Pundits evaluate Wyo. draft prospects

LARAMIE (AP) — The speculation is almost over.

The NFL Draft descends on New York City this week, and in the days leading up to it talking heads and anonymous bloggers will continue to deliberate — pumping out mock draft after mock draft, pondering potential trades and examining “deep sleepers” on grainy YouTube game reels.

And for the first time in a while, all of this is relevant to the Wyoming Cowboys.

The last time three Cowboys were drafted in the same class was 1997, when guard Steve Scifres, defensive back Lee Vaughn and wide receiver Marcus Harris all heard their name called. Since that time, only five Cowboys have been selected in 16 years.

But this weekend, Laramie’s metaphorical desert could be in for a long-awaited shower. Wide receiver Robert Herron, defensive back Marqueston Huff and quarterback Brett Smith all have strong odds of being drafted.

But where will they go, and when? The Casper Star-Tribune spoke to multiple draft analysts about the constantly shifting draft stock of the Cowboys’ talented trio.

Herron is an explosive, versatile and dangerous wide receiver.

He might as well join the club.

The 2014 NFL Draft has the most receiver depth of any in recent years, with 5-9 pass catchers potentially jumping off the board in the first round. Will that hurt Herron’s draft stock?

Sure, but not tremendously.

“I think in any other draft, Robert Herron would probably be a second-round pick,” SB Nation NFL Draft editor Matthew Fairburn said. “But in this one, he’s probably going to drop into the third round. But to me, if you’re getting a guy like Robert Herron in the third round, that’s a really good value.

“You’re getting a guy that’s probably going to impact the game pretty early in his career.”

Herron certainly impacted the game at Wyoming, where he compiled 2,030 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns throughout an impressive four-year career. And while he may sacrifice a few dollars by sliding into the middle rounds, there’s little doubt around the league that Herron will be drafted.

In a progressively receiver-focused league, speedy slot receivers have value in every system. And Herron, with underrated strength and dazzling explosiveness, could be off the board by Friday night when the second and third rounds are completed.

“I’d love to have him as a slot guy,” said Benjamin Allbright, draft pundit and host at 94.1 FM Mile High Sports Radio in Denver. “When all is said and done, smaller and quicker guys are pretty prevalent in the NFL. You can get a roster spot, but they aren’t going to get drafted in the second round. You have to look later.

“But he’ll definitely find a roster and a spot in the NFL.”

In a league where running backs are falling by the wayside and athletic receivers rule the day, it isn’t a matter of “if” for Herron, but “when.”

Because of the positional strength in this class, the 5-foot-9 Los Angeles native may do a fair amount of waiting.

But by the end of the weekend, the five-month wait will be over.

“This is such a deep wide receiver class, and there are a lot of teams that want wide receivers,” Fairburn said. “The supply matches the demand, and that’s why Herron is probably going to be picked in the first three rounds.”

“Huff is tough,” Allbright said.

By “tough,” Allbright meant difficult to project in this weekend’s draft. The 5-foot-11, 196-pound defensive back has the size and speed to potentially play either cornerback or safety in the NFL, and he filled both roles at Wyoming.

Some might view him as a “tweener,” a player who doesn’t necessarily fit into either position. But with un-coachable length and sufficient speed — Huff ran the 40-yard-dash in 4.49 seconds at the NFL Combine — teams may call it something else:

“There’s a bunch of guys that could play both (positions) this year,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “Marqueston Huff from Wyoming, (he’s a) potential third round corner or safety.”

Considering the Seattle Seahawks’ physical secondary that delivered a Super Bowl title, size is more coveted at the cornerback position than ever. And though he may be a more natural safety, Huff will likely be molded into that role.

“He’s got everything you want physically. He’s got the length, and everybody wants that,” Allbright said. “I like him more as a safety, but the NFL will want him as a corner. So he’s got a lot of work ahead of him.

“He might get overdrafted because of his size, his feet and his foundation. He may go in the third or fourth round.”

For Huff, the ability to contribute in multiple spots may boost his draft stock. But after he finds a team, he’ll have to master a specific role to make that home a permanent one.

This could be a nerve-wracking week for “the forgotten man.”

Smith — a 6-3, 206-pound junior — hasn’t received the exposure of some of his fellow draft-hopeful quarterbacks. He didn’t play in the Senior Bowl, like Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo and David Fales. He watched the NFL Combine on television, unlike just about every quarterback who will be selected this weekend.

Suddenly, Smith was a star without a spotlight. And according to Allbright, there was a reason for that.

“No one expected him to come out. They expected him to stay in school, so scouts kind of got lazy,” Allbright said. “They didn’t do the homework. That’s why he wasn’t invited to the combine. It’s just because so many juniors declared and he was one of them that they didn’t do their homework on, because they didn’t expect him to come out.

“He kind of got screwed there.”

Smith did his best to garner attention at Wyoming’s pro day, where he ran the 40 in 4.51 seconds — the best time among this class of quarterbacks — and efficiently addressed doubts about his arm strength.

But as Garoppolo and Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage have gained steam, Smith’s stock appears stagnant. He seems a lock to be selected somewhere between rounds four and seven, and maybe there’s nothing wrong with that.

The recent failures of first-round quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder has served as a lesson to teams.

Sometimes, waiting is the way to go.

“I think it’s going to be intriguing this year to see how these quarterbacks are spread out,” Mayock said. “I have 10 quarterbacks with first-, second- or third-round grades this year, which is more than I’ve ever had. It’s mostly because I’m getting feedback from teams that believe in that many kids.”

Ideally, Smith will be drafted by a team with a proven starter, in a role where he can take a year or two to develop and adapt to the rigors of the NFL.

Maybe that’s Denver, where Wyoming fans can keep tabs on one of their favorite Cowboys. Or maybe not.

For now, everyone will have to settle for a final wave of speculation.

“He’s going to be one of those guys that should be getting a lot of attention early on day three,” Fairburn said.

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Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

 


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