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The Earlier Broncos Draft a WR, the Better; Here's why

Based on the success rates of NFL teams drafting wideouts dating back nine years, what message should Broncos' GM John Elway heed?

Many of the top wide receiver prospects have been linked to the Denver Broncos. This begs the question as to when the time is right for the Broncos to draft a receiver.

I've previously discussed what the cost would be to trade up for a top receiver. But if no trade happens, then when should the Broncos take a receiver?

While Courtland Sutton has shown he can be an impact player, he needs the right receiver to complement him. The Broncos have some good depth players and DaeSean Hamilton looks like he can be a solid No. 3 guy. But the Broncos lack a receiver who can truly draw attention away from Sutton and second-year TE Noah Fant.

So when should the Broncos draft such a player? It's easy to think about the past, in which it seems like receivers regularly pop up throughout the draft, regardless of round.

But is that really the case? Let's examine some of the evidence to ascertain when the Broncos really need to focus on drafting a receiver if the team wants to maximize its odds of 'hitting' on the pick. 

I examined the drafts from 2011 to 2019, using 2011 as the starting point because that's when the rookie pay scale was first introduced. This means that finding impact players early is all the more important, because that allows you to get them on cheap contracts before it's time to pay them big money.

I utilized my expectations for each round a player is selected to determine what made for a hit and what didn't. To remind everyone, here's how I believe what's best to expect from players in each round.

Round 1: Long-term starter worthy of a second contract after his rookie deal expires. The higher the pick, the more he should be an impact player.

Round 2: Starter by year two, ideally will get a second contract but may not if another player proves more worthy of one.

Round 3: Significant contributor by year three, but likely won't get extended because there's only so much money available to extend top players.

Round 4: Quality depth player, could get a second contract as a depth player or short-term starter.

Rounds 5-7: Depth player at best, might be on the practice squad his first year if your roster is deep.

I then used certain designations to determine whether or not a player was truly a 'hit' for the pick with which he was taken.

Rounds 1-3: Those meeting or exceeding expectations get a Y for 'yes', while those who failed to meet expectations get an N for 'no.'

Rounds 4-7: Those exceeding expectations get a Y, those who didn't get an I for 'indifferent', but fourth-round picks failing to meet expectations get an N.

Reminder: Anyone who receives a 'Y' is considered to be a hit.

Keep in mind that there's nothing wrong with a player taken in the final four rounds becoming a depth player. However, if your intention is to find quality starters, a player becoming a depth guy doesn't replace that. This is about finding out when quality starters are more likely to be found in the draft at the wide receiver position.

With that in mind, let's examine by year, from 2011 to 2019, though we should remember that with players drafted in 2018 and 2019 — and in 2017 to some degree — the book isn't completely written.


Round 1: A.J. Green (Y), Julio Jones (Y), Jonathan Baldwin (N)

Round 2: Titus Young (N), Torrey Smith (Y), Greg Little (N), Randall Cobb (Y)

Round 3: Austin Pettis (N), Leonard Hankerson (Y), Vincent Brown (N), Jerrel Jernigan (N)

Round 4: Kris Durham (I), Clyde Gates (N), Greg Salas (I), Cecil Shorts (Y), Tandon Doss (N)

Round 5: Kealoha Pilares (I), Denarius Moore (I), Jeremy Kerley (Y)

Round 6: Niles Paul (I), Dwayne Harris (I), Aldrick Robinson (I), Ronald Johnson (I)

Round 7: Scotty McKnight (I), Stephen Burton (I), David Ausberry (I)

Hits per round: First - 2/3, second - 2/4, third - 1/4, fourth - 1/5, fifth -1/3, sixth - 0/4, seventh 0/3

You can see that two first-round receivers became impact players while the third was a bust. After that, you had two second-round picks and one third-round pick who proved worthy of the pick. 

On day three, just Shorts and Kerley exceeded expectations and neither one was an impact player. So in 2011, it was clear that you needed to take a receiver early to have a good chance at somebody who would help you a lot.


