Let's face the facts, NFL fans. The NFL has become a quarterback league. No longer are the days of defense and hard hits what wins the crowd over, especially with the new rules regarding sacking the quarterback and pass interference calls. Surely, some teams like to utilize their tight ends tremendously in the passing game. Look at teams like the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs, who were the two AFC teams represented in the AFC championship. They rely heavily on the contributions of Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce, respectively. But for most of the other teams competing in the NFL for the Lombardi trophy, their quarterbacks rely heavily on their wide receivers in the passing game.
Wide receivers can make a big difference in game, especially if the opposing team's pass defense is among the worst in the league. Of course, not every team can have an Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, or Odell Beckham Jr. on their roster. Nevertheless, having wide receivers are very important. Some teams have cashed in big-time on their drafting of certain wide receivers. Others have not been as fortunate. So, which teams made the big mistakes when drafting wide receivers that they thought could significantly help their respective franchise? Why not dig a little deeper and look into it in detail, shall we? Let's look at 12 NFL wide receiver flops since 1990 and the 12 receivers that should have been taken in their spot instead.
One wide receiver that was taken in the 1994 NFL draft was Charles Johnson. Johnson was a part of the University of Colorado football teams that flourished under head coach Bill McCartney. He went on to the NFL and was drafted 17th overall in the 1994 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He then went on to play for the Eagles, Patriots, and Bills before ending his pro football career after the 2002 season. He won a Super Bowl with the Patriots in 2001 but didn't do much else besides that. He had 354 career receptions with 24 of them being for touchdowns. Johnson was just not very good.
In the second round of that 1994 NFL draft, the Rams drafted a wide receiver out of Memphis named Isaac Bruce. Bruce was an integral part of the "Greatest Show on Turf" when the Rams had one of the best offenses in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Bruce kept his end of the bargain as he was a four-time Pro-Bowl wide receiver, a Super Bowl champion, a Second-Team All-Pro receiver (1999) and was the NFL receiving yards leader in 1996. Bruce had quite the career for the Rams and could have done that for the Steelers, had the Steelers chosen him all along.
In the 1996 NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams took a chance on wide receiver Eddie Kennison, out of LSU. He was supposed to be another offensive piece to help out with the dynamic offense that the Rams had at that point. Kennison, however, did not put up the numbers that people were expecting him to produce, once his career ended. Kennison finished with 548 receptions, 42 of those coming in the form of touchdowns. But this was also done over a time frame of 10 years in the league. For playing on five different teams and being a first-round pick, Kennison was somewhat of a disappointment, considering who was passed on.
The Indianapolis Colts were extremely relieved that the Rams took Kennison so they could take Marvin Harrison. Harrison had quite the career, being the wide receiver that Peyton Manning felt extremely comfortable with for so many years. Harrison certainly earned his spot in Canton, Ohio as he was a Super Bowl champion, an eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, three-time First Team All-Pro, and a part of the NFL 2000s All-Decade team. Those are only a few of his many achievements during his NFL days. Harrison could have helped the Rams easily win another Super Bowl or two.
In the 2001 NFL draft, the Washington Redskins had the No. 15 overall pick. They decided to go with a wide receiver out of Clemson University named Rod Gardner. Gardner played six years in the NFL with four different teams. He had 242 career receptions in the NFL for 3,165 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns. The Redskins were expecting a high quality talent when they drafted Gardner. But in the end, he didn't quite pan out the way that people were hoping. There is another wide receiver that was taken later who ironically, ended up playing with the Redskins for the majority of his NFL career.
One pick later, the New York Jets had the chance to take a wide receiver out of the University of Miami. Santana Moss was taken directly after Gardner and seemed to put up a little bit better numbers. Between the Jets and the Redskins, Moss had 732 total receptions for over 10,000 receiving yards and 66 touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl in 2005 and also was a Second Team All-Pro that same season. Keep in mind, this came from a receiver that was a walk-on at the University of Miami. Santana Moss could have been a Washington Redskin for life.
The Detroit Lions went on a run of taking a wide receiver with their first round pick in three out of six drafts. In fact, they took a wide receiver in the top-10 in all three of those drafts. Clearly the Lions kept whiffing on their picks, which was why they found themselves picking so high every year. Starting off this trend, they took Charles Rogers second overall in 2003. Rogers not only didn't produce for them (36 catches for 440 yards in three seasons) but he had off-field issues as well, which essentially drove him out of the NFL.
