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Bills WR Hardy is par for 2008 WR course

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We've been looking at the Buffalo Bills' various team needs over the past couple of months. One of the positions that has emerged as a consensus area of need is wide receiver. The obvious question is: why? Buffalo has one of the league's top end deep threats in Lee Evans. The team invested a 2008 second round pick in James Hardy. The Bills have Roscoe Parrish, as well as another 2008 draft pick, Steve Johnson.

Was Hardy just another whiff of a draft pick by the Inner Circle and Dick Jauron? In search of the answer, I looked back at the top ten wide receivers selected in the 2008 NFL Draft, all of whom were second-round selections. Given that Buffalo was looking for a big, physical wide receiver, I broke the statistics down into two categories: big receivers (measuring in at over six feet tall and 200 pounds) and smaller receivers (under six feet tall, under 200 pounds).

The results are strangely consistent: the smaller receivers have thoroughly out-played the big receivers through two NFL seasons, and it's not close.

Here is a look at the six big receivers taken in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft:

Name GP Rec Yds Avg TD DP
Devin Thomas, WAS 30 40 445 11.1 3 34
Jordy Nelson, GB 29 55 686 12.5 4 36
James Hardy, BUF 16 10 96 9.6 2 41
Jerome Simpson, CIN 8 1 2 2.0 0 46
Malcolm Kelly, WAS 21 28 365 13.0 0 51
Limas Sweed, PIT 20 7 69 9.9 0 53
Totals 124 141 1,663 11.8 9  
Averages 20.7 23.5 277.2 11.8 1.5  

The averages line really sticks out. These big receivers have averaged less than two receptions for under 20 yards per game, and not even 2 touchdowns per season. Yeesh. The only big WR from the second round of 2008 who has made a significant contribution is Jordy Nelson, who was pulled off the board five picks before Buffalo selected Hardy.

Injuries have slowed this group of receivers down, with Hardy losing most of a year due to injury and Thomas, Sweed and Kelly all missing time as well. It's interesting to note that most of us wanted Thomas, Kelly or Sweed in 2008. Here are those guys in isolation.

Name GP Rec Yds Avg TD DP
Devin Thomas, WAS 30 40 445 11.1 3 34
Malcolm Kelly, WAS 21 28 365 13.0 0 51
Limas Sweed, PIT 20 7 69 9.9 0 53
Totals 71 75 879 11.7 3  
Averages 23.7 25 293 11.7 1  

Suffice it to say, we don't know squat about drafting WRs. Yeah, the third year is when the light is supposed to go on for receivers, but Sweed may miss his third year entirely due to an Achilles injury. Thomas and Kelly are ideally placed to have big years - barring further injuries - given that they will be on the receiving end of passes from Donovan McNabb. Should Thomas and Kelly break out in 2010, the question will be whether they were due or whether they were dragged upwards by one of the premier quarterbacks in the league. My money would be on McNabb.

Looking at the other four receivers drafted in 2008--the smaller WRs--the numbers immediately pop out at you.

Name GP Rec Yds Avg TD DP
Donnie Avery, STL 31 100 1,263 12.6 8 33
Eddie Royal, DEN 29 128 1,325 10.4 5 42
DeSean Jackson, PHI 31 124 2,068 16.7 11 49
Dexter Jackson, TB 0 0 0 0.0 0 58
Totals 91 352 4,656 13.2 24  
Averages 22.8 88 1,164 13.2 6  

Just to make the comparison even clearer:

GP Rec Yds Avg TD
6 "Big" WRs 124 141 1,663 11.8 9
4 "Small" WRs 91 352 4,656 13.2 24

In short, the little guys have run wild, starting fewer overall games but just about tripling the big guys in terms of receptions, yards and touchdowns. The really sad thing is that one of the smaller receivers, Dexter Jackson, is a return guy and not a real WR. The smaller receivers have outperformed the bigger WRs in total yards, receptions and TDs despite being outnumbered two to one by their bigger brothers.

Here's the amazing thing, to me anyway: DeSean Jackson, on the receiving end of passes from Donovan McNabb, blows away any of the other second-round 2008 receivers. He also stacks up well against the other nine WRs combined:

GP Rec Yds Avg TD
DeSean Jackson, PHI 31 124 2,068 16.7 11
All 9 other 2008 second-round WRs 184 369 4,251 11.5 22

Jackson has about half as many yards and scores as the other nine receivers combined, and did it on about a third of the receptions. Jackson simply annihilates the average of the other nine receivers, tripling the receptions and quadrupling the yards and TD counts. I credit that largely to McNabb. I wouldn't be surprised to see either or both of Thomas or Kelly have great years for fantasy owners. It's curious to me that Sweed, who has the benefit of playing with Ben Roethlisberger, really hasn't posted good numbers at all. I think that Nelson will continue to do reasonably well given that he is catching passes from Aaron Rodgers. Meanwhile, Simpson hasn't been on the field, Avery will be catching passes from a rookie, Jackson figures to continue to be a punt/kick returner and Royal will be held back by Kyle Orton.

Hardy wasn't necessarily a bad pick in that he's par for the course among the big WRs taken in the second round of 2008. He averages about two fewer games, 12 fewer receptions, and about a third fewer yards. Hardy somehow does manage to average about twice as many TDs as his fellow big WRs, despite missing about a year due to injury. We'll have to hope that he paid close attention to Terrell Owens during 2009, and that the proverbial light goes on in 2010. Buffalo's QB situation, however, suggests that Hardy may not have the breakout year that Buffalo so badly needs.