For the last three years, the NFL Draft has produced a high number of high-quality receiving prospects—we’re in the midst of something of a young receiver renaissance. Players like DeAndre Hopkins, Travis Kelce, Tyler Eifert, Odell Beckham, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, Amari Cooper, and Tyler Lockett have made a huge impact on the NFL in their first few seasons in the league. We may be in the best run of receiving prospects in NFL history.
Some NFL teams are sincerely hoping the 2016 class continues that trend, but that certainly is far from guaranteed. While some years, receiving talent seems to be bursting onto the scene and making incredible plays from the get go, other years find the cabinet somewhat dry. Sometimes, there are no players deemed worthy of being drafted very high. Other years, all the can’t-miss prospects, well…miss, and join the ranks of the NFL’s all-time greatest busts.
Only time will tell how well Corey Coleman, Will Fuller, Josh Doctson, Laquon Treadwell, and the rest of this year’s crop of highly-touted receivers will fare in the harsh world of the NFL. For all we know, they could be another legendary class like the fabled 1996 receiver squad—or they could all wash out of the NFL in a few years.
Here are the 15 draft classes that you don’t want to be compared to when discussing receivers. They’re the worst classes in the common draft era, producing busts left and right, with only a few meager highlights in between. These are the worst of the worst.
Al Davis broke with convention by selecting Darrius Heyward-Bey seventh overall. He lasted four years with the team, but has bounced around the league since. Tenth-overall pick Michael Crabtree has had a more solid career, but he’s never really taken the step forward the 49ers were hoping for when the grabbed him. Percy Harvin is undeniably talented, but he’s worn out his welcome in four locker rooms already. The first round also saw oft-injured Hakeem Nicks and oft-arrested Kenny Britt come off the board. Players like Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin keep this class from washing out entirely, but it hasn’t been a great time for this class so far.
How can a draft class with Calvin Johnson be on this list? Well, look at the rest of the first round—Ted Ginn’s more of a return man than receiver, Dwayne Bowe’s struggled to produce consistently. Robert Meachem, Craig Davis, and Anthony Gonzalez are all out of the league. Johnson, Bowe, Greg Olsen, and James Jones aren’t a shabby group to have at the top of the list, but there were just so many swings and misses in the first round that 2007 looks fairly shabby in retrospect.
Remember Larry Burton? Probably not. The Purdue receiver went seventh overall to New Orleans, coveted for his speed after competing in the 1972 Olympics in Munich. He lasted five years in New Orleans and San Diego, but finished with less than 1,000 career receiving yards; simply not good enough to crack a starting lineup consistently. Only two players cracked even the 5,000 career yardage mark in this class—Freddie Solomon and tight end Russ Francis. Not much to write home about, especially when squeezed between two significantly better classes the year before and after.
More first-round busts a-plenty. The first receiver taken, Ike Hilliard, had a solid but unspectacular career in New York and Tampa; he probably doesn’t sniff the first round again in a re-draft, but he wasn’t an embarrassment. Then, there’s the rest of the class. Fifteenth pick Yatil Green tore his ACL in both of his first two preseasons and almost never saw the field. Reidel Anthony, taken with the next pick, had an unremarkable five-year career, mostly being used on kick returns. Rae Carruth, taken 27th by Carolina, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and is currently in prison. Players like Tony Gonzalez and Derrick Mason keep this from the bottom of the heap, but yikes.
The first receiver taken, Torry Holt, really worked out for the Rams, topping 13,000 receiving yards in his career. The rest of the first round was less kind. David Boston was, at best, moody and lackadaisical, and, at worst, using steroids and on the injured list. Troy Edwards didn’t catch as many headlines with his flameout, but finished with less than 2,500 yards in his career. Holt and Donald Driver are a pretty good top two for this class, but the first-round busts and lack of depth hurt the overall rating.
Andre Rison, taken 22nd overall, was a very solid bargain in the draft, but again, his classmates let him down. Hart Lee Dykes is better known for the illegal bidding war that went on during his college recruitment than for anything that happened on the field. The other first-round pick, Shawn Collins, didn’t top 1,500 receiving yards in his career. Rison and fifth-rounder Tony Martin are about all you can get out of this sorry class.
Again, 1998 is a case of a draft with a couple clear headliners and nothing at all below them. Randy Moss will be in the Hall of Fame one day and Hines Ward has an outside chance to join him, but they’re the only two players in this class with more than 5,000 receiving yards. Kevin Dyson is best known for not scoring on the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV—as well as for being part of the Music City Miracle—but he finished his career with less than 2,500 receiving yards. The other first-rounder, Marcus Nash, caught a whopping four catches in his NFL career.
