It has become well-known that running backs have a short shelf life in the NFL.
Part of the reason is that running backs take so much punishment when they carry the ball 25 times or more in a game that they start to lose their speed and overall effectiveness once they get past three or four years in the NFL.
At least that’s the story that is told for public consumption. Playing running back does take a toll on a number of top players, but the real reason teams are often hesitant to reward productive, veteran backs with lucrative, long-term contracts is that they want to save their money.
By drafting running backs in the middle and later rounds, teams don’t have to provide big-money contracts. They can thank a veteran running back for what he’s done, send him on his way and can plug a young player in his spot.
The wide receiver position seems to be going through the same kind of transition that running backs went through several years ago. The thought process used to be that it took young wide receivers two or three years to develop into full-fledged stars.
While there were some notable exceptions – Jerry Rice and Randy Moss quickly come to mind – young receivers had to work on their route-running technique, their understanding of the offense and their blocking before demanding head coaches would come to depend on them regularly.
NFL general managers are not stupid. They see prominent rookie receivers taking bold steps, and they reach the conclusion that they don’t have to pay veteran free agents the money that could have been expected just a few short years ago.
While some receivers like Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin and Andre Johnson have gotten paid during the offseason, notable free agents like Michael Crabtree, Hakeem Nicks, Denarius Moore and Wes Welker are still on the market and have not gotten favorable offers. Neither has Greg Jennings, but that could change shortly.
Additionally, veteran receivers like Torrey Smith, Percy Harvin, Brian Hartline and Cecil Shorts have signed for low-end money. Some might also say that former Kansas City Dwayne Bowe fits into that same category after signing a two-year, $9 million deal with the Browns. However, Bowe’s lack of productivity, consistency and effort have been obvious, and he should get down on his knees and rejoice because he was able to fool one team into giving him a new deal.
Instead of paying a premium for receivers, teams are likely going to try to find the next generation of stars at the position in the draft.
This is going to be an excellent year for wide receivers, and it is the strongest position in this year’s draft class. Don’t be surprised if seven or more wideouts get selected in the first round.
The best of the bunch is Alabama’s Amari Cooper, while West Virginia’s Kevin White and DeVante Parker of Louisville are not too far behind. Some of the other potential first-round wideouts include Jaelen Strong of Arizona State, Breshad Perriman of Central Florida, Devin Smith of Ohio State, and Philip Dorsett of Miami (FL).
Even if teams don’t want to draft receivers in the first round, there will be several middle-round receivers who have a chance to be gamebreakers at the NFL level. One of those is Stefon Diggs of Maryland, who caught 62 passes for 592 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Diggs has good size at 6-feet and 195 pounds, and he is even quicker on the field than his 4.46 40-time indicates. Diggs has the ability to separate from very good defensive backs, and that should allow him to take a prominent role as a rookie.
As long as Diggs can stay healthy, he can be a true find for a team with a need at the No. 2 wide receiver position.
The NFL has already become a youngster’s game at the running back position. It is doing the same thing at the wide receiver spot, and that’s why fewer veteran receivers are going to get the money they think they deserve.
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