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    How Many Wide Receivers Have Been Drafted First Overall in NFL Draft History?

    Dating back to 1936, there have been very few wide receivers to be drafted first overall. Who were those players?

    Historically, the No. 1 overall pick has been one of three positions: quarterback, offensive tackle, and defensive end.

    Since its inception in 1936, just three wide receivers have ever been selected with the top pick in the NFL Draft. Who were they, how did their careers pan out, and do we think we’ll ever see another WR go first overall again?

    Wide Receivers Drafted First Overall in NFL Draft History

    • 1964: Dave Parks, San Francisco 49ers
      • 10 seasons played (118 games)
      • Three teams (49ers, Saints, Oilers)
      • Career receiving stats: 360 receptions, 5,619 yards, 44 touchdowns
      • Three-time Pro Bowler (1964, 1965, 1966)
    • 1984: Irving Fryar, New England Patriots
      • 17 seasons played (255 games)
      • Four teams (Patriots, Dolphins, Jets, Washington)
      • Career receiving stats: 851 receptions, 12,785 yards, 84 touchdowns
      • Five-time Pro Bowler (1985, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997)
    • 1996: Keyshawn Johnson, New York Jets
      • 11 seasons played (167 games)
      • Four teams (Jets, Buccaneers, Cowboys, Panthers)
      • Career receiving stats: 814 receptions, 10,571 yards, 64 touchdowns
      • Three-time Pro Bowler (1998, 1999, 2001)
      • Super Bowl XXXVII (37) champion

    Who Was the Last Receiver Drafted First Overall?

    It has been 28 years since the New York Jets selected USC’s Keyshawn Johnson No. 1 overall in the 1996 NFL Draft.

    Johnson’s selection was just as unprecedented as his escape from the streets of Los Angeles, California. “I started hanging out with the wrong crowd and got myself in trouble,” Johnson told Cal-Hi Sports in 1994. “I was selling drugs, gang banging, and robbing people on the streets when I was finally arrested in the eighth grade and put in a correctional facility for nine months.”

    Despite his obvious talent, Johnson’s unfavorable life situation resulted in poor grades and low SAT scores. As a result, he had to spend time at JUCO. After a couple of trying years at West Los Angeles College, he earned a transfer to USC.

    It didn’t take long for Johnson to make his presence felt. He posted consecutive All-American seasons in 1994 (66-1,362-9 receiving line) and 1995 (102-1,434-7).

    Despite being an older prospect, entering the NFL at age 24, Johnson quickly emerged into a top-tier NFL wideout. While with the Jets, he made the Pro Bowl in 1998 and 1999. But his time in the Big Apple is most remembered for the book he wrote shortly after his 63-reception rookie season: “Just Give Me the Damn Ball!”

    The Jets listened. Johnson played an integral role in turning their fortunes around. New York went 3-13 in Johnson’s rookie year, but by his fourth season, they had gone 12-4, which is still the best record the team has ever posted.

    Although Johnson was the team’s clear No. 1 WR and one of the best receivers in the NFL, the Jets weren’t willing to make him the highest-paid receiver. In came the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were very much willing to pay the elite WR firmly in his prime.

    The Bucs sent over two first-round picks to the Jets in exchange for Johnson and proceeded to give him an eight-year, $53.5 million contract.

    Johnson did not remain a top receiver for much longer. But in the final year in which he posted a 1,000-yard season (2002), the Bucs captured their first Super Bowl win, toppling the Raiders 48-21.

    Ever the diva, Johnson’s relationship with the Bucs broke down due to his butting heads with head coach Jon Gruden. In Week 11 of the 2003 season, everything came to a head on the sideline after the Pro Bowler was pulled out of the game.

    Following the incident, the Bucs deactivated Johnson for the rest of the year and ultimately shipped him off to Dallas in the offseason.

    After a couple of campaigns with the Cowboys and a final season in Carolina, Johnson retired in 2006 as the 16th player in NFL history to reach 800 career receptions and the 26th with 10,000 receiving yards.

    Will Another WR Ever Get Drafted First Overall Again?

    While we can never say never, since we don’t know what the future holds, it’s extremely unlikely we ever see a wide receiver go first overall again.

    Ironically, it has nothing to do with talent. In fact, the caliber of WR prospects entering the NFL is exponentially better now than it was 20+ years ago.

    Since Johnson was drafted in 1996, we’ve seen 11 wide receivers go top five. Two of them went No. 2 overall, coincidentally both to the Detroit Lions. Those two picks couldn’t have had more opposing outcomes.

    In 2003, the Lions took colossal bust Charles Rogers with the second pick. But after just three seasons, he was out of the NFL.

    In 2007, however, the Lions took Calvin Johnson at No. 2. He currently holds the single-season receiving yardage record with 1,964 in 2012 and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I consider him the second-greatest wide receiver in NFL history.

    With the rise of the spread and Air Raid offenses in college football, as well as the expansion of 7-on-7 showcases on the high school level, the skill gap between older and younger receivers has profoundly diminished. The difference between first and second-round WRs has basically become nonexistent.

    Here are a handful of notable second-round wide receivers taken in the past 10 years:

    • Rashee Rice, 2023
    • George Pickens, 2022
    • Tee Higgins, 2020
    • Michael Pittman Jr., 2020
    • Deebo Samuel, 2019
    • A.J. Brown, 2019
    • DK Metcalf, 2019
    • Christian Kirk, 2018
    • Michael Thomas, 2016
    • Davante Adams, 2014
    • Allen Robinson, 2014

    Plus, with the majority of NFL offenses trotting out three to four receivers on a regular basis, the positional value has decreased — it’s simple supply and demand. But all it takes is one team to fall in love with one prospect. Just don’t put money on it.

    KEEP READING: List of Every First-Round Pick in NFL History

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