Sooners' Dede Westbrook boosts NFL Draft stock by torching Texas
Westbrook scored three times to help lead Oklahoma to a victory over their rivals on Saturday
With rumors swirling about the long-term future of Charlie Strong at Texas, much of the pregame focus for the latest edition of the Red River rivalry was on the Longhorns.
Oklahoma senior Dede Westbrook stole the spotlight once the game began, however, catching 10 passes for a school-record 232 receiving yards and three touchdowns in a performance sure to excite NFL scouts looking for playmakers.
Westbrook entered the game already well known in the scouting community, ranking 11th among senior receivers on NFLDraftScout.com's board. He signed with the Sooners a year ago as a highly regarded JUCO transfer from Blinn Community College and was recognized as the Big 12's Offensive Newcomer of the Year after hauling in 46 passes for 743 yards and four touchdowns despite playing second fiddle to Sooners star receiver Sterling Shepard.
Westbrook had been expected to immediately take over as the explosive element in Oklahoma's passing attack with Shepard taking his act to Broadway with the New York Giants. It didn't start out that way for the Sooners, however, with Westbrook averaging just over nine yards on 17 receptions over Oklahoma's first three games.
Fully healthy after struggling with a muscle strain in Oklahoma's early-season losses to Houston and Ohio State, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Westbrook toyed with an overmatched Texas secondary, scoring on receptions of 42, 47 and 71 yards while demonstrating exciting agility, acceleration and even strength while doing so.
Asking any cornerback to play on an island against a receiver with Westbrook's speed is dangerous, but with Texas forced to keep an extra defender in the box in an effort to slow down Oklahoma's powerful running game, the Longhorns were left with little choice.
The strategy appeared to be paying off early in the game -- that is, until Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield showed off his vision and arm strength to find Westbrook deep down the middle on the 71-yard touchdown late in the second quarter.
Westbrook's reported sub 4.40 speed was immediately evident on the play as he quickly ate up the cushion provided by Texas cornerback Davante Davis. With the back-pedaling Davis turning to his left in anticipation of a go-route from Westbrook, the Sooners' newest star receiver planted his right foot and sprung back inside to complete a beautiful post route, tracking a well-thrown pass from Mayfield over his shoulder to culminate the longest scoring reception in the 116-year history of this heated rivalry.
If Westbrook's first score demonstrated pure speed, his second provided the shake.
While lacking an ideal frame for fighting through press coverage, the slim-bodied wideout was consistently able to create separation from the Texas cornerbacks, using strong shoulder fakes and explosive cuts to get free.
This was perfectly demonstrated in the third quarter when Westbrook left Texas sophomore defensive back Holton Hill flat-footed and stumbling with a perfectly executed post-corner route for his easiest score of the game.
Shortly thereafter, Westbrook completed the hat-trick, turning a quick slant into a weaving 47-yard touchdown, showing not only the athleticism to slip by defenders and ultimately run away from them but the vision to set up his blocks and the strength to shake off a desperation tackle attempt from Longhorns linebacker Edwin Freeman.
One of the consistent knocks on junior college receivers is that they often are not very effective route-runners. Westbrook, however, appears to have a plan, showing savvy to set up defenders, as well as the sheer athleticism to turn those plans into points. Further, he showed strong hands and awareness of the sidelines in this contest, proving that he can make highlight reel-worthy grabs without scoring, as well.
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