Monday, February 29, 2016

QB Day At The 2016 NFL Combine

http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2016/02/29/sturm-thoughts-qb-day-nfl-combine



INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 27: Quarterbacks (from left) Christian Hackenberg of Penn State, Jared Goff of California and Jeff Driskel of Louisiana Tech listen to a coach during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
2016 Getty Images
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 27: Quarterbacks (from left) Christian Hackenberg of Penn State, Jared Goff of California and Jeff Driskel of Louisiana Tech listen to a coach during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
This is the weekend of the NFL combine, with today, the final day of proceedings, before everyone returns from whence they came.  Then, we may stop the live feed from Indianapolis that has been going around the clock since sunrise on Friday.

 
Saturday was the object of attention for most of us in this neck of the woods as it was the one and only day in which all of the quarterbacks who will be available in the draft were all present on the same football field at the same time.  Sadly, they were not playing football, but they were throwing the ball and at least demonstrating velocity and accuracy in certain predetermined drills that can allow us some pieces with which to compare. 
It allows us to see how this guy looks standing next to that guy and at least get some idea of whether or not things on the screen are apples to apples.  Now, at nearly the exact same time, Jerry Jones was on his bus kicking it with the local media and dousing any premise that they are looking QB at #4 with a cold bucket of water.  But, for the moment, let's assume that our supreme leader of the Cowboys is bluffing rather than playing a fiddle while Rome (Romo) is burning
Let's assume that he is aware his QB has not finished a complete season since 2012 and let's assume that he understands that almost every year he has owned the team, the Cowboys have not been in a position to acquire a franchise QB when they have picked - except for the time they took Troy Aikman at the top of the draft.  Now, we don't know if this draft has a Troy Aikman, but if it does, it will very likely either be Carson Wentz or Jared Goff.  And if that is true, the odds are rather solid that the Cowboys will be able to select one of those two young men where they sit at #4.  They will not get their pick of which one, but it appears from where we sit on the final day of February that it will likely be whoever Cleveland does not pick.
The differences between Goff and Wentz have been written about plenty.  In fact, I spent considerable amounts of time on both a month ago with Wentz's profile here and Goff's profile is here.  I think both a going to be very strong players in this league and I would consider both a very solid selection at #4.  I realize many people don't want to hear that because they want to add a player who can play with Tony Romo in this last window of this Cowboys' era, but I want to think about both the short and long-term situations here, and that is why I continue to say that we should consider every position in the organization.  Including - but not limited to - quarterback.
I think this is a good time to share my views on the NFL combine and assume that this is how most people see it.  The combine is simply a way to confirm or challenge data that has already been assembled.  We don't get to see the same players doing the same things when watching their college tape, but we do get to see them in their natural environment doing what they can do.  The idea is to now fill in the gaps at the combine - not construct opinions.  I would rank it somewhere around 80% college tape and 20% interviews, workouts, and other off-field evaluations. But, make no mistake; the most important component of evaluating any football player for me is always going to be football. 
Anyway, here are some of the observations I would offer after being locked in to the 7 hours of coverage from Saturday's QB day.
Carson Wentz is very impressive.  He is so big and so athletic.  He is not quite to the standards of Andrew Luck, but he isn't really far off.  He is a big man who can move very well, but his best attributes remain in throwing the ball.  The ball jumps out of his hand and reaches its destination with purpose and velocity.  He stands confident and fires darts.  He is comfortable under center so the 5-step and 7-step drops and footwork seem pretty natural.  He fires strikes. 
Jared Goff was interesting to see in the light track gear because it shows how slender he really is.  I put this in his profile back a month ago: "He is also quite skinny and while he might get thicker, he will always make you nervous in terms of durability as he stands tall in a blitz to make a throw. When he is sacked, the ball does come loose from time to time." It certainly is more obvious when he is not in uniform with shoulder pads.  There are certainly slender QBs in the NFL without broad shoulders and some thickness to their upper body, but that doesn't mean we won't get nervous about surviving the punishment of the NFL game.  Also, the hand-size will be discussed.  I don't think it bothers me too much - especially in Dallas (basically, a dome). He is "surfer-slender".  But, man the delivery is quick and compact and that will serve him well.  He also has great footwork in the pocket to slide around and get the ball off when under pressure.  He is going to be great.  
But, what strikes you is how many people insist that both of these Grade-A prospects could greatly benefit from some time on the sidelines before you throw them to the wolves.  Personally, I think that this old fashioned idea should be considered more as something we should go back to, but with both of them, there is nothing but good that can happen if you have patience to delay their debut.  And who is in a better position to do that than Dallas?
Others worth noting from QB day:
Paxton Lynch is the guy who seems like he could be great or scary at different times.  That is often called boom/bust with a seemingly high variance of outcomes to his career.  He is so athletic.  Amazing.  36" vertical, very twitchy for a man his size and his size is insane.  I have seen him look amazing and I have seen him look pedestrian.  I would take him in the 1st, but I would feel nervous going too high.  He seems a cut below the other two.
Dak Prescott  is very interesting and someone I want to definitely include as a profile soon.  There is something there, I am just not sure if there is enough.
Christian Hackenberg is another guy who has put some great tape out there, but not much since 2013.  The connections to his college coach Bill O'Brien in Houston are interesting, but I think the Texans can do better. 
I am a big believer in Trevone Boykin and enjoyed nearly every aspect of his college career with hopes that there could be a spot in the NFL.  Seeing him out there at the combine reminds me of his promise and ability and I thought he threw the ball well.  But, you cannot mention his name there without those who will be quick to point out how his college career ended in handcuffs.  Everyone makes mistakes, but that one was incredibly poorly timed.  It seems that most want to convert him back to WR, which shouldn't be that tough, but I am definitely rooting for Boykin.
Tomorrow, we get back to the profiles with Clemson's DE Kevin Dodd.

