Cowboys 2014 Draft Targets: Colorado WR Paul Richardson

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Because there has been such a high correlation in recent years between the top collegians invited to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits and who the Cowboys end up drafting, its important to know as much as possible about these players. As a service to you, BTB offers a series of detailed scouting reports on these players, compiled from the work of top draft analysts. Today, we'll look at Colorado WR Paul Richardson

Paul Richardson has traveled a winding road in his collegiate career: he initially signed with UCLA, but was dismissed after some malfeasance (an arrest for theft). He transferred to Colorado, where he suited up in all twelve games in 2010, recording 34 receptions for 514 yards (a nifty 15.1-yard average) and six touchdowns. The following campaign, he enjoyed an incremental statistical bump - 39-555-5 (14.2 per) - after missing four of the Buffaloes' five October games with a damaged left MCL. After missing the entire 2012 season with an ACL tear in the same knee, Richardson returned to the field in 2013 and exploded, starting all of Colorado's 12 games and leading the team in receptions (83) and TDs (10), and setting a school record for receiving yards, with 1,343.

Although undersized, the 6'0", 175 pound Richardson makes up for any shortcomings with blazing speed. This can be seen in his yearly yards-per-catch totals (between 14.2 and 16.32 YPC) and collection of long touchdowns (he averaged a stunning 41.8 yards per score over his collegiate career). We can see his speed on tape by going to Draft Breakdown, where the Pharaohs of Film have provided cut-ups of five of Richardson's games. Make sure you check out his games against Colorado State (10 receptions for 208 yards) and Pac-12 rivals Arizona (7-132) and Cal (11-140). If his deep-play ability isn't enough to get you excited, there's always this: he's an "RKG"; Richardson was elected team captain in 2013.

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Let's see what our panelists think of Richardson and his NFL prospects...

Rob Rang (CBSSports.com): 11th-ranked WR; 61st overall

Strengths: Terrific athlete who appeared every bit as agile and explosive in 2013 after missing the entire 2012 season with a torn ACL. Very good straight-line speed making him an excellent option on vertical routes. Savvy route-runner who alters his gait off the line and throughout his route to gain separation from cornerbacks. Sinks his hips and explodes out of his breaks. Generally plucks the ball cleanly out of the air with his hands, securing it quickly. Can track the ball over either shoulder and flashes the ability to dive and haul in the extraordinary catch. Good vision to set up blocks. Good bloodlines. Father, Paul, Sr., played wide receiver in the NFL with Philadelphia, Oakland, Green Bay and the New York Jets.

Weaknesses: Very slim build and has struggled with durability throughout his career. Doesn't track the ball over his shoulder as well as he should for a receiver who makes his living on big plays. Too often senses the oncoming defender and allows the pass to slip through his fingers. Doesn't offer much as a downfield blocker.

Compares To: Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers - Some will compare Richardson to Sanders' more established teammate Antonio Brown. Until Richardson (and Sanders) catch the ball with more consistency, however, each is likelier to earn more of a complementary role in the NFL despite natural playmaking ability.

Gary Horton (ESPN.com): 11th-ranked WR; 65th overall

Separation Skills: Excellent combination of fluidity, quickness and speed. Flashes tempo and does a nice job of setting up defenders within stem. Smooth transition and shows good pop of cuts to create separation. Very effective and natural with double moves. Natural feel for soft spots and wades through traffic well working against zone coverage. Thin frame and lacks ideal strength and will get bumped around by more physical corners at times.

Ball Skills: Inconsistent in this area. Above-average flexibility and flashes the ability to make acrobatic catch. However, catching the ball doesn't come natural to him.  Allows ball to get into his frame at times and has his share of drops with catchable throws. Seems to lack confidence at times. Inconsistent tracking the ball which gets magnified against tight coverage. Lacks strength to consistently win in contested situations.

Big Play Ability: Quick starter with the top-end speed to take the top off of a defense. Below-average ability to win one-on-one downfield battles. Smooth after the catch and flashes the extra gear to outrun pursuit and take it the distance when catching on the move with room to run. However, too much east-and-west at times.

Competitiveness: Above-average field and sideline awareness. Works to find open areas off of QB scramble. However, questionable overall toughness. Average to below-average focus and plays small in traffic at times. Average effort as a run blocker. Lacks strength and is easily discarded by more physical blockers.

Intangibles: Father Paul Sr. played WR at UCLA and in the NFL with multiple teams. No off the field red-flags that we are currently aware of.

Dan Shonka (Ourlads): 9th-ranked WR; 72nd overall

Junior entry. Two-year starter. Is one of the fastest players entering the draft. Slender build. Quick in and out of his routes. A vertical deep threat who can stretch a secondary. He caught 83 passes, averaging 16.1 yards per catch coming of a 2012 ACL injury. Has NFL caliber skills catching the ball in his hands. Runs disciplined routes coming back to the ball while separating from cornerbacks. An impact player who can pluck the ball with his quick and reactive hands. Demonstrates good leaping ability to go up and get the ball at the high point. A fluid athlete who was the Buffs' feature receiver. One of the most athletic receivers in this draft. Good arm length and second level explosiveness. A good route runner who can separate with quickness and instincts. Good football intelligence and initial quickness. Adjusts well to an off target pass. Has not been a special teams' performer. Slender build brings durability questions.

Nolan Nawrocki (NFL.com): 21st-ranked WR; 53rd overall

Strengths: Jab steps and accelerates into routes. Fluid and field fast. Chews up ground with long strides. Stretches the field vertically and can run under deep throws. Can drive off corners, break off and work back to the quarterback. Can extend to pluck off his frame. Shows he's capable of making the spectacular grab. Productive despite a poor supporting cast. Has a 38-inch vertical jump.

Weaknesses: Is very lean. Needs to bulk up and get stronger. Has been injured and durability could be an issue. Vulnerable to the jam. Does not separate consistently -- needs to become a more refined, deceptive route runner. Average burst out of breaks. Lets some throws into his body and drops throws he shouldn't. Gets out-muscled at the catch point for 50-50 balls. Limited run strength. Underpowered blocker.

Draft Projection: Rounds 3-4

Bottom Line: Very lean, narrow-framed, finesse "X" receiver who made an immediate impact at Colorado before knee injuries derailed his progress. Measurables will go a long way in determining his ultimate draft value, and his success at the next level is dependent upon his ability to make plays in the vertical passing game. Has a boom-or-bust element. Size and durability are question marks.

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Our foursome is in agreement on Richardson, grading him pretty tightly, as a late second or early third rounder. In such a deep receiver class, I think he might fall to the lower end of that range, so I'm going to slot him in the third round on my "little board."

As far as the Cowboys are concerned: one of the watchwords of this year's draft process has been: speed. Consider for a moment: who on their offense has dynamic, game-breaking speed, the kind that forces defensive coordinators to fear putting a safety in the box. The answer: nobody. Richardson isn't durable enough to be a starting wideout, but his deep speed will make him an ideal candidate for three or four receiver sets.

Sure Dallas has more pressing needs for their third-rounder selection than wide receiver, especially if they use their pick at #16 instead of trading down. If they do spend it on him - or on another burner - I'd bet it will have a very positive effect on the Cowboys offense, opening things up for the likes of Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray.

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This is the final profile in the series. Enjoy the draft, and look for me; I'll be there, proudly wearing my BTB t-shirt!

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