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saintswhodi 05-17-2006 02:40 PM

Great article by Clayton on 1st round WRs
Teams need to let first-round WRs developBy John Clayton

Jimmy Smith's sudden retirement should prove simple solutions aren't easy in the NFL.

Smith was the Jaguars No. 1 receiver for a decade. When he clicked with Keenan McCardell, Jacksonville was a perennial playoff contender. But age eventually catches up to every athlete, and teams must plan accordingly. It would appear the simple solution to replacing a No. 1 receiver is to use a No. 1 draft pick on a receiver.

Not so fast. It's not that easy. The Jaguars have used three first-round picks in the past seven drafts on receivers -- R. Jay Soward (2000), Reggie Williams (2004) and Matt Jones (2005) -- and none has produced a season with more than 36 catches.

Finding a No. 1 receiver has been a No. 1 headache for many teams.

Since Mike Shanahan took over the Broncos in 1995, he has invested 16 draft choices in receivers and hasn't found one yet. Included in those choices are two first-round picks (Marcus Nash and Ashley Lelie), one second-round pick (Darius Watts) and two third-rounders (Travis McGriff and Chris Cole). The most catches a receiver drafted by Shanahan has had in a season is 54, by Lelie in 2004.

The list of first-round failures is endless. Sylvester Morris (Kansas City, 2000 draft), Freddie Mitchell (Philadelphia, 2001), David Terrell (Chicago, 2001), Soward (Jacksonville, 2000) and Rod Gardner (Washington, 2001) headline the list of recent failures. Eleven of the 16 first-round receivers taken between 2000 and 2003 haven't or won't get second contracts from the teams that drafted them. Of the other five, Reggie Wayne is the only one to have actually secured a new deal. The Lions have used three top-10 picks on wide receivers in the past four drafts and are still buried in the bottom of the passing stats.

In a passing league, why do teams drop the ball on receivers in the draft more than any other position?

The answer is simple: expectations.

If a first-round pick isn't putting up No. 1 receiving numbers three or four years into his contract, he's considered a disappointment and he won't be re-signed. Just because the first-round pick is included in his bio, does he have to put up No. 1 receiver numbers to be a good player?

One of the problems in the NFL is the turnover of coaches and how dramatically systems can change when new hires come in. Big receivers fit best in West Coast offenses. Smaller, quicker receivers who are better running after the catch fit better in the Mike Martz-Al Saunders-Norv Turner-Don Coryell system. But converting one receiver to fit into the other type of offense doesn't always work, so teams tend to move on and find alternatives.

Look at what's going on in Detroit. Roy Williams, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams have the ideal size for a West Coast offense that needs bigger bodies to go across the middle for catches. But they don't fit new coordinator Mike Martz's offense. Only Roy Williams has the skills to fit the Martz system. Expect Rogers to be gone before the start of the regular season, and Mike Williams might be on the way out next offseason.

High expectations drove Santana Moss and Plaxico Burress from the teams that drafted them. Despite being injury prone and inconsistent in the West Coast offense, Moss, who was the Jets' first-round pick in 2001, had a 1,105-yard season with the team in 2003. But that wasn't good enough so they shipped him to the Washington Redskins where he re-emerged as a Pro Bowl receiver and one of the most exciting players in the NFC. Indeed, Moss became the No. 1 receiver in a scheme for which his skills are a better fit.
The same can be said for Burress in Pittsburgh. He had a 1,008-yard season in 2001 and a 1,325-yard season in 2002. Good numbers. Still, the Steelers' No. 1 receiver was Hines Ward, a tough, physical leader who has carried the Steelers to the Super Bowl. Unless you're the St. Louis Rams, it's hard to have two No. 1 receivers, so someone has to be No. 2, and that was Burress.

Because of that, Burress wasn't offered a contract following the 2004 season and he left for New York where he helped the Giants and Eli Manning make the playoffs.

Unless teams want to waste time and money developing No. 1 receivers, they should change the standards on what they are looking for from first-round wide receivers. Steve Smith (Carolina), Chad Johnson (Cincinnati), Derrick Mason (Baltimore), Chris Chambers (Miami), Ward (Pittsburgh) and Deion Branch (New England) are among the many receivers who have developed into No. 1s even though they weren't taken in the first round.

It's possible to become a star in the NFL through hard-work, training and execution. Look at Smith, whose 5-foot-9, 185-pound body didn't fit the first-round prototype. The Panthers invested a third-round choice on him in 2001 thinking he might be a good third receiver who also could return kicks.