What makes the selection of Charles Rogers even more painful for Lions fans is the fact that the best receiver (and arguably the best player) of the 2003 draft was taken one pick later, as Andre Johnson went third overall to the Houston Texans. Johnson was often stuck on mediocre Houston teams, but kept producing year after year. He wound up finishing his career with 1,062 catches, 14,185 yards and 70 touchdowns. Had the Lions taken Johnson in 2003, they likely wouldn't have made their next receiving blunder, which we'll get to now...
After it was clear Charles Rogers wasn't panning out and the Lions were still starving for a top receiver, the team took a chance on Mike Williams out of USC, who had sat out his final college season. Mel Kiper was quite high on him, as he infamously said "I'll see you at his induction in Canton". Williams wasn't quite as bad as Rogers was, but he didn't pan out in Detroit either. His most successful season would come in 2010, with the Seattle Seahawks. The Lions wound up trading Williams after just two seasons to the Oakland Raiders.
The 2005 draft wasn't exactly stacked with elite level receiving talent, but one player who could've been a difference maker for Detroit was Roddy White. White came along at a time where the Atlanta Falcons were shaken as a franchise, as White's early years included the Michael Vick fiasco and the team seeing head coach Bobby Petrino quit on them mid-season. White persevered and ended up playing a huge role in Matt Ryan's development, finishing his career with over 10,000 receiving yards, playing in Atlanta for 11 seasons.
With the 26th pick in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft, the Kansas City Chiefs selected a wide receiver out of Pittsburgh named Jonathan Baldwin. Baldwin was expected to have a meaningful impact for the Chiefs offense, but he was not around for very long. In his very brief, four year NFL career, he had 44 receptions for 607 yards and two receiving touchdowns. The Chiefs have this dynamic offense now, but were struggling to find playmakers back in 2011. His career only lasted until the 2014 season, ending it with the Detroit Lions practice squad.
The Green Bay Packers lucked out big time in the 2011 NFL draft in the second round. They ended up taking a wide receiver out of Kentucky named Randall Cobb. Aaron Rodgers used to have Jordy Nelson to throw to, but now Nelson is off in Oakland. Cobb has made quite the name for himself with the Green Bay Packers. He had 470 career receptions for over 5,500 receiving yards and 44 total touchdowns. Cobb has been quite the receiver for the Packers to rely on. Imagine the Chiefs offense if they had taken Cobb instead of Baldwin, and he was teaming with guys like Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.
The Jacksonville Jaguars had the fifth overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft. They decided to take their chances on a highly talented wide receiver out of Oklahoma State named Justin Blackmon. Blackmon had so much talent that he was seen as the ultimate game changer. He played in the 2012 season and showed glimpses of being very good. Unfortunately, he had myriad off-field problems and has not been reinstated into the NFL. He is still on the Jaguars roster but it's very unlikely he'll even see the field again, much less make a significant impact.
In the second round of that same draft, the Chicago Bears were able to get Alshon Jeffery 45th overall, out of the University of South Carolina. Jeffery had some big numbers in college, being named to the First and Second TeamAll-SECC in two consecutive seasons. The Bears ended up getting a steal in Jeffery as he ended up being a Pro Bowl wide receiver in 2013. He is now with the Philadelphia Eagles and has a Super Bowl ring under his belt. Meanwhile, all these years later, the Jaguars still don't have a no.1 receiver and certainly could use a player with Jeffery's skillset.
The St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams took a chance with the eighth overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. They decided to go with a wide receiver out of West Virginia named Tavon Austin. Austin was supposed to be this speedy receiver that could take the top off the defense and create separation down field.
In six seasons combined with the Rams and now the Dallas Cowboys, Austin has 202 receptions, along with 190 rushing attempts as well. Austin has certainly been a guy that has the ability to be a dual-threat receiver both in catching and with the occasional run. However, the Rams missed big time on one of the game's best receivers.
The Rams have a pretty powerful offense as they went on to their first Super Bowl since 2001. They could have been even better if they had selected DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins was taken 27th overall by the Houston Texans out of Clemson. Hopkins certainly has made a name for himself so far in his brief NFL career. He is athree-timee Pro Bowl wide receiver and was also a two-time First Team All-Pro member as well as the receiving touchdowns leader in 2017. Hopkins still has a long career ahead of him, but what an addition he would have been for the L.A. Rams.
