The NFL sees trends in players come and go throughout the years. For awhile, long, tall corners were all the rage after Seattle used them to dismantle Denver’s offense in the Super Bowl.
This was also in response to another trend of big, strong wide receivers that were bullying smaller corners. Guys like Dez Bryant, AJ Green, Demaryius Thomas, Julio Jones, and Alshon Jeffery were the kind of receivers teams were accumulating, and burst onto the scene all within a three year period.
Naturally, when a team shifts to bigger (often less agile) corners to combat this, offenses will shift to smaller, quicker receivers. This is where the league is currently.
There has been an influx of smaller wide receivers making an impact over the last few years. Guys like Odell Beckham, Antonio Brown, Brandin Cooks, Emmanuel Sanders, T.Y. Hilton, and Doug Baldwin all have proven that you can be under six feet tall and play on the outside in today’s NFL.
This brings us to today’s prospect: Oklahoma wide receiver, DeDe Westbrook. Westbrook was extremely productive in his senior season at OU after transferring in from a junior college where he earned All-American honors.
A 76.9% catch rate + 19.1 yards per catch from Dede Westbrook is pretty ridiculous. https://t.co/Etk67lzA1Z— Jared Smola (@SmolaDS) February 27, 2017
In 2016, Westbrook racked up 80 catches for 1,524 yards and 17 touchdowns, earned All-American honors, won the Biletnikoff award (given to the best WR in college football), and was a Heisman finalist.
Dede Westbrook's 2016 stats:— Sports and Philly (@SportsandPhilly) March 27, 2017
Rec Yards: 1524
Rec TD: 17
Avg yds per catch: 19.05
Wide Receiver, Senior — Oklahoma
Height: 6'0" | Weight: 178 lbs. | Arm Length: 30 5/8” | Hands: 9"
40 Yard Dash: 4.34 seconds | Vertical: 34.5" | Broad Jump: 120" | 3 Cone: 7.28 seconds
Westbrook did not participate in any drills at the combine so all of these numbers are from his Pro Day at Oklahoma.
Plays with sudden feet in tight quarters. Uncovers quickly while working underneath. Rhythmic cadence in his routes. Dangerous after the catch. Vertical transitions in his routes are smooth and sudden with loads of acceleration. Patient in routes and reads corners hips to time his cuts. Works back to most every throw with vacuum-like hands. Improviser who finds open spots for a scrambling quarterback. Leverages cornerbacks toward hash to create throwing room to boundary on fades and deep balls. Long speed looks legit. Runs under and through the deep ball with desired tracking over his shoulder. More than 25 percent of his catches went for 25-plus yards in 2016. Plays bigger than his size. Willing worker in front of safeties in middle of the field. Shadow blocker, but willing to maintain positioning as long as he has to. Utilized as kick and punt returner in important spots. Had punt return touchdown and kick return of 63 yards in 2016.
Thin legs on painfully thin frame. Could have issues holding up against NFL size. Can be a little lackadaisical with the simple routes. Needs to back corners off with greater show of vertical push into routes. Play speed is inconsistent. Ohio State leveraged him against the boundary and he couldn't escape. Production helped along by woeful opponents across from him. Allowed free releases and rarely faced physical challenges. Could struggle with contested catches on the next level due to size. Scheme allowed for less safety help over the top and more one-on-one looks. Character concerns will need to be addressed with NFL teams.
SOURCES TELL US
"I've heard other scouts compare him to Will Fuller but that's just too much in my opinion. Fuller's football speed was off the charts. Fuller would get his separation on speed alone but I think Westbrook is helped out a little bit by the offense Oklahoma runs. I like him but I don't 'Will Fuller like him'" - AFC regional scout
Natural glider with ability to play outside but could be moved to slot due to size concerns. Often found running in the clear thanks to strong double moves and weak competition. Evaluating Westbrook is challenging due to a lack of strong competition, but his separation quickness, second gear, and reliable hands are all translatable play traits that should turn into catches on the next level.
Position fit: “Z” receiver who can also win from the slot
Stats to know: Averaged 4.08 yards per route run last season, second among receivers with over 100 targets.
