Long-time Cold, Hard Football Facts readers (Hi Uncle Cooter!) know that wide receiver is the most overvalued position in football, and maybe in all of North American sports.
We call them Shiny Hood Ornaments: they sparkle and look sexy on the hood of an NFL offense, thrilling fans and general managers with their speed and athleticism. But they rarely make the engine of an NFL offense move faster. We call their lack of impact the Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law.
The history of the NFL is littered with teams that fell in love with the sexy allure of a Shiny Hood Ornament, only to look dumbfounded when the motor seized up beneath it.
The most notable example in recent years are the Atlanta Falcons, who made a draft day blunder for the ages back in 2011, shipping five draft picks to Cleveland to move up 21 spots in the first round.
Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff nabbed Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones with the No. 6 overall pick – yet another lovelorn GM smitten by the assumption that the only thing that separated his team from a Super Bowl was a Shiny Hood Ornament.
"Wait a minute!" yells the fan of imaginary fake fantasy football! Jones has produced at an elite level. He's one of the best receivers in the game.
He led the NFL last year with 136 catches, tied for the second best single-season total in league history!
He led the NFL last year with 1,871 receiving yards, second best single-season total in league history!
Certainly, Dimitroff can pat himself on the back all day long. But that’s the deceptive allure of these temptresses. Jones has LOOKED great. The reality, though, is that the Falcons franchise has suffered badly since it sold its soul for Jones.
The Falcons offense, averaged 25.9 PPG in 2010, the year BEFORE drafting Jones. It has matched that total only once. They scored 26.2 PPG in 2012. The 2015 Falcons scored just 21.1 PPG, the team’s lowest total since 2007.
Along the way, Jones and the Atlanta offense suffered one of the NFL’s most humiliating playoff performances in decades, getting blanked in a 24-2 loss to the Giants in the 2011 postseason – despite being armed with this alluring Shiny Hood Ornament.
The defense, meanwhile, has imploded. The pre-Jones 2010 Falcons allowed just 18.0 PPG, the team’s stingiest defense of the past 30 years. It’s allowed an average of 23.2 PPG in the five years since.
That’s what happens when you deny yourself five opportunities to improve a defense – including two first-round picks.
Most importantly, the wins have disappeared. An Atlanta team that won 13 games in 2010 and appeared on the verge of a Super Bowl has won just 18 games over the past three seasons, without a single campaign above .500.
NFL general managers should know better than to fall in love with high-profile WRs, but they never seem to learn their lesson. Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Percy Harvin all LOOK great. But all have failed to lift a team to the next level.
Johnson was the virtually unstoppable "Megatron." What did his greatness do for Detroit? Little. In the grand Lions tradition, Johnson got so sick of losing that he retired early.
Is Julio Jones a great player? Sure is. Maybe the best in the game today. But his status as one of the greats at his position merely proves the Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law, because this great WR has failed to make the Falcons a better team.