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Dave Lane
04-10-2005, 10:45 PM
Among the many elements of the brilliant performance authored by Tampa Bay Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton last season was this overlooked factoid: The former LSU star, selected with the 15th overall slot in the 2004 draft, became only the fifth rookie wideout since 1990, and just the fourth first-rounder, to reach the 1,000-yard mark in his debut campaign.

So, can a receiver with the same surname, Mark Clayton of Oklahoma, a certain first-round pick in two weeks, repeat the feat in 2005? Nothing against the former Sooners star, a splendid technician who has demonstrated to league scouts that he is far quicker than they anticipated, but the odds aren't good.

Chew on this for a second: ESPN.com colleague John Clayton has recorded as many 1,000-yard performances as 50 of the 54 first-round wide receivers from the last 15 years posted in their rookie years. (Feel free to pause here, to shake from your mind's eye the image of The Professor shagging passes from, say, Sean Salisbury.)

"Until you go through the experience yourself, honestly, you can't understand how tough the transition is from college and into the NFL for a rookie wide receiver," said Michael Clayton, who had 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns for the Bucs in 2004. "Forget what people tell you. It's harder than they say. I mean, for a while there, even for a first-round guy, you're lucky just to be treading water."

In most cases, things end up going swimmingly for young wide receivers chosen in the first round. There typically comes a point where they cast off their rookie mantle, at least figuratively, and emerge as productive pass-catchers. Track the recent history of wide receivers chosen in the first round and, characteristically, they make a quantum leap either late in their rookie season or, more often, in their sophomore year.

That said, league personnel directors concede that the "bust rate' of first-round wideouts probably is surpassed only by the level of failure at the quarterback position. While that sobering reality might serve as a cautionary caveat emptor for those franchises considering a wide receiver in the first round of this year's draft, chances are that it will be largely ignored.

Once again the wide receiver position will be well represented in the opening round. And once again, most of the pass catchers chosen in the first round will register uninspiring statistics in their maiden voyages. The mixed results at the wideout position are about as certain as death and taxes.

Actually, the first-round class of '04 was better than most, but its aggregate performance probably was more aberration than trend. The good news: The seven first-round wide receivers from last year's draft averaged 40.1 catches, 597.1 yards and 4.8 touchdowns, all of those numbers better than the means for the past 15 years. Still, two of the seven had fewer than 10 catches each, two failed to start a single game and three combined for a total of just two touchdowns.

Until you go through the experience yourself, honestly, you can't understand how tough the transition is from college and into the NFL for a rookie wide receiver. Forget what people tell you. It's harder than they say. I mean, for a while there, even for a first-round guy, you're lucky just to be treading water.
Michael Clayton, Bucs WR

Those statistics won't be enough to halt the steady stream of wide receivers into the first round. There likely won't be seven pass-catchers chosen in the first round in two weeks, but there figure to be five or six. At least two, Braylon Edwards of Michigan and Michael Williams of Southern California, look like locks to be in the top 10. Besides Oklahoma's Clayton, who leads a strong contingent of Sooners wideout candidates, Troy Williamson (South Carolina), Reggie Brown (Georgia) and Terrence Murphy (Texas A&M) could all go off the board in the top 32 picks.


Not since 1992, when Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard of Michigan was taken by Washington as the lone first-round wideout, has there been fewer than three players at the position chosen in the opening round. The average for the past 15 drafts is 3.6 first-round wide receivers and four times since 1990 there were five or more selected. Given the attrition rate, the number of wash-outs at the position, one might surmise that teams would demonstrate a tad more restraint, but that hasn't been the case.

Especially with the manner in which the game has evolved into more of a throwing game, the fascination with wide receivers isn't apt to abate anytime soon. The re-emphasis on the illegal contact rule in 2004, which further opened up passing lanes and permitted wide receivers to frolic through secondaries, will further stoke the demand.

"It was always a premium position,' said one veteran AFC wide receivers coach. "And it's even more so now. But the [irony] is that, in most cases at wide receiver, you don't get the instant results. Guys don't just come into the league and make a quick impact."

The statistics certainly validate that assessment.

Of the 54 wide receivers chosen in the first round since 1990, only eight registered 60 or more catches as rookies. Just a dozen had 750 receiving yards in their first seasons and only 12 scored more than five touchdowns. Nine didn't start a single game as rookies and 18 of the 54 started fewer than three contests. Ten players, including Rashaun Woods (San Francisco) and Michael Jenkins (Atlanta) from last year's class, had 10 catches or less. Thirteen rung up fewer than 200 receiving yards and 12 failed to score a touchdown.

The stark averages for the first-round wide receivers from the last 15 draft classes: 7.5 starts, 34.0 catches, 474.4 yards and 3.1 touchdowns.

"Yeah, that pretty much sounds like the reality of it," said Detroit Lions coach Steve Mariucci, whose team chose wide receivers in the first rounds of each of the last two drafts, Charles Rogers in 2003 and Roy Williams last year. "But you've still got to have those guys to play the game the way it's played now. Plus, there are always going to be some factors that [diminish] the numbers. I mean, the two guys we took both played well as rookies until they were injured."

