While the Dallas Cowboys are pretty set at receiver in 2011, they could surely benefit from acquiring a talented slot receiver for the future. Roy Williams, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are all suited to play outside, and when defenses take away Jason Witten over the middle, the ‘Boys are frequently left without a reliable Wes Welker-esque target on 3rd-and-short to medium.
Further, coach Jason Garrett seems to want to install a sideline-to-sideline type of spread offense similar to that in New England. The Pats offense flourishes because of Welker, and the Cowboys don’t have a player with that sort of skill set on their current roster.
With so much money tied up in the receivers already, however, the Cowboys won’t place a high priority on securing another playmaker at the position during the draft. The possibility becomes more likely, though, if that receiver is a late-round prospect or an outstanding return man. Despite the NFL’s decision to move kickoffs up five yards to the 30-yard line, the impact of game-breaking return men will still be high.
TCU’s Jeremy Kerley might be the perfect fit for the ‘Boys.
Kerley reminds me a lot of a young Steve Smith (the Carolina version). He’s incredibly agile and electric with the ball in his hands, whether it is on a return or after the catch. Kerley’s quickness and lateral mobility are top-notch, making him one of the most dangerous return men in this class (his return at the 40-second mark of the highlight video below is insane). The only issue he has on returns is failing to fair catch punts (I didn’t see a single one in all of the games I watched). He’ll have to change that in the NFL.
With the sort of spread offense Garrett appears intent on implementing, Kerley could become Dallas’ Wes Welker. Like Welker, Kerley doesn’t possess game-breaking speed (which is the only reason he isn’t a total Steve Smith clone). Kerley won’t make a lot of plays down the field, which, in combination with his small stature (5’10”, 192 pounds), will scare some teams away. He isn’t a fit for every offense.
Kerley’s potential to be a dynamite slot receiver, though, is unquestionable. His suddenness (check out the 3:03 mark against San Diego State) is elite. Playing the slot is all about quickness and the ability to change direction in a hurry, and Kerley has mastered both. He gets to top speed as fast as anyone. He also possesses superb hands.
One major knock on Kerley is his route-running. At TCU, he was never asked to run anything that remotely resembles an NFL route tree. The majority of his receptions came on bubble screens and similar plays. There are two reasons I don’t think this will be a major problem, however. First, Kerley will play the slot in the NFL, meaning his routes are going to be limited anyway. Second, he possesses all of the necessary attributes to become a tremendous route-runner: quickness, balance and short strides.
Kerley isn’t exactly Percy Harvin or Dexter McCluster, but like them, he is a threat to run the football. His vision is superb, and while he can’t run between the tackles, he could receive an end-around or two per game. Plus, Kerley can throw the football, and he can throw it well. Garrett doesn’t run a ton of “trick” plays, but Kerley’s arm could be useful.
Despite playing in a prolific offense, Kerley never amassed many yards. His highest season total was just 575, but he did haul in 10 receiving touchdowns in 2010. Many of these came near the goal line, as Kerley isn’t a particularly big threat to get deep. He has poor ability on jump balls and, like I said, doesn’t possess incredible speed.
Kerley is also a poor blocker. He doesn’t seem willing to get in front of defenders and that could hurt Dallas’ ability to run the ball from passing formations.
Overall, Kerley reminds me a lot of Troy’s Jerrel Jernigan. Both players have weaknesses, but could become very valuable if placed in the right situation. Actually, I have Kerley rated just ahead of Jernigan on my latest Big Board.
If the Cowboys view Kerley’s upside as high as I do, then he will be a legitimate option in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft. With many teams transitioning to spread offenses, I think Kerley’s stock is being undersold by the media.
Most project him to go anywhere from the fourth to seventh round, but I think he’s a real threat to get selected as early as the late-third. I know he’s small and “slow,” but teams are beginning to value quickness over long speed at the wide receiver position, particularly when assessing slot receivers (who, in many offenses, are now starters).
If the Cowboys had fewer holes, I’d gamble on Kerley in the fourth round. I think he has that sort of potential impact. From reading your comments, I know many of you agree. Unfortunately, the ‘Boys aren’t in a position to take a receiver that high unless he possesses incredible value. Kerley is an interesting prospect, but his weaknesses may be too many for Dallas to burn a fourth-rounder on him.
If Kerley falls into the fifth or sixth round, however, I would be all over it. He’d immediately upgrade the return game and, once Roy Williams is gone, he’d possibly become the Cowboys’ slot receiver of the future.
Other Potential Dallas Cowboys Draft Picks in 2011