Friday, February 26, 2016

2/26/16 - Cowboys Mailbag - DMN - Tony Romo Doubts

http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2016/02/26/sturms-cowboys-mailbag-part-1-doubting-tony-romos-future



Like all other fine Friday traditions, we now stop down for just a pile of emails and ramblings that generally range in the 2,000-word range for a little something we call the Cowboys Mailbag (surely, the least original name a mailbag consisting of Cowboys topics could possibly have).


Now, before we get too far into this with your many queries, I think I am required to get onto virtual paper my biggest Cowboys revelation/theory/speculation/best guess of the month: I fear greatly for Tony Romo's health. Greatly. As in way more than when he missed Week 17 in 2013 for a back surgery or that time when he went under the knife for his mysterious cyst removal procedure. Or the 1st time he broke his collarbone. Or the 2nd. Or the 3rd.


Let's face it. Tony has been through an awful lot of punishment playing QB1 for the Dallas Cowboys. He has taken a beating and he keeps coming back for more. But, things have really changed over the last 12 months and this theory of "3, 4, or 5 more years" of elite-level Tony Romo just doesn't hold water with me anymore.


I am a huge defender of all things #9 (Romo > Eli, #QBWinz, #QBRingz), but I am starting to wonder why my fellow media colleagues seem like they would rather discuss other things than the only thing that truly matters. I am sure it is because either they are confident that this is just another brick in the injury wall or they are bound by their journalistic boundaries to not wildly speculate or yell "fire" in a crowded building unless they have proof.


But, I wildly speculate for a living. I attempt to remain measured and cautious on these topics, but this is not a breaking news story or some investigative report I am offering here. This is a guy who follows this team closely every day giving you an opinion.


