In just his second season at the FBS level, Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook has emerged as one of the best wide receivers in college football.
While competing with Sterling Shepard for targets last season, Westbrook was an explosive pass-catcher as the clear No. 2 option for Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield.
That is no longer the case.
Can Westbrook turn his stellar senior season into a career in the NFL?
Westbrook in 2016
After a relatively slow start through the first three weeks of the season, Westbrook has now reeled off at least 100 yards receiving in seven of his last eight games, including two 200+ yard performances:
Averaging 6.6 catches, 150 yards, and 1.9 touchdowns per game — plus an astonishing 25 yards per catch — during that eight-game span, Westbrook has morphed into one of the most explosive WRs in the nation.
Since the 2000 season, only five other players have topped 70 catches while averaging 19 or more yards per catch in a single season, including Roddy White, Lee Evans and good bad Michael Thomas from Southern Mississippi. Over the course of his career, Westbrook has averaged 18.1 yards per catch on 116 catches. Just 27 players since 2000 have racked up 2,000 yards receiving on 125 catches or less.
He’s also returned four punts this season, averaging 19.8 yards per attempt, including one TD. It’s a small sample size, but we already know the value of special teams for collegiate WRs at the next level.
All of this goes to show that while Westbrook has not been a particularly high-volume WR, he has shown the clear ability to turn his given opportunity into big gains and touchdowns on a fairly consistent basis. As a thought exercise, it feels natural to compare Westbrook’s senior season to his former teammate Shepard, who eventually went on to be the 40th overall pick in the 2016 draft.
Westbrook and Shepard
On paper, Westbrook is a taller, more slight version of Shepard, with similar senior season market share metrics:
RotoDoc laid out why Shepard was a flawed prospect back in June. Westbrook shares some of the specific concerns laid out for Shepard – age, lack of a sustained production profile, etc. – which are all extremely legitimate.
Perhaps the main difference between Westbrook and a top 2017 WR prospect like Western Michigan’s Corey Davis is the fact that Davis has been highly productive since his age-18 season. Westbrook, who took his first FBS snap at age 22, is now playing mostly against defensive backs two or three years his junior. Age is a big factor to keep in mind when we evaluate Westbrook.
While it’s generally positive to compare favorably to a top-50 draft pick, in this case Westbrook shares some of the same negative traits as his predecessor.
The path that Dede Westbrook has taken to get to where he is today has not been easy. And it’s encouraging to see someone succeed in the face of difficult circumstances. He’s a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award honoring the nation’s best WR, and has an outside shot at becoming a finalist for the Heisman Trophy come season’s end.
However, as a pro prospect, his resume is not quite as strong. It goes without saying that pre-draft workouts will be huge for Westbrook. If he shows out during his athletic testing, NFL front offices will be more likely to take a shot on an older prospect.
For dynasty owners, Westbrook’s age will always be a primary concern, but barring a total collapse during his workouts, it will be difficult to completely dismiss the monster production and big-play ability shown by Westbrook during his final collegiate season.