April 20, 2005

Receivers not hard to catch

Cowboys know that quality wideouts can come anywhere in draft
By TODD ARCHER / The Dallas Morning News

IRVING – Many years ago, before there was such thing as an 80-man limit to training camp rosters, the Cowboys would hold a tryout camp at Texas Stadium, hoping to find one player among thousands of wannabes.

“We would have 1,200 of them show up, and 800 of them wanted to be wide receivers,” former Cowboys personnel director Gil Brandt said.

Brandt’s point: Wide receivers can be found anywhere.

Remember that when it comes time for the Cowboys to make their first-round picks Saturday. But is it necessarily true?

For the Cowboys, it has been. Bob Hayes was a seventh-round pick in 1964. Drew Pearson played quarterback at Tulsa and was undrafted in 1973. Michael Irvin was a first-rounder in 1988.

Since 1990, the league-wide percentages are that way, too. Of the 54 receivers chosen in the first round, only four have posted 1,000-yard seasons as rookies. Of the top-20 reception leaders last season, 12 were drafted after the first round.

For every Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison and Torry Holt taken in the first round, there seems to be a Laveranues Coles, Terrell Owens and Hines Ward – all third-rounders.

“A lot of it is nothing but an adjustment,” former Cowboys wide receivers coach Robert Ford said. “When you’re a prime-time guy coming out of college, and you’re a No. 1 draft choice, right now you’re thinking you’re the best thing since sliced bread, and you cannot get better. In your own mind, you know you have to, but it’s, ‘Shucks, I’m a three-time All-American. I’ve achieved my goal.’ You stay in your comfort zone.”

And then comes that first minicamp, when the veteran cornerback doesn’t let you off the line of scrimmage and your helmet flies off.

The reasons for the struggles are many: tougher offenses to learn, poor quarterbacks, high expectations, overrated talent. But better cornerbacks and more sophisticated defenses are at the top of the list for scouts and coaches.

“One of the things that happens to you in college football is that you don’t get pressed up every down,” said Larry Lacewell, the Cowboys’ former director of pro and college scouting. “Every single play they have someone right there in front of them. So if they don’t go against press in college, you don’t know if they can get off the line.”

The Cowboys have not selected a receiver in the first round since Alvin Harper was chosen in 1991 with the 12th overall pick. Since 1993, they have drafted only one receiver – Antonio Bryant, 2002 – in the first two rounds.

In his coaching career, Bill Parcells’ teams have drafted only two receivers in the first round: Mark Ingram (1987, Giants) and Terry Glenn (1996, Patriots). Ingram caught two passes his rookie season, but he developed into a reliable player. Glenn caught an NFL-rookie record 90 passes for 1,132 yards and six touchdowns in helping New England reach the Super Bowl.

As a general manager, Parcells said one of his best picks was Coles, taken by the Jets in the third round of the 2000 draft.

Seven receivers were selected in the first round last year. Tampa Bay’s Michael Clayton, the fifth receiver drafted, had the best year, catching 80 passes for 1,193 yardsReggie Williams, who was drafted by Jacksonville with the ninth overall pick, caught only 27 passes for 268 yards and one touchdown.

In 2003, Arizona took Bryant Johnson with the 17th pick in the first round, and he responded with a typical rookie season – 35 catches, 438 yards. With the 54th pick, the Cardinals chose Anquan Boldin, and he set an NFL rookie record with 101 catches for 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns.

There could be six receivers drafted in the first round this year: Braylon Edwards, Mike Williams, Troy Williamson, Mark Clayton, Reggie Brown and Roddy White. But there’s a very good chance that a lower-round pick could have a much greater impact in 2005.

“If you look at the list, you’ll see the quality of receivers,” Brandt said. “You can get one in the third round or fourth round that can be pretty significant. Unless you get lucky, I don’t think you’re going to find a defensive lineman of any note that will be drafted in the third or fourth round.”

So when commissioner Paul Tagliabue steps to the podium to say, “The Cowboys are on the clock,” remember this: If Mike Williams is available, he could be this year’s Michael Clayton or last year’s Reggie Williams.

“There’s always going to be exceptions to the fact,” Brandt said. “But you’d be going against the law.”

E-mail tarcher@dallasnews.com

2005 NFL draft: Saturday-Sunday, New York (ESPN, ESPN2)

Posted by Garrett Queen at 08:35 PM