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When it comes to quarterback and wide receiver draft prospects, who’s carrying who?

Who is the wingman?

College Football Playoff National Championship - Clemson v LSU Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

When draft day rolls around there are four names that Eagles fans will be looking towards: Justin Jefferson, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Henry Ruggs. These four have something in common that is perhaps worrying: they all caught their passes from a QB who will also be drafted this year. That puts them, and their QB, in a chicken or the egg scenario: who made who?

After the 2014 draft, Andrew Healy looked at QBs who were drafted that had a pass catcher that was also drafted that year or the next. The results were not encouraging.

Do great college quarterbacks cause NFL talent evaluators to reach for their wide receiver and tight end teammates? It seems like the answer to this question might be yes. Receivers selected in rounds 1-3 who come from schools with first-round QBs drafted the same or following year do 6.4 points worse relative to expectation from their draft position. Here, we have more data and the results are statistically significant that having a first-round college QB has led to their wide receivers being overvalued in the draft. WRs drafted in the first three rounds without a top QB generated an average value in their first five years of 17.6, so the predicted drop in value is down to about 11.2. Having a first round QB thus predicts a WR gets taken a little more than a round too early.

I’ll point out that this study went back to 1984, which gives you a lot of data but also creates comparison issues.

This does not bode well for Jefferson, Jeudy, Lamb, or Ruggs. All four played with (we presume) a 1st round QB: Jefferson had Joe Burrow, Jeudy and Ruggs had Tua Tagovailoa (and before that Jalen Hurts, who won’t go in the 1st but will get drafted), and Lamb had Kyler Murray in 2018.

But I want to look at this picture from a broader, and more recent view. How do QB/WR teammates who were drafted in the same year, regardless of round, fare? Did one clearly carry the other? Were they both good? Or did they both elevate each other against college competition enough to get drafted but against NFL level talent fail?

Looking at ten years of drafts from 2008-2017, we see 41 sets of QBs who were drafted with at least one of their WRs.

QB/WR Teammates

Year QB (round) WR (round) WR (round) WR (round)
Year QB (round) WR (round) WR (round) WR (round)
2008 Brian Brohm 2 Harry Douglas 3 Mario Urrutia 7
2008 Chad Henne 2 Mario Manningham 3 Adrian Arrington 7
2008 Kevin O'Connell 3 Brett Swain 7 Chaz Schilens 7
2008 Andre Woodson 6 Keenan Burton 4
2008 Matt Flynn 7 Early Doucet 3
2009 Matthew Stafford 1 Mohamed Massaquoi 2
2009 Mark Sanchez 1 Patrick Turner 3
2009 Mike Teel 6 Kenny Britt 1 Tiquan Underwood 7
2010 Tim Tebow 1 Riley Cooper 5
2010 Jimmy Clausen 2 Golden Tate 2
2010 Colt McCoy 3 Jordan Shipley 3
2010 Tony Pike 4 Mardy Gilyard 6
2010 Dan LeFevour 6 Antonio Brown 6
2010 Zac Robinson 7 Dez Bryant 1
2011 Andy Dalton 2 Jeremy Kerley 5
2011 TJ Yates 5 Greg Little 2
2011 Greg McElroy 7 Julio Jones 1
2012 Robert Griffin 1 Kendall Wright 1
2012 Brandon Weedon 1 Justin Blackmon 1
2012 Russell Wilson 3 Nick Toon 4
2012 Nick Foles 3 Juron Criner 5
2012 Kirk Cousins 4 KeShawn Matin 4 BJ Cunningham 6
2013 Geno Smith 2 Tavon Austin 1 Stedman Bailey 3
2013 Matt Barkley 4 Robert Woods 2
2013 Tyler Wilson 4 Cobi Hamilton 6
2013 Landry Jones 4 Kenny Stills 5 Justin Brown 6
2014 Johnny Manziel 1 Mike Evans 1
2014 Derek Carr 2 DeVante Adams 2
2014 Tom Savage 4 Devin Street 5
2014 AJ McCarron 5 Kevin Norwood 4
2014 Zach Mettenberger 6 Odell Beckham 1 Jarvis Landry 2 James Wright 7
2014 Tajh Boyd 6 Sammy Watkins 1 Martavis Bryant 4
2015 Jameis Winston 1 Rashad Green 5
2016 Jared Goff 1 Trevor Davis 5 Kenny Lawler 7
2016 Connor Cook 4 Aaron Burbridge 6
2016 Cardale Jones 4 Michael Thomas 2
2017 Mitch Trubisky 1 Mack Hollins 4 Ryan Switzer 4
2017 DeShaun Watson 1 Mike Williams 1
2017 Davis Webb 3 Chad Hansen 4
2017 Josh Dobbs 4 Josh Malone 4
2017 Brad Kaaya 6 Stacy Coley 7

The first thing we want to know is, does the theory that one makes the other hold up?

Short answer: it does. If one was a legit NFL player, it was rare that the other was as well.

First we’ll look at it from the QB perspective. Let us define a legitimate NFL QB as at least a low tier starter/quality backup.

This gives us Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, Andy Dalton, Nick Foles, Robert Griffin, Jared Goff, Chad Henne, Colt McCoy, Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford, Mitchell Trubisky, DeShaun Watson, Russell Wilson, and Jameis Winston.

