Earlier today, O.C.C. offered up an excellent post detailing the Cowboys' history with small-school standouts, focusing on players that the Cowboys have drafted from non "Power Five" conferences. This group grows considerably when we throw in the UDFA types they have added after the draft over the years. Its there that they take a relatively risk-free flyer on players with athletic upside such as Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Ron Leary and Cole Beasley.
As the above list suggests, one of the positions where they have the most success with this model is at wide receiver. Not only did they unearth diamonds such as Austin (Monmouth) and Beasley (SMU), but also added significant contributors Sam Hurd (Northern Illinois), Patrick Crayton (NW Oklahoma State) and Dwayne Harris (East Carolina). In addition, a long line of small-school guys have made the roster, found a spot on the practice squad, or at least impressed in camp, including Randall Williams (New Hampshire); Zuriel Smith (Hampton); Terrance Copper (East Carolina); Jamaica Rector (NW Missouri State); Raymond Radway (Abeline Christian); and Andre Holmes (Hillsdale).
For the purposes of this post, I'd like to add another profile type to the list: the BCS School wideout who, for whatever reason, was buried on his college team's depth chart and, as a result, never has the opportunity to showcase his wares. Two players who impressed in minicamps last year, L'Damian Washington (Missouri) and Chris Boyd (Vanderbilt), fit this bill. Together with the small-school dudes, they form a body of evidence for the way the Cowboys like to address the draft's late rounds. As a general rule, Dallas has tended to prioritize athletic potential over, say, middling athletic markers from a three-year starter at a Big 10 school. I'll let The Cool One explain:
But what these percentages are indicative of is a team's draft strategy: Are they more or less inclined to go after smaller school prospects or not. The percentage is also indicative of a team's risk tolerance, or risk adversity, depending on your POV. Teams like the Bengals, Eagles, or Bills seem to believe they'll increase their chances at draft success by drafting mostly from bigger, established schools. Teams like the Cowboys, Packers and Ravens seem to believe that the higher risk of taking a smaller school prospect can be outweighed by that prospect's potential upside.
Given their history combing the small school ranks for wide receivers, it should not surprise that the Cowboys are once again up to their old tricks. The list of offseason workouts and invites is filled with wideouts whose profiles are similar to the guys listed above. Therefore, it would behoove us to get to know them. Let's meet this year's crop of possible 7th round/ UDFA receivers, shall we?
The Draftable Prospects:
Vernon Johnson, Texas A&M Commerce (6'0", 196):
Johnson, a Fort Worth native, split three of his collegiate years between Midwestern State and junior colleges before settling in at Texas A&M-Commerce. In the past two season, he rewrote the school's record books, establishing single season team records in receiving yards (1,350) and catches (77), as well as a career record 25 receiving touchdowns. For his efforts, Johnson received All-American honors from the American Football Coaches Association and was named to Don Hansen's All-Region Second Team and BSN All-America's Second Team.
Johnson is a bit undersized, but he has long arms and large hands, consistently looking the ball into his hands. He isn't a burner, but accelerates quickly and plants firmly to burst out of his cuts. That said, he's a work in progress; Johnson ran mostly vertical and short catch-and-go routes in college, and will need to develop the rest of the route tree. Still, he was a playmaker at the previous level, destroying his Lone Star Conference competition - as can be seen in this compendium of highlights.
A final note: In his March 25 Cowboys mock draft, Rotoworld's Josh Norris has Johnson as the Cowboys' seventh-rounder.
Darius Davis, Henderson State (5'11", 212)
Darius, from Frisco, finished as Henderson State's all-time career receiving leader, amassing 2425 yards and 26 touchdowns. He is short and thickly built, drawing comparisons to Sterling Sharpe and Anquan Boldin. Like both former All Pros, he plays with physicality before and after the catch.
In addition, Davis displays strong hands with good body control. He has the quickness and technique to secure easy releases from press coverage. He flashes the potential the potential to become a top-flight route runner; Davis gets into routes quickly and has the balance and strength to run through contact.
Davis ran a disappointing 40-yard dash at his first pro day (4.64 at 226 pounds), prompting questions about his work ethic and desire. But he reportedly ran sub-4.5 in a follow-up workout after dropping seven pounds. For scouts, this correlated to the speed that was so evident on tape. Looking for a poor man's Dwayne Harris? Darius might just be the ticket.
You can check out his career highlights here.
