When it comes to drafting wide receivers high in the first round, pickin' ain't easy. For every seemingly can't-miss prospect like Calvin Johnson, there lurk major whiffs like Charles Rogers and Mike Williams -- and not just for Detroit. What's worse, there's always a more lightly regarded prospect lower in the draft (like the Texans' Kevin Walter, a seventh-rounder of the Giants in 2003) or on the street (like the Patriots' Wes Welker, who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Chargers the next year) who is destined to enjoy the kind of success that makes you wonder who's running your favorite team's war room.
This year, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon looks like a lock to be taken in the top 10, and Notre Dame's Michael Floyd could join him. While the jury's still out on the Bengals' AJ Green and the Falcons' Julio Jones, the last two top-10 receivers, both selected in 2011, there's no doubt that the arrow is pointed up for both. Their predecessors, however, were a different story -- one the following info makes plain:
A.J. Green (Georgia); Bengals; No. 4 overall: Targeting a receiver ahead of a franchise passer was a gamble for the Bengals, but it's already paying off. Not only did Green pace the team in catches (65), yards (1,057) and touchdowns (seven), but QB Andy Dalton (the 35th overall pick) turned in the kind of year (3,398 yards passing, 20 TDs, a playoff berth) that made fans forget about departed QB Carson Palmer.
Julio Jones (Alabama); Falcons; No. 6: Desperate for a downfield threat, the Falcons traded away four picks (including first rounders in '11 and '12) to grab Jones. He did his job -- his 13 catches of 25 or more yards vaulted Atlanta from dead last in big pass plays to midpack.
Darrius Heyward-Bey (Maryland); Raiders; No. 7: People called Al Davis crazy for picking the Terrapins' speed demon ahead of Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree (10th overall) and Mizzou's Jeremy Maclin (19th). What's crazier: Heyward-Bey's career 1,532 total yards barely approaches the outputs of Crabtree (2,246) and Maclin (2,837).
Michael Crabtree (Texas Tech); 49ers; No. 10: One of college football's most prolific receivers, Crabtree played his first two Niners seasons under as many coordinators and struggled. But he seems poised for a breakout under Greg Roman. In '11, their first year together, Crabtree achieved career bests in catches (72) and yards (874).
Calvin Johnson (Ga. Tech); Lions; No. 2: How much has Megatron transformed the league? Since 2008 he has tallied more yards (4,872) and big-play catches (46) than all but three receivers while scoring the most touchdowns (44). His controversial end zone drop against the Bears in the '10 season opener raised awareness of the NFL statute requiring receivers to maintain possession "through the entirety of his catching motion" -- better known by its catchier name: The Calvin Johnson Rule.
Ted Ginn Jr. (Ohio St.); Dolphins; No. 9: The Dolphins reached for the receiver-returner over Tennessee's Robert Meachem (27th overall) and South Carolina's Sidney Rice (44th overall), thinking they were getting the next Devin Hester. Ginn delivered in the return game with thousand-yard seasons in '07 and '09, but flopped as a receiver, peaking with 56 catches in '08. Two years later he was traded to the Niners for a fifth-rounder.
Braylon Edwards (Michigan); Browns; No. 3: Edwards' on-field headlines -- a Pro Bowl year with the Browns in '07, consecutive AFC title game appearances with the Jets in '09 and '10 -- paled in comparison to off-field ones for scraping with a LeBron James acquaintance and drunk driving after a '10 win over the Patriots. When the Niners cut him in December after just one season, in which he set career lows in catches (15) and yards (181), it was hardly breaking news.
Troy Williamson (South Carolina); Vikings; No. 7: After shipping Randy Moss to Oakland in exchange for LB Napoleon Harris and the seventh pick, the Vikings tapped this fleet-footed Gamecock as their new homerun hitter. One problem: his left eye was weaker than his right, and that hurt his coordination. The result: 87 catches for 1,131 yards and four TDs over five years with the Vikings and the Jaguars, who cut him loose in September of 2010.
Mike Williams (USC); Lions; No. 10: More noteworthy than Williams' yardage total in his first three seasons in Detroit and Oakland (539) was the number he posted on the scale after being picked up by Tennessee in '07 -- 271 pounds. A two-year hiatus from football followed, then a reunion with college coach Pete Carroll in Seattle produced a 65-catch, 751-yard season.
Larry Fitzgerald (Pittsburgh); Cardinals; No. 3: Here's one of 120 million reasons why the six-time Pro Bowler is the one of the league's highest-paid players: In '08 he tallied a career-high 1,431 yards while catching passes from a borderline Hall of Famer in Kurt Warner. Last year he nearly hit that mark again while catching passes from three Cardinals QBs.
Roy Williams (Texas); Lions; No. 7: Williams was greeted as a savior by three teams -- and disappointed them all. With Detroit, he had just one 1,000-yard season. With Dallas, he posted barely more yards in his two seasons (1,126) than his predecessor, Terrell Owens, did in his worst (1,052). Last year in Chicago, just one of Williams' 37 catches went for at least 25 yards.
Reggie Williams (Washington); Jaguars; No. 9: A 629-yard, 10-touchdown season in '07 offers a glimpse of what could have been had Williams been able to stay out of trouble. The low point came in April of 2009, when Williams was tasered for resisting arrest after Houston police found a bag of cocaine in his pocket.
Charles Rogers (Michigan St.); Lions; No. 2: The first of three straight first-round whiffs by the franchise, Rogers seduced GM Matt Millen with a 6-foot-2, 202-pound frame, vertical speed and tireless work ethic. A 22-catch, 243-yard rookie season was the climax. Two seasons later Rogers was finished. After three more, so was Millen.
Andre Johnson (Miami); Texans; No. 3: Like Fitzgerald, the four-time Pro Bowler is on a Hall of Fame track. Like Jerry Rice, Johnson has led the league in receiving in consecutive seasons (1,575 in '08 and 1,569 in '09). Like Marvin Harrison, he has led the league in receptions twice (with 103 in '06 and 115 in '08).
David Terrell (Michigan); Bears; No. 8: What's the quickest way to get a Bears fan to unleash his inner Urlacher? Simply tick off a few of the picks Chicago could've had instead of this 6-2, 208-pound, 4.38 40-running tease -- like Santana Moss (16th overall), Reggie Wayne (30th) or Drew Brees (32nd) -- and pretty soon that fan'll be looking to hit somebody. Like ex-GM Jerry Angelo.
Koren Robinson (NC State); Seahawks; No. 9: Robinson was serviceable -- in '02, he led the team in catches (73) and yards (1,240) -- but not spectacular, which really hurt coach-GM Mike Holmgren. Cutting Robinson in 2005 for repeated violating the NFL's substance abuse policy reduced Holmgren to tears.