When information leaked out about which college players had received national invites to Valley Ranch, some fans were a bit perplexed to see some names that hadn't been talked about much - if at all. The main reason that these players were off of people's radar was that they were late rounders and/ or were from small schools, two profiles that don't tend to be perched atop Dallas' annual invite lists. This year, largely because the Cowboys have so many seventh round selections, its clear that they are doing extra due diligence on late round/ UDFA prospects in an effort to sleuth out some guys with the athleticism or traits to succeed at the NFL level - and, perhaps with a little development, make actual contributions on Sundays.
Perhaps the biggest target for the team's seventh round draft bazooka is defensive tackle, where four players fitting the above description received extended look-sees: Arizona State's Davon Coleman, Ken Bishop of Northern Illinois, Texas Tech's Kerry Hyder, and former Longhorn Chris Whaley. Other than being largely overlooked by national draftnik types, these four gents share a few common traits: they are undersized, quick and/ or fast players; they were productive as collegians; often, they played up and down the line, logging significant snaps at both DE and DT, and have been graded at both by scouting types (I've seen both Hyder and Coleman listed under DEs in draft books). And, because of these (and other) qualities, they are built to succeed in the Kiffinelli system.
Sadly, there is only scanty evidence to support this claim. The Earls of Editing at Draft Breakdown have cut-ups of two games for both Kerry Hyder (2013 Oklahoma and 2012 TCU) and Chris Whaley (2013 tilts versus TCU and Iowa State). Several national drafniks have reports on one or two of these guys, which you'll see below. That said, there is almost nothing on Davon Coleman; despite the fact that he tied for the lead in sacks (with 8.5) on a Sun Devil squad featuring future NFL players Will Sutton and Carl Bradford, the man is a veritable internet ghost. The only draftnik to offer an opinion on him is Dan Brugler - and I'm pretty sure that's only because he's a local DFW guy who works with the fellows at DallasCowboys.com on their weekly draft show.
Still, given the sheer number of late round DTs the Cowboys have in their sights, its quite clear that they'd like to spend one or more of their seventh-rounders to add depth to the interior of their defensive line. So, it behooves us to get as much info on them as possible. I'll share what I could scratch up below, offering what I felt to be the most comprehensive report on each of the four.
Ken Bishop (6'1", 308):
Due to academic issues, Bishop had to go the community college route before transferring to the Huskies prior to the 2011 season. Once there, he made his presence felt immediately, ranking eighth on the team in tackles (with 55), fifth in TFLs (with 9.5) and sixth in sacks (with two). As a senior in 2013, Bishop lead all D-linemen with 70 tackles (5.5 for loss), enough to garner First Team All-MAC honors. Bishop is a fierce, tough-minded competitor who stuffs the run up front, taking on multiple blockers and making stops. For Cowboys to draft him, they must be convinced that he can provide a modicum of pass rush.
Nolan Nawrocki (NFL.com): 26th-ranked DT; no overall grade
Strengths: Powerfully built with a good base. Good playing strength to dig hit cleats in the dirt and anchor vs. the run. Stout enough to handle the double team. Proven two-gap ability. Flashes shock in his hands and sheds quickly. Plays with urgency and is very active in pursuit. Has been very durable and adjusted well to expectations upon his arrival from community college.
Weaknesses: Lacks ideal height and length. Is not an explosive pass rusher. Unrefined pass-rush arsenal. Only produced 3 1/2 sacks the last two years as a starter. Average closing speed and short-area burst. Has stiffness in his body. Could become more consistent feeling blocking pressure.
Draft Projection: Priority free agent
Bottom Line: Possesses the point-of-attack strength and football temperament to be a factor defending the run in a rotational role.
Davon Coleman (6'2", 283):
Like Bishop, Coleman struggled to qualify academically out of high school and was forced to go the JUCO route, enrolling at Fort Scott Community College before transferring to ASU in 2011. After a year on the bench in Tempe, Coleman broke into the starting lineup as a junior, playing defensive end. The following season, Coleman gained 25 pounds and moved inside to DT, finishing among the team leaders with 15.0 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks.
Dane Brugler (NFLDraftScout.com): 19th-ranked DT; no overall grade
Strengths: Excellent body thickness and stout frame...very good functional strength to take on blocks and redirect his man...anchors well at the POA and takes on double-teams well...smooth lateral range with terrific pursuit skills, showing the ability to break down in space - very decisive player with no passiveness to his game...keeps his eye level up and locates well, displaying a knack for quickly finding the ball...balanced and squatty and rarely see him on the ground...usually quick snap reaction and initiates contact in a hurry...try-hard player with a competitive streak...hard worker in the weight room and has developed his body well, adding 40 pounds since arriving at Arizona State...versatile skill-set and lined up all over DL in college, including DE and the 0-, 1- and 3-technique spots.
Weaknesses: Some bad weight on his frame and his pounds have fluctuated over the years...lacks natural explosion and doesn't display much suddenness to his game...shows some hip stiffness and appears tight with some of his movements...needs to improve his pass rush arsenal and use his hands more consistently...will get hung up on blocks and needs to improve his ability to disengage...part of a heavy rotation and was kept fresh in college...will allow his fundamentals to get sloppy at times and allow the pad level to rise...lacks a natural position and won't be a fit for everyone...needs to sustain his focus and drive at the next level, something that wavered earlier in his career...had some past attitude issues and his maturity needs to be investigated.
