Over the years, the Cowboys have favored three basic wide receiver profiles: the first belongs to size-speed combo guys, outside receivers in the 6'2", 210-220 range who can run at least a 4.5 forty-yard dash; these tend to be drafted on the first or second day (see, Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams). The second group, little waterbug types who win with quickness, can be drafted in any round (think of Tavon Austin, a first rounder on their 2013 board, or UDFA Cole Beasley). The last, are shorter, stockier guys who often resemble running backs, especially after the catch, and are usually third day targets (Dwayne Harris is this profile's posterchild).
Due to a number of factors - they already have two starters from the first category; they need to focus on stocking both lines; its a deep draft for receivers - the Cowboys are very unlikely to select a wideout until the third day. On the other hand, with Miles Austin's departure, they are almost certainly going to draft someone at that position. So, with those two ideas in mind, it stands to reason that we should focus on third-day prospects with the above delineated traits. After all, that's what the team's national invites list suggests--they invited three WRs to Valley Ranch, all likely to be selected in Saturday. Today, we take a look at two of them, Oregon's Josh Huff and Texas's Mike Davis, both of whom were Texas prep stars.
Mike Davis (6'2", 195):
Davis initially committed to LSU before deciding to stay in-state at Texas. He saw immediate action as a true freshman and quickly became a key part of the Longhorns' passing attack. In 2010, played in 11 games, setting a freshman record with 47 receptions. The following year, he played in all thirteen contests, starting eleven, and leading the team with 45 receptions for 609 yards and a touchdown. In 2012, he fell to second on the team in receptions (with 57), but led them in receiving yards (939), receiving TDs (7) and yards per catch (16.5). Last year, as a senior, Davis was named Texas' Most Valuable Offensive Player after finishing second on the team in receptions (51) and first in receiving yards (727) and touchdowns (8). He merited All-Big 12 honors three times.
Davis has a good mix of size and speed and has the skill-set to line up inside and outside, on the line of scrimmage and off, but needs to continue to progress as a route runner and prove he is reliable catching the football. Despite this consistent production, Davis never took the proverbial "next step" in his development, and his tape has left teams with myriad questions. Still, he has NFL-caliber physical traits, which, if harnessed, would spell success in the league. Let's see what the scouts think of his chances...
Dane Brugler (CBSSports.com): 19th -ranked WR; 125th overall
Strengths: Good-sized athlete with long arms and big hands. Good vertical speed and acceleration to gain a step and beat defenses deep. Quick off the line of scrimmage to beat press and uses hesitation in his routes to get behind the secondary. Tracks the deep ball very well and locates quickly to finish over his shoulder. Large catching radius and uses his length to extend and pluck the ball away from his frame. Natural body control to adjust his frame. Easy acceleration in his routes and has shown steady improvement in his patterns. Uses his extension well as a perimeter blocker and is very competitive in this area. Consistent production in his four years at college, leaving Austin fourth in school history in catches (200) and receiving yards (2,753).
Weaknesses: Leggy and tight and more of a straight-line type of athlete. Has some body stiffness. Takes a few steps to get up to full speed when fighting off contact and after gearing down. Needs to develop his route tree and prove to be more proficient on more than just vertical patterns. Struggles to deceive defenders on non-go routes. Not the most natural hands catcher and will have his share of drops. Only average after the catch and lacks the shifty moves or change of direction to make defenders miss. Alligator arms in traffic and needs to play without fear. Questionable mental toughness and appears to get down on himself easily. Sense of entitlement with concerns that he will never be a grinder to reach his full potential.
Nolan Nawrocki (NFL.com): 22nd-ranked WR; no overall ranking
Strengths: Good size and athletic ability -- looks the part. Makes the hard catch look easy and can make make the acrobatic, in-air catch extending high outside the numbers. Is capable of stretching a defense and creating chunk plays in the passing game. Good field awareness working along the sideline.
Weaknesses: Very stiff. Average play speed. Does not adjust well to the ball even when placed in the right spot. Is easily rerouted and fazed by traffic. Not strong after the catch and makes few big plays. Has a case of the drops -- inconsistent hands. Lackadaisical route-runner and blocker. Inadequate on-field body language and temperament -- is usually at the back of the line in practice drills and does not exhibit urgency in his play or leadership traits in the locker room. Reprimanded by the Big 12 for a late hit on a defender's knees after the whistle vs. Iowa State.
Draft Projection: Rounds 4-5
Bottom Line: A big, long, athletic receiver with inconsistent hands and questionable toughness and effort. Displays starter-caliber physical traits, yet his playing demeanor and approach turn off many evaluators and could force his draft status to sink. Is at his best outside the numbers as an "X" receiver.
