Why wide receivers are taking over the NFL draft

Jaylen Waddle's NFL potential shines through in his Alabama mixtape (1:49)

Check out highlights from Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle ahead of the 2021 NFL draft. (1:49)

In the 2020 NFL draft, teams selected a record 13 wide receivers in the first two rounds, from No. 12 pick Henry Ruggs III to No. 59 Denzel Mims. Each of the 13 gained at least 220 yards through the air last season, and eight had at least 500. Minnesota's Justin Jefferson, the No. 22 pick, gained 1,400; Buffalo had traded said pick to the Vikings as part of a deal for star Stefon Diggs, but Diggs outgained the rookie by only 135 yards.

The production spread beyond the top guys in the draft. Fifth-rounder Darnell Mooney (631 yards and four touchdowns) was Chicago's No. 2 receiver, and fourth-rounder Gabriel Davis (599 yards at 17.1 per catch) and undrafted Tyron Johnson (398 yards at 19.9 per catch) gave the Bills and Chargers, respectively, extra deep pop. In all, 23 rookie wideouts caught at least one ball per game. That might not be the highest bar, but at this position, rookies became useful players quickly.

This high hit rate didn't begin in 2020 -- of the 29 wideouts who served as their team's No. 1 receiver in terms of yardage (two teams were led by a tight end, one by a running back), 15 began their career in the past three seasons, 12 in the past two.

If projections are any indication, this year's draft could be just as prolific. In his most recent mock draft, Mel Kiper Jr. projects 14 wide receivers to go in the first two rounds; Todd McShay projects a more conservative 10, but that's still the potential continuation of a trend. While nine or more wideouts had gone in the first two rounds just three times in the 10 years between 2009 and 2018, this is shaping up to be the third year in a row that it happens.

You never want to go too far down the "TRENDING!!" road when something happens three times. After all, 21 wideouts went in the 2014 and '15 drafts' first two rounds before averages regressed again. But it would certainly make sense if we were witnessing an upward trend in how receivers are valued on draft boards, and for a number of reasons.