Summary: Coleman...has excellent POA strength to engage and hold the point, showing the awareness to quickly locate and pursue with terrific chase skills for the position. Coleman has some tightness to his frame, but as long as the intensity level stays high, he can be productive on the football field and wear several hats - maybe best-suited as a 1-technique, who can also contribute at the 3- and 5-technique spots if needed.
Kerry Hyder (6'2", 290):
Hyder came to Lubbock as a 230-pound linebacker recruit, but grew into a defensive lineman. After a redshirt season in 2009, Hyder started three games in 2010 before becoming a full-time starter as a sophomore. Since then, Hyder has started all 38 games for Texas Tech the past three seasons, earning All-Conference honors each year. Hyder is, as Mike Mayock says, "scheme diverse," having played in several different fronts and for five different defensive coordinators (!) in his five college seasons.
Gary Horton (ESPN.com): 27th-ranked DT; no overall grade
Versus the Run: Up the field one-gap defender. Relies on quickness to create penetration and disruption. However, plays too high at times and lacks a prototypical anchor. Will get engulfed by size if unable to initially win with quickness. Active hands getting off blocks and redirecting.
Pass Rush Skills: Above-average quickness. Active hand fighter to get blockers off of frame. Good agility executing twists/stunts and shows a quick closing burst. Game is predicated on quickness in this area though and lacks ideal power in lower half. Still developing finishing strength. Adequate instincts.
Quickness (hands/ feet): Adequate quickness with feet and hands. When coming off the ball with quality pad level quickly gets into blockers frame. Inconsistent pad level can hamper initial quickness at times. Above-average lateral movement and overall range.
Toughness/ Motor: Plays hard and with a consistent motor. Chases in pursuit. Will battle at the point of attack. However, does not have an overly physical or violent demeanor to his game. We would like to see more of a nasty side on tape.
Intangibles: Mature individual that handles his responsibilities on and off the field. Well-liked and respected by teammates and coaches. Very good work ethic and practice habits. Natural leader by example but willing to get vocal with teammates if need be.
Chris Whaley (6'3", 295):
Whaley was recruited as a running back in 2009, but never actually recorded a carry for the Longhorns, practicing at tight end and fullback before moving to the defensive side of the ball prior to the 2011 season. Whaley was a part-time starter at defensive tackle as a junior in 2012 and emerged as an impact senior captain in 2013, recording 5.0 tackles for loss and three turnovers, two returned for scores. His college career ended after a serious knee injury in Nov. 2013, which kept him from participating in the pre-draft workout season.
Dane Brugler (NFLDraftScout.com): 25th-ranked DT; no overall grade
Strengths: Athletic lower body with coordinated footwork and explosive qualities to burst out of his stance to shoot gaps...stays balanced through contact with a flexible body type to twist and dip past blockers...loose hips to easily redirect his momentum...improved ball awareness and recognition skills to quickly locate and attack...physical tackler and plays with a defensive mentality...impressive return ability on turnovers - became first DT in school history to scored multiple defensive scores in the same season (INT, FR)...fights through the whistle and known for his coachable attitude and competitive nature...mature and well-respected in the locker room - moved to the defensive side of the ball to do what was best for the team.
Weaknesses: Extreme weight fluctuation and needs to find a happy medium in the 290-range - was 215-pounds as a freshman, but was as high as 297-pounds this season...upper body strength is average-at-best, struggling with multiple blockers...unrefined hand technique and placement, failing to shed once engaged...will get stood up at the LOS and lose sight of the ball - anchor strength needs work...instincts on the DL and snap anticipation are underdeveloped and very much a work-in-progress...strong durability concerns due to a serious knee injury (Nov. 2013) that ended his collegiate career...below average experience on defense and overall production (3.0 career sacks).
Summary: He will undoubtedly be compared to Henry Melton, both being former Texas RBs who made the not-so-common transition from the backfield to DT, and the comparison isn't too far off - both have athletic feet to be upfield gap penetrators. Whaley showed flashes the past few seasons, but needs time to develop at the position - worth of a day three investment with his best football likely ahead of him as long as his knee recovers as expected.
All of the drafniks I've seen rate these guys in the sixth round at the earliest down to UDFA range. I'm not going to disagree with that; I've put Hyder as a sixth rounder on my "little board" and slotted the other three in the seventh round - with the understanding that, of the three, Bishop has the best chance to be drafted earlier than that spot.
As far as Dallas goes: I think the Cowboys see something familiar in these players. In a recent podcast with KD, we discussed Davon Coleman, noting the similarities between his draft profile and that of a former draftee who, as a collegian, was a defensive lineman without a position but had winning traits. He was drafted in the seventh round of the 2005 draft; you may have heard of him - fellow by the name of Jeremiah Ratliff. Indeed, I'd bet all four of these guys - but especially Hyder and Coleman - remind Cowboys scouts of the former Auburn product, but without the bad attitude. With that vision dancing in their heads, I'd bet the team will happily head to the podium late on the third day with one of these names on a card.
Tomorrow: Ohio State outside linebacker Ryan Shazier