Versatility Creates Opunity for Top Returners in 2010 NFL Draft
INDIANAPOLIS – Perrish Cox knows versatility is key to his NFL dream.
Specifically, the cornerback from Oklahoma State University said he knows that sometimes in the NFL, the ability to do something other than play your chosen position can be key to making yourself a bit more valuable in the eyes of scouts and personnel types.
For Cox, and several others in the 2010 NFL Draft, that versatility is on special teams.
And specifically, it is as a return specialist.
"You could say that," Cox said during the NFL Scouting Combine, which was held in late February at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
"These days, special teams wins games for you. It'll change the game, change the whole aspect of a game. Gets your team going, gets your team pumped up – I think it does."
Cox (6-feet-0, 195 pounds), who started three seasons at cornerback for the Cowboys, is one of several players in the April 22-24 2010 NFL projected to be able to make an impact – or at the least, have a chance to contribute – as a kickoff/punt returner.
Some of those players, such as Cox, Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley and Clemson wide receiver Jacoby Ford, project as mid-round selections who analysts say are prospects both because of their ability to play a position and their ability to return.
Others, such as Trindon Holliday (5-feet-5, 166 pounds) of Louisiana State, are projected primarily as return specialists.
Holliday, who had a 24.7-yard average with two touchdowns on kickoff returns in college and a 15.5-yard average with two touchdowns returning punts, is considered the top available return "specialist," with Brandon James of Florida and Brandon Banks of Kansas State also projected as potential draft selections among return specialists.
The player some analysts consider the top available returner:
C.J. Spiller, a running back from Clemson University who has been compared to New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush, a running back/returner who won the Heisman Trophy in his final season at Southern California and who has made an impact at both positions in the NFL.
"I've just been blessed by the Man upstairs," Spiller said. "You've got to be a man to get back there on those punt returns. You've got to have faith in your teammates, and you've got to have faith that they're going to hold up. And kickoff returns is all about reading the blocks and then just exploding through the hole.
"Hopefully, you can give your offense good field position, and hopefully it'll turn into a big play. I take a whole lot of pride in playing on those special teams, especially kickoff return and punt return."
While Bush has continued play both roles deep into his NFL career, many players who return and play another position only return for a few seasons.
Spiller said he hopes to play two roles long-term.
"That's something I love to do," Spiller said. "Special teams can win or lose a game for you. That's something I enjoy doing. I think I'm pretty good at doing it. Hopefully, I can help an organization by doing it so teams can't just key on me as being a slot guy or just running the ball from the backfield, and I can go in and help that team out in any way."
Shipley (5-11, 193), who caught 248 passes for 3,191 yards and 33 touchdowns at Texas, also averaged 12.5 yards on punt returns and returned three for touchdowns. He also averaged 24.6 yards with a kickoff return for a touchdown.
"I think it's going to be great," Shipley said of returning. "That's one of my favorite parts of football, doing kickoff return and punt return. I've loved it since I was a kid. I'm excited about the opportunity, and hopefully I'll get the chance to return some punts and kicks."
Cox, who is projected by many as a third or fourth round selection, said during the combine he was questioned extensively by scouts and personnel officials on off-field issues as much as on. He was suspended for the Alamo Bowl game following his senior season after missing curfew twice during the week leading to the game, and Cowboys Head Coach Mike Gundy did not allow him to participate in the school's Pro Day on March 10.
"That's one of the main things they (NFL officials) harass with me," he said during the combine. "It's kind of tough. I'm used to it. It was a mistake. Something I did wrong. I shouldn't have left in the first place. I tell them straight up, 'It was my fault.' I shouldn't have left. I take all the blame for it. Coach did what he had to do. He wanted to suspend me for the game. I had to accept it. If I wouldn't have left, it wouldn't have happened. I take all the blame for it.
"I don't get angry at all. I gotta accept the punishment. My punishment, if you want to argue about it, I can live with it."
BREAKING DOWN THE 2010 NFL DRAFT'S TOP RETURNERS
Because some play other positions – and in the case of Clemson RB-C.J. Spiller, play those positions very, very well – specifying available returners in the NFL Draft is a murky process at times. While a player such as Spiller has elite returning ability, he may not be used as a returner for long considering his ability as a running back. Much depends on the team selecting him. But there are solid returners available, with Trindon Holliday of Louisiana State, Brandon Banks of Kansas State and Brandon James of Florida considered by many analysts three of the best available.
RETURNERS ON THE COLTS' ROSTER
Jamie Silva (punts, kickoffs), third season, Boston College; Sam Giguere (kickoffs), second season, Sherbrooke; Donald Brown (kickoffs), second season, Connecticut; Austin Collie (kickoffs), second season, Brigham Young; Pierre Garcon (kickoffs), third season, Mount Union.
THIS YEAR'S DRAFT
An alphabetical list of players in the NFL Draft who could be punt/pick returners professionally . . .
Javier Arenas, Alabama, 5-9, 197
Brandon Banks, Kansas State, 5-7, 150
Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State, 6-0, 195
Jacoby Ford, Clemson, 5-9, 186
Trindon Holliday, Louisiana State, 5-5, 166
Brandon James, Florida, 5-6, 176
A.J. Jefferson, Fresno State, 6-0, 193
Austin Knowlin, Columbia, 5-10, 198
Kellen Lewis, Valdosta State, 6-1, 175
MiQuale Lewis, Ball State, 5-6, 193
Jordan Shipley, Texas, 5-11, 193
C.J. Spiller, Clemson, 5-11, 196
LeRoy Vann, Florida A&M, 5-9, 177
Kyle Williams, Arizona State, 5-10, 188
Note: The content in this story and in the series of draft-eligible players that appears on Colts.com in no way reflects the position of the Indianapolis Colts.