What he does best:
Very fast. He has straightaway deep speed and can just run right past a defender. Acceleration may be second-to-none, can get up to full speed within a few steps.
Explosive out of his breaks and cuts. Keeps hips low and doesn’t give away routes. There are no routes that he can’t run effectively.
Top-notch after-the-catch ability, sees the field well with the ball in his hands and can make guys miss. Forced 20 missed tackles last season.
Sets up routes well with both head and feet fakes (such as post-corner routes, out-and-ups, etc).
Strong hands, doesn’t drop many passes (just four on 84 catchable throws in 2016), even in contested situations or when he’s hit by a defender.
Great body control, works well on sidelines and can stay on his feet after hits.
Plays bigger than he is, doesn’t shy away from contact and will lower his shoulder and try to run through players if he thinks it necessary.
Won’t win a lot of jump balls, can get bodied at catch point by defenders.
Doesn’t have a lot of experience against press coverage, and what experience he does have hasn’t been overly successful. Often needs to be moving at the snap to beat press coverage.
Size poses durability questions, doesn’t have a lot of muscle on him and could affect him against bigger NFL defenders.
May be limited to a slot receiver early on in the league.
Player comparison: Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis Colts
This is simply a comparison of the two players’ styles. Coming out of college, Harrison’s scouting report was almost identical to Westbrook. Both players had slim builds with questions about whether they could hold up in the league. Like Westbrook, Harrison possessed great deep speed and incredible quickness in and out of his cuts. He also had very strong hands and was a legitimate deep threat despite his size. Harrison was able to shore up his weaknesses and turn into one of the greatest receivers in NFL history. It is unlikely that Westbrook can ever reach that level, but there are eerie similarities between the two entering the NFL.
Bottom line: Westbrook is a receiver that may be overlooked due to his size but probably shouldn’t be. Westbrook possesses all the necessary tools to be an excellent NFL receiver. He can run every route, he’s both incredibly fast and incredibly quick, and has great hands. His after-the-catch ability is among the best in the entire class, and he’s not afraid to get hit. Because of his size and inexperience with press coverage, he may be limited to a slot role early on. But he has so many tools to work with and very few football weaknesses. If he can get a bit stronger, he has the potential to be a great outside receiver in the NFL.
There are some that have concerns about Westbrook’s size and think he will be relegated to a slot-only role at the next level. Given what I mentioned above about the “new” outside receiver in the NFL, I think Westbrook could easily play on the outside.
He reminds me of a DeSean Jackson type player where he is best used on deep double moves, and beating people after the catch on routes where he can get the ball on the move.
Westbrook led the nation in plays over 40+ yards and was a big-play threat every down for Oklahoma.
He runs crisp routes, and shows good hands, but isn’t as polished in those two areas as his teammate who came out last year, Sterling Shepard. Also, unlike Shepard, Westbrook wins with pure speed, and won’t be a jump ball in the end zone kind of guy.
Here’s where things get dicey. Most scouts and mocks are showing Westbrook dropping into the mid/late rounds of the draft due to character concerns and poor interviews at the combine. Westbrook reportedly skipped the Senior Bowl so he wouldn’t have to answer questions about his past. Couple that with coming across as “guarded and untruthful” in his combine interviews, many teams have taken Westbrook off their board entirely.
A scouting director told me Dede Westbrook "doesn't want all those questions in Mobile" about his background. He's opted out— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 18, 2017
Bleacher Report had a quote from a scout that said:
A Scout Says: "Trouble, man. He's completely off our board. We couldn't believe this stuff when we started talking to folks there."
Fit with the Broncos
Anytime you have a Heisman finalist and Biletnikoff award winner dropping off of draft boards and sliding to the late rounds, there are causes for concern. However, from a talent perspective, Westbrook fits, and fills a need for wide receiver depth.
The biggest piece will be Denver’s comfort level with Westbrook’s character. If they decide that he is worth taking a chance on in the draft, he could be had very cheap in the late rounds.
IF he is able to stay clean off the field, Westbrook could become one of the steals of this draft for whoever decides to make the pick.