After a brief respite from late-round WR types in the form of Louisville running back Bilal Powell, we return to said category with a look at wide receiver Cecil Shorts who, like the aforementioned WRs, enjoyed tremendous success at a lower level of competition - Division III Mount Union. Last season, Shorts grabbed 63 passes for 1,106 yards (his third straight 1,000 yard campaign) and a whopping 17 touchdowns, running for one score, returning two punts for touchdowns and another kickoff return for a score - all after missing the first three games with an ankle injury.
2010's production was typical of his superb college career: Shorts played in 55 games at Mount Union, accumulating 259 receptions for 4,705 yards and 63 (!) touchdowns. In addition, he had 75 rushing attempts for 492 yards with 12 TDs as well as two punt returns and a kickoff return for touchdowns. In total, he accounted for nearly 6,000 all-purpose yards.
If Shorts is going to make the leap to the NFL, it will be largely because of his blinding speed. He was an All-American selection in track and field; this was evident at his pro day, where he posted a 4.35 on wet artificial turf. This followed up a Combine where he had posted disappointing forty times, but stood out in all the other position drills.
More impressive was the way Shorts conducted himself in front of NFL teams. Eric DeCosta, the Ravens Director of Player Personnel, reportedly was so taken by Shorts' personal interview that he was moved to tweet: "Great interview with Cecil Shorts of Mount Union last night. He was a two-way performer, [receiver] and [cornerback], for Mount Union in their D-III National Championship game this year."
Its not just Baltimore that finds Shorts interesting. According to sources in the know, Shorts has 10 upcoming private workouts or visits scheduled.
After the jump, we'll take a peek at why so many teams want to get to know him...
Possesses adequate size for the position, but might be a bit thin-framed through the lower half. However, is a gifted athlete who possesses good balance and body control in all areas of the game. Never looks to be straining himself when trying to get up to speed quickly. Is effortless with the ball in his hands and accelerates extremely quickly once he finds a second gear. Consistently keeps his feet under him, is balanced when asked to make a defender miss and then generates good explosion when looking to separate. Also displays impressive instincts as a runner when asked to run between the tackles, does a nice job lowering his pad level, allowing blocks to set up and then exploding toward daylight. Makes everything look so easy.
Possesses good body control and awareness when asked to locate and adjust to the throw, keeping his feet in bounds and seems to know where he is at on the field at all times. Showcases a good gear tracking the football vertically down the field and seems to just find the second gear whenever he needs it. Is a bit inconsistent plucking the football, at times will violently go up and rip down the catch in traffic and at other times will let throws go into his body over the middle.
Will have an adjustment period learning how to beat press coverage at the next level, but the guy has great quickness in tight areas and displays the kind of balance that makes me think it won't be too difficult for him. Possesses good balance as a route runner as well, will drift into his breaks a bit, but his combination of fluidity, balance and initial explosion will allow him to run just about every route needed at the next level. Battled some ankle injuries as a senior, but should be healthy for the postseason. Also, came to Mount Union as a quarterback and can throw the football when need be; took some snaps from center this year.
Impression: It's a huge learning curve for Shorts, but the guy is a gifted athlete with impressive fluidity and has a second gear that's impressive down the field. The guy can certainly play in the NFL and contribute, and if put in the right situation could have a similar NFL career as former Mount Union great Pierre Garcon.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki) 14th-rated WR; 90th overall
Positives: Good size, hands and body control. Moves smoothly and efficiently. Has loose hips and gets in and out of breaks cleanly. Runs routes with pace and tempo-sets up defenders and separates (rarely challenged at D-III level). Catches in stride. Versatile-has returned kicks and can be used as a "Wildcat" quarterback. Terrific four-year production. Excellent personal and football character-cares about the game and puts in the time to improve.
Negatives: Short arms. Average speed. Susceptible to the jam and can be bumped off course. Limited horsepower and gear change-builds up, is not a burner and is not sudden or explosive. Average creativity, elusiveness and vision after the catch. Fumbled nine times in his career. Needs to get stronger, and durability could be an issue-was dinged up as a freshman and as a senior. Unable to compete against better competition in an all-star game.
Summary: Smooth, football-smart, highly productive small-schooler who broke Pierre Garcon's records. Has more than enough athletic ability to be a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver, but the jump from Division III to the NFL is great and he will have to adjust after physically dominating inferior competition for four years.
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton) 19th-rated WR; overall unknown (not in top 130)
Separation Skills: Not a burner but does show enough speed to threaten vertically. He is silky smooth athlete who tempos his routes well and shows some savvy. Adequate burst out of break but not explosive. Only average suddenness in and out of cuts. Adequate initial burst off of the line but not quick enough to consistently beat the press with his feet. Will struggle against more physical NFL CB's until he improves his strength.
Ball Skills: He can do a better job of attacking the ball thrown over his shoulder on vertical routes. He shows very good ball skills otherwise. Displays very good body control and can adjust to poorly thrown ball. Shows focus and looks the ball in. Attacks the ball with his hands on short-to-intermediate routes and does not let it in to his pads very often. Has strong hands and is very reliable in this department.
Big play ability: Occasionally will get over the top of coverage vertically. Has enough speed to exploit a crease after the catch. Drops his weight and can change directions quickly after the catch, which he frequently uses to make the first defender miss. However, He lacks explosive burst after the catch and he doesn't show much elusiveness in space. He's more of a smooth glider. His top-end speed is only average and he's not tall enough to win many jump ball battles.
Competitiveness/ Toughness: Competitive and passionate about the game. Not afraid to go over the middle and will secure the ball when taking a hit. Plays hard. Willing blocker. Needs to improve his strength but effort is good, technique is adequate and he will work to get better as a stalk blocker.
Intangibles: Two-time team captain. All-American sprinter on Mount Union track and field team. Well respected by coaches and teammates. Hard worker with very good football intelligence and mental capacity. High school quarterback and coach's son. From same Division III program as Colts WR Pierre Garcon.
Although these evaluations are hardly unanimous, they do tend to rate Shorts as roughly the 20th-best WR in the draft (The Sporting News' Russ Lande tags him as the 21st-rated WR). Some of the principal questions concern his level of competition; on the other hand, there is a clear precedent: his predecessor at Mount Union, Pierre Garcon, made the adjustment to the NFL game with seeming ease.
Although he's a track guy, Shorts doesn't have the world-class speed of an Edmund Gates. As a result, I'll have to slot him a couple of rounds later. I'm going to place him in the sixth round, where the Cowboys currently hold pick # 176.
Next up: Jimmy Young, WR, TCU