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How have previous Justin Blackmons fared?

Justin Blackmon was the first receiver selected in April’s draft. What are the odds that the former Oklahoma State Cowboy will be the best rookie receiver in 2012? And how likely is it that Blackmon will ultimately be the best receiver out of his class?

In some ways, it’s an unfair question. There were 33 receivers selected, including six in the first two rounds. The likelihood of Blackmon being the most productive is certainly greater than 1 out of 33, but how much greater is it?1

We don’t know, and we won’t know until his career (and the careers of his draft mates) ultimately unfolds, but we can speculate based on historical results.

Since the NFL merger, how frequently has the top drafted receiver ended up being the best rookie? Five out of 42 times, the top-selected rookie led his draft class in receiving yards that season. Believe it or not, before A.J. Green did it last season, Chicago’s Willie Gault in 1983 was the last to do so. The table below lists the top rookies selected in each of the last 42 drafts, along with their overall draft pick, and the number of receiving yards they recorded as rookies. The last two columns list the top rookie receiver (by receiving yards) and what percentage of that number of receiving yards the highest drafted rookie achieved.

YearReceiverTeamPickCollegeRook Yds% of LeaderTop Rookie
2011A.J. GreenCIN4Georgia10571.00A.J. Green
2010Demaryius ThomasDEN22Georgia Tech2830.29Mike Williams
2009Darrius Heyward-BeyOAK7Maryland1240.16Hakeem Nicks
2008Donnie AverySTL33Houston6740.69Eddie Royal
2007Calvin JohnsonDET2Georgia Tech7560.76Dwayne Bowe
2006Santonio HolmesPIT25Ohio St.8240.79Marques Colston
2005Braylon EdwardsCLE3Michigan5120.90Reggie Brown
2004Larry FitzgeraldARI3Pittsburgh7800.65Michael Clayton
2003Charles RogersDET2Michigan St.2430.18Anquan Boldin
2002Donte StallworthNOR13Tennessee5940.81Antonio Bryant
2001David TerrellCHI8Michigan4150.47Chris Chambers
2000Peter WarrickCIN4Florida St.5920.83Darrell Jackson
1999Torry HoltSTL6North Carolina St.7880.80Kevin Johnson
1998Kevin DysonTEN16Utah2630.20Randy Moss
1997Ike HilliardNYG7Florida420.08Rae Carruth
1996Keyshawn JohnsonNYJ1USC8440.75Terry Glenn
1995Michael WestbrookWAS4Colorado5220.50Joey Galloway
1994Charles JohnsonPIT17Colorado5770.67Darnay Scott
1993Curtis ConwayCHI7USC2310.36Horace Copeland
1992Desmond HowardWAS4Michigan200.06Courtney Hawkins
1991Herman MooreDET10Virginia1350.17Lawrence Dawsey
1990Alexander WrightDAL26Auburn1040.13Ricky Proehl
1989Hart Lee DykesNWE16Oklahoma St.7950.92Shawn Collins
1988Tim BrownRAI6Notre Dame7250.92Sterling Sharpe
1987Haywood JeffiresHOU20North Carolina St.890.14Ricky Nattiel
1986Mike SherrardDAL18UCLA7440.66Bill Brooks
1985Al ToonNYJ10Wisconsin6620.70Eddie Brown
1984Irving FryarNWE1Nebraska1640.19Louis Lipps
1983Willie GaultCHI18Tennessee8361.00Willie Gault
1982Anthony HancockKAN11Tennessee1160.46Lindsay Scott
1981David VerserCIN10Kansas1610.16Cris Collinsworth
1980Lam JonesNYJ2Texas4820.60Art Monk
1979Jerry ButlerBUF5Clemson8341.00Jerry Butler
1978Wes ChandlerNOR3Florida4720.47John Jefferson
1977Stanley MorganNWE25Tennessee4430.60Wesley Walker
1976Billy BrooksCIN11Oklahoma1910.21Sammy White
1975Larry BurtonNOR7Purdue3050.70Rick Upchurch
1974Lynn SwannPIT21USC2080.34Nat Moore
1973Isaac CurtisCIN15San Diego St.8431.00Isaac Curtis
1972Ahmad RashadSTL4Oregon5001.00Ahmad Rashad
1971J.D. HillBUF4Arizona St.2160.25Randy Vataha
1970Ken BurroughNOR10Texas Southern1960.28Ron Shanklin

Justin Blackmon stretching on the sidelines during a Jaguars home game

The results are pretty spotty, even in recent years. For every A.J. Green or Calvin Johnson, Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards, there’s a Demaryius Thomas, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Charles Rogers. Subjectively, it seems like Blackmon is much more pro-ready than players like Heyward-Bey and Thomas, and Rogers suffered through injuries during his rookie year. If healthy, it’s hard not to imagine Blackmon at least having a moderately successful year, on the order of 55 catches, 700 yards and 5 touchdowns.

But Jacksonville fans are surely more concerned with his long-term prospects. And those look pretty good, based on how prior top receivers have fared. Obviously it is too early to set in stone grades for more recent classes, but here is the same table as above but with career receiving yards being used instead of rookie season production. Nearly 25% of the time, the top rookie receiver has ended up with the most receiving yards in his class. On the other hand, 22 of the 42 players produced fewer than half of the receiving yards of the most productive member of that group.

