When you look at the wide receiver position and compare players that switched teams and opted for free agency vs. the rookies coming into the NFL, compare the numbers and performances of the top seven receivers in free agency and the draft. I think you will be surprised.
2011 Free Agents
Laurent Robinson: 54 for 858, 11 TDs. Robinson has already made a trip through St. Louis, though his production was limited due to injuries. His 2011 season with the Dallas Cowboys was very good from a production standpoint, and he flashed the upside potential for the big play. Red: Starter and heavy contributor with production that flashed Blue traits.
Steve Breaston: 61 for 785, 2 TDs. Was a slot and underneath receiver for Kansas City; production in Arizona came from outside alignment. While he caught 61 passes, he only scored twice in 2011. Red: Starter and heavy contributor with production that flashed Blue traits.
Santonio Holmes: 51 for 654, 8 TDs. Production faded in 2011 despite a very good skill set and the ability to make the big play. There are a few red flags when it comes to character issues off the field and a personality clash with Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez that spilled into the locker room and the public. It was slightly a team distraction. Red: Starter and heavy contributor with production that flashed Blue traits.
Roy Williams: 37 for 505, 2 TDs. Player that was over-drafted, lacks deep ball speed and has turned into a journeyman within the league. Production has fallen off with only two TDs in 2011. Good size and soft hands, but the size 17 shoe slows his route running progression on speed cuts and comeback routes and his inability to consistently separate from the defender. Orange: Backup and special teams player that struggles to compete with a high red player despite some red traits.
Sidney Rice: 32 for 482, 2 TDs (eight games). Signed by Seattle via Minnesota and struggled all 2011 season with injuries and wound up on injured reserve for the season. Receiver with a great combination of size and speed and had a very productive season in Minnesota while catching passes from Brett Favre. Two things must happen for this player: 1. Stay healthy. 2. Make plays. Red: Starter and heavier contributor with production that flashed Blue traits.
Devin Aromashodu: 26 for 468, 1 TD. Player that received spot duty in multiple receiver sets. Adequate to poor overall production. Orange: Backup and special teams player that struggles to compete with a high red player despite some red traits.
Michael Jenkins: 38 for 466, 3 TDs. Going from Atlanta to the Minnesota Vikings was a tough transition. Donavan McNabb struggled early in the season forcing his production down. With rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, Jenkins’ production never flourished, leaving him with a very disappointing season. Orange: Backup and special teams player that struggles to compete with a high red player despite some red traits.
2011 Top Draft Class
A.J. Green: 65 for 1057, 7 TDs. Drafted No. 4 overall, he not only had an outstanding rookie season, but he earned a Pro Bowl selection. This receiver has very good combination of size, speed and playmaking ability. Creative route-running skills to create separation with run after catch skills. The sky is the limit for this young receiver. Aloha! Blue: Playmaker and difference-maker in every game.
Julio Jones: 54 for 959, 8 TDs. Started out slowly, struggled with nagging soft tissue injuries at mid-season, but finished strong down the stretch. The sixth overall draft pick had a very productive season, stretching the field outside the numbers and was able to catch in a crowd and extend the play with run after catch skills. Great start to a young career. Blue: Play-maker and difference-maker in every game.
Torrey Smith: 50 for 841, 7 TDs. This 58th pick in the 2011 draft is blessed with great vertical speed. Three of the seven touchdowns came in one game against the Rams. Inconsistent on under routes in traffic with concentration drops. Despite good production, this receiver will need to continue to develop his skill set and fundamentals, but his ability to make the big play down the field is special. Could very well be the jewel of the AFC Championship Game. Red: Starter and heavy contributor with production that flashed Blue traits.
Doug Baldwin: 51 for 788, 4 TDs. The Seahawks hit a diamond in the rough. This undrafted college free agent from Stanford went from catching passes from Andrew Luck to the NFL spotlight and didn’t miss a beat. Good production, and his 15.45 yards-per-catch average is among the league’s best. Red: Starter and heavy contributor with production that flashed Blue traits.
Greg Little: 61 for 709, 2 TDs. The 59th pick in the second round really started to feel his way through his rookie season with good production. Very good combination of size, speed and playmaking ability, the future is bright for this talented receiver. Red: Starter and heavy contributor with production that flashed Blue traits.
Denarius Moore: 33 for 618, 5 TDs. A fifth-round steal for the Raiders. Moore is lightning in a bottle with big-play ability, but inconsistent production from game to game made overall numbers suffer in a run dominated offense. He has all the attributes for the position and with NFL tutelage his skill set will continue to blossom. Red: Starter and heavy contributor with production that flashed Blue traits.
Titus Young: 48 for 607, 6 TDs. From Boise to Detroit as the 44th overall pick, this exciting play-maker with the ball in his hand entertained Lions fans with every catch. Had a decent forty (4.53) at the combine, is quicker than fast and can change direction on a dime. This nine-game starter and playmaker will just continue to hone his skill set. Red: Starter and heavier contributor with production that flashed Blue traits.
Granted this is only a one-year sample size or comparison, but the numbers show that these young legs from the draft are the preferable way to go for any NFL team looking for talent outside the numbers. It shows that teams may not get those playmakers that they seek after several years in the league.
With NFL rookies developing quickly with the benefits of mini-camps and OTAs (organized team activities), they can succeed in a pass-happy league rather quickly depending on coaching and the offense.