Cowboys Rookie WR Danny Coale: Can He Be The Number Three Guy?

Danny Coale is always open.

Assessing draft picks, particularly ones you've never heard of before, is always a tricky proposition, because you'll almost always succumb to shiny-new-toy-disease: While there's always a chance a late-round draft pick or UDFA might turn into the next Jay Ratliff, Tony Romo, or Miles Austin, those chances are pretty slim.

So with that in mind, and before we look at fifth-round pick Danny Coale in more detail, let's look at the Cowboys' late-round WR picks (fifth round or lower) of the last decade:

In 2002, the Cowboys picked WR DeVeren Johnson in the sixth round. Johnson spent the first year on the practice squad and was released during camp the next year. In 2003, they picked Zuriel Smith, also in the sixth round. Smith played one season as a fumble-prone kick-and punt returner, spent two more years on the roster without ever playing again and was eventually released. In 2004, they picked Patrick Crayton in the seventh round. Crayton played 82 games for the Cowboys so that must count as a draft success. In 2009, they picked Manuel Johnson in the seventh. Johnson recorded one reception in his two years with the Cowboys before being released. 2011 sixth-round pick Dwayne Harris spent most of the year on the practice squad before being signed to the active roster last December. He has not had a single NFL reception yet.

I guess one out of five isn't all that bad, so the question is, can Danny Coale be the third guy, just like Patrick Crayton was? Jason Garrett seems to think so.

"He’s a guy that we like physically. We like him intangibly. He’s got some position versatility and flexibility," Garrett said. "We feel like he has good traits to be an inside receiver also the physical skills to be an outside receiver. We’re excited about him at the receiver position, but also as a special teams contributor. Very good career there at Virginia Tech."

Garrett likes Coale's athleticism, production and intangibles, so those are the things we'll look at in more detail after the break.

Athleticism

Courtesy of Gil Brandt of NFL.com, we know what teams are looking for in their wide receivers in terms of athleticism, and I've summarized Coale's measurable in the table below. As with most prospects, Coale put up measurables at both the Combine and his Pro Day and I've noted both.

The problem with Pro Days is that you don't know how accurate these measurements are. At the Combine, everything is normed, while things at the Pro Days can be a little looser. In Coale's case, he pulled a muscle near his rib prior to the Shrine Bowl, and was not fully recovered at the Combine, so his improvements across the board at his Pro Day, when back to full health, look quite feasible.

Drill Significance Receivers Combine
Pro Day
40-yard dash Speed over distance 4.55 4.50 4.37
10-yard split (40) Initial quickness 1.60 - - 1.53
20-yard split (40) maintain quickness 2.65 - - 2.59
225-pound bench press reps Upper body strength 12 12 - -
Vertical jump Explosiveness, leg strength 36 35 37
Broad jump
Explosiveness, leg strength 10-0 9-7 10-3
20-yard shuttle Flexibility, burst, balance 4.15 4.15 4.09
3-cone drill Agility, change of direction 7.00 6.69 6.64
60-yard shuttle Flexibility, balance, endurance 11.4 11.22 - -

Overall, Coale meets every single marker in terms of athleticism, which is a good thing. He has speed and agility, the only potential red flag here is his explosiveness.

Explosiveness can be approximated with a simple formula called the explosion index. The explosion index adds up the number of bench press reps with the broad and vertical jump values. Technically, this is not mathematically correct, because you can't just add reps, inches and feet into one aggregate number, but who cares.

What the index gives you is an idea of a player's explosiveness. A number over 70 is considered a very good result. Coale has an explosion number of 59.3, which should be a watch-out. His lower body strength looks just fine, it's his upper body strength that he'll need to work on if he wants to be successful against NFL quality defenders. Frankly, this is a little surprising and perhaps even troubling, considering that his father is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at the Virginia Military Institute, but maybe I'm being a little bit too picky here.

Fortunately for Coale, recent research into the physical attributes necessary for NFL success suggest that being able put up lots of reps on the bench isn't one of them, at least for wide receivers. Instead, it's much more about speed, lower body strength and agility. The table below lists the most important drills for wide receivers and how Coale compares:

Drill 40-YARD DASH VERTICAL JUMP
BROAD JUMP
THREE CONE
EPA Avg. Success Avg. Success Avg. Success Avg. Success
4.53 83% 36 83% 121 65% 7.01 57%
Danny Coale 4.37 37 123 6.64

The success percentage in the table indicates the percentage of prospects who became NFL starters out of all prospects who met or exceeded the peer average of the specific drill. In other words, 83% of receivers who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds or less became starters in the NFL.

Danny Coale exceeds peer average in all four drills. In terms of athleticism, there's little to suggest Danny Coale couldn't eventually become a starter in the NFL.