Round 1: Justin Blackmon (N), Michael Floyd (N), Kendall Wright (N), A.J. Jenkins (N)

Round 2: Brian Quick (N), Stephen Hill (N), Alshon Jeffery (Y), Ryan Broyles (N), Rueben Randle (N)

Round 3: DeVier Posey (N), T.J. Graham (N), Mohamed Sanu (Y), T.Y. Hilton (Y)

Round 4: Chris Givens (I), Travis Benjamin (Y), Joe Adams (N), Devon Wylie (N), Jarius Wright (I), Keshawn Martin (I), Nick Toon (N), Greg Childs (N)

Round 5: Danny Coale (I), Marvin Jones (Y), Juron Criner (I)

Round 6: B.J. Cunningham (I), Marvin McNutt (I), Tommy Streeter (I), LaVon Brazill (I)

Round 7: Rishard Matthews (Y), Toney Clemons (I), Jeremy Ebert (I), Junior Hemingway (I), Jordan White (I)

Hits per round: First - 0/4, second - 1/5, third - 2/4, fourth - 1/8, fifth - 1/3, sixth - 0/4, seventh - 1/5

It wasn't a good year for first-round receivers and just one in the second round proved worthy of the pick and has a case as an impact player (Jeffrey). There were several who turned into quality players taken in the third round or later, though I would only count Hilton as an impact player. 

While day-three rounds had a couple of good starters who exceeded expectations for the round, they certainly weren't impact players.


Round 1: Tavon Austin (N), DeAndre Hopkins (Y), Cordarrelle Patterson (N)

Round 2: Justin Hunter (N), Robert Woods (Y), Aaron Dobson (N)

Round 3: Terrance Williams (Y), Keenan Allen (Y), Marquise Goodwin (Y), Markus Wheaton (N), Stedman Bailey (N)

Round 4: Ace Sanders (N), Josh Boyce (N), Chris Harper (N), Quinton Patton (I)

Round 5: Denard Robinson (I), Kenny Stills (Y), Tavarres King (I)

Round 6: Corey Fuller (I), Ryan Swope (I), Justin Brown (I), Alan Bonner (I), Cobi Hamilton (I)

Round 7: Brice Butler (I), Charles Johnson (I), Kevin Dorsey (I), Marquess Wilson (I), Aaron Mellette (I)

Hits per round: First - 1/3, second - 1/3, third - 3/5, fourth - 0/4, fifth - 1/3, sixth -0/5, seventh 0/5

There were only two impact players found in the first three rounds: Hopkins and Allen, but there were a few who were worthy of the round in which they were selected. However, day three had just one player exceeding expectations in Stills and he's not a game-changer.


Round 1: Sammy Watkins (N), Mike Evans (Y), Odell Beckham Jr. (Y), Brandin Cooks (Y), Kelvin Benjamin (N)

Round 2: Marqise Lee (N), Jordan Matthews (N), Paul Richardson (N), Davante Adams (Y), Cody Latimer (N), Allen Robinson (Y), Jarvis Landry (Y)

Round 3: Josh Huff (N), Donte Moncrief (Y), John Brown (Y), Dri Archer (N),

Round 4: Jalen Saunders (N), Bruce Ellington (I), Shaquelle Evans (N), Martavis Bryant (I), Kevin Norwood (N)

Round 5: Ryan Grant (I), Devin Street (I), Jared Abbrederis (I)

Round 6: Robert Herron (I), T.J. Jones (I), Matt Hazel (I), Walt Powell (I), Quincy Enunwa (I)

Round 7: Michael Campanaro (I), Jeff Janis (I), James Wright (I), Tevin Reese (I), Jeremy Gallon (I)

Hits per round: First - 3/5, second - 3/7, third - 2/4, fourth - 0/5, fifth - 0/3, sixth - 0/5, seventh - 0/5

While there were a few early picks who didn't live up to the round in which they were selected, what's clear is that if you wanted to get a top contributor, you had to take him in the first two rounds. Guys like Moncrief and Brown may have met the expectations for a third-round pick, but they didn't become game-changers. 

This class is the strongest argument for taking a receiver early if you want an impact player, with Evans, Beckham Jr., Adams and Robinson definitely those, with cases for Cooks and Landry.


Round 1: Amari Cooper (Y), Kevin White (N), DeVante Parker (Y), Nelson Agholor (N), Breshad Perriman (N), Phillip Dorsett (N)

Round 2: Devin Smith (N), Dorial Green-Beckham (N)

Round 3: Tyler Lockett (Y), Jaelen Strong (N), Chris Conley (Y), Sammie Coates (N), Ty Montgomery (N)

Round 4: Jamison Crowder (Y), Justin Hardy (I), Vince Mayle (N), DeAndre Smelter (N)

Round 5: Stefon Diggs (Y), Tony Lippett (I), JJ Nelson (I), Kenny Bell (I), Keith Mumphery (I)

Round 6: Kaelin Clay (I), Geremy Davis (I), Evan Spencer (I), Bud Sasser (I), Darren Waller (I)

Round 7: Neal Sterling (I), Andre Debose (I), Da'Ron Brown (I), Dezmin Lewis (I), Mario Alford (I), Tre McBride (I)

Hits per round: First - 2/6, second - 0/2, third - 2/5, fourth - 1/4, fifth - 1/5, sixth - 0/5, seventh - 0/6

Here, you have a day-three pick who turned into an impact player in Diggs, but it's worth noting he played for a school that doesn't have a reputation for rolling out top prospects year in and year out. You can argue that Crowder exceeded expectations, but I wouldn't call him a game-changer. 