Here it is: I don't think Romo's situation can be classified as a QB with "injury issues" anymore. Rather, I would suggest that Romo's collarbone situation would have to be called a "ticking time bomb." I think his future is week to week, not year to year. No longer a question of "if", but rather a matter of "when". I think that his collarbone has obviously not mended like they had first hoped and so here we sit - 159 days since Jordan Hicks broke it in September and 92 days since Thomas Davis got him again on Thanksgiving Day - without any further resolution that he is as good as new and ready to play. I might remind you that the Cowboys resisted the obvious plans of putting him on injured reserve because they originally assumed he would be available for the NFC Championship Game which was played on January 24th. 33 days ago.


So, I don't believe his collarbone has mended properly since Thankgsiving. And I sure don't believe it healed like they thought it would from September - as evidenced best that he broke it again on a rather normal-looking hit on Thankgsiving Day. I am far from a medical expert, but I can read a calendar. When they talk about this 8-10 weeks business and we sit here at the end of February and discuss further procedures, but still under the banner of "everything is fine and there is no reason for alarm", I am tempted to sound the sirens. I am not buying it anymore. This Mumford procedure that discusses shaving off part of the clavicle seems like a very odd way to strengthen a collarbone. I am positive I am showing my medical ignorance, but I also am assuming that most people having that procedure are not having 300 lb linemen like Fletcher Cox or Johnathan Hankins trying to slam them right on their collarbone at their first chance in an effort to remove the Cowboys biggest and most indispensible weapon from the proceedings.


I don't like it. In fact, I don't believe the rhetoric coming out of Valley Ranch on this topic anymore. I don't believe this 5-year window nonsense, and frankly, I don't believe they believe it either. There have been 8 QBs who were starters when Tony Romo took over the job in Dallas and remain starters today (Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, and Romo). The only one to have started as few games as Romo is Palmer, and that is only because the injury-prone Palmer also has a 9-game contract holdout to his credit. In other words, Romo has the worst health-related attendance record in his peer group, and it doesn't look like it will ever get better.


He is an awesome QB, but this morning, after another week of Romo medical news that doesn't seem to get big headlines but does give me indigestion, I am feeling stronger than ever that the Cowboys know this reality and are taking a QB at #4. And they are not just doing it because it is the pick on their board. They are doing it because they quietly must know that the risks of expecting Romo to handle this on his own broad shoulders are now too great to take. The Romo-era is winding down quicker than they are willing to verbalize at the moment and I think an over/under on 24 more starts is about the betting line I think would be fair.


I think they will take a QB high this year (maybe #34, but most likely #4) and are merely being smart about not showing their hand until they must to get teams to not take their guy. This is all opinion, but my opinion is growing in conviction by the day. If Romo is starting in Super Bowl 53 for the Cowboys, I will feel silly about this Spring 2016 opinion existing, but that would be a mistake I would like to be guilty of. I justdon't think I am.


Ok, let's get down to business with your questions for the week. But, I see I am out of space in Part 1. So Part 2 will go through the mailbag:


http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2016/02/26/sturms-cowboys-mailbag-part-2-draft-questions-everyones-mind

Ok, speed round time for the many draft questions that are on my plate this morning:

Q: is there a QB2 on a team that's a possible QB1 that could be had for a pick or package? - @Hawk2973

A: I will be honest. I don't think this is an ideal plan. The QBs that are currently on the market represent enormous risk if you are thinking (like I am) that the Cowboys are no longer shopping for a proper back-up QB, but rather someone who they think could still be their QB in 2020. So, that immediately eliminates almost all of the retreads for likely candidates.

There might be a few exceptions, but in the case of Robert Griffin III, you have several elements that have to be strongly considered. What does he think his value is? He is used to making a ton of money per season. How important is competing for the starting spot? Because for now, they are going to proceed with Romo as the starter, but that might not be the case in October. They just can't sell Griffin on this Romo fear because that is something you really can't verbalize to impress a free agent. And, most importantly for me, how fit does he look? Because last August he looked like a rather broken QB both physically and between the ears.