Smith came to the Panthers with an attitude. He believed he was a No. 1 receiver and played with a chip on his shoulder. His overconfidence often collided with management. But as Smith played and developed, he became the No. 1 receiver. Last year, he was the league's best receiver. He was right, he was a No. 1. But because expectations weren't unrealistic, Smith had time to develop into a Pro Bowl receiver.

It was interesting to hear Ward's offseason complaints about the Steelers using first-round picks to try to replace him. He fought and scrapped and battled to be the Steelers' go-to receiver. No No. 1 pick can take that reality away from him. The more Ben Roethlisberger goes to Ward, the more success the Steelers have.

What has to be remembered is that first-round picks go in the first-round for a reason. They have the height, speed and athletic skills that spew out numbers that place them among the top 32 athletes in the draft.

Say what you want about Lelie in Denver, but the guy is a talent. Even though he hasn't developed into the long-term replacement for Rod Smith and probably will be traded before too long, he has skills. He has averaged 17.9 yards per catch during his Broncos career. But the Broncos always wanted more out of him and found his replacement when they traded for Javon Walker. Lelie wants out and Mike Shanahan wants him out.

But the expectations for Lelie were too high because he was a No. 1 pick. If Darius Watts, a second-round disappointment, averaged 17.9 yards a catch and 42 catches a year as the team's No. 2, he'd be deemed a success and probably would get a second contract from the Broncos and more time to develop. Because Lelie didn't put up No. 1 numbers, he's being treated with disdain.

The No. 1 problem with drafting a receiver No. 1 is that he's not allowed to be a No. 2, unless he's Wayne with the Colts. It's no surprise that Wayne is the only first-round receiver drafted since 2000 who has secured a second contract from the team that drafted him.

NFL teams had better learn that first-round receivers don't always have to turn into No. 1 receivers.

GoldRush26 05-17-2006 04:45 PM

RE: Great article by Clayton on 1st round WRs
hmmmm....ok I agree with some of this. As how this can relate to our team....Stallworth is still replaceable, has been my only point. This kind of surprises me. Clayton knows that this is a business. It ultimately comes down to dollars and cents. NFL teams want their first round recievers to play up to that standard because they are being paid to do so. It seems like John Clayton is saying that recievers drafted in the first round shouldn't necessarily be held to the standard of being drafted in the first round.

If Stallworth is willing to be paid like a #2 reciever, then by all means I say we should sign him. His contract can be restructured when he actually proves that he's worth that big money. But if he's going to be asking for big bucks for 900 yards and 7 TDs, better talent can be had in free agency next year, and I don't see how anyone could dispute that.

This next year will tell all. No more excuses after this. This is his 5th year with a Pro Bowl QB at the helm.

BiggPoppaFro4 05-17-2006 09:14 PM

This is a great article. No. 1s often get cut and can emerge else where, but the fact is also presented that No. 1s can also flame out and be replaced by the Joe Horns of the world. Further proof that scouting is an inexact science.

Stallworth can be great and seems on the verge of becoming that No. 1 replacement for Joe, but he drops too many balls and doesn't display the same tenacity Joe does. Maybe it's b/c he was that No. 1 and was given the cash up front. It spoils alot more folks than it urges to be better. Joe had to fight to make it in, fight to get his first payday, fight willie roa.....wait....fight to get his last big contract. He had to fight to be elite. Kinda like Ward, Smith and Smith (Rod).

Maybe Stallworth can be great, but maybe it's that tough road mentality he lacks to push him to want to be elite. Still, he deserves the chance to show he can improve on last year's numbers. Besides, IMHO, if we are going to find a replacement for Stallworth, I think he's already on the team, not in FA.

xan 05-18-2006 08:23 AM

Did Stallworth really drop more balls than Horn over the last two seasons? I'd like to see the stats on that before we take that as law as I remember it the exact opposite. Plus, one has to actually line up as the #1 receiver to see how one does in that roll. So, does anyone have the data on the number of plays that Stallworth has lined up as #1 and his performance relative to that roll?

saintswhodi 05-18-2006 08:31 AM

Horn dropped more balls than Stallworth the last two years before last year, but he was the primary, and often only target, so that would stand to reason. The biggest thing I took from the article is the example of Santana Moss. He did not fit the Jets' offense, and they did not attempt to adapt their offense to his skills. Instead they trade him to Washington, where they did take advantage of his skill set, and he EXPLODES. A big problem A LOT of us have had with Haslett, was him forcing his schemes on the players, instead of either A) getting players that fit a scheme before implementing it, or B) adjusting his schemes even slightly to accomdate the strengths and/or weaknesses of the players we do have. In his rookie season, Donte would run quick slants and take them to the house. They used his speed and breakaway ability. It seems like since then, they have been trying to make him a possession receiver. Slants thrown in the dirt where he has to dive for them instead of catch and run. No go routes. Maybe it was the regression at QB, but there is no way anyone can say Donte has been put in the best position for us to take advantage of his skill set. We have the opportunity now to see if that changes. I'd hate for him to go elsewhere and be like Santana Moss.