The first three rounds didn't have a lot of players who met expectations, but you had three impact players in Cooper, Parker, and Lockett. Still, Diggs wasn't enough by himself to make it clear that day three is when you can easily get an impact player.

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Round 1: Corey Coleman (N), Will Fuller (N), Josh Docston (N), Laquon Treadwell (N)

Round 2: Sterling Shepard (N), Michael Thomas (Y), Tyler Boyd (N)

Round 3: Braxton Miller (N), Leonte Carroo (N)

Round 4: Chris Moore (N), Malcolm Mitchell (N), Ricardo Louis (N), Pharoh Cooper (N), Demarcus Robinson (I)

Round 5: Tajae Sharpe (I), Jordan Payton (I), Trevor Davis (I), Tyreek Hill (Y), Rashard Higgins (I)

Round 6: Mortiz Boheringer (I), Jakeem Grant (I), Kolby Listenbee (I), Cody Core (I), Mike Thomas (I), Aaron Burbridge (I)

Round 7: Devin Lucien (I), Demarcus Ayers (I), Daniel Braverman (I), Devin Fuller (I), Charone Peak (I), Kenny Lawler (I)

Hits per round: First - 0/4, second - 1/3, third - 0/2, fourth - 0/5, fifth - 1/5, sixth - 0/6, seventh - 0/6

Here's a year in which first-round picks flamed out, while there's a fifth-rounder named Hill who made an impact. However, Hill had off-field issues thanks to his domestic violence conviction — were it not for that, it wouldn't surprise me if he had gone off the board by the second round. 

And that's where one impact player was found: Thomas. But even with Hill's slide, the odds didn't favor finding a top contributor on day three.

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Round 1: Corey Davis (N), Mike Williams (Y), John Ross (N)

Round 2: Zay Jones (Y), Curtis Samuel (Y), JuJu Smith-Schuster (Y)

Round 3: Cooper Kupp (Y), Taywan Taylor (N), ArDarius Stewart (N), Carlos Henderson (N), Chris Godwin (Y), Kenny Golladay (Y), Chad Williams (N), Amar Darboh (N)

Round 4: Dede Westbrook (I), Josh Reynolds (I), Mack Hollins (N), Josh Malone (N), Ryan Switzer (I), Jehu Chesson (N), Chad Hansen (N)

Round 5: Shelton Gibson (I), Rodney Adams (I), Isaiah McKenzie (I), DeAngelo Yancey (I), Trent Taylor (I)

Round 6: Robert Davis (I)

Round 7: Stacy Coley (I), David Moore (I), Isaiah Ford (I), Noah Brown (I), Malachi Dupre (I)

Hits per round: First - 1/3, second - 3/3, third - 3/8, fourth - 0/7, fifth - 0/5, sixth - 0/1, seventh - 0/5

For some players, the jury is still out, but a few are trending in certain directions. Among those marked Y you can argue a couple are impact players, while the rest are good starters but not game-changers. 

On day three, there are no impact players to be found. Regardless of what you think about the players taken in the first three rounds, it's clear this was not the year to expect a game-changer on day three.


Round 1: D.J. Moore (N), Calvin Ridley (Y)

Round 2: Courtland Sutton (Y), Dante Pettis (N), Christian Kirk (Y), Anthony Miller (Y), James Washington (N), DJ Chark (Y)

Round 3: Michael Gallup (Y), Tre'Quan Smith (Y)

Round 4: Keke Coutee (I), Antonio Callaway (I), DaeSean Hamilton (I), Jaleel Scott (N), J'Mon Moore (N)

Round 5: Justin Watson (I), Daurice Fountain (I), Jordan Lasley (I), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (I)

Round 6: Damion Ratley (I), Deon Cain (I), Ray-Ray McCloud (I), Dylan Cantrell (I), Russell Gage (I), Tremon Smith (I), Equanimeous St. Brown (I), Cedrick Wilson (I), Braxton Berrios (I)

Round 7: Javon Wims (I), Marcell Ateman (I), Richie James (I), Auden Tate (I)

Hits per round: First - 1/2, second - 4/6, third - 2/2, fourth - 0/5, fifth - 0/5, sixth - 0/9, seventh - 0/4

Once again, the jury is still out with these players, but we can see some trends. But the players trending toward 'impact player' were taken in the first two rounds: Ridley in the first and Sutton in the second. 

