There has been a major power shift in the NFL. Well, more like a speed shift.
The offseason of the wide receiver continued on Thursday night as the importance of the position took center stage in the first round of the NFL draft at Caesars Forum.
Four of the top 12 picks play the position. Two of those were acquired by teams who traded up to draft their desired target, a distinction normally reserved for only the most premium positions.
“There were some talented players this year at that position,” Raiders coach Josh McDaniels said. “The guys that went at that position tonight, most of them are really pretty fast. Get behind the defense. Create a lot of big plays, had really productive college seasons or careers, or have really good size.
“It’s kind of become a little bit in vogue where you put those big players on the perimeter and it forces the defense to have to play with bigger corners or try to double-team them or roll to them. Not shocking that happened.”
There is no doubt wide receivers have reached that lofty status. The writing has been on the wall for months.
First, it was a massive contract for free agent Christian Kirk in Jacksonville. Then the Raiders and Dolphins gave up massive draft capital and a whole lot of guaranteed money to secure two of the best in the business in Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill.
The trend continued on Thursday night. Philadelphia gave up the 18th pick to acquire star A.J. Brown from Tennessee and promptly signed the fourth-year pro to a four-year, $100 million contract with nearly $60 million guaranteed.
The Ravens shipped less-heralded former first-round pick Marquise “Hollywood” Brown to Arizona in exchange for the No. 23 pick later in the evening.
All of the moves taken in their totality signal a clear divide in how teams value the position. It’s evident some teams are willing to shell out big bucks for difference-making pass catchers.
A.J. Brown was going to be due a raise after this season from the Titans, who instead chose to get some return on their investment. The Cardinals also wanted a receiver and believed Marquise Brown, who still has another year and then a fifth-year team option on his rookie deal, was worthy of their first-round pick.
One rumored deal involving a star wide receiver who has publicly expressed his desire for a new deal never materialized. Deebo Samuel remains with the 49ers for now after several reports connected him with a deal to the New York Jets.
The Jets instead chose to take Garrett Wilson with the 10th pick, two spots after USC receiver Drake London came off the board to the Falcons.
“I think it’s a really, really valuable position,” Wilson said. “I think the league is starting to show that, in the draft today and in the offseason.
“Tyreek Hill, Ja’Marr Chase, Davante Adams, they change offenses. I’m happy receivers are starting to get that love.”
The selection of Wilson sent teams desperate to add help at the position scrambling to move up. New Orleans gave up a third- and a fourth-round pick to make the move to acquire Chris Olave.
“Chris was a guy we coveted from the very beginning of the draft process,” coach Dennis Allen said. “He’s tough, smart, competitive and highly productive at Ohio State.
“We felt like rather than sitting around and waiting and seeing if the guy comes to us, we’d go get the guy we wanted.”
The Lions took a similar approach, moving up to grab Jameson Williams from Alabama next. He transferred from Ohio State, where he was teammates with Wilson and Olave.
“To hear my name and have such a great moment, and right after, Chris, to know his dreams were coming true, and then Jamo, it was super awesome,” Wilson said. “Those are two of my best friends. It’s a great day.”
Quarterback is still a premier position, but signal-callers took a back seat on Thursday night. Only one, Kenny Pickett, was drafted. The Pittsburgh quarterback will stay in town and play for the Steelers.
It’s the first time only one quarterback went in the first round since 2013.
Six wide receivers went in the first round, including Penn State’s Jahan Dotson to Washington at No. 16 and Arkansas’ Treylon Burks to Tennessee at No. 18 to help replace Brown’s production.
It’s the first time six wide receivers were drafted in the top 20.
Defense accounted for the first five picks in the draft and five players from the Georgia defense were selected in the first round.
Oh, and the Packers had two selections and chose two defensive players from Georgia in linebacker Quay Walker and defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt.
The Packers, a franchise desperate for a wide receiver, still have not picked one in the first round since Javon Walker in 2002.