. They took DeVante Parker in the first round last year. He was hampered by injuries most of the year, but he showed flashes of competence when he was able to play. I think there’s a good chance he’ll be a 1,000-yard WR next year.

    • My guess would be that Miami runs a 3-WR base offense and would want Landry in the slot? Last year, Landry was on the field for 84% of snaps, Stills 58%, Matthews 50%, Parker 45%, Jennings 30%, and Hazel 3%, so that’s an average of 2.7 WRs on the field per snap. But I also imagine Farrar was more thinking BPA than need.

      • Richie

        Yeah, maybe they would want to draft somebody to replace Matthews. But I just can’t see using a first round pick, when they have so many other needs.