Growing up near Miami, Phillip Dorsett loved Santana Moss’ style. Moss was a small receiver, but boy, could he run. He also had the consummate Miami swagger, and playmaking ability to boot.
So imagine Dorsett’s elation years later when Moss, a star receiver for Washington, told Dorsett — then a receiver at Miami — that he reminded him of himself.
“It meant a lot,” Dorsett said. “I grew up watching Santana, he always was my favorite player. I talk to him all the time. I’ve got his number, we shoot (each other) texts, and when he comes in the offseason, I see him in the weight room and we talk a lot.”
So perhaps it’s fitting that Dorsett, at 5 feet 9 5/8 and 183 pounds, is earning faintly similar raves to the ones Moss received leading up to the 2001 draft, with blazing speed — Moss ran a 4.31 40-yard dash during the combine and was selected 16th overall by the New York Jets — being the most obvious trait they share.
“Just in the time it took us to say his name he already finished the 100 (meter dash),” NFL.com draft analyst Charles Davis joked about Dorsett. “God, he can fly. And he’s very smooth in doing it, too, very smooth in acceleration. I really enjoyed watching him.”
Dorsett declined to predict how fast he’ll run at the combine, but NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah opined this week leading into Saturday’s Senior Bowl that Dorsett might be the fastest player in the entire draft.
“Dorsett has just got ludicrous speed, to quote ‘Spaceballs,’ ” Jeremiah said.
Dorsett showed it off as a senior, too, catching 36 passes for 871 yards — a per-catch average of 24.2 yards — and 10 touchdowns. Most of that had to do with his explosiveness; the rest had to do with the scheme.
“Lot of posts, go-routes, ran a couple of digs,” Dorsett said of his typical route tree. “But (other stuff) wasn’t really in the playbook that much. We liked to run the ball a lot and play-action pass and take shots. We got greedy all the time, but that’s our offensive coordinator, that’s how he is — a great guy, a great coach.”
But just because Dorsett’s offensive coordinator, James Coley, didn’t call on his fleet-footed star to run the intermediate stuff, doesn’t mean Dorsett can’t do it.
“I put a lot of work into it,” Dorsett said of his route running. “I’ve always been a guy that can win routes, I just never got a chance to show it at Miami because we didn’t run many intermediate routes. Just being here (in Mobile), having a base playbook and (running) the routes we’re going to run at the next level is a blessing. I’m glad I got a chance to do it.”
That said, Dorsett has been motivated to dispel any notions about his skill-set at Senior Bowl practices this week.
“I’m trying to be a complete receiver, not just a one-trick pony,” Dorsett said. “Show I can do the dirty work, make the tough catches, run good routes … I feel like I showed this week that I can run them all.”
Still, Dorsett knows that at his size, he will always need to be diligent about improving his technique against press coverage.
“I’ve always been a guy that can beat it, but in the NFL, you’ve got bigger and longer corners with more technique, more experience,” Dorsett said; “So just perfecting that (is important) at the next level.”
Still, Dorsett’s game-breaking speed should be attractive for myriad NFL teams, including the Chiefs, who interviewed him this week.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid boasts a notoriously complicated playbook that sometimes forces receivers to adjust their routes based on coverages, but Dorsett says he has plenty of experience doing that.
“I’ve always been a small receiver, I know coverages,” Dorsett said. “I’ve always had to adjust to different coverages.”
Dorsett is ranked as the No. 72 overall player in the draft by ESPN and No. 134 by CBS Sports. That puts him in the second, third or fourth-round range, where draft analysts like Davis feel like he can make an immediate contribution, just like former Miami teammate Allen Hurns — an undrafted free agent who caught 51 passes for 677 yards and six touchdowns for the Jaguars — did this season.
“It’s funny because we had Allen Hurns from Miami last year at the East-West Shrine Game, and people didn’t talk about him much,” Davis said. “But remember how he showed up real early in the season? I think Dorsett is a better player than that. A much better player.”
And while expecting Dorsett to be the next Moss — a 14-year pro who has carved out a very nice career in the NFL despite his size — is unfair, Davis said Dorsett can fit in practically any scheme.
“Yeah, I could see him fitting anywhere,” Davis said. “Because anyone that has that kind of speed and can’t figure out how to use him is a lousy coach.”