Still, at a skill position where logic might suggest immediate success, wide receivers haven't delivered at levels expected of them. Since 1990, there have been 23 running backs, for instance, who rushed for 1,000 yards as rookies, no matter the round in which they were selected. But in that same stretch, just five wide receivers, with Anquan Boldin of Arizona the lone player chosen outside of the first round, went for 1,000 yards.

Last season's rules changes might loosen things up and permit some young wideouts to achieve more as rookies. But at least one current standout, who struggled as a first-round pick in 2001 when he caught only 27 passes and did not score a touchdown, thinks the lot will remain a difficult one for young wide receivers, even those selected in the earliest stages of the lottery.

"It's culture shock,' said Indianapolis Colts standout Reggie Wayne. "You come in thinking, 'How tough can it be?' And halfway through your rookie season, it's still like, 'When is this going to get easier, man?' It takes a while to learn the ropes."

Maybe so. But if history is any indication, that won't stop teams from stringing together a bunch of high-round wide receiver picks in two weeks.

The buzz is that, despite opening negotiations on four fronts with players who they are considering for the top spot in the draft, Utah quarterback Alex Smith is the man with whom San Francisco officials and coaches are most enamored. That doesn't mean that Smith will be the top choice, at least not yet, and the 49ers will entertain in coming days California quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards and Miami cornerback Antrel Rolle. But if all the financial ramifications are removed from the equation -- which, of course, they are not -- Smith currently tops the wish list.

With the second overall choice, there are strong indications now that all the rhetoric about the Miami Dolphins choosing Auburn tailback Ronnie Brown is pretty much the stuff of smokescreens. It's no secret that Dolphins first-year coach Nick Saban would prefer to trade down from the No. 2 spot and amass additional choices. But if he is forced to exercise the choice at No. 2, a strong likelihood since it doesn't appear any team is desperate to provide the Dolphins a parachute, no one should be shocked if Miami takes a quarterback in that slot.

Timing is everything in football, just as in life, LSU cornerback Corey Webster acknowledged to ESPN.com this week. And so maybe, if he could turn back the clock, Webster would have bypassed his final season of college eligibility last spring and gone into the 2004 draft. Had he been in last year's lottery, Webster, who had a brilliant '03 season, one in which he snagged seven interceptions, probably would have been a first-round choice. But he stayed in school for his senior year, suffered a series of injuries (including a nagging hamstring strain), and had an uneven season that dropped him on some 2005 draft boards. "But you know what, I have no regrets, honestly," Webster said. "My mother is an educator and she desperately wanted me to get my degree. My dad kept talking about how he wanted one more year of games at Tiger Stadium. Yeah, I came real close to going [into the draft]. And there are a lot of people, even now, who keep telling me that I should have. But it was my decision to stay. And I'm glad, I did, honestly. And, no, I'm not looking back."

The good news is that Webster finished his bachelor's and now owns a degree in general studies. From a football standpoint, the news is good, too. Finally healthy again, Webster recently worked out for scouts and was clocked on most stopwatches in the mid-4.4s in the 40. His stock, on the decline, is rising again. There is at least an outside chance, particularly if there is an early run on cornerbacks in the first round, that Webster could sneak into the bottom part of the stanza. He is no worse now than a high second-round pick.

There were 33 cornerbacks at the combine and only nine of them were 6 feet or taller. Webster, at 6-feet-0 , was one of them. Plus, if his times are solid, he possesses the right combination of size and speed. "People seem to go back and forth at the [cornerback] position," Webster said. "Everybody wanted the bigger corner. Then, they changed the [illegal contact] rules and scouts were saying they had to get the pure 'cover' guys. Well, I fit both categories, so I think I'll be all right. I feel like I'm headed in the right direction again." Indeed, it will be tough for teams to ignore a corner who has started 29 games at a big-time program and been tutored by Nick Saban in every cover package imaginable

go bowe
04-10-2005, 11:27 PM
long, but interesting...

thanks for the post... :thumb:

Dave Lane
04-11-2005, 09:09 AM
long, but interesting...

thanks for the post... :thumb:



Makes me definately not want a WR in the 1st. Defense only this year!

Dave

jAZ
04-11-2005, 09:19 AM
Makes me definately not want a WR in the 1st. Defense only this year!

Dave
Makes me wanna draft Mark Clayton with our #15. With this team's luck CP will probably screw up and write "John Clayton" on the card.

HemiEd
04-11-2005, 09:25 AM
"It was always a premium position,' said one veteran AFC wide receivers coach. "And it's even more so now. But the [irony] is that, in most cases at wide receiver, you don't get the instant results. Guys don't just come into the league and make a quick impact."

Excuse me, call me wrong on what I have been saying. OK, you defensive homers can have the whole draft! :banghead: