Cowboys hope Danny Coale is the slot solution

The following is the 4th in a series of draft profiles for the
Dallas Cowboys selected players from April’s draft.  These profiles are
put together after watching significant amounts of tape from each
player, and is an attempt to examine their resumes and play to get an
idea of how they might fit in best with Dallas come training

Danny Coale Virginia Tech Wide Receiver 6’0, 201
40 time: 4.44, Bench Press: 12
June 27, 1988 (23)

It is very difficult to look at draft picks in a vacuum.  You simply must consider the context and the investment in a pick before you spend too much time ranting and raving about a player – positively or negatively.  And we can certainly debate whether the Cowboys have been smart recently after they spent such valuable resources to secure Dez Bryant, but have basically tried to not sink too much into the 3rd Wide Receiver on their roster since being bit so badly by the Roy Williams trade.

Understand that in today’s National Football League, a 3rd WR plays hundreds of snaps.  20 years ago, the amount of work a 3rd WR might see would be limited severely in Dallas because of the fullback position and the desire to keep Darryl Johnston on the field in almost all spots except 3rd down-and-long packages.  But, these days, you can make the strong case that your 3rd WR is nearly a starter.  For instance, in New Orleans, the Saints had 3 different WRs with 800 or more snaps.  That is positively absurd by old NFL standards.

“11” personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) is now the base personnel with many of the high voltage attacks in the NFL.  And there is no question that those who don’t believe in “11” are starting more and more to invest in “12” personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) or both.  So, when you consider the Cowboys situation moving forward, you can see how much the team is counting on significant playing time from either 3rd Wide Receiver or a 2nd Tight End, or, preferably both, as well.

In 2011, the Cowboys were rewarded for a shrewd signing in training camp by finding veteran Laurent Robinson on the waiver wire.  He turned out to be a huge weapon as the season went along and the Cowboys spent a big chunk of the year with Robinson filling in for injuries to the two starting WRs, Bryant and Miles Austin.  He was so good that he became too expensive to keep.  The projections for his extension were somewhere in the 3 years for $18 million range.  So, when Jacksonville stepped up with a 5 year, $32.5 million strike, he was not going to be kept by a team that was already strapped for cash.

Can Danny Coale fill that void?  Coale, the 152nd pick in the draft and the 22nd Wide Receiver taken, is a player with a very decorated resume.  His senior season was his most productive, despite Virginia Tech dealing with QB issues in 2011 as they attempted to replace Tyrod Taylor.  He was clocked at the combine at a 4.44 40 yard dash, and his initial burst off the line is what you are looking for for the spot.

In watching him closely over several games, it does appear that he is an ideal candidate to work the slot and the underneath portions of the defense.  He lined up at many different spots for the Hokies, but the slot was his familiar position.  Using his quickness and his sharp changes in direction, he would often get free underneath or option it into a deeper diagonal route that would stress any zone once the outside receivers clear the corners out of the area.

He is a willing and able blocker on the outside and Virginia Tech continuously would run quick WR screens to him at the snap.  This is a huge part of the offense that has some QB issues, but it is becoming more and more of the NFL game, too, to punish teams who want to play off and soft.  He appears to have very solid hands and if you consider some of his bigger moments for the Hokies were at huge spots in huge games, you can talk yourself into Coale being a great fit.

We must remain reasonable on his expectation level.  He was pick #152, despite playing at a big time program with great visibility.  There is obviously a question league wide whether his skill set can translate to the NFL level.  But, considering where he was taken and what was invested, this seems like a very sound decision.  The question is whether you should have waited this long to address the need.  If the Cowboys had put a 3rd or 4th Rounder on a WR, nobody would have found that curious.  But, given what they need Coale to do – this year – the time they have allotted to bring him along slowly is almost non-existent.

At this portion of the profile, I like to offer you cut-ups of the player to look with your own eyes at his performance, good or bad.  Unfortunately, there is very little footage of Coale in completed reels, aside from highlight films featuring his very best plays.  I hesitate to post these, because they do not properly reflect his normal play.  But, be forewarned.  These are his best plays.

Coale’s Big catch against Nebraska in 2009:

And here is a highlight tribute film, complete with orchestral accompaniment – After watching this, you might wonder how he wasn’t taken 1st overall:

And if you so desire, you can watch Danny Coale talk to kids while he was at Virginia Tech.  He certainly appears to have the strong character you look for in a prospect.

Summary: The Cowboys approach to the draft this year was different than I have seen for a while.  There is not a lot of raw, developing projects here.  As I can see, there are guys who are nearly developed and ready to contribute.  Coale should step right in and help special teams – just like Wilber and Johnson.  But, Coale’s real test is going to be to contribute to the offense with the dependability to be that slot receiver they have been searching for.  This is not easy, because that player ends up being Romo’s security blanket (along with Jason Witten) when the pocket is breaking down and the ideas upfield are not working.  This requires chemistry and Romo knowing you will see the coverage like he does and be where you are supposed to be.  We have seen with Romo that if he doesn’t believe in your dependability, he sometimes doesn’t consider you as a viable option on a big play (see: Martellus Bennett).  But, there is little time to acclimate to the NFL Game for Coale.  They need a healthy, obvious performance in camp to keep them from scouring the waiver wire again this year at the end of camp looking for a discarded trusty veteran.  Coale has a chance, but we must curb our enthusiasm until he proves worthy.