Debunking the “Wide Receivers are Overrated” Myth

Often times, when something becomes really popular, members of the media have a tendency to swing the pendulum too far towards exaggeration, and then instead of moving the narrative closer to the truth, they spin it all the way in the other direction. For instance, Justin Bieber or Nickelback had meteoric rises to stardom, and then, when the media got tired of praising them, they fell to the level of punchlines. In truth, the narrative should probably be somewhere in between, as competent (ish) musicians who were overrated and are now underrated.

The same principle applies to football. For instance, Tim Tebow went from the best thing since sliced bread to, well, the worst thing since plain sliced bread. In reality, he’s a decent athlete and a good leader, but probably not an NFL starting QB.

Wide Receiver has been one of the most valued positions in the NFL for a long time. They were in the spotlight even to the point of being divas. Keyshawn Johnson was the number 1 pick in the draft, and then immediately began complaining about his touches. We saw Randy Moss’s various shenanigans. Brandon Marshall was a nightmare at times. I think this quote pretty much sums up the insane inflation of the collective egos of the NFL receiver:

“I love me some me.”

-Terrell Owens

Naturally, there was some blowback to this tomfoolery. Mike Tuck of Sports Talk Florida used the Seahawks and Pats as an example of why wide receivers are overrated:

The two teams in the Super Bowl won a lot of games, but their offenses generate yards in the passing game differently than most teams. They are starless on the outside. No 1000-yard receivers.  No TD-scoring machines either via big plays down the field or with their size in the redzone. I’d argue we’ll be watching two of the worst WR-groups in the entire league on Sunday…

So to answer the question, wide receivers aren’t overrated, but they aren’t a necessary expense either.

This seems to have become a popular opinion recently. If the Patriots can win without a great wideout, anyone can right? I think the wide receiver’s naysayers have 3 main points against wideouts.

1. You don’t need a quality wide receiver to win a Super Bowl.

This statement’s actually correct. You don’t need great receivers to win a Super Bowl. Just like you don’t need a quality quarterback, or running game, or really any one group. Everyone holds up the Pats or Seahawks when saying receivers are unimportant, but I could just as easily hold up Trent Dilfer’s Ravens, or Brad Johnson’s Bucs, or even (and I realize this is an unpopular opinion) Joe Flacco’s Ravens. 8 of the last 15 Superbowl winners have had pro bowl level receivers. There are hundreds of different Super formulas, not one tried and true blueprint.

2. A receiver doesn’t affect win/loss totals.

This statement creates a chicken and the egg type of issue. It is true, that a receiver can post 1,500 plus yards and his team can still lose. Then again, Matt Ryan can post a 94 QBR and his team can go 6-10. If a quarterback is doing well, and his team’s doing well, analysts will say that the receivers are just putting up gaudy numbers because of the QB, and not affecting games. The QB wouldn’t be doing nearly as well without the great receivers however. Look at the Pats for instance. When Gronk was injured, Brady struggled at times. That was with basically the same receiver core which was apparently ‘good enough’ to win a Superbowl. Then Gronk gets healthy, and all of a sudden its simply Brady’s genius that’s making all these retreads into stars. A quarterback can simply not succeed without talented pass catchers. When a quarterback struggles, his offense struggles, and that’s why receivers do in fact win you football games.

3. You can just get another superstar in the draft.

Tell that to the Chiefs last season. But no, there is a certain level of truth to this statement. The last 3 or so receiver drafts have been unbelievable. This one looks no different. We’ve seen the Odell Beckhams of the world take the league by storm. This is not because there are thousands of good wideouts now. The talent of the league has just gotten so much better lately. The two most important positions are quarterback and pass rusher. Was anyone saying that you can just draft another QB after the 2012 draft, which saw multiple franchise passers be selected (Luck, Wilson, Tannehill, and possibly RGIII)? Where was everyone saying the pass rusher position is overvalued after the 2011 draft which introduced a number of beasty edge rushers to the league (Von, Aldon Smith, Robert Quinn, J.J. Freaking Watt)? We have happened to see excellent receivers be selected lately, but that could change very soon if there are a few receiver bare classes in the future. Draft class talent distribution is largely random, as we’ve seen, so saying that all first round receivers are going to be great is a ludicrous application of recency bias. Not to mention, that teams do not want to develop a player for four years in their system, only to see them go and play their best years with another team.

Receivers have admittedly become very pricey however. Ross Jones of Fox Sports wrote a fascinating article on how Megatron and Larry Fitzgerald’s mega deals have driven the market too high for receivers:

“The market for receivers is tough to figure out,” one exec told “When Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald came off of big rookie deals in an old rookie system, the numbers became inflated.”

Fitzgerald signed one of the richest deals in NFL history in 2011, an eight-year, $120 million contract with $50 million in guarantees. He was able to command such a high dollar amount because of a clause in his contract that prevented the Cardinals from trading or franchising him. Months later, the Lions gave Johnson a seven-year extension that trumped Fitzgerald’s figure. Because Johnson and his camp were aware Fitzgerald had such leverage, they waited to strike on their deal.

“It’s all about leverage,” another prominent agent said. “These teams are looking at their alternatives with the franchise tag and what these players want. If teams couldn’t tag a player, these deals would get done in a second.”

The wide gap between an average annual salary of $10 million (where most top receivers are) and $15 million (Fitzgerald-Johnson territory) ultimately is where these negotiations hit a snag.

This is a problem I see fixing itself. These receivers will see that teams won’t shell out Calvin or Fitzgerald money, and reset the market lower. In the end receivers do in fact help you win football games, so sparing some cash for a good one is worthwhile.

All this said, the Broncos need to resign Demaryius Thomas. Receivers, particularly true number one guys are neccesary. Talent is talent, no matter what position it plays. If we want to develop Brock going forward, wouldn’t getting rid of a number one receiver possibly stunt his growth as a player? If we can negotiate Thomas down to 12 million, he is a clear must have. After all, who else but a wideout can do this? Or this? Or, famously, this? Bottom line, Elway needs to make an effort to retain one of our most electric offensive weapons. Thanks for reading, and Go Broncos!

PS: While searching for DT’s one hander vs KC, I found a very strange Broncos themed rap, that I thought was worth sharing. Seems to have some Wizard of Oz themes too. The internet is a weird place.

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Leo Duke

My twitter's @Leo_Elway. 17 year old Broncos fan, representing in PA. Email me at, or shoot me a tweet if you have any football questions.