We conclude our series on the wide receiver position with two pieces on the Cowboys' success scouting the position of maximum risk.
In '07, I wrote a series for my old site on "bust factors," which examined the rate at which first-round picks succeeded and failed, by position.
The most surprising finding was that wide receiver, by far, was the riskiest position. The bust factor for 1st round WRs from '97 through '06 was 51%, and stayed around 50% for 2nd rounders. Amazingly, wide receiver remains the most-picked offense position, by far. Teams cannot help going for the big splash at wideout. The Lions former GM Matt Millen could not resist their siren song, and picked four of them in the top ten between 2003 and 2007. He ran the Lions ship onto the rocks and sent his management career to the briny deep when their production followed the bust-factor predictions. Charles Rogers and Mike WIlliams are out of football. Roy WIlliams now plays for Dallas. Only Calvin Johnson remains in Detroit.
The Cowboys have shied away from high receiver picks. Antonio Bryant was their only selection in the top three rounds this past decade. That said, they've been looking at receiver for some time, and the lack of picks has as much to do with bad luck as any aversion to the position.
In 2003 they had Andre Johnson on their short list for the 5th overall pick and went with Terence Newman when Houston snagged Johnson with the 3rd pick.
In 2007 they had three receivers high on their wish list -- LSU's Dwayne Bowe, Tennessee's Robert Meachem and USC's Steve Smith. They passed on the first two when they accepted Cleveland's 2nd and '08 1st rounder in the Brady Quinn deal. When Dallas hopped back up to 26, it had a choice between Meachem and Anthony Spencer. Meachem has turned into a decent player for New Orleans but it appears Dallas made the right decision picking the linebacker.
The Cowboys had their WR hopes deflated in the 2nd when the Giants took Smith one pick ahead of them. The Cowboys subsequently traded out of the round. Smith has become a Cowboys tormentor in his short career.
'08 had a deep crop which lacked glamorous, four-tool 1st rounders. Not one receiver was selected in the 1st. The Cowboys eyed Virginia Tech's Eddie Royal and Indiana's James Hardy got some pre-draft attention, but they never came within Dallas' grasp. From the time Mike Jenkins was picked at 25 to the time Martellus Bennett was selected at 61 ten receivers flew off the board. Hardy and Royal were picked back-to-back at 41 and 42.
What's important is that nearly all of the Cowboys short listers have become solid to outstanding receivers. This suggests the team knows how to identify the good prospects among the dross. Landing them is another story.
This year is shaping up a lot like '08 in my eyes. Dez Bryant is a sure-fire first rounder but after that, we're looking at a lot of prospects with second round grades. Notice, I'm not saying guys who will be drafted in the 2nd round exclusively -- some may sneak into the back end of the first, where Dallas picks -- but guys with 2nd round grades. What does this mean? I'll explain Monday, when I go over the construction of the draft boards.
For now, take a look at the names who are clear Cowboys' players of interest, based on Senior Bowl interviews. Cincinnati's Mardy Gilyard likely will get a 2nd round grade. Dallas also spoke to Georgia Tech monster Demaryius Thomas, a 6'3" 229 pounder who fits the big receiver profile. He looked like a 2nd to 3rd rounder, though he will miss the Combine after breaking his foot. If the Cowboys feel they have good tape and intelligence on him, he may represent good value in the 3rd or even 4th now. Clemson lightning bug Jacoby Ford also looks like a middle round prospect.
These are by no means the only receivers on the Cowboys' radar, but they do fit the profiles we laid out earlier this week. Don't neglect data that's hiding in plain view.
Friday mid-day: I revisit the WR bust factors, with a big assist from OneCoolCustomer, who has updated the numbers from '06 to '09.
Monday: Build a board like the pros.