Combine Watch List: Where does Dexter McCluster fit in?

Doug Farrar

No matter how many games you watch and how much game film/tape/DVR you review, there are those players who defy comparison to anyone you've seen before. So it has been with Ole Miss RB/WR Dexter McCluster, who has been the very definition of "explosive playmaker" in college. But at 5-8 and 165 pounds soaking wet, how does he fit into an NFL roster? The easy comparables, like Shaun McDonald(notes) and Sinorice Moss(notes), aren't really accurate -- Moss outweighed McCluster by a good 20 pounds when he came out of Miami, and McCluster has at least a tenth of a second on McDonald from McDonald's Arizona State days.

McCluster has to be considered to be a serious professional prospect because of his tremendous breakaway speed -- his ability to separate from pursuit and take it home may be unmatched in this draft. But a similar speedster like Chris Johnson came out of East Carolina three inches taller and 30 pounds heavier. He stole the show during Senior Bowl week, blowing people away with his speed and versatility, but where do those qualities fit in the NFL in such a compact package?

Some peg McCluster as an ideal running threat of some sort, but he doesn't really have the bulk to hit the middle as he so often did on draws and delays in college. He'd get beaten to death as a traditional slot receiver, unless he was in the right system, which is where his value really shows up. He's now classified by many as a wide receiver going forward, which would seem to indicate a return threat as well. In an offense like New England's or New Orleans', where multiple receivers will pull coverage off the line with different route combinations, he'd be a great threat to break plays underneath -- perhaps he could be what Chad Jackson(notes) and Reggie Bush(notes) haven't been. I asked Rob Rang, Senior Draft Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, for his opinion on McCluster's prospects.

The feature back in the NFL may be going the way of the dinosaur. As the running back position becomes increasingly specialized and more and more teams pair a bullish short-yardage back with a dynamic open field runner, opportunities are opening for versatile "mighty-mites" like McCluster. Considering his size, McCluster is, not surprisingly, very elusive in the open field. He also possesses the vision to exploit small creases in the defense and an explosive first step to break free.

Due to his low center of gravity, good balance and underrated strength, McCluster is also a much tougher runner than his size would indicate. Possessing good hands and the quick feet to gain separation as a route-runner, McCluster helped his cause lining up as a receiver at the Senior Bowl. With the spread offense gaining steam in the NFL, the multi-dimensional McCluster has the skill set to immediately improve an NFL team as a runner, receiver and returner.

McCluster showed his toughness in the Cotton Bowl, when he carried the ball 34 times for 184 yards. In the second half of his 2009 season, McCluster racked up over 20 carries in five of seven games, the first time he'd ever done so in college. It was as if it was time to show the world that McCluster could shoulder the load despite his size. Some NFL team will take a shot on the measurable, probably in the second round, and find a way to make him fit their offense. He's been his own prototype so far, and Dexter McCluster can use the Combine to spread the word in a way that few others can.

Need convincing? Check out the video after the jump: