Exploring the Change in Value of the Wide Receiver Position

05/25/2022

The NFL is a copycat league, and the latest trend is how expendable teams are looking at the Wide receiver position. In today's pass-heavy league, it seems Coaches and GMs have determined that the quarterback makes the wide receiver, not the other way around.

Within a month, we saw five elite wide receivers get traded, something we had never before seen in NFL history. Amari Cooper was a pro bowler in 2019. Devante Adams doubled as the league's second-leading receiver and Aaron Rodger's favorite target. Tyreek Hill is arguably the greatest deep threat the NFL has ever had. AJ Brown was a 2020 Pro bowler. And Marquise Brown is a 24-year-old talent who topped 1,000 yards this season and had improved his receiving output by 150+ yards in each of his last two seasons.

Yet, all of these guys got traded, and in the subsequent draft, three of those five teams drafted a replacement wide receiver in the first two rounds, with the Cowboys drafting one in the third round. All evidence of the shifting dynamic in the NFL to view the Wide Receiver position as they've viewed the running back position for a few years now. Why pay heavily for one when you could just replace him with a rookie on a cheap deal?

It was always going to be the indirect result of a pass-heavy shift in the league. The immediate assumption would have been that more passing meant top-class wide receivers would be more valued, but instead, what's happened is that teams have determined that a good quarterback will elevate the play of a young wide receiver. In the past, with limited passing, it paid to have that elite wide receiver who could make the most of every opportunity. But now, with a lot more passing, the margin for error is larger, and you can afford to get younger, less-experienced talent.

And that theory is proving to be accurate so far. The right call is to not overpay for a position where you could get a rookie to have the same impact.

The NFL's leading receiver over the last two years is Justin Jefferson, who has played a grand total of two NFL seasons. Last year, we saw Ja'Marr Chase, a rookie, finish fourth in receiving yards and play the role of number one receiver for a team that made it to the Superbowl.

There's a reason we saw six wide receivers drafted in the first round of this year's draft, followed by another seven in the second round, tying a previous NFL record of 13 in the first two rounds. That record they tied must have been established a long time ago. Nope, it was the 2020 draft.


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