Their WR college teammates have been mostly terrible. DeVante Adams is excellent. After that, in order of receiving yards it’s Kendall Wright, Jeremy Kerley, Mike Williams, Mario Manningham, and then guys who were out of the league in a few years.

14 QBs worth having on your roster at some point played with 16 WRs who were drafted with them, but only 5 of those WRs of the same caliber. QBs can make the WR. What about the flipside, can WRs make the QB?

Also yes.

18 WRs who had a QB that was drafted caught at least a paltry 200 receptions (and this doesn’t count Justin Blackmon, who had half of that in little over a season before being suspended out of the league, or Mike Williams, who should eventually get there): DaVante Adams, Tavon Austin, Odell Beckham, Kenny Britt, Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Harry Douglas, Mike Evans, Julio Jones, Jeremy Kerley, Jarvis Landry, Mario Manningham, Golden Tate, Michael Thomas, Kenny Stills, Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Kendall Wright.

A few of the QBs overlap from the last list: Derek Carr, Andy Dalton, Chad Henne, and RGIII.

The rest were at best low tier backups, most couldn’t cut it: Matt Barkley, Tajh Boyd, Brian Brohm, Jimmy Clausen, Dan LeFevour, Cardale Jones, Landry Jones, Johnny Manziel, Greg McElroy, Zack Mettenberger, Zac Robinson, Geno Smith, and Mike Teel.

Most of these QBs were considered steals or great value in the draft, many of them were at one point in their college careers considered 1st round picks, all but Geno Smith and Cardale Jones were drafted ahead of their WR. The ratio of good WR/bad QB is even bigger than the good QB/bad WR. That’s a slightly good indicator for the Eagles.

Even better for the Eagles was that most of these WRs were high picks. So let’s look at this from where the WR was drafted, regardless of where the QB was drafted or how good he was in the pros. The basic question here is, are early round WRs who played with a QB who was drafted that year worth drafting high? The answer here is also yes.

1st round: Tavon Austin, Odell Beckham, Justin Blackmon, Kenny Britt, Dez Bryant, Mike Evans, Julio Jones, Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams, and Kendall Wright.

This is an extremely encouraging list. The worst picks here are Tavon Austin, who is still in the league; Justin Blackmon, who busted out of the league due to drugs not talent; and Kendall Wright, who hasn’t played in 2 seasons but is 5th in catches and 6th in yards from his draft class. Obviously you want to do better than Tavon Austin, but none of these guys are Kevin White or Jonathan Baldwin level busts.

2nd round: DeVante Adams, Jarvis Landry, Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi, Golden Tate, Michael Thomas, and Robert Woods.

That’s a really good success rate for any round. Adams, Landry, Tate, Thomas, and Woods were good to great picks. Massaquoi and Little didn’t work out, but they at least were able to get on the field, which is more than you can say about the last three WRs the Eagles drafted.

Nothing is automatic, but there’s reason to think if the Eagles are able to land Jefferson, Jeudy, Lamb, or Ruggs that they’ll be in good shape. For the teams drafting their QB, well, good luck with that.

What about later picks? It would surprise no one if the Eagles came out of the draft with two WRs.

3rd round: Stedman Bailey, Early Doucet, Harry Douglas, Mario Manningham, Jordan Shipley, Patrick Turner.

4th round: Martavis Bryant, Keenan Burton, Chad Hansen, Mack Hollins, Josh Malone, KeShawn Martin, Kevin Norwood, Ryan Switzer, Nick Toon

5th round: Riley Cooper, Juron Criner, Trevor Davis, Rashad Green, Jeremy Kerley, Kenny Stills, Devin Street

6th round: Justin Brown, Antonio Bryant, Aaron Burbridge, BJ Cunningham, Mardy Gilyard, Cobi Hamilton

7th round: Adrian Arrington, Stacy Coley, Chaz Schilens, Kenny Lawler, Brett Swain, Tiquan Underwood, Mario Urrutia, James Wright

Of these 36 WRs, 15 were taken on Day 3 along with their QB, so you’re already talking long odds. There are a pair of steals here in Antonio Brown and Kenny Stills, along with Harry Douglas and Jeremy Kerley having nice careers, Martavis Bryant and Mario Manningham having a couple of solid seasons and Riley Cooper and Early Doucet having one. But other than that, this is a wasteland. Greg Ward has more career receiving yards than half of them. It makes sense that these WRs mostly didn’t work out. As imprecise as the draft can be, there’s wisdom in the crowds and if the league thinks that the guy throwing you passes is good enough for the NFL but that you’re not a top pick, they’re usually right. As we saw earlier, virtually all the WRs who worked out were drafted in the top half of the draft.

Earlier I wondered about three outcomes. I feel that we can reasonably answer all of them.

Did one clearly carry the other? Yes. A vast majority of the time, one player was pretty good, the other wasn’t even worth having as a backup. In most cases the better player was taken in the first two rounds.

Were they both good? Rarely, and when they were they were mostly low tier starters, teammates didn’t divide and conquer the NFL. If you’re drafting a WR, there are worse outcomes.

Did they both elevate each other against college competition enough to get drafted but fail in the NFL? For duos that were both picked in the back half of the draft, yes, with few exceptions. Teams would be wise to stay away from taking a player from a day three duo. They elevated each other to their ceiling.

If you’re worried that Jefferson, Jeudy, Lamb, or Ruggs are a product of their QB, there’s reason to think that not only is that not the case, but that the opposite is more likely. And making his QB better is exactly why you draft a guy like that in the 1st.

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