There are two pretty important things I need to see from any wide receiver that I break down before I can be comfortable predicting if they'll succeed on the next level. Both are pretty simple and straight forward, but necessary.
First, I need to see if they can get open. That isn't just dependent on their straight line speed, i.e. 40 times, but also how quickly they can get in and out of their breaks when they are running routes. Can they consistently get off a jam at the line of scrimmage? Do they use their hands effectively to create separation when there isn't much? Do they understand how to keep working to open areas when things break down, or the first window for their route is closed?
These are the kind of little things that receivers of all speeds can do to help themselves break free of a defender and give their quarterback a target.
It's easier for me to see these things with some receivers versus others because of the different schemes and quarterbacks. If I can't reasonably discern whether they should be able to get open against NFL competition, then I usually have a hard time giving them a positive evaluation.
The second thing I need to see is probably going to sound funny, but I'm dead-ass serious. They have to be able to show me that that the can actually catch the football consistently. You can run all the 4.3 40s in the world, but if you can't catch, you can't really help my team all that much. At least not as a wide receiver. Maybe if we need a kickoff return man we will give you a call.
Are receivers going to have drops? Absolutely. However, every drop isn't created equal.
Some guys have drops because they end up losing concentration before they actually secure it for various reasons, even if they are fundamentally sound with their hands. Sometimes this is because they are just trying to run before they catch the football, which happens a lot. That was a knock on former FSU and current Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin when he came out, but his big plays so far have outnumbered his drops. For the Panthers, it was worth the risk of taking him in the first round. When he didn't have those lapses in concentration, Benjamin's hands were actually pretty outstanding.
On the other hand, when a guy catches the ball with his body or consistently tries to catch with his pinkies together rather than his thumbs, that's when I start getting nervous. If I'm watching a draft eligible guy catch like that three years removed from high school, then I would assume they've been catching like that their whole lives. They might make improvements when doing all their combine prep after they come out, but what do you think they're going to do when they actually get in the game and the ball is headed their way? It's easy to break old habits when there is no pressure, but much harder to do when live bullets are flying at you.
Former USC and current Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee was a guy, who, while doing his breakdown, I straight up asked if he knew how to catch at all when he came out. It was a legit question from watching his film. I caught some flack for it back then, but the problem hasn't gone away for him as a pro.
Can you get open? Can you catch the ball? Two simple questions that are predictive of whether guys will or won't be successful NFL wide receivers. I'd say the answer for Josh Doctson on both questions after having watched him play in five games is a resounding yes!
Before we go any further, I'll acknowledge the fact that while Doctson is technically a "big" receiver at 6'2, 202 pounds, he isn't a very physical guy when it comes to just about anything other than catching the football. In five games I saw a few decent blocks here or there, but if you are looking for the kind of pancakes you saw from Laquon Treadwell you would be much better off going to IHOP than watching Doctson's tape.
He isn't the guy who is going to go and seek out contact either. That just doesn't appear to be who he is. I wouldn't call him soft, but I am used to seeing guys his size be a little more physical overall.
Now ask me if I give a shit.
No really, go ahead and ask.
I mean, yeah, it would be great if he used his size more effectively to get on and stay on blocks out on the perimeter. I certainly get fired up watching wide receivers go out there and light up people. However, if I'm choosing a wide receiver high in the draft, his blocking is going to have to be the cherry on top.
For a first-round wideout his main deal had better be putting the fear of God into a defense every time he steps on the field. I want a guy who will command safety help over the top for most cornerbacks and a guy who can still work the underneath routes when he does see double teams. Hell, I'm not sure where blocking even fits in on the hierarchy of skills I covet in a first-round wide receiver, but I can pretty much promise you that if I need a blocker that bad I'd probably just pick a tight end instead.
Y'all are just going to have to excuse me for not caring much about the other stuff when I saw Doctson making all these damn circus catches on the regular. It wasn't just the circus catches either, because it seems everybody is making a few of those every year these days. It's how consistently dominant Doctson looked in every game as a receiving threat. He was going to get his, as long as his quarterback gave him a chance.
