Ask most fans what they prefer and they will more commonly tell you they want the guy that can use his body to create a tough scenario for defenses to game plan against. While there’s nothing wrong with that, everyone is looking for their own Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. It’s very rare to find a player of their similar talent and drive.
That brings us to the argument of whether it’s a safer bet to draft a large wideout or a smaller one. Some will argue that the system decides what is needed or not. A mix of both is a good recipe. The ultimate question would be, “When is it the best for a team to take a WR of a specific size?”.
Using a stats based analysis of this decades drafts (2000-2008), numbers were crunched and careers were dissected. The final draft results were determined by a series of qualifications.
Size Requirement – Cornerbacks these days being around an average of 6’ 200 lbs, the mark for larger wideouts was set at 6’ 210 lbs. This allows for the WR to be the same height and use a size advantage or for the WR to be taller and us his height advantage.
Career Stats – Each draft had it’s own statistical standards. Some were higher than others due to guys that took off in those drafts. All the wideouts were compared to their counterparts. As long as the wideout was a consistent contributor, he wasn’t considered a bust.
Career Longevity – If a WR played for a lengthy career, he couldn’t be considered a big bust. A few guys managed to squeak in based on long careers with average to below average stats.
Draft Status – Wideouts were labeled by their overall pick and rounds. The higher they were drafted, the more they had to produce.
Once everything was figured up, guys were put into respective groups; busts, solids or studs. Busts were guys that didn’t amount to anything or didn’t live up to draft status. Solids were guys that put up respectable stats and contributed to their teams. Studs were the stars that lit up the stat sheets. With the ground rules laid out, let’s get into the results.
Large WRs – 6’ 210 lbs or more
A grand total of 167 prospects were taken over these drafts. 37 of those taken manage to avoid the bust label. 22.6% of the time, teams were drafting a contributor. Of the 37 that qualified, 11 turned out being studs. Those 11 were; Plaxico Burress, Chad Ochocinco, TJ Houshmandzadeh, Andre Johnson, Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White, Brandon Marshall, Marques Colston, Calvin Johnson and Dwayne Bowe. No real surprise on these. Vincent Jackson and Braylon Edwards missed out due to a few bad seasons and a shorter career.
After the studs were discovered, the contributors and success rates were determined for each round. Here are the results of the large WR:
First Round – 12 (contributor) – 48% (success rate)
Second Round – 8 – 30.8%
Third Round – 5 – 25%
Fourth Round – 2 – 9.1%
Fifth Round – 1 – 5.3%
Sixth Round – 3 – 13%
Seventh Round – 6 – 18.8%
Small WRs – 6’ 209 or less
Guys that qualified for the small group were drafted over this period. 31 would go on to help out their teams leading to a 27.2% chance teams would draft a contributor. 13 out of the 31 would go on to become studs. Those 12 are: Laveranues Coles, Darrell Jackson, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, Steve Smith (Car), Lee Evans, Santonio Holmes, Greg Jennings, Steve Smith (NYG), Steve Breaston, Eddie Royal, DeSean Jackson. Some of these names might surprise a few people. Statistically, Darrell Jackson qualified due to his earlier days. The last 4 could fall off in time but they have surpassed anyone close to them in their respective drafts thus getting them the stud label.
Once again, the round by round contributors and success rates were diagnosed. These are the results:
First Round – 8 (contributor) – 72.7% (success rate)
Second Round – 10 – 58.8%
Third Round – 7 – 36.8%
Forth Round – 1 – 7.7%
Fifth Round – 3 – 15.8%
Sixth Round – 1 – 6.7%
Seventh Round – 1 – 5.3%
With the numbers laid out in front of you, it’s clear that small WR is the safer pick of the 2. Only 3 of the small wideouts that were drafted first round during this period, turned out to be busts. While 13 of the large wideouts became busts from first round, Charles Rogers being the biggest.
Based off of the numbers, it’s pretty safe to go with a small WR in any of the first 3 rounds. The third round has the lowest success rate of those but it brought 3 studs including Panthers Steve Smith.
On the other hand, if you’re willing to take a shot for a boom or bust guy, first round brings out the best guys for the large prospects. However, it’s less than a 50/50 chance of drafting one successfully. Seventh round was the true surprise here. 6 prospects turned into contributors and a few of those were studs. 18.8% may seem low but that is an impressive number for a pick that no one considered worthy of drafting earlier.
In my personal opinion, if I were in need of a wideout corp, I would go with the smaller WR earlier and take a shot at a large guy later in the draft. Systems can change that process as well as hype on prospects. However, even a small guy can create mismatches against the biggest cornerback. They typically are the better route runners and more often than not, run faster in pads. A great route runner can defeat almost any cornerback he faces.