National Football League
Where in NFL Draft are the best WRs picked? History shows not in first round
National Football League

Where in NFL Draft are the best WRs picked? History shows not in first round

Updated Apr. 25, 2024 12:25 p.m. ET

A historic number of receivers could be selected in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft, with three earmarked for the top 10 in Marvin Harrison Jr., Rome Odunze and Malik Nabers

According to FOX Sports Stats & Research, during the common draft era (since 1967), the most wide receivers taken in the first round was seven, which happened in 2004. The most receivers taken in a single draft was 59, which occurred in 1968 and 1976.

Since the draft moved to seven rounds in 1994, the most receivers taken in a single draft was 36 in 2003, 2020 and 2021. Over the past five drafts, an average of 10 receivers have been selected through the first two rounds. 

"An increasing number of today's most dynamic athletes are choosing to catch touchdowns rather than alley-oops or fly balls," FOX Sports NFL Draft analyst Rob Rang said. "Furthermore, the sophisticated offenses being taught at the prep and college levels are producing much more polished pass-catchers than in the past." 


And draft history shows that those polished pass-catchers can be found well beyond the first round. For example, in our FOX Sports NFL wide receiver rankings from last season, seven of the 10 were not first-round picks. Only one — Cincinnati Bengals WR Ja'Marr Chase — was drafted in the top 15.

According to ESPN, the receiver position has recently had the lowest rate of first-round picks signing a second contract with the teams that drafted them. The data, which focused on 20 drafts between 2000 and 2019, showed just 27% of receivers extending with their original teams.

Last year, Rams fifth-round pick Puka Nacua set the NFL rookie record for receptions and receiving yards, the latest example that talented receivers can be found later down the draft board. 

In 2021, Nacua's teammate, Cooper Kupp, accomplished the rare triple crown of most receiving yards, catches and receiving touchdowns and was voted Super Bowl MVP. The Rams selected Kupp in the third round of the 2017 draft.

Jim Nagy, a former NFL scout and now the executive director of the Senior Bowl, believes the strength of this year's draft is the depth at receiver.

"To me, the more noteworthy thing will be what happens on Day 2," Nagy said. "We had seven Senior Bowlers last year go on Day 2, and I feel like we have 10 or 11 that could this year. I think there could be a really big run on Day 2. So, it's not just those top guys. Through the first three rounds, it's going to be one of the best drafts we've seen in a while at that position.

"You're going to be able to get starters into the fourth or fifth round. You can't bank on finding Puka again, but there's still going to be some good players on Day 3."

NFL Draft: Final predictions on where top WRs will land

[RELATED: What can NFL Draft history of top-10 QB selections tell us about the 2024 class?]

Rams head coach Sean McVay said regardless of draft position, it's important for his organization to match skill set and character with the right fit for his team.

"How good of a job can we do identifying our kinds of guys and the people that we have a vision for that's not exclusive to just getting caught up in, all right, who are those top upper echelon guys?" McVay said. "But there's a real fit. There's a real buy-in. There's something that we really like and respect about their game that fits into our ecosystem."

Salaries for wide receivers have also gone up, which affects their value in the draft. The franchise tag for receivers has increased from $12 million to $22 million over the past decade.

The most recent example of an undervalued draft prospect getting paid is Detroit Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, who on Wednesday agreed to terms on a four-year, $120 million deal with a record $77 million in guaranteed money for a receiver. 

St. Brown was a fourth-round selection by the Lions in the 2021 draft, when 16 receivers were taken before him.

[READ MORE: The Sum God: How Amon-Ra St. Brown’s record WR deal affects other star wideouts]

The Chargers moved on from two of the top receivers in franchise history this offseason, trading Keenan Allen and releasing Mike Williams due to salary-cap restraints. However, new Chargers GM Joe Hortiz doesn't sound worried about replacing them. 

"I said it before, I'll say it again and I'll say it next year and I'm going to say it five years from now: I can promise you wide receiver is going to be a deep position in the draft every year," Hortiz said. "It's just the way the game has evolved and changed. 

"It's a passing game, or it's certainly increased throughout the past 20 years. Players are coming out more polished. … Players in high school are going through all these 7-on-7 camps and they're just developing their game. They're much more polished and ready to play at the NFL level when they have the skill set and get to this level."

Marvin Harrison Jr.'s best moments during 2023 season

Rams general manager Les Snead, however, is a little skeptical that 7-on-7 drills are preparing receivers to play in the NFL. 

"I think there's an element, if you play too much 7-on-7, you engineered this let's call it skill without defenders who are going to tackle," Snead said. "You could make it this false sense of confidence of what it's really like to play football when you're in pads. 

"You're not in pads, so you move better. You may run some routes into some zones that you would never run into if you had pads on based on the angles the defender has to hit you. … [But] you are getting a lot of kids now who can basically run routes pretty much year-round."

Nagy said regardless of where you select them, receivers will always have value because of their ability to put the ball in the end zone.

"You need to have guys that can score touchdowns," he said. "That's nothing new. That's what the draft has always been based on: Find guys that can score on offense and find guys that can get to the quarterback on defense." 

When it comes to the most productive receivers, however, you may not have to pick them in the first round.

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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