Production

Virginia Tech has always been known for its rushing attack. Running back David Wilson earned ACC player of the year honors during a year when VT's QB Logan Thomas set multiple records for a first-year quarterback, and WRs Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin left VT as the number 1 and 2 all-time receivers in VT's record books. But that's just the way it goes. David Wilson ended up as the Giants' first-round pick, Coale is the Cowboys' fifth-round pick and Boykin signed with the Jaguars as an UDFA.

Here are Coale's career numbers:

Danny Coale College Career Stats
Year Receptions Rec. Yards Yards per Rec. Touchdowns
2008 36 408 11.3 0
2009 30 614 20.5 2
2010 39 732 18.8 3
2011 60 904 15.1 3
TOTAL 165 2,658 16.1 8

In 2010 and 2009, Coale's Yards per Reception ranked number 12 and number 8 nationally. That's quite an accomplishment and shows that, as Garrett mentioned above, Coale isn't just a slot guy but can play the outside equally well.

By all accounts, Coale already is an accomplished route runner, so that's something that will come in handy in Dallas. The Cowboys' passing game is built on precise route running and inside plays on the move. This makes it a perfect fit for Austin and Witten, two highly disciplined route runners, but made it a nightmare for a guy like Martellus Bennett who is more of a sloppy route runner.

But there is one other aspect of Danny Coale's game that truly stand out: he gets open. VT coach Frank Beamer confirms this:

"Danny is running down the field wide open more than anybody I can remember. It’s amazing,"

Coale's ability to get open has reached near mythical status among Virginia Tech fans, who claim that "Danny Coale is always open", so much so that if you Google "danny coale is" you'll get the following suggestions:

Danny_coale_is_large

This is what the NFL Draft Advisory Board wrote about Coale:

Coale understands how to be a possession receiver and work across the field to gain separation when working against man or zone. He is quick with his feet both off the line of scrimmage and in his routes to gain a step to get open, and understands how to throttle his routes down when working against zone coverage.

He is the type of heady player who could play right away at the next level. While he will be productive underneath, he has the speed to stretch the field and runs routes that will get him open and gain yardage at the next level. He is physical and not afraid to go across the middle.

And it is exactly this ability to get open that let Laurent Robinson have such an impact with the Cowboys last year, as Tony Romo said recently:

"He had a knack for continuing to move as the play broke down," Romo said of Robinson, who signed with Jacksonville. "He understood the timing I wanted to see, and he was able to do that really well."

Laurent Robinson shares the feeling:

"It’s pretty crazy," Robinson said in December. "It seems like we’re always on the same page. When he scrambles, it seems like he looks to me first. I’m just able to get free and get open in the end zone, and he makes a great play."

Can Coale be that guy?

Intangibles

Did you know that Danny Coale scored a 28 on his Wonderlic? Well, now you do.

Last year, Coale was awarded the Jim Tatum Award by the ACC, which is presented annually to the ACC’s top football scholar-athlete. Coale also carried a 3.3 grade-point average and has undergraduate degrees in both finance and in marketing management.

He was a team captain at Virginia Tech, something that carries a lot of weight with the Cowboys.

VT Coach Frank Beamer was also effusive in his praise of Coale:

"He is the perfect example of what you are looking for. He gives you all he’s got on the field, he has great character and he excels academically. He is just a well-rounded student-athlete. He has meant a great deal to this program.”

In the call Jason Garrett made to Coale when they drafted him, he said: "We love how you play. We feel you can have a role on our football team and you’ve got great upside and you’re the right kind of guy.”

Can Coale be the guy?

The history of the Cowboys' late-round draft picks at wide receiver should temper our collective enthusiasm for Danny Coale a little bit. He is not an automatic shoe-in for that third wide receiver spot. But in reviewing his athleticism, production and intangibles it's clear why the Cowboys picked him.

Coale has all the intangible and physical attributes that would allow him to succeed as a solid number three receiver. We know that Coale was beginning to receive a lot of interest from other teams when the Cowboys drafted him in the fifth. Matt Mosley from Fox Sports Southwest writes:

Perhaps the Cowboys' best selection in terms of value was Virginia Tech wide receiver Danny Coale in the fifth round. According to a source, the Ravens thought seriously about taking Coale in the fourth round (130). The Cowboys selected Coale 22 spots later. And in conversations with folks at Valley Ranch on Monday, they were still talking about their good fortune in landing the versatile player.

The fact that he dropped that far may be partly due to a feeling that he's a little injury prone (although he only missed one game in 2009), and that he may lack the upper body strength to match up with NFL defenders - though that's nothing that some quality time with Mike Woicik won't help improve.

On paper, Coale has what it takes to be a solid slot receiver for the Cowboys for years. But he'll have to work hard for it. Tony Romo is clear on what it'll take to grab that third wide receiver spot:

"It’s just a matter of who is going to work their butt off and put themselves in that position."

Danny Coale is open to that.

Because Danny Coale is always open.

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