I have never been a scout or a NFL general manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.To read more about the 2016 NFL Draft Project, Click Here.
One experiment I would love to run sometime when it comes to draft analysis is the question of what effects are felt from proximity? In other words, there are many prospects I will study this time of year that I know almost nothing about at all and have never seen play before. There are others who I have probably watched play 25 or more games as college stars. What are the trends about those two distinctions? Do we over-rate a guy like Sterling Shepard because we have seen him set secondaries on fire for years and already know when the 200-snap study begins that it feels like he has success waiting for him at the next level?
Shepard is a player who has been one of the lead threats at Oklahoma for the last three seasons as the Sooners have dealt with some level of QB inconsistency (to say the least) and he has fielded throws from many different arms. Through it all, he has stood out time and time again in some of the biggest games in college football and shown play-making ability and an attention to detail on the little things that make teams strongly consider his future this spring.
He plays a position that this league values -- primarily as a slot guy who can make catches in tight spots and then lead the opposition on a chase through the middle of the field as they try to surround him and bring him down. So many players have shown this ability at the college ranks -- where the defensive backs are much less talented -- and then get to Sundays and never can distinguish themselves or carve out a long career. But, those that do seem like irreplaceable weapons that are gold and can do so many things. You do not want to consider a double coverage for a guy who seldom is going vertical, but the moment you take the safety somewhere else, he will fool his man into thinking it is another drag and turn it north for a free touchdown.
So, in a league where so many slot receivers have risen in stature and draft position in the recent generation, we consider one of the most productive wide receivers in major college football. And, there is plenty to discuss.
What I liked:When you are dealing with an undersized wide receiver, we look carefully at a few things. First, his release from the line of scrimmage is vital. Shepard does this well and even gets his man completely turned around because of his ability to get off the line and into his route well. He is simply too quick to jam and this usually buys him a big cushion. Once he gets a cushion like that, his array of underneath options to the middle of the field or the sideline make him a first down machine. But, what separates him from most slot receivers is his very solid ability to turn any route into a vertical opportunity and the big catches down the sidelines are too many to count at Oklahoma. He is effective at all 3 levels of the defense and he seems to run a Dig route across the middle on the first drive of most games to set up the route tree for the rest of the afternoon. He can beat you at many different depths. And once he catches the ball, the fun begins. He also is a very ferocious blocker for a man under 200 pounds and shows an edge and competitiveness that is required to survive on Sundays. The 1st guy seldom brings him down.
What I did not like:His hands will occasionally betray him on a ball, but I would not call it a big issue as sometimes the throws are coming through a lot of traffic. The drops are not plentiful, but it is clearly something he will need to continue to focus on because the passing lanes get smaller up a level. Beyond that, he is not an aerial threat and cannot run every route because of that, but the way he abuses coverages make him an ideal slot or WR2 to challenge the decision making ability of a safety who is also looking at a game-breaker on the other side (Dez).
Summary and Potential Fit For the Cowboys: It is going to be very interesting to see which of the Big 12 wide receivers end up having the highest draft position and the best career (which may not be the same answer). Baylor's Corey Coleman, TCU's Josh Doctson, and Shepard all have a chance to get into the round and all have a chance to do some real damage in this league. The thing is, they all do different things well and it will be up to the beholder to find the beauty of each individual.
From a Cowboys standpoint, you can clearly see that they believe in this position and how it fits in their offense. Cole Beasley has a skill set that should not be undervalued and his cap number is worth the trouble as a guy who Tony Romo has real chemistry with for sure. But, Shepard can do things that Beasley cannot, so to pair them together underneath or to add this weapon as a versatile option that can move around and attack vertically as well is a very appealing option at the top of round 2. But, that assumes Shepard is available at that point. I think he can really make a difference at the next level.