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.
[table id=20 /]
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.
[table id=21 /]
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):
[table id=26 /]
- I’m not going to comment on how Justin Blackmon was arrested on an aggregated DUI charge on June 3. [↩]