Top Ten Value: Humility and the First Round Wide Receiver

The single best character trait an NFL general manager may possess is humility. What do I mean by this? The GM should recognize that his ability to assess talent is no better than anyone else's ability to assess talent. But if he's no better a talent evaluator than anyone else, how might this general manager set himself apart, you ask?

Well, he does so by recognizing that not all positions are created equal. Likewise, all things being equal, he recognizes that former first round talent is worth more than former 6th round talent. Taken even further, he knows that, when building a team from scratch, he should target depth at certain positions before even looking for replacement level talent at other positions.

And this leads us to Mr. Pace's first ever draft pick as an NFL GM. Pace came into his job with the privilege of drafting 7th overall in the 2015 draft. And he got off to a no good, very bad, horribly rotten start. He laid a pterodactyl-sized egg.

With the 7th overall pick, the Chicago Bears select...Kevin White, wide receiver, West Virginia.

Dear God no, I muttered to myself at the time. Let's forget about Kevin White's skill set. Let's forget that Kevin White only had 1 year of FBS success...success that came in a conference known for its lacking defense. Let's assume that maybe Kevin will be the best player to ever play the position. Maybe he'll be the worst. The humble general manager, after all, knows better than to assume he can predict a player's greatness. All he knows is what history has shown and what his current roster looks like.

Well, his current roster already shows an emerging WR1 in Alshon Jeffery. But we'll ignore this part of the equation for now. Today's talk is about what history has shown.

Quite simply, history shows that drafting a wide receiver is the worst decision you can make when drafting in the top 10.

Between 2001 and 2015, there were, quite obviously, 150 top ten NFL draft picks. How have these picks performed?

Below are the average weighted career approximate values taken from Pro Football Reference for each of the 8 positional groupings. This list includes 145 of the 150 top 10 picks between 2001 and 2015, with the total number of players in the grouping in parentheses (the list excludes the 2 offensive guards and 3 tight ends selected):


What do we see? Wide receiver is in dead last. Nevertheless, the discrepancy isn't so egregious, it seems.

But wait, there's more! Obviously the longer amount of time that has passed since a player was drafted, the more time he has to grow his weighted career approximate value. Well, the 22 wide receivers taken in the top ten were drafted an average of 8.2 seasons ago. As for the next worst group on the above list? The 14 linebackers taken in the top ten were drafted an average of 5.7 years ago.

So let's divide those earlier figures by the average length of time since these players were drafted, effectively averaging their career weighted approximated value per year since 2001.


As we can see, wide receivers return significantly less value than any position group. They are 21.4% less valuable than the top 10 tackle and 33.8% less valuable than the top 10 linebacker!

But what about if we compare like with like? How have wide receivers picked in the top 10 performed compared to other first round wide receivers?

First, the raw averages:

WR picked 1-10=32.0
WR picked 11-20=29.3
WR picked 21-30=32.1

Can you believe it!? Wide receivers picked at the end of the first round have had better careers than wide receivers picked at the beginning of the first round.

And if we used the figure averaged per year since drafted?

WR picked 1-10=3.90
WR picked 11-20=3.38
WR picked 21-30=4.31

By this more accurate metric, the outperformance of late round receivers becomes far more pronounced! All of a sudden the late first round wide receiver is worth more than a top ten defensive tackle!

How can this be, you say? Ahhh...these late round wide receivers were drafted by the good teams, since the winning teams naturally pick later in the draft. That's gotta be it.

Well, if this is the case, then we should see the same phenomenon at all the other positions as well, correct?

The truth is, this is anything but the case. If we look at weighted career approximate value across all positions, the average top ten pick is 78.2% more valuable than the average 21-30 pick!

So yeah, Ryan Pace really messed up his first ever draft pick. You never take a wide receiver in the top 10. Ever.

For goodness' sake, show some humility!

This Fanpost was written by a Windy City Gridiron member and does not necessarily reflect the ideas or opinions of its staff or community.