YearReceiverTeamPickCollegeCareer Yds% of LeaderTop Career
2011A.J. GreenCIN4Georgia10571.00A.J. Green
2010Demaryius ThomasDEN22Georgia Tech8340.48Mike Williams
2009Darrius Heyward-BeyOAK7Maryland14650.46Mike Wallace
2008Donnie AverySTL33Houston13080.32DeSean Jackson
2007Calvin JohnsonDET2Georgia Tech58721.00Calvin Johnson
2006Santonio HolmesPIT25Ohio St.52350.84Brandon Marshall
2005Braylon EdwardsCLE3Michigan53230.72Roddy White
2004Larry FitzgeraldARI3Pittsburgh96151.00Larry Fitzgerald
2003Charles RogersDET2Michigan St.4400.05Andre Johnson
2002Donte StallworthNOR13Tennessee47740.73Deion Branch
2001David TerrellCHI8Michigan16020.14Reggie Wayne
2000Peter WarrickCIN4Florida St.29910.35Laveranues Coles
1999Torry HoltSTL6North Carolina St.133821.00Torry Holt
1998Kevin DysonTEN16Utah23250.16Randy Moss
1997Ike HilliardNYG7Florida63970.53Derrick Mason
1996Keyshawn JohnsonNYJ1USC105710.66Terrell Owens
1995Michael WestbrookWAS4Colorado43740.40Joey Galloway
1994Charles JohnsonPIT17Colorado46060.30Isaac Bruce
1993Curtis ConwayCHI7USC82301.00Curtis Conway
1992Desmond HowardWAS4Michigan15970.13Jimmy Smith
1991Herman MooreDET10Virginia91740.81Keenan McCardell
1990Alexander WrightDAL26Auburn15970.18Ricky Proehl
1989Hart Lee DykesNWE16Oklahoma St.13440.13Andre Rison
1988Tim BrownRAI6Notre Dame149341.00Tim Brown
1987Haywood JeffiresHOU20North Carolina St.63340.72Mark Carrier
1986Mike SherrardDAL18UCLA39310.48Ernest Givins
1985Al ToonNYJ10Wisconsin66050.29Jerry Rice
1984Irving FryarNWE1Nebraska127851.00Irving Fryar
1983Willie GaultCHI18Tennessee66350.48Henry Ellard
1982Anthony HancockKAN11Tennessee12660.14Mark Duper
1981David VerserCIN10Kansas4540.07Cris Collinsworth
1980Lam JonesNYJ2Texas23220.18Art Monk
1979Jerry ButlerBUF5Clemson43010.44Drew Hill
1978Wes ChandlerNOR3Florida89660.64James Lofton
1977Stanley MorganNWE25Tennessee107161.00Stanley Morgan
1976Billy BrooksCIN11Oklahoma17200.13Steve Largent
1975Larry BurtonNOR7Purdue8040.14Freddie Solomon
1974Lynn SwannPIT21USC54620.63John Stallworth
1973Isaac CurtisCIN15San Diego St.71011.00Isaac Curtis
1972Ahmad RashadSTL4Oregon68310.79Cliff Branch
1971J.D. HillBUF4Arizona St.28800.32Harold Carmichael
1970Ken BurroughNOR10Texas Southern71021.00Ken Burrough


In response to Jon’s question in the comments, here is where each wide receiver that led his class in receiving yards was drafted (among receivers):

2011A.J. Green1
2010Mike Williams15
2009Mike Wallace11
2008DeSean Jackson7
2007Calvin Johnson1
2006Brandon Marshall14
2005Roddy White6
2004Larry Fitzgerald1
2003Andre Johnson2
2002Deion Branch11
2001Reggie Wayne6
2000Laveranues Coles13
1999Torry Holt1
1998Randy Moss2
1997Derrick Mason9
1996Terrell Owens12
1995Joey Galloway2
1994Isaac Bruce6
1993Curtis Conway1
1992Jimmy Smith3
1991Keenan McCardell43
1990Ricky Proehl4
1989Andre Rison2
1988Tim Brown1
1987Mark Carrier7
1986Ernest Givins3
1985Jerry Rice3
1984Irving Fryar1
1983Henry Ellard2
1982Mark Duper6
1981Cris Collinsworth3
1980Art Monk2
1979Drew Hill35
1978James Lofton2
1977Stanley Morgan1
1976Steve Largent17
1975Freddie Solomon2
1974John Stallworth8
1973Isaac Curtis1
1972Cliff Branch11
1971Harold Carmichael19
1970Ken Burrough1
  1. I’m not going to comment on how Justin Blackmon was arrested on an aggregated DUI charge on June 3. []
  • BC

    “Justin Blackmon stretching on the sidelines during a Jaguars home game”

    Football season has started already? Why didn’t anyone tell me?!

  • Chase Stuart

    Have to keep people on their toes, BC.

    • BC

      Despite giving you a hard time, that was a really interesting first article. Looking forward to more of the same.

  • Jon Blattmachr

    I’d like to see where the best of the rookie class was actually picked. Hook that up.

  • Chase Stuart

    Good question, Jon. I’ve amended the post to include that information.