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NFL Draft: Day 2 becoming the sweet spot for wide receivers

Will the Rams go receiver on day two again?

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Since 2018, a total of three classes, 97 wide receivers have been picked in the NFL Draft. That seems like a lot but 24 of those players went 200th or later and prospects picked after the fifth round rarely turn into NFL contributors. A team drafting a receiver in rounds six or seven might only be looking for special teams contributors, run game blockers, and projectable shots in the dark.

If a team wants to draft a starting receiver who might prove capable of making life difficult for opposing corners, safeties, and defensive coordinators, then they most likely will need to spend a first or second round pick. Even during the previous three years and continuing in 2021, when the receiver classes appear to only be getting deeper and more talented, it seems as though you can’t wait until the middle of round three.

Terry McLaurin, Diontae Johnson, and Michael Gallup were recent third round picks, but Gallup went the lowest of those three at 81st overall. That appears to be roughly the end of the range that has been successful for NFL teams choosing receivers recently: Picks 20-80.

Last year, five receivers went in the top 22 picks, which is five more than 2018 and 2019 combined: Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Jalen Reagor, and Justin Jefferson.

It’s too early to say that any of those players are bad. It’s not too early to say that Jefferson has been elite. But not even Jefferson can mask the fact that drafting a receiver first doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting the best receiver prospect. And of course, Jefferson is also a prime example of exactly just that given that he went after four other receivers last year.

Similarly, Brandon Aiyuk went 25th and posted four contests with 90+ yards despite only appearing in 12 games; Tee Higgins went 33rd and finished with 908 yards and six touchdowns; Michael Pittman went 34th and improved as the year went on, gaining 101 total yards in Indy’s playoff loss; Laviska Shenault went 42nd and made due with what Jacksonville had to offer at quarterback, which will be massively upgraded soon; Chase Claypool went 49th and scored 11 touchdowns, including playoffs.

Now go back to 2019, when Marquise Brown was the first receiver off the board at 25th, same as Aiyuk when he was the sixth receiver taken: Deebo Samuel was 36th, A.J. Brown was 51st, DK Metcalf was 64th, Diontae Johnson was 66th, McLaurin was 76th.

And in 2018, when D.J. Moore was the first receiver off the board at 24th: Calvin Ridley was 26th, Courtland Sutton was 40th, D.J. Chark was 61st, Gallup was 81st.

What does this have to do with the Rams and the present day?

The 2021 wide receiver class might be more hyped than any of the previous three. Not only does it include the early-first round prospects like 2020, but you can probably also find something nice to say about 20 or 25 other receivers expected to be selected later this month. That is somewhat due to the confusion people are experiencing right now given the absence of an NFL Scouting Combine and the unbelievable numbers being posted at pro days, as well as the lack of the usual game footage from some of these prospects that you’d normally have.

None more telling perhaps than the fact that LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, the receiver most likely to go higher than any receiver has gone since Corey Davis went fifth, Mike Williams went seventh, and John Ross went ninth in 2017 (obligatory emphasis on those three names in relation to the theme of this article), opted out of the season and hasn’t played in a game since the national championship in January of 2020.

But also, Chase had nine catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns in that game against Clemson, so maybe he’s exactly the type of player who goes that high.

After Chase (though some people argue, above chase) is Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith, two potential top-15 selections. However, is it possible that teams in the top 15 will shuck receivers altogether knowing that the 20-80 range has provided the world names like Jefferson, Ridley, Metcalf, Moore, McLaurin, and Brown in recent years, plus DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Keenan Allen, Tyler Lockett, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp in years before that? Which doesn’t even include post-80 picks like 2020 receiving leader Stefon Diggs and arguably the best weapon in the NFL in former fifth rounder Tyreek Hill.

It’s a reality that could cause teams to hesitate before picking Chase, Smith, and Waddle early when they know that there are likely going to be superstars picked on day two. I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to say that the NFL’s superstar receivers have more often than not been drafted in this range and few would say that Ruggs, Jeudy, Lamb, or Reagor have shown that they have that something “special” that no other receivers have.

2021’s depth at receiver includes:

  • Florida’s Kadarius Toney
  • Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman
  • Ole Miss’s Elijah Moore
  • Louisville’s Tutu Atwell
  • Tennessee’s Josh Palmer
  • LSU’s Terrace Marshall and Racey McMath
  • UNC’s Dyami Brown
  • Western Michigan’s D’Wayne Eskridge
  • Stanford’s Simi Fehoko
  • Purdue’s Rondale Moore
  • Houston’s Marquez Stevenson
  • Florida State’s Tamorrion Terry
  • UCLA’s Demetric Felton
  • Wake Forest’s Sage Surratt
  • Iowa’s Ihmir Smith-Marsette
  • Clemson’s Amari Rodgers
  • USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown
  • Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace
  • Michigan’s Nico Collins
  • South Dakota State’s Cade Johnson
  • North Texas’s Jaelon Darden
  • ETC

The Rams choose 57th, the same spot in which they selected Van Jefferson in 2020. That late second round pick hasn’t borne fruit and the team signed DeSean Jackson for more money than anyone expected this year to act as WR3, not exactly endorsing Jefferson as a significant piece of the present. The Rams then pick twice on day three, the highest of which is 88th overall. Picking a receiver could result in getting a player who doesn’t help the team this year or potentially ever, but bypassing a receiver on day two, as we’ve seen, can also mean missing out on a perennial threat for Matthew Stafford.

Don’t be too surprised if the receiver picks begin after the top 10 and bunch up around the corner between the first and second round. Some enticing ones will be available whenever Les Snead makes his initial choice this year.

Which day two receiver do you find most intriguing?