With a little more than two weeks until the 2011 NFL Draft, mock drafts are readily available on these here interwebs. At TheOBR.com and FoxSportsOhio.com, the Mock Draft Muncher lists the most popular picks for each team from the various mock drafts.
According to The Muncher, most mock drafts trend toward the Cleveland Browns selecting Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green with the No. 6 overall pick. Green's career stats are impressive (166 catches for 2,619 yards and 23 touchdowns) and so, too, are his catches.
Yet, I can't shake this gun-shy feeling I have taking a wide out at No. 6.
First, I'm still a little chapped from the last time the Browns selected a wide out in the top 10. In 2005, Michigan's Braylon Edwards was taken with the third overall pick. Edwards had some decent seasons in Cleveland, but his drops and his on-field attitude caused too much frustration. He never lived up to his draft day expectations, and on Oct. 8, 2009, the relationship thankfully ended.
Second, there was the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft. The Browns selected two wide receivers among the top 50 picks. Neither Brian Robiskie nor Mohamed Massaquoi has become weapons in the Browns' passing game.
Finally, there is no doubt a big reason Green Bay and Pittsburgh reached the Super Bowl last season was because of its playmaking wide receivers. Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Jordy Nelson led the Packers wide receiving corps while Pittsburgh featured Mike Wallace, Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El. None of those seven wide receivers were selected in the first round.
If other NFL teams can be successful without drafting highly touted wide outs, do the Browns need to go down that route again?
I was fully prepared to debunk the majority of the current mock drafts that have the Browns selecting Green. Yes, Green possesses immense talent and potential, but I couldn't help feel that pick could be better served on another position. Somewhere, the next Jennings or Wallace is ready to be selected in a latter round.
Well, a little basic research can go a long way.
First, I found an ESPN.com article from 2008. Columnist Mike Sando listed his top 10 wide receivers of all-time.
1. Jerry Rice, 49ers/Raiders/Seahawks, 1985-2004
2. Randy Moss, Vikings/Raiders/Patriots/Titans, 1998-present
3. Don Hutson, Packers, 1935-45
4. Michael Irvin, Cowboys, 1988-99
5. Paul Warfield, Browns/Dolphins, 1964-77
6. Charley Taylor, Redskins, 1964-77
7. Steve Largent, Seahawks, 1976-89
8. Cris Carter, Eagles/Vikings/Dolphins, 1987-2002
9. Terrell Owens, 49ers/Eagles/Cowboys/Bills/Bengals, 1996-present
10. Marvin Harrison, Colts, 1996-2008
I cross-referenced that list with the NFL Network's Top 100 Players of All-Time list. Six of the 100 players were wide receivers, with Rice at No. 1. The only player in NFL Network's list not mentioned by Sando two years earlier was Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch, who played for the Cleveland and Los Angeles Rams from 1945-57.
Here's what I found:
•Seven of those 10 were drafted in the first round
•Five of the seven were selected between Nos. 3-11 overall
•Only two were not picked in the college draft
•Hutson was the only undrafted wide out
•Carter was taken in the 1987 supplemental draft
•Largent was selected the farthest from round one, going No. 117 overall in the fourth round of the 1976 draft.
In no way am I saying it is a lock Green will join those all-time greats. But, more than likely, a franchise-changing wide receiver will be selected in the first round.
The NFL has changed since a majority of those 10 players suited up. In 2010, of the league's top 10 players in receiving yards, seven were drafted in the first round:
Falcons' Roddy White (Drafted No. 27 overall in 2005; 115 catches for 1,398 yards)
Colts' Reggie Wayne (No. 30 in 2001; 111-1,355)
Texans' Andre Johnson (No. 3 in 2003; 86-1,216)
Chiefs' Dwayne Bowe (No. 23 in 2007; 72-1,162)
Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald (No. 3 in 2004; 90-1,137)
Lions' Calvin Johnson (No. 2 in 2007; 77-1,120)
Redskins' Santana Moss (No. 16 in 2001; 93-1,115)
The three who were not selected in the first round were the league-leader from Denver in Brandon Lloyd, (fourth round; 77-1,448), Jennings (second round in 2006; 76-1,265) and Wallace (third round in 2009; 60-1,257).
If you remember, five of the seven all-time greats were drafted No. 11 or better. How has that gone in recent seasons?
Last season, no wide receiver was selected among the first 11 picks.
In 2008, no wide receiver was selected among the first 11 picks.
In 2007, Detroit took Calvin Johnson second and Miami selected Ted Ginn, Jr. at No. 9.
In 2006, no wide receiver was selected among the first 11 picks.
Johnson and, yes, Edwards, were the only two to go on to become Pro Bowl selections, although Crabtree is coming on after holding out the first five games of his rookie season.
Meanwhile, busts in the last dozen years include Charles Rogers (first round, No. 2 overall to Detroit) in 2003, Peter Warrick (first round, fourth pick overall to Cincinnati) in 2000, David Terrell (first round, eighth pick overall to Chicago) and Koren Robinson (first round, ninth overall pick to Seattle) in 2001 while Heyward-Bey, Ginn, Jr., Williamson and Williams appear poised to join that list.
We can play with these numbers all we want, but it tells us that, more than likely, a franchise-changing wide receiver will be selected in the first round. Is Green that guy? The first step toward finding out would be to draft him sixth overall on Thursday, April 28.