Beyond that, most of the usual suspects appear to be not very good options (given their teams are looking to move on) or tremendous risks for value (Brock Osweiler, for instance, would cost a huge amount if Denver were to pass on a big offer) on unproven talent. That is why I keep coming back to the premise that the best idea is still to draft my next guy. Fixed costs, tons of potential, and a healthy body to mold from Day 1.

Q: What free agent back interests you the most out of Forte, Ivory, Miller?

A: This is interesting for sure. Lamar Miller is the best of the bunch at the age of 24, but I am not convinced that the Dolphins are going to let him get out of Miami. You are talking about a guy who was born in Miami, played all of his football of his entire life in Miami, and it isn't like the Dolphins have a better option. So, in terms of a realistic plan, I sure think Matt Forte is going to have a strong market for his services. But, when you talk about having a grasp of all of the components of a complete back, if Forte was in my mix, I would be awfully confident. He seems like a real dynamic weapon and ideal as a passing-down option who understands what is expected of him. I think there is still plenty of meat on that bone for the former Chicago Bears runner.

Q: I try not to approach the 4th pick with tunnel vision, but it's also difficult to balance that when you clearly see potential QB trouble up ahead. Wentz and Goff are number 1 and 2 in either order, depending on who you ask. I know you prefer Goff, but in your analysis, how do they compare? What puts Goff ahead? - Russ Giles

A: Well, first off, Russ, I want to be clear. I don't think there is a massive difference between the two. For me, what puts Goff ahead is the feeling that his grasp of the smarts required for a big time NFL QB seem to be there with a combination to know where to go with the football and an interest in pushing the ball down the field after he finds the appealing option. I think the hand-size information is certainly a bit worrisome, but watching his work as a QB last fall gave me proof that he knows what he is doing and his ceiling seems very high. Now, for Wentz, I have better size, a stronger arm, and better run ability. I do worry about the size of the stage because I realize he has been in big games, but not only is he moving up to the NFL, but he is doing it at the biggest circus tent in the league. I think he has the tools to handle it all, but there is a certain element of the unknown, and I do think he showed lesser mechanics in his throwing footwork and pocket presence.

Again, I really like them both. I have Goff as my 3rd best player in this draft and Wentz as my 6th, so neither is a stretch at #4. I can talk myself into either because both are prospects I would be ecstatic to add to my organization. Goff is ahead on a slightly better resume and a slightly higher ceiling. Wentz has not dealt with anything close to the speed of NFL defenses, so I guess my confidence with Goff is marginally higher. The good news (or bad news) is that the decision will be made for you. There is a 90% chance one of them is there, but a 10% chance both of them are available when the Cowboys pick. In other words, Cleveland will choose for you.

Q: Unfortunately, I just don't believe there's a "QB of the future" in the 1st round of the draft this year. It also feels like we won't take Jalen Ramsey because of Claiborne. Just go get a difference maker like Ezekiel Elliot, right? The Rams took took Todd Gurley too early, right!? Haha...-Reinhold


A: Well, I clearly disagree about QB of the future, but let's follow your logic. I would take Jalen Ramsey as my favorite defensive player in this draft. I take him and absolutely don't look back at the Morris Claiborne situation as any sort of guidance on that at all. It was clearly a butchered pick but it has nothing to do with this draft. As for Elliot, I had Todd Gurley as my favorite RB in any draft since Adrian Peterson so I would have taken him in the Top 5 last year. But, I don't have Elliot that high, personally. I will do his profile in March, but I would suggest that I absolutely have him valued quite highly, but I just think you can do better at #4 than him. That said, if they did end up with the prospect who seems quite capable at most every component of the RB skill set, I think everyone would get behind that pretty quickly. For me, though, I don't anticipate getting behind that at this juncture.

Q: Have you ever seen any player fall faster than Joseph Randle?

A: Have you ever heard of this Manziel character? He just turned 23. That was faster.

Q: What do you make of all of these ridiculous combine questions? I heard that one prospect was asked if he would murder someone if he knew he'd get away from it. What's the point of that kind of question?

