Dede Westbrook leads pack of mid-tier WRs headed to 2017 Senior Bowl

Oct 1, 2016; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Dede Westbrook (11) scores a touchdown during the first half against the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 Senior Bowl is less than two months away, and as the list of accepted invites continues to be revealed, the crop of wide receivers who will be participating in the three days of practices is looking like a group of mostly second and third-day prospects.

The position group is led, so far, by Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook, who after a phenomenal 2016 season has earned himself a trip to New York City as one of the five Heisman Trophy finalists.  At 6-feet tall and 175-pounds, Westbrook is far from an opposing physical presence at wide receiver, but his 1,465 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns are indicative of the slippery playmaker that he is in the open field.  He’s a quick-twitched route-runner who freezes corners in their tracks with his well-timed footwork and upper-body fakes, not to mention his natural speed that already has defenders on their heels.  But despite his natural talent as a pure receiver, Westbrook is SKINNY.  I mean, REALLY skinny.  The weigh-in will be critically important for him during the Senior Bowl; in fact, it might be the most important part of his entire week.

Look, Westbrook is never going to be a ‘big’ guy.  But if he can tip the scales somewhere around 190-pounds while maintaining his juice, his draft value will skyrocket.  He’s not a first-round pick, but he can certainly sneak into round two if he shows up in Mobile with a more developed frame.  There’s no doubt he’s going to do damage on the practice field, much like his former teammate Sterling Shepard did last year.  But as far as physical makeup goes, Westbrook’s lacking mass could make some scouting departments think he has a low ceiling.  The bigger he gets, the higher he goes.

One of the positive aspects of Westbrook’s game is that he plays bigger — or, at least he tries to — than his measurables.  He’s not shy in the run game and will throw his bag of bones into a defender’s path in an effort to get his running back a few extra yards.  That kind of mentality will score points with scouts.  But can he do it against NFL corners that continue to get bigger by the year?  And what if he has to square off against one of the new-age safety-linebacker hybrids?  It’s a scary thought.

I have Westbrook as a mid-to-late third-round pick right now with room to move up.  He reminds me a little bit of Paul Richardson (Seahawks).  I thought Seattle reached on Richardson when they drafted him in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft because of his physical shortcomings (mass).  To date, Richardson hasn’t panned out, but he’s really only now starting to get back to full health after an ACL tear cost him much of the last year.  We’ll see if his sub-190-pound frame translates into a playmaker for Seattle over the next season or so.

Westbrook will have to overcome ‘negative’ comps like Richardson in an effort to rewrite the narrative about skinny wide receivers.