The Camp Guys With NFL Bodies:
Darius White, Missouri (6'3", 205):
A native of Dallas, Texas, White attended Dunbar High School in Fort Worth and was listed as the nation's 6th-ranked wide receiver prospect, deciding to commit to the University of Texas. White appeared in 21 games for the Longhorns in 2010 and '11, catching six passes for 71 yards and returning a couple of kickoffs for a 24.0 average.
In December 2011, White elected to transfer from Texas to Missouri, and sat out the 2012 season per NCAA transfer rules before appearing as part of the Tigers' receiver rotation in 2013. For the Tigers, he caught 37 balls for 448 yards and five scores. Like his former Mizzou running mate L'Damian Washington, White has the long frame NFL teams love; unlike Washington, he lacks pro-caliber wheels (4.65 forty time).
Ross Apo, BYU (6'3", 212):
Apo's collegiate career started with promise but has faded into seeming obscurity. In 2011, after a medical redshirt year, he saw action in all 13 games, catching 34 passes for 453 yards and 9 touchdowns. The following campaign, he started all twelve of the Cougars' games, grabbing 31 passes for 311 yards and a score. After the season, he underwent surgery to repair a dislocated shoulder.
In 2013, he returned healthy, but was infrequently used, thanks to the emergence of Cody Hoffman and BYU's reliance on the running game, finishing with only 14 receptions, including a 52-yarder against Virginia, and 3 touchdowns. As a senior, Apo's stats fell off the proverbial cliff; he caught only one pass in twelve games. Apo has an NFL body and a solid skillset; scouts must figure our why his production declined so dramatically.
Der'rikk Thompson, SMU (5'10", 186)
The Troup, TX product has had a remarkably consistent career for the Mustangs, hauling in at least 30 passes each of his four years, with a high in 2012 of 41 grabs for 535 yards and four scores. Thompson has solid hands, is explosive in and out of breaks and is a sound technician. Although he's certainly not a burner, he's able to create separation due to route running ability despite lacking ideal speed. Because of his size, he's a poor blocker and struggles to beat press coverage, which will negatively impact his pro success. Like Cole Beasley, another SMU product, Thompson projects best as a slot receiver at the nest level.
Sam Ajala, Fordham (6'1", 195):
Over his collegiate career, Ajala, from DeSoto, totaled 119 receptions for 1,958 yards and 16 touchdowns. In 2013, he enjoyed eight games with 100 or more receiving yards, scoring all 14 of his touchdowns in those contests. Ajala is an unpolished route runner, but boasts excellent speed, acceleration, vision and change of direction - all traits that could make him a dangerous return man. Indeed, one scout's pro comp for Ajala is Jacoby Jones.
David Porter, TCU (6'0", 205):
Porter, also from DeSoto, got off to a slow start for the Horned Frogs; in his first two seasons, he caught only nine passes for 127 yards. In 2013, however, he broke through, collecting 26 balls for 435 yards and five TDs. The following campaign, he added 39 catches for 392 yards and three scores (and also threw a 55-yard touchdown pass). Porter has adequate size and decent speed (4.5 forty), leaving scouts to question: where does he win?
Glenn Coleman, Florida International (6'2", 200):
Coleman was recruited by SEC schools before enrolling at FIU due to academic uncertainties. He got off to a slow start, catching only 15 balls for 136 yards and a score in his first two seasons. In 2012, he added 13 passes for 227 yards (a nifty 17.5 average). In 2013, FIU hired Ron Turner (Norv's brother) as their new head coach; after a redshirt season in 2013, Coleman capped off his career with a solid 2014, taking in 23 passes for 468 yards and three scores, including an 85-yarder.
DeMarcus Thompson, Abilene Christian (5'11", 172)
Yet another DeSoto product, Thompson played in nine games as a true freshman, finishing the season with nine catches for 160 yards and one touchdown. After missing the 2012 campaign, he bounced back in 2013, corralling 23 passes for 305 yards and three scores. In 2014, he hauled in 54 passes for 654 yards and two scores, adding five rushes for another 49 yards and a TD. Given his lack of size or speed (a painful 4.75 forty), its hard to imagine that Thompson will add his name to the Cowboys' growing list of DeMarcuses.
While none of these guys are likely to make an impact in 2015, as I noted above, its a good idea to get to know them because, heck, you never know which of them might prove to be the next Cole Beasley...
Next up: Florida OT Chaz Green