Josh Huff (5'11", 202)
As a true freshman in 2010, Huff played all thirteen of the Ducks' games (starting two), registering 19 catches for 303 yards (a neat 15.9-yard average) and three scores, adding 23 kickoff returns for 567 yards (a 24.7 yard clip). In 2011, he started ten games, and continued as a dual threat, with 31-430-2 (13.9) in the passing game and averaging 21.8 yards on eight kickoff returns. The following year, he started all 11 games played catching 32 balls for 493 yards (15.4 a catch) and seven TDs. As a senior, Huff closed out his career by starting all thirteen Oregon games, nabbing 61 catches for 890 yards and seven scores, plus another 252 yards on eleven kickoff returns.
Huff has only average height, but is very solidly built, boasting good athleticism. He exhibits explosive cuts and fluid body control, making him a dangerous threat after the catch. These were on display at the Senior Bowl; Phil Savage, the former Browns GM and now Senior Bowl's Executive Director, termed Huff the best receiver at this year's practices, singling him out from a group including Wyoming's Robert Herron, Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis, Alabama's Kevin Norwood, and Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews.
Gary Horton (ESPN.com): 20th-ranked WR; 132nd overall
Separation Skills: Shows ability to get in and out of breaks quickly. Effective with double moves. Gets separation on comeback routes. Good awareness recognizing coverage. But did not run traditional NFL route tree at Oregon and may need time to adjust. Caught a lot of passes in screen game and most of his intermediate-to-vertical routes were against off-man coverage. Rarely faced press coverage. Will need to improve strength and develop release savvy.
Ball Skills: Hands are quick. Nice extension to pluck. Makes some tough catches on fastballs. Makes some tough catches in traffic. But question consistency adjusting to ball away from frame (especially behind him and/or above shoulder pads). Also struggles at times to locate and catch ball over shoulder.
Big Play Ability: Lacks elite top-end speed but has enough transition quickness on double moves and enough top-end speed to threaten vertically in NFL from time-to-time. Has an extra gear to track deep ball. Lacks ideal leaping ability on tape. Not going to win a high enough percentage of jump balls. Transitions upfield quickly after catch, shows good vision setting up blocks and anticipating cuts, and also runs hard. A smooth glider that weaves his way in and out of traffic. Can make first defender miss with sharp cut but not overly elusive and will not often make multiple defenders miss.
Intangibles: Extremely rough childhood. Mom battled drug addiction. Swung a 2x4 at his head and nearly killed him. Mom would later be jailed for aggravated assault with deadly weapon (swung a lead pipe at a man). Mom was later paroled but wound up back in jail (Marlin, Texas) for a drug charge. Josh sought counseling to absolve the blame he placed on himself for his mother's addiction. Will need good support system but is coachable and has desirable work ethic. He is first in his family to receiver college degree (majored in Sociology). Broke Oregon single-season receiving mark (1,140 yards) that was established in 1970 by Bob Newland. Played QB, WR, RB and CB in high school.
Dan Shonka (Ourlads): 15th-ranked WR; 125th overall
A three-year starter. An explosive compact receiver with big speed and strong hands. Adjusts well catching the ball over either shoulder. Runs like a running back after catch. Breaks tackles with his strong legs. Physical and competitive down the field, especially in the end zone. Quick in and out of his breaks. Gives a good effort to finish plays. Plays in a zone read spread offense where he is wide open. An aggressive route runner with good ball skills. A consistent and reliable three level receiver. Smart enough to play in a variety of alignments. He's a playmaker with the ball in his hands. Has his share of concentration drops looking to run before the catch. Shorter than ideal for an outside vertical threat. Needs to work on getting off press coverage.
Our panelists, both those I've included above and those I haven't for reasons of space, are closely aligned on both prospects, giving them fourth- or fifth-round grades. Most of them think Huff is the superior wideout, but Davis' more NFL-worthy tools does tend to tip the scales back in his direction for many of them. I prefer Huff because of his superior route running, which, like accuracy for quarterbacks, seems to the be the essential positional trait that nobody talks about. With that in mind, I'll slot Huff in the fourth round and Davis in the sixth on my "little board."
In my opening, I noted that the Cowboys have three clear WR profiles. Davis has the body but not the wheels or the attitude to be in the first category, which demands a specific size-speed combination; frankly, he reminds me of Kevin Ogletree, another inconsistent college WR with "NFL tools." On the other hand, Huff fits neatly in the third category, where he figures to be a Dwayne Harris clone, a multidimensional guy who has neither the size nor speed to win on the outside but can do some damage over the middle, has good run after catch skills (huff was a running back in high school) and in the return game.
Hmmm...Kevin Ogletree or Dwayne Harris? For my third-day receiver pick, give me Harris, any day and twice on Sunday.
Tomorrow: Colorado WR Paul Richardson. Oh and, in the evening, the draft's first round...