A: I assume questions like that are common. Perhaps even the "baby Hitler" hypothetical. They get about 15 minutes with these guys to try to figure out how bright, contemplative, morally-obligated, and just sharp they are. To do so, they likely have spent money on research questions to get people to show their cards. On one hand, it all seems silly, but as I expanded last week, this is the biggest riddle in sports - to try to figure out how badly someone wishes to be great at their profession when they are handed a giant pile of money as they leave college. There is no great way to find out what makes them tick, so teams experiment. I don't blame them.

Q: Tunsil, Goff and Wentz go, 1, 2, 3. Who do you pick at 4? What's the farthest you would consider moving down? - @Bdunndunn

A: My board says the next 3 would be, in order, Jalen Ramsey, Joey Bosa, LaQuon Treadwell. I think you would be tempted to jump Bosa up given the situation at DE, but that is a very appealing group right there that would fire me up. Ramsey is my favorite, but Bosa would be a great addition. I don't buy this "not a sack guy" stuff on Bosa. He makes more plays behind the line of scrimmage than pretty much any player in this draft. Sacks and Tackles For Loss were his spot and he was quite productive and disruptive.

Q: How much attention do you pay to the combine? For you, does a bad performance at the combine outweigh a player's good game tape?

A: Well, I always watch the Combine because it allows us to see them all compared to each other with measurable talents that are part of the evaluation process. But, to your point, the game tape is always going to be more important than this. I would call this combine and pro day a series of "tie breakers" between comparable talent. It is good to see them all in the same place and get to know them better. But, the best way to evaluate football players is to study them playing football.

Q: Hi Bob. Really like your breakdowns of all of these prospects. Is there one in particular that you were so wrong about that it's embarrassing? Who was it?


A: The one that always sticks out were my questions about Von Miller. I thought he would have a tough time at the next level as he seemed to be a tweener. But, I clearly got that one wrong. My faith in Johnny Manziel was way to high as well. Too low on an Aggie and too high on an Aggie.


Q: is there any way in the world the Cowboys mess this pick up? Seems almost impossible - @smoffittou

A: Well, there is no such thing as a bust-proof pick, but when you consider the Top 6 players on my list and the Cowboys have the 4th pick, I will be shocked if they don't get a fantastic player. I am not sure they get their QB for the next decade, but they should get an absolutely phenomenal addition to their roster that should instantly be one of their Top 5 talents in the organization.


Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

2016 NFL Draft Profile #28 - A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama

http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2016/02/25/bob-sturms-draft-profile-series-fort-worths-ashawn-robinson-wall-middle



Alabama defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson (86) runs a drill during team practice for the NCAA Cotton Bowl college football game against  against the Michigan State Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Alabama defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson (86) runs a drill during team practice for the NCAA Cotton Bowl college football game against against the Michigan State Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
I have never been a scout or an 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.

