STILLWATER — Welcome to 2014, where college football players announce they will forgo their senior season and enter the NFL Draft via Instagram.That’s precisely the route Oklahoma State receiver Josh Stewart took Tuesday, when he posted a photo graphic on his social media account with the NFL Draft logo the words “Legacy” and “A new chapter begins...”
“One of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make in my life,” Stewart wrote in a note below the photo. “But im ready for this life and I hope all my friends and Cowboy family continue to follow me throughout this journey I’m gonna be preparing for.
“Thanks for everything Cowboy Nation I will rep Pokes until my time on this earth is up!”
Stewart is coming off a 2013 season where he led the Cowboys with 60 catches and tallied 703 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
He finished his Cowboy career with eight catches for 80 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown, in the Cotton Bowl against Missouri. Those receiving numbers were a significant drop-off from Stewart’s 2012 breakout sophomore campaign where he tallied 101 catches, 1,210 yards, seven touchdowns. But he became a prime special teams weapon this season by ranking fourth in the nation in punt returns (16.7 yards per return) with two touchdowns, including a 95-yarder that set an OSU and Big 12 record. He also missed nearly two full games with an ankle injury.
Stewart, a 5-10, 185-pound slot receiver, floated the idea of declaring for the draft during Cotton Bowl media day last week. He made his decision over the weekend, giving him ample time to train at Athletes’ Performance in Frisco, Texas.
Stewart said he’s been given a fourth-through-seventh round grade, but believes he hasn’t yet been evaluated thoroughly because he was a junior this season and not a sure-fire early entry into the draft.
Instead, he’ll use the NFL Combine, OSU’s pro day and other workouts to prove he’s a worthy of being selected. Stewart’s size would appear to be a detriment his NFL prospects, though he possesses great versatility, lateral quickness and shiftiness to make defenders miss in the open field.
Those types of skills have become quite valuable in the NFL, making a star out of Heritage Hall alum Wes Welker with the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos and giving another smaller receiver, Danny Amendola, a legitimate career.
Welker and Amendola were not drafted, though other prominent slot receivers like Percy Harvin (first round), Randall Cobb (second round) and Tavon Austin (first round) were taken high.
“You’ve got those (big) receivers on every other team, but you also have, now, the slots that are making plays and moving the chains,” Stewart said. “I just feel like I can be one of those guys … don’t let the size fool you, because there’s not a fearful bone in my body. I’ve never been afraid of anything on the field.
“There’s guys my size that are not interested in going up against guys that are a lot bigger. That’s what I do it for. That’s fun for me. There’s no better feeling than hitting a guy that’s way bigger than you and making them feel it.”
Stewart also has a backstory and current situation that played a role in deciding to leave OSU early.
He was raised by his grandparents after both parents died before he was 6 years old, then relocated to Denton, Texas, following Hurricane Katrina. He also has a 1-year-old son.
“I will say it helped with my decision, definitely,” Stewart said. “But then again, it came down to what I wanted to do. This is just what I wanted for me and my family, and this is what I’m gonna go with.”
With Stewart’s early departure, OSU must now replace three of its top four receivers from 2013. Tracy Moore (51 catches, 738 yards, six touchdowns) and Charlie Moore (35 catches, 468 yards, five touchdowns) were seniors in 2013.
Likely candidates to replace Stewart in the slot and on punt returns include junior-college transfer Tyreek Hill, an elite speedster who can play receiver and running back, and David Glidden, a rising junior who filled who tallied 15 catches for 173 yards in 2013 and was the backup punt returner. Ra’Shaad Samples, a four-star recruit who redshirted in 2013, could also help.
But let’s circle back to the creative way Stewart made his NFL announcement.
After using more traditional methods to make his choice — such as conversations with his family, Cowboy coach Mike Gundy, receivers coach Kasey Dunn and strength and conditioning coordinator Rob Glass — he wanted to let his followers know.
Why was Instagram his social media platform of choice?
Because he no longer has Twitter or Facebook.
So Stewart got his buddy Kenny Howell to take three of Stewart’s best photos from his time in Stillwater and create a colorful, personalized way to express it’s time to move on to the next level.
“I’m not the one to make a decision and wish I had made a different one,” Stewart said. “I felt like this is the one I was gonna be all-in for, and I’m all-in and ready to make this NFL thing work out.”