Reception Perception: Measuring Potential Reward that Comes with the Risk of Dede Westbrook
According to longtime draft analyst Tony Pauline, a number of teams did not assign a draftable grade to Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook. Apparently, his interviews at the NFL Scouting Combine were “horrible” and turned teams off because he seemed “guarded and untruthful.” Westbrook needed those interviews to swing his way, as he comes with just about every red flag in the book.
Westbrook will turn 24 in his rookie season. Westbrook weighs less than 180 pounds which could be a hindrance on the field and in the training room. Westbrook, worst of all, was arrested twice on family violence complaints before coming to Oklahoma.
All those factors together are a lot to overcome for NFL teams who are not only image-obsessed, but also would prefer situations to carry less nuance and need an explanation. However, we also know that organizations will make exceptions for talented players they believe can develop into starters and help them win games.
The task for Reception Perception is to find if Westbrook scores along the lines of a high-end prospect and therefore make the risk of drafting him worth it for an NFL team. Whether he offers a true reward will be the key to deciding where he lands in the NFL draft, if he does so at all.
Alignment and Target Data
Games sampled: Ohio State, TCU, Texas, Auburn, Texas Tech, Houston
Unlike his fellow Oklahoma Sooner prospect from last year, Sterling Shepard, who played 67 percent of his snaps in the slot, Dede Westbrook was primarily an outside wide receiver in college. Playing at right wide receiver on 88 percent of his snaps over the six games sampled for Reception Perception, and 71.5 percent coming off the line of scrimmage, Westbrook has most of his experience at the flanker position.
We’ve noted throughout the Reception Perception series, almost like a broken record at this point, that the wide receivers who only play on one side of the field may be predisposed to a slower transition to the NFL than other prospects. Westbrook is just another to monitor in that vein. We’ll also need to track where he best projects to the NFL positionally. Size is often overstated as a factor when it comes to functioning on the outside; however, Westbrook is rail thin at 178 pounds and 6-feet tall, with short arms and small hands to boot. His future team may want to experiment with him in the slot.
When Westbrook was on the field, Oklahoma made it a point to get him the football. The Sooner wideout saw a target go his way on 34.9 percent of his 172 charted routes run in the games sampled. That was above the two-year prospect average of 32.9 percent. He was also an efficient statistical playmaker, hauling in 76.7 percent of his targets. In that metric, Westbrook only trailed Cooper Kupp in this class, and he is certainly more of a downfield receiver than the Eastern Washington prospect.
Success Rate vs. Coverage
Observers to Dede Westbrook’s game will note that he often finds a way behind the defense, catching wide open passes for big plays, and extend that to praise his separation ability. Reception Perception serves its best purpose in testing those narratives brought on by casual or unmanaged film watching. On a route-to-route basis, Westbrook’s separation ability doesn’t hold up.
With a 53.4 percent success rate vs. man coverage, Westbrook tested out in the seventh percentile among prospects charted over the last two years. His was the second-lowest score of this year’s crop, with only Malachi Dupree’s 47.3 percent coming in lower. As shockingly poor as that result is, his work against press coverage was somehow worse. Westbrook posted a 33.3 percent success rate vs. press coverage in his games sampled. It is the lowest score recorded over the last two draft classes.
It’s easy to cite Westbrook’s sub 180-pound frame as a reason for his disastrous score against press coverage. However, the real concern is that his technique and overall route-running acumen leaves much to be desired. This is not a player that showed any sort of understanding of the nuances of separation in his college film. His releases off the line of scrimmage were often too predictable, and despite his deep game ability, he offered little in terms of head fakes or deception tactics at the breakpoints of routes to earn a slight space for a quarterback to hit him. With poor technique and a lack of size, it’s hard to project Westbrook as an asset in tight coverage.
We would be remiss if we did not note Westbrook’s above average 81.2 percent success rate vs. zone coverage. He registered 69 attempts against this brand of defense, as opposed to 103 against man. With a zone score at the 79th percentile, we can feel a bit better about projecting Westbrook to some kind of NFL role. If he continues to diagnose coverages well at the pro level, he can certainly produce some of the big plays in the next few seasons he registered at Oklahoma.
Perhaps one explanation for his lower than expected overall success rate vs. coverage scores is that Oklahoma tasked Dede Westbrook with one of the more difficult route portfolios. Despite coming from a wide-open spread offense, Westbrook ran a number of outside-breaking patterns in addition to his vertical work.
A number of college deep threats run a heavy serving of slants and curls to go along with their work on nine routes. It’s no surprise to see Westbrook check in with a go-route rate of 27.9 percent; however, the other patterns at which he was above the prospect average were the interesting notes.
Westbrook came in above the average in terms of running out and comeback patterns. Both routes are unusual for a collegiate receiver, and typically require a good deal of technical understand to get open on. Other routes where he checked in at the prospect average were the post, dig and flat.
While such a balanced route tree is certainly a nice attribute to come into the NFL with, it’s still confusing that Westbrook only ran the slant on 9.3 percent of his patterns, especially considering his best ability is after the catch. Westbrook was “in space” on 17.4 percent of his routes and only went down on first contact on 46.7 percent of them. He broke multiple tackles on 16.7 percent of his in space attempts, a score that is above the average rate. With his dynamic playmaking ability in the open field, perhaps his NFL team will make more use of him on a different variety of routes to get him there more often.
Dede Westbrook’s route success rate chart doesn’t exactly illuminate more of his game either. If anything, it leaves us with more questions.
Perhaps Oklahoma noted Westbrook’s poor performance on slants and that’s why they were not often a part of his assignment. With just a 68.8 percent success rate, he scored well below the average for that route. His curl route success rate, another pattern that was surprisingly low in his percentage chart, was a strong 80 percent, however. This is something he can build on as he goes to the pro level, as some deep threats like Mike Wallace make that their secondary route to accurate production on with defenses respecting their ability to get over the top.
Despite running some detailed out-breaking routes, Westbrook did not show much proficiency in earning separation there. His 83.3 percent comeback success rate was at the league average, but his flat and out scores were quite poor.
As a vertical threat, Westbrook was a bit confusing, as well. His 86.7 percent success rate vs. coverage on post routes was simply phenomenal. A number of his wide open big plays came from space he earned when separating on the post patterns. His sharp breaks after building up speed on this route are tough to deal with. However, Westbrook’s 31.3 percent success rate on the nine is strongly poor. It’s actually the lowest score charted among not only 2017 prospects, but dating back to last year’s class, as well.
It’s plain to see Westbrook has plenty of speed, but as we often say here under the tent of Reception Perception: there’s much more to getting open deep than speed. This is not to say Westbrook won’t help some team with the occasional big play. Yet, in order to make more use of his speed and earn more than sporadic playing time, he’ll need to become more technically consistent. At the current state of his route running and regularity of his separation ability, he will likely fail to earn a team’s trust in anything more than a bit role.
The risks are plain to see with Dede Westbrook and he runs the gamut of prospect risks. What’s less clear is the potential rewards of his game. Sure, he can help out with an occasional big play, either over the top or after the catch. However, he does not come close to passing through acceptable standards as a separator on a route-by-route basis, and it’s hard to justify him as a top-four round player based on his game alone.
With NFL teams turned off to Westbrook with his off-field dark marks lurking, it’s not inconceivable that he falls out of the draft altogether. Teams will certainly make adjustments and exemptions for players with checkered ledgers who can potentially offer them a steal of a starter. Based on his Reception Perception, Westbrook does not appear as one of those players.
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