 
A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama - 6'4, 312 - Junior - #86
As we continue to dig through the first-round prospects, we arrive at the Fort Worth kid who is still just 20 years old for a few more weeks but has grown into a man ready to get into the NFL.  Robinson was verbally committed to Texas back in the day but switched over to Alabama on Signing Day, and the rest is history. In Alabama, he joined Jarran Reed and the rest of that blue-chip collection to set the pace in all of college football for their amazing stinginess against any team that wants to run the ball between the tackles. 
The questions about top-of-the-class run stuffers have existed over the last several years when it comes to draft discussions. Some years, the best run stuffers have fallen several rounds because they are not on the field much in nickel defenses where a defensive coordinator wants to get his 4 best pass rushers on the field. If a run stuffer like Robinson -- a guy who like his mate Reed is not often making plays off penetration behind the line of scrimmage -- is only playing 30-35 plays in a game, how highly should you invest in him? Well, perhaps that "new" way of thinking is already "outdated".  Think about it: Right now, if you are trying to win in the NFC, you should remind yourself that the last 4 NFC teams to play in the Super Bowl: the 49ers, the Seahawks, the Seahawks again, and the Panthers were all power running teams that would not have you in nickel like the Saints or Packers 5 years ago.  Perhaps, a run stuffer or two in the middle is the best way to beat those teams and power running is the new market inefficiency.  On a week to week basis, you might not value guys like this as highly as a 65-snap guy, but in January when you are dealing with the ground and pound of those NFC powers, it might be real nice to have a wall in the middle of your defense.
What I liked:  Robinson is a very large man with some fine athletic traits that catch your eye and place him in the "freakish" category.  He is very difficult to move off the line of scrimmage and because Alabama puts such a premium on run stuffing as a top priority, they have a few such players between the tackles and their main job is to stand their ground.  His leverage actually suggests he could get even better with some technique development.  He is a human roadblock, but also can move pretty well.  He gets by primarily on power and can toss an occasional lineman out of the way.  His arm extension allows him to set the edge and cancel any plans by the RB to go his direction, which stops plays in their tracks.  He can be disruptive and there are some games where he displays potential that is off the charts, including a stretch in November that placed him into the premium bin for this April.  He moved up and down that line for Alabama playing the 1, 3, and 5-techniques for stretches.
What I did not like:  He certainly doesn't look like a pass rusher unless he picks up a lot of technique at the next level.  Over the last 2 seasons, he totaled 3.5 sacks with 2.5 coming in the November game against Mississippi State.  At this point he simply attempts to push the pocket back into the QB, which occasionally does work, but not very often. There are very few plays behind the line of scrimmage to speak of and his contact balance suggests he plays too high.  Also, in some of his games - including the Clemson game for the national title - he appeared to be running low on fuel and had even less movement than normal.  As part of a rotation, this makes sense, but if he is your full-time option, you wonder if he has 3 hours of high motor play in him on Sundays where he is facing a lot of double teams.
Summary and Potential Fit For the Cowboys:  There is a lot to like here, and it is fair to consider potential as one of his greatest gifts as he is very young (even if he looks much older).  He is a rare physical specimen and when you watch him leap over the line of LSU to block an extra point like a defensive back, you can see the cash register ring as teams salivate at someone who can do that. 
But, is that repeatable and functional freakish ability or merely an awesome moment in time that lives forever on YouTube?  That is where you have to get your defensive minds in a room and debate floor and ceiling of a player.  If you think you can unleash his ceiling within 3 years, you have no problem taking him very high in this draft.  But, if you think that most of the time, he is a 1st and 2nd down speed bump run stuffer, that is the type of player that most teams would have a hard time placing high in Round 1. 
On the other hand, as we look at the Cowboys, with the 34th pick overall and the 3rd pick in the 2nd round, there is no question some quality inside defensive beef will be around when they are on the clock to start Round 2.  Defensive tackle - especially the 1-techniques who are primarily run stuffers - appear to be deep and plentiful at this spot and could really help the linebackers stay clean to make more plays.  I have my doubts that Robinson will be there, but he could certainly help matters if he is.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

2016 NFL Draft Profile #27 - Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma

http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2016/02/24/bob-sturms-draft-profile-series-ous-sterling-shepard-looks-like-difference-maker-nfl
KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 12: Wide receiver Sterling Shepard #3 of the Oklahoma Sooners jumps over safety Brian Randolph #37 of the Tennessee Volunteers and past cornerback Malik Foreman #13 on the game-winning touchdown in overtime at Neyland Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jackson Laizure/Getty Images)
2015 Getty Images
KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 12: Wide receiver Sterling Shepard #3 of the Oklahoma Sooners jumps over safety Brian Randolph #37 of the Tennessee Volunteers and past cornerback Malik Foreman #13 on the game-winning touchdown in overtime at Neyland Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jackson Laizure/Getty Images)
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.

 
Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma - 5'10, 193 - Senior - #3
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.