2021 NFL Draft: Don’t buy into the wide receiver hype

If you haven’t noticed yet, NFL general managers have short memories. Mitch Trubisky didn’t stop them from trusting inexperienced college players. Lamar Jackson didn’t teach them not to pass on established stars.

That’s why last year’s class of first round wide receivers, which featured instant stars like Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb, could lead to busts in 2021. With the NFL Draft less than two weeks away, The Athletic’s latest mock draft has five wideouts going in the first round, starting with Ja’Marr Chase at No. 5. After all, last year’s wide receiver group was a success. What could go wrong?

Answer: everything. The 2014 draft was filled with first round receivers that made an instant impact in the league, and teams splurged accordingly on questionable wideouts in 2015.

Let’s take a look:

YearPickPlayerGYdsTDPro Bowls
20144Sammy Watkins864665330
20147Mike Evans1068266613
201412Odell Beckham Jr.826830513
201420Brandin Cooks1036880400
201428Kelvin Benjamin613021200
20154Amari Cooper936211384
20157Kevin White1728500
201514DeVante Parker834212220
201520Nelson Agholor873411260
201526Breshad Perriman632066140
201529Phillip Dorsett711634110
Source: Pro Football Reference

Brandin Cooks was the only first round receiver in 2014 who didn’t reach 900 yards in his rookie season. Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans exceeded even the loftiest expectations with 12 and seven touchdowns, respectively. And if not for injuries that derailed the careers of Kelvin Benjamin and Sammy Watkins, this likely would have been the best wideout class in history.

Those early dividends caused a wideout frenzy in the first round of 2015, where the injury-prone Kevin White and the speedy but talentless Phillip Dorsett were considered elite prospects.

The warning signs were there — old draft profiles mention how Dorsett lacked technique and that there was “legitimate concern” Nelson Agholor’s skills would never develop — but recency bias prevailed. Needless to say, only Amari Cooper lived up to his draft status.

After that, GMs seemingly learned the risks of overestimating wide receivers. Only seven were drafted in the first round in 2017-2019; Calvin Ridley was the only one who became a star.

But the 2021 Draft seems poised to be a repeat of 2015. Both Rashod Bateman and Elijah Moore are projected first round talents with short records of excellent play. Just look at Bateman’s draft profile:

“”The production looks good on paper, but I was at a couple of his games in 2019 and I just wanted to feel (his presence) more.” — Midwest scout for AFC team

Regardless, teams are going to be paying a premium for wide receivers this year. Let’s just hope they fare better than Kevin White.