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1st-round quandary: The case against taking a WR at #8

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The Cardinals need a top-flight wideout, and there should be a good one available at #8. But it would be a mistake to draft one there. Here’s why.

NFL Combine - Day 3
Kyler’s college teammate CeeDee Lamb looks the part of a #1 WR. But would it be a mistake to draft him at #8?
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Although the Cardinals will be making their selection a few picks later than they did last year, there is still a palpable air of excitement around the team’s upcoming top-10 pick. And given the usual mad rush for rookie QBs—in which the Cardinals took part in each of the past two drafts—there will likely be several elite prospects to choose from when they’re on the clock.

Among those options could very well be the top wide receivers available: Kyler Murray’s old Oklahoma teammate CeeDee Lamb and Alabama star Jerry Jeudy among them. WR is certainly a need (even with Larry Fitzgerald’s return), and there has been a growing sentiment on this very website and among Cardinals fans and observers at large that the team should take one of the pass catchers at #8—especially Lamb.

I think that would be a mistake. For a number of reasons. Let’s go through them, shall we?

We Have Other Needs

The biggest and most obvious reason why we shouldn’t take a WR at #8 is that we have other, more pressing, needs. Even though we re-signed D.J. Humphries to play LT, our O-line is still far from a finished product. If we think one of the top tackle prospects (Tristan Wirfs, Jedrick Wills, Mecki Becton) can lock down a spot for the next decade, we should take that guy. And the defense is full of holes. If one of the top defensive prospects somehow falls to us (Jeff Okudah, Isaiah Simmons, Derrick Brown), we’d be foolish to pass on them. Now, it’s likely that all three defenders will be gone by the time we pick. Even so, we should have our pick of tackles—and we have to make sure Kyler can stay upright before we worry about who he’s throwing to. A starting tackle or stud defender would both be better uses of the #8 pick than a wideout.

We Drafted 3 WRs Last Year

I know, I know—the previous year’s draft shouldn’t necessarily influence who you draft the next year. For example, drafting Josh Rosen in 2018 didn’t stop us from drafting Kyler last year. Steve Keim successfully avoided falling victim to the sunk cost fallacy in that case. And you could argue that avoiding drafting a WR this year after spending three picks (plus the ones we traded) on Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler, and KeeSean Johnson last year would be actually committing that fallacy. But even though none of those three players emerged as a steady contributor in their rookie year, there’s still potential there—especially with Isabella and Butler. Add in Fitz and 2018 2nd-rounder Christian Kirk, and the cupboard isn’t exactly bare—not bare enough to necessitate drafting a WR in the top 10, anyway.

This Is a Deep WR Class

That’s not to say that WR isn’t a need—it clearly is. Fitz is just a possession guy at this point, Kirk can’t seem to stay on the field, and our #3 WR last year was journeyman Damiere Byrd (32/359/1 TD). If we really want to see Kliff Kingsbury’s offense take off in Year 2, we need to upgrade the WR position. No question. And unless you think Keim can pull off a heist and bring Amari Cooper to the desert, the free agent options aren’t that appealing (not at all sold on Robby Anderson or Breshad Perriman as a #1 WR). That leaves the draft as the best way to upgrade. Fortunately, this year’s WR class is purported to be one of the deepest in a long time. If we don’t take one of the top options at #8, there should still be some tremendously talented players available when we pick in the 2nd round (perhaps a guy like Denzel Mims is this year’s DK Metcalf)? Or we could trade back into the first round to snag someone like ASU’s Brandon Aiyuk. (Go Devils!) There are enticing options outside of the top tier.

Recent Draft History Has Been Mixed

Granted that this isn’t at all scientific, but drafting a WR in the top 10 in recent years has produced mixed results at best. Let’s take a look:

Top-10 Drafted WRs (since 2010)

Year Player Pick Team
Year Player Pick Team
2017 Corey Davis #5 Titans
2017 Mike Williams #7 Chargers
2017 John Ross #9 Bengals
2015 Amari Cooper #4 Raiders
2015 Kevin White #7 Bears
2014 Sammy Watkins #4 Bills
2014 Mike Evans #7 Buccaneers
2013 Tavon Austin #8 Rams
2012 Justin Blackmon #5 Jaguars
2011 A.J. Green #4 Bengals
2011 Julio Jones #6 Falcons

Things aren’t looking great for the 2017 class—it’s too early to call any of them busts, but it certainly doesn’t seem like any of them are going to wind up making multiple Pro Bowls, which is the hope for a top-10 pick. The 2015 guys are interesting—Cooper didn’t live up to his draft hype until he was traded to the Cowboys and White is one of the biggest draft busts in recent history. The year before produced better results—Watkins has been serviceable on multiple teams and Evans is one of the best WRs in the league. Going further back, Austin was occasionally electric but turned out to be no more than a gadget player, while Blackmon is out of football due to off-the-field troubles. Finally, both 2011 players should be enshrined in Canton someday—the best possible result of a top-10 pick. The Redbirds would be hoping for a Green/Jones/Evans/Cooper type player—but odds are they’d wind up with a mediocre player like Watkins or the 2017 guys… or a bust like Blackmon, Austin, or White. Drafting at any position is a crapshoot, of course, but the gulf between the booms and the busts seems especially wide here.

Highly Drafted WRs Don’t Win Super Bowls

There’s something else interesting about that list—not one of those players has won a Super Bowl with the team that drafted them. (Yes, Watkins just won a ring with the Chiefs, but they were his third team.) Jones did make the one Super Bowl with the Falcons, but we all know how that one ended. In fact, if you go all the way back to Fitz’s rookie year (2004), there are only three WRs drafted in the top 10 to play in a Super Bowl for the team that drafted them—Fitz, Jones, and Michael Crabtree (#10 to the 49ers in 2009). None of them won it. To find a receiver drafted in the top 10 who actually won a Super Bowl for the team that drafted them, you have to go back to… Travis Taylor, who won a ring with the Ravens as a rookie in 2000. Wait, who? To find a player you’ve heard of and who was actually a contributor on the Super Bowl team, you have to go back… one year to Torry Holt in 1999 (also a rookie, incidentally).

What am I trying to say with all this history talk? I’m trying to say that teams who spend such a high draft pick on a wide receiver hoping to add a major piece of a championship-level offense are generally chasing fool’s gold. Not that teams like the Cardinals, Falcons, Bengals, and Lions (who drafted Calvin Johnson at #2 in 2007) regret their picks at all, but they sure don’t have any hardware to show for it. Now, you could argue that both the Cardinals and the Falcons were *thisclose* to winning a Super Bowl and that their highly drafted WRs were instrumental in their postseason runs—and you’d be right. And yet both players and teams are ringless. Drafting a WR that highly just doesn’t put a team over the top, generally speaking. (Whereas multiple highly drafted QBs, OLs, and DLs have won Super Bowls with the teams that drafted them over this same timeframe.) This obviously isn’t any kind of be-all, end all proclamation, but the precedent is interesting.

Final Thoughts

Although players like CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy are intriguing players at a position of need, I don’t think it makes sense for the Cardinals to spend a top-10 draft pick on either of them (or Henry Ruggs III or any other rookie WR). First and foremost, we have bigger holes on the roster—notably on the offensive line and in the front seven.

Aside from that, we still have three promising (to varying degrees) wideouts from last year’s draft class. And finally, recent draft history suggests plenty of risk taking a WR this high—not to mention that this draft strategy generally doesn’t lead to a championship-level offense. (Again, the latter two claims are highly unscientific.) Overall, we’d be better off taking a tackle or defender at #8 come April, don’t you think?