He didn't make a bunch of one-handed catches like all the cool kids are doing nowadays, but Doctson's ability to catch the ball with his hands all of the time was a thing of beauty. I don't care if it was a deep out, a 5-yard stop, a quick slant or a fade route, he just kept catching just about everything that came his way. I had to rewind a few times just to recognize how difficult some of his catches actually were. That's what I love to see from players at just about any position, the ability to make the difficult look effortless.
Doctson did have drops in those five games, but all but one were basically because of him trying to make something happen with his feet before he secured the catch with his hands. One instance was on a wide receiver screen where he tried to make a move before he caught the ball because a defender was bearing down on him right away.
The one exception was a pass that actually should have been yet another touchdown catch. Doctson did almost everything right. It was a fade route and he was open deep. The ball was a little high and he jumped up to go get it, as usual. He had his hands in perfect position to catch the ball and he didn't even flinch, though he knew contact was coming from the opposing safety. Yet, somehow someway, the ball went right through his hands.
Look at that last one again, though. I don't want my receivers dropping any balls and especially any touchdowns, but this wasn't from a lack of concentration or coordination. Doctson looked the ball all the way into his hands, and you can see his head continue to move as he watched the ball go through his hands and over his head. That's when you have to acknowledge that sometimes shit just happens.
It helps my comfort level with Doctson that he didn't have more than four drops in those five games in the first place (a couple were questionable).
The other thing that really impressed me about Doctson is the timing of some of his biggest catches. Don't get me wrong, it's nice to see a guy catch a bomb no matter when it comes during the game, but it does add a li'l something extra when the guy shows up repeatedly in a crucial situations.
I saw Doctson catch a fade for 26 yards on third-and-23, down by two with less than a minute to go in the first half ...
... then come back three plays later to catch a quick slant for a touchdown to put his team up by five before halftime.
In the same game with his team down four with just over a minute left in the game, guess who comes up huge again?
TCU scored a touchdown a few plays later off of a Doctson-tipped pass that one of his teammates was able to haul in to win the game.
I also saw Doctson straight up embarrass a corner at the end of a different tie game to score on a simple post route from 55 yards out.
He. Jogged. Into. The. End. Zone.
Big time players make big time plays in big games. Some people forget that.
So there is a ton to like about Josh Doctson's game, but I did have a problem trying to come up with an NFL receiver that he reminds me of. Part of that quite honestly is because Doctson doesn't really move like most guys his size.
I'm reminded of former Arizona State and current Texans receiver Jaelen Strong last year who also made some spectacular, highlight reel catches and was a little heavier but about the same height as Doctson. However, Strong didn't look nearly as quick in and out of his breaks, so he wasn't quite as dangerous of a receiver as Doctson. Strong was a lot more physical when it comes to blocking.
That's the thing, you do kind of expect Doctson to be more physical overall because of his size. Most guys in the NFL who end up being good players usually are more physical. So, I'd come up with a guy he reminded me of as a receiving threat, but then his blocking just wouldn't be on par with theirs. It is somewhat of an odd combination, but I'll take the receiving threat all day long over the guy who thinks he is a fullback but can't catch a cold bucket nekkid in the North Pole.
If you are wondering, yes, that means I prefer Doctson over Treadwell, everything else being equal. He's only the second wide receiver I've broken down, so I'm not certain just yet if that means Treadwell isn't a first rounder or that Doctson is. I do know that Doctson would be my choice based on the tape and it's not really close. Especially with Doctson putting up 14 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press at the combine, after breaking his wrist last November and missing the rest of TCU's season. He may not be Hines Ward reincarnated, but that shows me the kid is tough and strong.
That 41-inch vertical he did at the combine doesn't hurt, either.
No matter when and or where he gets drafted, Doctson is going to make some GM, head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterback happy. His running back may be another story, however.