The bigger point is that nobody taken on day three looks like an impact player. There appear to be some good depth players, but that's about it.


Round 1: Marquise Brown (N), N'Keal Harry (N)

Round 2: Deebo Samuel (Y), A.J. Brown (Y), Mecole Hardman (Y), JJ Arcega-Whiteside (N), Parris Campbell (N), Andy Isabella (N), D.K. Metcalf (Y)

Round 3: Diontae Johnson (Y), Jalen Hurd (N), Terry McLaurin (Y), Miles Boykin (N)

Round 4: Hakeem Butler (N), Gary Jennings (N), Riley Ridley (I), Hunter Renfrow (I)

Round 5: Darius Slayton (Y)

Round 6: Travis Fulgham (I), Juwann Winfree (I), Marcus Green (I), Kelvin Harmon (I), Scott Miller (I)

Round 7: John Ursua (I), Terry Godwin (I), Dillon Mitchell (I), Olabisi Johnson (I)

Hits per round: First - 0/2, second - 4/7, third - 2/4, fourth - 0/4, fifth - 1/1, sixth - 0/5, seventh - 0/4

Again, it's early for these guys, but there are several second-round players trending in the right direction and at least one who could be considered an impact player as a rookie. And given that these players have just one season under their belts, there could be some who break out in 2020. 

On day three, perhaps Slayton turns into an impact player, but nobody else is trending toward that. Maybe somebody surprises, but I don't see the evidence at this point.

Total Hits Per Round Since 2011

If we only look at players who met the criteria to be a 'hit' for the round in which they were selected, it looks like this.

Round 1: 10/30 (30 percent)

Round 2: 19/40 (47.5 percent)

Round 3: 17/36 (47.2 percent)

Round 4: 3/47 (6.3 percent)

Round 5: 6/33 (18.2 percent)

Round 6: 0/44 (0 percent)

Round 7: 1/43 (2.3 percent)

We see that the odds favor the second and third rounds in terms of finding a quality player, in terms of what the expectations are for that round.

But what happens when we adjust it for those who have arguments that they are impact players? The odds change.

Round 1: 10/30 (30 percent)

Round 2: 8/40 (20 percent)

Round 3: 6/38 (15.7 percent)

Round 4: 0/47 (0 percent)

Round 5: 2/33 (6.1 percent)

Round 6: 0/44 (0 percent)

Round 7: 0/43 (0 percent)

The odds actually favor finding an impact player in the first round, though you still have a shot in the second round and a decent chance in the third. And that's if you count all of the following as impact players: A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Alshon Jeffery, T.Y. Hilton, DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, Amari Cooper, DeVante Parker, Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, Michael Thomas, Tyreek Hill, Mike Williams, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cooper Kupp, Chris Godwin, Kenny Golladay, Calvin Ridley, Courtland Sutton, and A.J. Brown.

You can make cases that certain players shouldn't be in the impact player category or that certain players should be included. But for those you take on day three, the only other player I could accept the argument as an impact player for is Darius Slayton. Otherwise, you have good players but not game-changers. 

And for others, you might say are trending as an impact player (say, D.K. Metcalf), it's a player that was taken in the earlier rounds, and most likely the first or second round.

What it Means

The facts are clear that if you want an impact player at wide receiver, you simply can't wait until day three to get one. Hill, Diggs and Slayton are the exceptions, not the rule. Therefore, the debate comes down to whether or the Broncos should take a receiver in the first round or wait until day two.

If people really believe that the Broncos have to get an impact player to give them a chance to compete for the AFC West, and to get to the Super Bowl, the first round is where the focus needs to be. However, if people believe it's best to get a good starter who can complement Sutton, the Broncos have to get a receiver no later than the second round.

Can't Count on Depth of Class

The Broncos simply can't afford to roll the dice and hope a top guy falls to day three. It's fun to think about those draft-day steals the Broncos have made in years past, but they can't count on that happening all the time. Better to look early for a receiver who can provide immediate help than rolling the dice that the Broncos will find the next Diggs or Hill.

If you want an impact guy, you'll want the Broncos to be aggressive in the first round. If you are fine with a good starter to pair with Sutton, then trading down in the first is an option, but the more likely scenario is the Broncos trading up in round two.

But regardless of which approach you take, the evidence strongly points to going early in the draft to if you want to land a receiver that can truly make an impact. Despite the Broncos' history with late-round finds, the team can't keep falling back on that option because the odds don't favor it. 

The Broncos need to go get their guy at the earliest possible opportunity, if indeed, that is what GM John Elway wants to do. 

Follow Bob on Twitter @BobMorrisSports and @MileHighHuddle