Two days prior to the 2013 NFL Draft, I published my dream mock draft for the Cowboys. In the fourth round sat Georgia Southern safety J.J. Wilcox, a player I mocked to Dallas more than any other, so needless to say, I was thrilled when the 'Boys selected him on Friday night, even in the third round. As I've done with Travis Frederick, Gavin Escobar and Terrance Williams, I want to take a look at how Wilcox and fourth-round cornerback B.W. Webb look from an analytical perspective.
There's a really big difference between scouting small-school players versus those who played in a major conference. For certain positions, elite production in a big conference is the best predictor of NFL success. When a running back rushes for 6.0 yards per carry in the SEC or a wide receiver catches 100 passes in the Big Ten, for example, there's good reason to believe that they'll be effective in the NFL.
For small-school prospects like Wilcox, stats don't matter as much. Playing against inferior competition, it really doesn't matter how many interceptions or tackles Wilcox made in college. We'd of course like to see small-school prospects dominate games, but 1,500 rushing yards in the SEC is a bit different from the same amount in the Sun Belt.
That means that measurables are more vital when studying small-school players. A player like Wilcox might look outstanding on tape, but what do we really know about him when he's playing against Old Dominion and Samford? We need to make sure players like that can make it in the NFL from a purely athletic standpoint before doing anything else, and there's good reason to think Wilcox can do that.
At the 2013 Scouting Combine, Wilcox (6-0, 213 pounds) showed explosiveness. He recorded a 4.57 40-yard dash (and a 4.51 at his Pro Day), a 35-inch vertical, 10-4 broad jump and a sensational 4.09 short shuttle. From a pure height/weight/speed perspective, Wilcox was one of the elite athletes in this draft class. When you combine his measurables with an outstanding week of Senior Bowl practices against NFL-ready competition, you have the makings of a high-upside player.
And that upside is important. Beginning in the middle rounds, teams should start to emphasize upside more and more because the value of each pick is minimal. There's really no reason to draft players with low ceilings when the historic success rate of draft picks in that range is minimal anyway. Wilcox, a player who didn't receive a single snap at safety until his senior season, is the definition of a high-ceiling prospect.
William & Mary cornerback B.W. Webb is very similar to Wilcox in that he's a small-school prospect with above-average athleticism. Webb probably dropped some because he's just 5-10 and 184 pounds, so there are concerns that he might not be able to cover outside in the NFL, relegated solely to slot duties.
That might be the case, but it's far from a certainty and there's zero doubt that Webb possesses NFL-level athleticism (and then some). His 3.84 short shuttle, undoubtedly important for a slot cornerback, was the best for any player in the entire draft. Combined with an 11-0 broad jump and 40.5-inch vertical, it's pretty obvious that Webb passes the athleticism test.
Another thing to like about Webb is his return ability. Player versatility is of course good for coaches, but it also increases a prospect's chances of success. Even if Webb ends up being just an average cornerback, he could potentially keep a roster spot by lighting it up on special teams.
There's no question that both Wilcox and Webb have the physical tools necessary to play with the big boys, but the question is how they'll handle the mental aspect of playing in the NFL. Small-school prospects are used to winning their one-on-one battles, but everyone in the NFL gets beat at some point. Do they have the confidence to rebound from adversity? The [embedded_ad]
Cowboys obviously think they do, and if Wilcox and Webb can step up psychologically, you're looking at two probable starters at some point down the road.