In the 2001 NFL draft, the Chicago Bears had the eighth overall selection. They decided to go with a wide receiver out of the University of Michigan named David Terrell. Terrell ended up in the NFL for seven seasons, with three of those being on the practice squad for certain teams. When he actually played, he was mediocre at best. He had 128 receptions for 1,602 yards along with nine touchdown receptions. Terrell wasn't the worst, but definitely didn't live up to a first round pick's expectations. The thing that stings is that the Chicago Bears could have had a future Hall of Fame-caliber wide receiver instead.
Peyton Manning did have Marvin Harrison to throw to all of those great years in Indianapolis. But, let's not forget about Reggie Wayne. Wayne has certainly made his case for Canton, Ohio as well. Reggie Wayne was taken in the 2001 NFL draft with the 30th overall pick in the first round by the Colts. His long career with the Colts ended with a Super Bowl championship, six Pro Bowls, a First Team All-Pro bid in 2010, and two Second Team All-Pro nods (2007 and 2009). Wayne finished with over 1,000 receptions, 14,000 receiving yards, and 82 touchdowns. The Bears would have loved to have Reggie Wayne.
In the second round of the 2010 NFL draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took a chance on wide receiver Arrelious Benn out of the University of Illinois. Benn had not done much in college, so it must have been a bit of a surprise that the Bucs took a chance on Benn, just outside of the first round. The move did not end up going well as he was been with the Bucs, Eagles, and Jaguars and is now a free agent. He has 65 career receptions with 990 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns. Imagine if the Bucs organization took a certain wide receiver out Central Michigan?
Who is that wide receiver we were just talking about, you may ask? Well, that just so happens to be Antonio Brown. Brown is the main wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers that has made himself into one of the best wide receivers in the NFL today. Brown was taken in the sixth round, 195th overall. Imagine that! He is a seven-time Pro Bowl receiver, two-time NFL receiving yards leader, and two-time NFL receptions leader to just name a few of his awards. The numbers and accolades do not lie. The Buccaneers missed out big time on Antonio Brown. To be fair, so did 31 other teams.
Notre Dame had a tradition of producing high quality NFL talent in the 1980s and 1990s. The Green Bay Packers took a chance on a Notre Dame wide receiver in the second round of the 1996 NFL draft. Derrick Mayes was not look at to do much and in his five seasons, he flopped. He had 145 receptions and 16 receptions along with a Super Bowl title with the Packers. But he never really made a significant impact for the Packers or the Seahawks in his five seasons in the NFL. Imagine if the Green Bay Packers had chosen this next Hall of Fame inducted wide receiver instead to be alongside Brett Favre?
In that same 1996 draft came along a wide receiver out of Chattanooga named Terrell Owens. Who had ever heard of that college and who would have thought the name Terrell Owens would be so big today? The San Francisco 49ers probably didn't think so when they selected Owens in the third round with the 89th overall pick. Owens ended up being a six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver along with being a part of five NFL First Team All-Pro selections and a part of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Second Team. Imagine if Brett Favre had Owens to throw to all of those seasons in Green Bay?
With the 16th pick in the 1998 NFL draft, Tennessee decided to select Kevin Dyson out of Utah. Dyson is involved with two of the more famous plays to ever happen in the NFL. He was the one who scored the touchdown in the "Music City Miracle" game when he caught a lateral pass on a kickoff return and took it 75 yards for the winning touchdown. He also was one tackled at the one yard line in Super Bowl XXXIV, denied of a potential game tying touchdown against the Rams. Other than those two plays, Dyson had 178 career receptions, with 18 of those being touchdowns.
Randy Moss is without a doubt one of the best wide receivers in NFL histor. He is now in the NFL Hall of Fame and an analyst. But he will always be remembered for his big plays. Moss was taken 21st overall by the Minnesota Vikings out of Marshall University. Moss had his troubles while committing to Notre Dame and Florida State before ending up at Marshall. But when he got to the NFL, he dominated. Six Pro Bowls, NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1998, five-time NFL receiving touchdown leader, the list goes on and on. Moss should have been the pick for the Tennessee Oilers/Titans, as opposed to Kevin Dyson.