With costs for veteran WRs skyrocketing, NFL teams could stock up on deep draft class
As evidenced by contracts handed out during the offseason, the cost of doing business with NFL wide receivers is skyrocketing.
In March, the Las Vegas Raiders traded for Davante Adams, then gave the former Green Bay Packers star the biggest contract ever given to a wide receiver – $141.25 million over five years with 65 .67 million guaranteed.
This record deal lasted two days. The Kansas City Chiefs sold Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins, who signed him to a four-year, $120 million deal with $72.2 million guaranteed.
As for a team keeping its franchise wide receiver, it took the Buffalo Bills $70 million in guaranteed money to extend Stefon Diggs for four years, $96 million. And, in free agency, Christian Kirk set the bar high with a four-year, $72 million deal with Jacksonville, $37 million of which is guaranteed.
All of these contracts present a huge increase in locked-in finances for a wide receiver since the Pittsburgh Steelers made Antonio Brown the highest-paid player in his position five years ago with a four-year, $68 million deal. which included a $19 million signing. bonus – a pittance by today’s standards.
“The league tells you the second most valuable position is receiver — after quarterback,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “Before it was left tackle, edge rusher, then maybe four or five down the line, you get a wide receiver. This has changed and it has never been so obvious.
Even mildly talented wide receivers get eight-figure contracts. Dallas gave Michael Gallup $27 million guaranteed and $57 million over five years, and his resume featured a 1,000-yard season, no Pro Bowls and 193 career catches over four years.
Top receivers took notice, and that’s why Deebo Samuel, Terry McLaurin and AJ Brown considered holding rather than attending off-season practices. All are products of the 2019 draft – all being selected after the first round.
This last point is important. They are not subject to contract options that can tie first-round picks to NFL teams for a fifth season.
Given the financial explosion at this position, NFL teams have learned that one way to cut costs is, as the Chiefs and Packers have shown, to trade their stars rather than play big. wages. And then replenish the position with first-round draft picks and watch them develop while playing on their five-year rookie contracts.
“The beauty is you get great prices because they’re rookies and there’s a salary cap for rookies,” McShay said.
This runoff system coincides with an extremely talented 2022 wide receiver draft class. Up to seven receivers could be selected in the first round. That’s a slight increase from five selected in the first round of 2021 and six in 2020.
“I just think right now the success rate is pretty high in the first round, and you get an extra year of cost control with this fifth-year option,” said Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network draft analyst. “If you really like one of these guys, take it. …I think you’ll see them fly off the board.
Jeremiah said while this year’s crop of wide receivers is deep, none of the top pass catchers can match the ratings given to 2021’s first rounds JaMarr Chase, Jaylen Waddel and DeVonta Smith – a trio that made the top 10 best selections.
“I would probably take these guys over anyone in this band,” he said, “but I really like this band.”
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. added, “I think that’s by far the strongest position in the draft. You’re going to have decent receivers in later rounds.
The best receivers come from some of the best programs in college football. Ohio State has two in Garrett Wilson, who is considered the top prospect, and Chris Olave. USC’s Drake London, Alabama’s Jameson Williams, who underwent ACL surgery after the national championship game, are joined by Penn State’s Jahan Dotson and Arkansas’ Treylon Burks atop most boards repechage.
Again, given the cost control provided by the fifth-year option, more wide receivers could participate in the first round than any other position.
“Every year I feel like teams get these incredible values and people say, ‘Oh, yeah, round two and round three is the right time,'” Jeremiah said. “I say, they are first-round players that they get there. These are some of the highest rated players in the draft.
“I think what’s going to happen this year is there’s going to be a little correction there, and you’re going to see those receivers getting closer to where they’re placed and where they’re ranked. I don’t think teams are going to push them as much as they have in the past knowing they can just afford to wait. It’s too expensive to get one of these veterans.
The Steelers may be tempted to use the No. 20 overall pick on a wide receiver after losing JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud in free agency. If the Steelers don’t use a first-round pick on a receiver, they’ll likely target one in the second with the No. 52 pick.
Kiper recently led the Steelers to take Alabama wide receiver John Metchie, who tore his ACL in the SEC Championship Game, in the second round of a mock draft.
“He’s a great slots catcher,” Kiper said. “Explosive after the break.
Another option is Skyy Moore of West Michigan, who is from New Kensington and attended Shady Side Academy. Top 5 wide receivers
1. Garrett Wilson, Ohio State, JR, 6-0, 183
A two-year starter and three-year contributor for the Buckeyes, Wilson was a second-team All-American last year after catching 70 passes for 1,058 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also returned punts and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds at the NFL Combine.
2. Drake London, USC, JR, 6-4, 219
London started nine games as a rookie, then led the Trojans with 502 receiving yards on 33 catches in covid-shortened 2019. He missed the end of his junior season with a fractured right ankle but was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year after catching 88 passes for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns.
3. Jameson Williams, Alabama, JR, 6-1, 179
Williams transferred from Ohio State after the 2020 season. In his only year with the Crimson Tide, he finished fifth in FBS with 1,572 receiving yards while catching 79 passes. His 15 receiving touchdowns also tied for third, and he was named a first-team All-American.
4. Chris Olave, Ohio State, RS, 6-0, 187
Olave caught 12 touchdown passes and averaged 17.5 yards per catch as a sophomore. In 2021, his next full season, he became a second-team All-American after finishing tied for sixth in FBS with 13 touchdowns. He finished as Ohio State’s leader in touchdown receptions with 35. He also had 936 receiving yards in 12 starts as a senior.
5. Treylon Burks, Arkansas, JR, 6-2, 225
Burks stood out for three years for the Razorbacks, leading the team in receiving yards each season. He capped off his career by catching 66 passes for 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was named a first-team pick of all SEC conferences.
Best fit for the Steelers, Day 1
Chris Olave, Ohio State
As evidenced by his 35 touchdowns, he has a nose for the end zone. Olave would also give the Steelers a speedster they’ve been missing in recent years. He ran the 40 in 4.39 seconds at the NFL Combine.
Best fit for the Steelers, Day 2
Skyy Moore, West Michigan
Playing for the Steelers would represent a homecoming for the New Kensington native. He fills the role of a slot receiver at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds. He ran the 40 in 4.41 seconds. He caught 95 passes for 1,292 yards and 10 touchdowns in his junior season in 2021.
Best fit for the Steelers, Day 3
Kyle Phillips, UCLA
ESPN’s Mel Kiper called Phillips a clone of Hunter Renfro. He is 5-foot-11, 189 pounds and ran the 40 in 4.58 seconds. The redshirt junior led the Bruins to three straight seasons and was a punt returner for four years.