BiggPoppaFro4 05-18-2006 11:27 AM

Horn 05: 13 games - 103 thrown to, 6 drops (47% complete)
Stallworth 05: 16 games - 129 thrown to, 11 drops (54% complete)

Horn 04: 153 thrown to, 7 drops (61%)
Stallworth 04: 106 thrown to, 5 drops (55%)

Horn 03: 130 thrown to, 5 drops (60%)
Stallworth 03: 55 thrown to, 3 drops (46 %)

Those are the numbers. And while I'd love to say the numbers never lie, X-man, your question about how often Stallworth was a #1 made me wonder too. Horn only missed one game in his NO career prior to this season, so Stallworth would be limited inthat role. Not exactly fair production wise b/c the other WRs listed were being asked to be #1s immediately.

Then whodi brought up a great point...Haz (go figure) looked like he was misusing Donte. He is a speed guy ment for the long ball and stretch of the D. Haz had him pulling up on short routes and, worse yet, he had AB throwing to him. That's like asking a WR to go get something off the freeway at rush hour! My biggest question on the guy is that "want to" that #1s display. Does he have it? Or is he a guy that has #1 ability and plays like a 2 or 3 his career?

I think Stallworth will benefit from this system (in short b/c Brees completed 63% and 64% to Gates and McCardell as his primary and secondary rec. respectively). I think he can be that dude that stretches our opponents, opens holes for Hiltonand Horn and limits a teams ability to account for Deuce and Reggie. And I honestly can't see a better replacement for him, that isn't already on the roster. Unless we resign Albert Connell....that'sa real #1 :wink:

saintswhodi 05-18-2006 12:48 PM


My biggest question on the guy is that "want to" that #1s display. Does he have it? Or is he a guy that has #1 ability and plays like a 2 or 3 his career?
That's a good question BigPop. If you look at Donte his first two years, he was always injured and nicked up. Things like pulling hammies and such. In the offseason of his third season, he dedicated himself to making sure he got over those types of inuries. The team didn't force him to do it like they did with leadership classes for fumbles, he took it upon himself to work on that, and he hasn't missed a game since, and he has even played through broken fingers and such. So that speaks to his toughness, and his will to play this game. He WANTS to be on the field. Now that's only a small part of being a number one receiver, and there is more work he has to do. But it shows he has a will to be on the field as much as possible, maybe better coaching and better QB play could help him take the next step. Or he could just be a good-great number two his whole career.

GoldRush26 05-18-2006 09:05 PM

I'm of the opinion that you should get players to fit your scheme, not make players fit your scheme. Maybe this is the reason that Stallworth has been dangled around in trade talks. I don't think Payton sees him as a long term component of this offense. I wonder if he is doing those other things that a player that wants to be a #1 reciever does. Does he study tape? Does he stay late after practice? Does he spend that extra time in the weight room? I guess none of us know this for sure. But I do know this...the main reason that he's not ready to be a #1 is because he's still trying to become a complete reciever himself and doesn't have the ability to teach others and make other players around him better. Like I said....this year will tell all. 5th season in with a Pro Bowl QB, a healthy Deuce and Reggie freakin Bush. No excuses.

BiggPoppaFro4 05-18-2006 09:17 PM

Exactly. My thinking is that Stallworth does want to be that guy and is going to work to be that go-to person. Plus he's in a contract year...couldn't hurt to make a good showing.

Good point about the system v. person thing though. Maybe with the O Payton runs, Stallworth will be our terry glenn. She did alright in dallas last year.

LKelley67 05-18-2006 09:28 PM

Big posession receivers have more often been ideal in WC schemes. Stallworth does good with a lot of quick flares to the outside, making use of his moves and legs. I do not have a lot of memory of him being a tough over the middle guy though. That said, I think the change of coaching will definitely make him better even if he is not ideally suited to the scheme.

I think for we who know firsthand how many passes were thrown off target or with no touch Brees will be the exact opposite- all about touch and accuracy even if he doesn't exactly have a cannon. That will affect ALL of the receivers so much in a positive way is another reason i would feel comfortable in letting Stallworth go. That is for the right price too- a veteran that would fill a need on OL, DT, LB, or CB or at least a upper 2nd rd pick minimum.

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