When you have four first-round receivers come off the board and the best is the somewhat forgettable Mike Quick, you have a problem. Anthony Hancock never cracked the starting lineup in Kansas City. Lindsay Scott finished his career with only 864 yards receiving. Perry Tuttle had even less success, though he turned out to be a solid player in the Canadian Football League. Only Mark Duper really puts anything into the positive column for this draft, though to be fair, it was weak at all positions, not just receiver.
Ahmad Rashad was the first receiver taken and he made four Pro Bowls, so that’s not too bad, even if he’s hardly a household name anymore. The rest of the first round was rather rotten. Terry Beasley spent most his career in San Francisco injured and only managed 570 receiving yards. Across the Bay in Oakland, Mike Siani had a longer career, but spent most of it as a backup with occasional spot starts due to injury. Rashad and Raider legend Cliff Branch put some points in the plus column for this year’s draft, but there’s just not much to work with here.
The very first common draft between the NFL and AFL did not make great strides for the passing game. The two first-round picks, Gene Washington and Dave Williams, had solid but unmemorable careers and that about does it for 1967’s roll-call. With 445 picks and two leagues, you’d expect some talent to be added, but they could only find two receivers who ended their career with more than 5,000 receiving yards—John Gilliam in the second round and Danny Abramowicz in the 17th. It was a different, more run-focused game in the ‘60s, but this is a bad group even by the standards of the day.
Two receivers were taken in the first round in 1980. One, Art Monk, sits in the Hall of Fame. The other went second overall—Lam Jones out of Texas, who the New York Jets thought would be their key to success. Jones was another Olympian—a gold medalist in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. The Jets traded two first round draft picks to go up and get him, and found that he did indeed have the speed of a sprinter, and also the hands of a sprinter. He received the first NFL contract ever worth over $1 million, but struggled to simply catch the ball in the NFL, making him one of the largest busts in NFL history. There’s not a strong underclass to save this draft, either.
Things got worse the next year, with two first-round busts. Kansas’ David Verser went 10th to Cincinnati, but he never cracked the starting lineup and was out-played by fellow draftmate Cris Collinsworth. San Jose State’s Mark Nichols did crack a starting lineup in Detroit, but was out of the league before he could rack up 2,500 receiving yards. Collinsworth is the only player in this draft class to top 4,000 yards receiving, with running back James Brooks topping any other wide receiver in the class. That’s not particularly what you’re looking for in a draft class.
Five receivers went in the first round of 2000 and maybe one was sort of worth it. Plaxico Burress, the eighth pick by Pittsburgh, had a strong career in Pittsburgh and New York before he was suspended for violating the personal conduct policy by strapping a loaded gun into his jeans, entering a nightclub, and accidentally shooting himself—and he’s the success story. Peter Warrick could never really produce in either Cincinnati or Seattle, even when healthy. Travis Taylor had a similarly unspectacular career, though he ended up with over 4,000 receiving yards by pure accumulation. Then you have Sylvester Morris, who suffered multiple knee injuries and retired early, and R. Jay Soward, who was suspended for multiple violations of the substance abuse policy. Later picks like Laveraneus Coles and Darrell Jackson keep this from the very top of the list, but that’s a lot of high-profile misses in the first round.
Six receivers went in the first round, and exactly one, Roddy White, has had a solid career in the decade since. Third-overall pick Braylon Edwards wasn’t terrible, but you’d hope for more than one season over 1,000 yards for someone drafted so high. Seventh-overall pick Troy Williamson was terrible and never really overcame a bad case of the drops. Tenth-overall pick Mike Williams was one of Matt Millen’s many poor decisions as general manager of the Detroit Lions. Matt Jones and Mark Clayton, who went back-to-back at 21 and 22, had short and mostly unremarkable careers of their own. White and Vincent Jackson keep this draft class out of the top spot, as they’re still going strong, but that’s a lot of high-profile misses and disappointments.
Only one receiver was taken in the first round of the 1992 draft—Desmond Howard out of Michigan went to Washington. He did earn a Super Bowl MVP, but that was as a kick returner; he finished his NFL career with just 1,597 receiving yards. That’s it for first-round talent—the league mostly decided to stay far, far away from the receiving class this year. There were some later steals and gems, with both Carl Pickens and especially Jimmy Smith having good careers out of the second round, but this class never managed more than about 10% of a year’s receiving yards. Even the worst classes managed to get enough players on the field early to contribute some raw numbers; 1992 saw only 5,296 receptions from the entire class, the lowest number in history when you adjust for era. 1992 was one of the worst draft classes of all time and nowhere was that felt more keenly than at the receiver position.