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Cowboys 2015 Draft Targets: USC CB Josh Shaw

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, it's 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 look at USC CB Josh Shaw

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Shaw began his collegiate career at Florida, playing in one game as a true freshman in 2010 before a knee injury ended his season, forcing him to redshirt. The following season, he carved out playing time on a secondary boasting a number of future NFL draft picks, earning a single start and recorded 22 tackles (one TFL) and one pass defended. Due to a family issue (both his his father and grandfather were in poor health), he decided to return to California, transferring  to USC after the 2011 season. He was granted a hardship waiver by the NCAA that allowed him to play without having to sit out a year.

In 2012, Shaw started seven games for the Trojans, splitting time between safety and cornerback and recording 30 tackles, adding eight passes defended and two interceptions. As a junior in 2013, he started all 14 games (11 at corner, three at free safety), finishing with 67 tackles (5.5 for loss), eleven PDs and four picks (one returned for a TD), earning All-Pac 12 Honorable Mention honors. Leading up to the 2014 campaign, Shaw was a defensive co-captain and was poised atop many draftniks "must watch" lists. But he failed to further develop his resume, missed the first 10 games of the season due to a well-documented off-field issue. He did play in USC's final three games, starting two of them, generally looking rusty and a step slow.

As this history suggests, one of Shaw's greatest assets is his versatility. At USC, he played boundary corner, slot corner and safety. He is a "body beautiful" type, with a muscle-bound frame that translates to explosiveness and burst. That said, he's "straight-liney" and not as fluid or instinctive as the draft's top cornerback prospects. That and a lack of top-end speed will likely limit him to zone-corner or free safety status in the NFL. A final concern for scouts is his "want-to", many say he lacks the playmaker's hunger.

Of course, teams must determine how much they will penalize Shaw for the incident that derailed his senior year. It has certainly cost him and may have damaged his reputation in some NFL front offices. Apart from that incident, he has been an "RKG" his entire career; he has been a high-character team leader at both college stops and, more recently, has been upfront and accountable about his poor handling of the incident, such that most observers believe teams will treat it as a poor decision rather than an indictment of him as a person.

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Want to scout like a boss? Let's start by looking at his measurables:

Height Weight Arms Hands 40yd 10yd Bench Vert Broad 3Cone 20ss pSPARQ (%)
6' 0" 201 30¾" 9" 4.44 1.54 26 37½" 130" 7.01 4.12 131.9 (92.3)

Judging from his pSPARQ score, Shaw is surprisingly athletic. And here's his spider graph, courtesy of the folks at Mockdraftable.com:

How do Shaw's measurables compare to his tape?  Well, its hard to say; over at Draft Breakdown, they only have one of his games, the 2013 skirmish against PAC-12 rival Arizona in which he collected eight tackles and broke up a pass. Elsewhere in the internet, you can find a tape of "ultimate highlights" and see his work against Notre Dame in 2012.

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Let's see what our esteemed panel of scouts has to say about Shaw:

Rob Rang (CBSSports.com) 12th-ranked CB; 89th overall:

Strengths: Possesses a muscled-up frame that makes him look like a safety but given the NFL's recent love affair with bigger cornerbacks, he could remain on the perimeter. He has quick feet and fluid hips to change directions. Shaw possesses terrific football intelligence, which is demonstrated not only with his ability to shuffle from corner to either of the safety position but in the closing burst he shows once the ball has been thrown. Shaw is rarely fooled in coverage and rips at the ball as it arrives. He is a reliable, consistent tackler.

Weaknesses: All questions begin with the dramatic story that unfolded last summer and made national news, only to later turn out to be false. NFL teams will want to see the results of the investigation, and pre-draft interviews will be critical. On the field, the primary question is about Shaw's straight-line speed and which position he fits best at. Hasn't yet proven to be the intimidating hitter that his frame suggests.

Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) 17th-ranked CB; 106th overall:

Strengths: Played cornerback and safety at USC. Has above-average size for the cornerback position. Shows some short-area foot quickness and balance in coverage. Attacks the ball on underneath routes with aggressive swipes to disrupt. Can mirror and bring down runners in open space. Disruptive in press coverage. Gets from high to low quickly as a safety. Scouts say he will benefit greatly with more technique and film work in an NFL building.

