Every year there are players who defy the expectations bestowed on them by NFL fans and analysts. No one knows this better than followers of the Houston Texans. Last year, they watched Arian Foster rise from the obscurity of being an undrafted free agent and practice squad player the season before to lead the league in rushing.
The Texans likely don’t have a weapon hidden on the sideline that will produce on the level that Foster did last season, but there inevitably will be a player or two who make a larger impact than expected. That is the nature of the NFL; it is a dynamic league with young players emerging all the time.
One such emerging player could be second-year wide receiver Dorin Dickerson.
Any breakout player first needs opportunity and the Texans receiving corps is just that for Dickerson. Even though Kevin Walter was given a new deal prior to last season, last year he showed he is more suited for a slot role than a number two position.
Walter is simply not the vertical weapon that the Texans need opposite Andre Johnson. Gary Kubiak and company have long hoped that Jacoby Jones would eventually claim that role, but after a 2009 in which the light seemed to come on, Jones regressed in 2010 and will likely be an unrestricted free agent once the new CBA is in place.
Even if Jones is re-signed by the Texans, his inconsistency would justifiably leave the team still seeking a deep-threat receiver. That doesn’t sound like a niche for a receiver-from-tight end conversion project, but Dickerson is not your typical case.
As more and more college programs adopt the spread offense or a variation of it, there are not nearly as many collegiate tight ends that fit the classic mold of an in-line blocker who will run shallow routes. These days, a great deal of tight ends entering the draft are athletic receivers who play split off the line more than in the traditional position.
Dickerson was one such tight end. Despite putting on a show at the 2010 Scouting Combine highlighted by running a 4.4 40 yard dash which was by far the fastest of the tight ends and fifth in his draft class, the Pitt product lasted until the seventh round when the Texans selected him.
Gary Kubiak made it immediately clear that the team had not drafted the fourth tight end in two years, but rather that they intended to make the 6’4”, 224 pound Dickerson a receiver. It was warned that it would take some time, but Kubiak was extremely enthusiastic about his athleticism and receiving skills which he was bold enough to compare to Andre Johnson.
Seventh round draft picks very commonly do not make rosters in the NFL, but if they’re cut in training camp they commonly are signed by that very team to the practice squad.
The practice squad is a great place for development although the six players can be signed by any team to the actual roster by any team at any time.
Even though the Texans had Dickerson active for seven games in 2010, he was never cut in order to be signed to the practice squad. He did not have the opportunity to make a single reception despite injuries to other receivers, but I believe the Texans knew if they placed him on the practice squad some other team would recognize his talents and scoop him up.
The reason that Dickerson was not an immediate impact player is because he not only has to learn a pro style offense vice a spread, but also an entirely new position. In high school and even college Dickerson could use his vastly superior athleticism to best defenders.
In the NFL, however, you need to be able to run routes proficiently in order to succeed.
One thing you cannot teach, though, is hands. Dickerson showed he has great ball skills in college and even in the 2010 preseason when he made the ridiculous one handed grab while getting two feet in bounds shown in the included video.
Now, Dickerson has had a full year to absorb the offense while practicing with them every day. It also surely has helped him to observe the best receiver in the NFL, who, as Kubiak aptly observed, is very similar to Dickerson physically.
Dickerson will likely still be fairly raw as a receiver in 2011. It is doubtful that he will able to run the whole route tree proficiently enough to claim the second receiver spot, but he will likely merit more plays especially for the purpose of stretching the defense using his elite speed.
The future beyond this season could be very bright for the conversion project. He possesses the receiving skills, size, and the athleticism to be a good or even elite receiver in the NFL. This year will be a good indication whether he is matching that physical talent with the hard work necessary to take the next step.
What are your thoughts on Dickerson’s ability to become a proficient NFL receiver, and how long do you think it will take? Let me know either in the comments or on Twitter (@JakeBRB).