By Rafael Vela
(Why are we talking about college WRs and potential draft picks in June? Because camp is still six and a half weeks away. And if you’ve hung around this joint for any amount of time, you know we’re always ready to talk draft.)
Jimmy Johnson was a defensive coach, but he loved wide receivers. He drafted one on the first day four of the five years he was in Dallas. In fact, between 1988 and 1993, Dallas went wideout wild, taking these players with high selections:
1988 — Michael Irvin, 1st round;
1990 — Alexander Wright, 2nd round;
1991 — Alvin Harper, 1st round;
1992 — Jimmy Smith, 2nd round;
1993 — Kevin Williams, 2nd round;
Not a bad list. Two potential Hall of Famers in Irvin and Smith, an effective deep threat in Harper and a solid role player in Williams. We can only wonder what the ’90s offense would have looked like had Smith and Jerry Jones not had a falling out over the treatment of Smith’s appendicitis.
The position has been the most neglected in the Jerry Jones and Bill Parcells years, at least from a draft perspective. Since 1996, only two first day picks have been used on wideouts, with disastrous results. Jerry used a ‘96 3rd rounder on the forgettable Stepfret Williams and an ‘02 second rounder on the unforgettable — for all the wrong reasons — Antonio Bryant.
Uh, make that four high picks. Jones also sent two #1 picks to Seattle for Joey Galloway, who tore his ACL one quarter into his Cowboys career and never built a rappoire with an aging Troy Aikman. (The Dallas picks were turned into Shaun Alexander and Koren Robinson.)
Parcells has built his WR corps on the cheap, shipping a 6th rounder to Green Bay for Terry Glenn, swapping Galloway to Tampa Bay for Keyshawn Johnson and drafting Patrick Crayton in the 7th round two years ago. He’s gotten good bang for his buck, but didn’t get a true blue chipper until Terrell Owens arrived.
Dallas now possesses the best collection of wideout talent since 1993, when Michael Irvin, Alvin Harper and Kevin Williams topped the depth chart, but it’s living on short time; Owens will turn 33 this season and burns through organizations the way baseball manager Billy Martin did, quickly and spectacularly. Glenn is 32 and has a long injury history.
Dallas needs young blood at wideout and soon. Many draft analysts expected Dallas to break with Parcells’ established draft patterns and select a wideout high this past year. The team might have, had the position not been the thinnest in recent years. Fortunately for Dallas, need may meet opportunity in 2007. Next year could provide another deep crop of large receivers to rival 2004, when Larry Fitzgerald, Roy Williams, Reggie Williams, Lee Evans and Michael Clayton all went in the top 15. Of that group, only Evans is shorter than 6'3?.
Look at Scouts Inc.’s preseason top 10 college wideout prospects and you’ll see size:
Dwayne Jarrett, USC, 6'4?, 210 lbs.;
Ted Ginn Jr., Ohio State, 6'0?, 181 lbs.;
Jeff Samardzija, Notre Dame, 6'4?, 214 lbs.;
Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech, 6'4?, 226 lbs.;
Sidney Rice, South Carolina, 6'4?, 198 lbs.;
Jason Hill, Washington State, 6'1?, 211 lbs.;
Steve Breaston, Michigan, 6'1?, 196 lbs.;
Derrick Williams, Penn State, 6'0?, 191 lbs.;
James Hardy, Indiana, 6'6?, 215 lbs.;
Billy Pittman, Texas, 6'0?, 198 lbs.
Even the speed guys, Ginn and Pittman, average six feet in height and 190 lbs. in weight. The group is underclassman heavy — Jarrett, Ginn, Johnson and Pittman are juniors. Rice, Williams and Hardy are only sophomores. Draft followers know however, that inexperience has never kept top prospects from leaving early and grabbing the big money.
It’s beyond early, but these are ten names to watch this fall. If Dallas can get its offensive line sorted out, several of these guys will get serious attention from the team next spring.
Update: Jeff Samardzija signed a long term contract with the Cubs, making him a longer shot top prospect. Don’t rule out an NFL career for him — he wants to play pro baseball and football. Deion Sanders tried this for a while, joining the Falcons in October after his Braves seasons ended, so it can be done.