Weaknesses: Hips too tight to turn and accelerate when beaten off line of scrimmage. Top-end speed concerning as a cornerback. Problematic lapses in assignments that lead to wide-open receivers. Not a physical, downhill tackler and play strength needs improvement. Has a habit of rerouting downfield in off coverage, which will turn into penalties in NFL. Struggled to keep Stanford WR Ty Montgomery in front of him as a cornerback. Opens hips too quickly in coverage and doesn't have twitch to burst back upfield. Struggles to find and track ball consistently. Suspended early in 2014 after it was discovered he suffered ankle injuries after jumping from second story while evading police, rather than in an attempt to save drowning nephew as he originally claimed.

Sources Tell Us: "I know about the issues he had this year, but I did plenty of background work on Shaw and I had no problem giving him a passing character grade when I turned in my report." -- NFC North area scout

Nolan Nawrocki (NFL Draft 2015 Preview) 16th-ranked CB; 115th overall:

Strengths: Very long-limbed with outstanding body length for a cornerback. Won the weigh-in at the East-West Shrine game with his shredded physique and had a solid showing in the game nabbing an interception on an underthrown ball. Is aggressive jamming receivers at the line and attacking the ball in the air. Has corner-safety versatility. Produced the most bench-press reps (26) of any defensive back at the Combine. Extremely well-conditioned athlete - measured only 4.2 percent body fat at the Combine. Has special teams experience.

Weaknesses: Average hip flexibility. Lacks discipline in coverage and loses positioning too often free-lancing. Does not play to his timed speed or show the acceleration and burst to carry receivers down the field. Lets receivers get on top of him too quickly and is late in transition and recover. Marginal production. Does not come to balance in the open field and misses tackles.

Future: Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane. A big, fast, strong press corner that looks like a first round talent, yet did not play to it as a senior and still has much to prove. Has starter potential if he can return to junior form and could warrant as much interest as a safety as he does at cornerback.

Draft projection: Third- to fourth-round pick.

Scout's take: "Shaw only played in two games this year and when he did come in, he did not play well. The one game he played the most was the Notre Dame game. He got beat three times. He was jogging and not working hard. The consensus in the scouting community is negative.

Dane Brugler (NFL Draft Guide) 17th-ranked CB:

Strengths: Muscular physique with a V-back, broad shoulders and long arms...light-footed and balanced to stay square and shadow in press coverage...anticipates wide receiver breaks with plant-and-drive quicks...dialed in and keeps his eyes in the right place...length gives him a large radius to make plays on the ball, showing soft hands and impact return ability - averaged 10.8 yards per interception return with one touchdown (6/65)...matches up well physically to post-up bigger targets...aggressive downhill in run support with the physical appetite required...rips through blocks on the perimeter and rarely taken out of the play...versatile experience inside and outside at cornerback and at free safety...considered a hard worker and leader by his teammates.

Weaknesses: Wide footwork and long strides, causing wild steps and wasted motions...high cut and struggles to keep his knees bent and butt low in his pedal...not a twitchy player and his bulky body type restricts easy change of direction...will over-run routes and plays too reactive in man coverage, routinely a step behind in coverage...tackling technique isn't a priority for him, leading to misses in space...mostly press-bail technique and doesn't consistently jam at the line...durability needs checked out after injuring both ankles in an off-field incident (Aug. 2013)...character also needs investigated further after he was suspended 10 games as a senior for a that same incident (Aug. 2013) - neighbors called the police after he got into a shouting match with his girlfriend, causing him to flee and jump from an elevated balcony and injure both ankles; he then lied about the incident to explain the injuries to his coaches, saying he jumped to save his drowning nephew, which received national attention until further investigation discovered it never happened.

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Although Rob Rang likes him better than the others, our collection of draft pundits is generally in agreement, seeing Shaw as a late-third to mid-fourth rounder (from the 89th to the 115th pick). Given that the Cowboys draft early in that range, and the fact that his versatility should be intriguing to several teams, I'm going to slot Shaw in round three on my "little board," where the Cowboys hold the 91st overall selection.

If the Cowboys do indeed choose Shaw at that point, I'll be perfectly happy with the pick, for it will likely mean, as I noted in my rationale for the P.J. Williams pick, that they had either addressed needs other than corner in the first two rounds or already selected a corner in round one and were selecting Shaw to be a versatile piece who could play both safety and corner in various nickle, heavy nickle, and dime sets. In the first case, it would mean that they had secured good value at positions like running back and defensive end; in the second, it would mean they had secured a versatile addition to a deep defensive backfield. How could I hate either of those scenarios?

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Next up: Iowa DT Carl Davis