Although it seemed somewhat likely that the Dallas Cowboys might address the wide receiver position early in the 2014 NFL draft, they waited until the fifth round to draft a player at the position in Pitt’s Devin Street.
The Cowboys also addressed wide receiver after the draft by signing Vanderbilt’s Chris Boyd and Missouri’s L’Damian Washington as undrafted free agents. A quick glance at the Cowboys’ rookie wide receiver trio suggests they were after one trait in particular: height. Street stands 6’3” and both of the undrafted wide receivers are an inch taller.
Looking at their measurables, film and on-field production, let’s break down the Cowboys’ three rookie wide receivers.
Let’s just get rid of this idea that measurables don’t matter. Of course they matter. I have all the heart in the world—guys, I really want to be in the NFL—but I’m not going to make it because of this pesky 5.50 40-yard dash.
The question is how much they matter and how well they predict success at each position. Here’s the correlation between wide receiver measurables and their professional stats.
The strongest correlation, unsurprisingly, is with draft round. That correlation is negative because as draft round increases, NFL success decreases. The same is true for the three-cone drill, which is perhaps the most underrated measurable out there.
We’re going to need to be careful in assessing weight and speed because they’re usually somewhat counterproductive. We want wide receivers to be big and fast, but as weight increases, speed tends to decrease and vice versa. That’s why the correlations aren’t as strong at those spots.
The other measurable that seems to matter for wide receivers much more so than other positions is the vertical jump. It’s tough to say why, although it’s possible that we’re testing for a movement that is actually utilized multiple times in games, i.e. wide receivers going up to get the ball.
Either way, I want to look at the height, weight, 40-yard dash, vertical and three-cone drill for the Cowboys wide receivers, comparing them to the average of all rookies and the average of top 20 NFL wide receivers over the past five seasons.
I color-coded this so that the darker the cell, the better the metric. It’s not surprising to see the top 20 wide receivers winning in most categories. On average, the best wide receivers are taller, significantly heavier, faster and can jump higher than the typical receiver.
Looking at the Cowboys’ rookies, they all have their strengths. Street is consistent across all areas except for weight; his 40-yard dash time and vertical suggest he has the requisite explosiveness to play in the NFL, with his weight really being the only major concern.
Boyd has the weight, but his 40-yard dash was so poor at 4.73 that we might be looking at a player who has a limited opportunity for NFL success. Meanwhile, Washington is the fastest of the bunch but seems limited vertically and is also way too thin for his height. He appears to have a frame that can add some bulk, though.
In regards to weight, here’s why I emphasize it so much...
Somewhere along the way, a lot of teams seemed to have forgotten that offenses need to score points. It’s important to have the types of players who can excel near the goal line, and heavy wide receivers are one such type. The correlation between red-zone touchdown rate and weight is strong, and while yards and first downs are somewhat replaceable, touchdowns are not.
Boyd is really the player who is the most interesting, but that 40-yard dash time is just too slow, and we don’t have any other measurables on him to judge his explosiveness. It’s possible he could work as a Plaxico Burress-esque red-zone specialist down the line, but is it really worth rostering an undrafted wide receiver for that limited potential? It’s also possible that the 4.73 number doesn’t reflect his true speed and he just ran poorly.
Here’s a look at the final-year production for all three receivers.
None of the players ever topped 1,000 yards in their careers. That’s particularly concerning for Street, who was at Pitt for four seasons. He had a career high in yards in 2012 (975) but never scored more than seven touchdowns. It’s concerning that he wasn’t able to make the leap in 2013 at an older age.
Washington’s 10 touchdowns are intriguing, but he managed only five combined over the prior three seasons. His career touchdown rate was 15.0 percent, which beats out Street (7.9 percent), but not Boyd (16.0 percent).
The Final Word
Did the Cowboys find the next Miles Austin this year? It’s not likely. Remember, Austin was a wide receiver with great speed who weighed 219 pounds and dominated in college (albeit at a smaller school).
You can argue that there’s not much left in the fifth round or later, but why not a player like Nebraska’s Quincy Enunwa? At 6’2”, 225 pounds, Enunwa ran a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash. He didn’t dominate in terms of bulk stats either, but he did have a very large percentage of his team’s receiving totals. He also scored 12 touchdowns in 2013.
If we look at Street’s measurables and find his closest comps, this is what we get, via Mockdraftable:
The best player is Jabar Gaffney, but that’s not an impressive list. In comparison, Enunwa's comps include a few players who were first-round picks and/or semi-productive at the NFL level in Rod Gardner, Braylon Edwards and Limas Sweed. He's also very similar to Cody Latimer, who got selected in the second round of the draft this year. Enunwa’s chances of NFL success still aren’t magnificent, but I’d argue his combination of weight, speed and college production put him ahead of Street.
The best bet for the Cowboys’ rookie wide receivers is to contribute as scorers. Whether they could have done better or not, Dallas at least sided with tall receivers who should remain relevant in the red zone. I don’t think we’re looking at super high-upside players, but it’s not like the Cowboys are drawing dead either; there’s still enough meat on the bone for all three receivers to at least have a shot.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com