Coming off a free-agency period in which over $1 billion was spent, per the Comeback, franchises will be looking toward the NFL draft to fill the remaining holes on the roster.
The draft is the only opportunity to add an impact player on a cheap contract. The most a rookie can earn per year with their first contract is about $6 million, and the vast majority of rookie contracts average much less.
One of the best bargains from the 2016 NFL draft class will be TCU wide receiver Josh Doctson. The 6’2”, 202-pounder dominated his collegiate competition and earned the title of top receiver. He should be the first receiver taken this year, even with the stiff competition from Ole Miss' Laquon Treadwell and Baylor's Corey Coleman.
As talented as Treadwell and Coleman are, each had injury issues in 2015. Treadwell was flagged for a medical recheck at the NFL Scouting Combine, according to Bleacher Report NFL Insider Jason Cole. Coleman had to undergo sports-hernia surgery. Even if they were healthy, they might not have been as impressive as Doctson.
Doctson quickly developed into a dominant force after transferring to TCU from Wyoming in 2012. He produced 143 receptions, 2,344 yards and 25 touchdowns in his final two seasons after showing immense potential as a redshirt sophomore in 2013.
The numbers are impressive and help show how dominant he was each week. But he’s not just a typical spread receiver who benefits from the Big 12’s spacing and fast-paced style. Doctson exhibited masterful traits that will translate to the NFL and allow him to become an instant starter.
Let’s look at why Doctson has earned the right to be taken as the first receiver in this deep and impressive group.
After breaking down six games of Doctson’s 2015 tape and another four games from 2014, it was clear he was a solid athlete. His catch radius and vertical leaping ability are astounding compared to his peers. Quarterback Trevone Boykin constantly took advantage of Doctson’s ability to go over the top of defenders and pluck the ball at its highest point.
Doctson constantly performed acrobatic catches, and they often led to touchdowns or at least chunks of yards. Someone of his stature will naturally have the size advantage over most cornerbacks, but the sheer difficulty of these plays hinted he was a special athlete.
Before the combine, there were questions about the level of competition TCU faced and a belief underwhelming opposition could have exaggerated Doctson’s athleticism.
He shattered any of those concerns at the combine and proved the tape matched his skill set. It was important he didn’t turn in a De’Runnya Wilson-type combine because it’s uncommon for bad athletes to produce at receiver at the next level. Instead, Doctson dominated the event and proved to be an elite sportsperson.
Most notable was how rounded he is for his density. He ranked above average in all tests except for the bench press. See the table below for his percentile ranks compared to every receiver who has attended the combine since 2000, per Mock Draftable.
|Josh Doctson Combine Performance|
|Measurement||Josh Doctson||Percentile Rank|
|40-yard dash||4.50||53rd percentile|
|Bench Press||14 reps||38th percentile|
|Vertical Jump||41"||95th percentile|
|Broad Jump||131"||96th percentile|
|3-cone jump||6.84||67th percentile|
|20-yard shuttle||4.08||81st percentile|
|60-yard shuttle||11.06||90th percentile|
The explosion he generated vertically wasn’t a surprise, but his short-area dominance was. TCU rarely had Doctson run anything other than a go, slant or curl route. His tests indicate he could become an excellent route-runner if he puts in the work at the next level.
The consensus First-Team All-American is as talented in tight spaces as any receiver to come out of college since Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014. Focusing on his 2015 tape, I took note of how often he succeeded in traffic. Doctson had to bide time to launch at the catch point because Boykin had supreme confidence in his ability to win.
Through the six-game sample from his senior season, I had Doctson winning 14 of 18 contested ball situations. He also drew a flag for defensive pass interference on another seven targets. This means he produced a positive play on a whopping 21 of 25 opportunities.
Unlike Pittsburgh wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who struggles to get separation because of his average athleticism, Doctson was put into many tough situations because of the offense’s predictable route patterns and the natural limitations of red-zone spacing. Nonetheless, he was unstoppable with his ballet-type midair spins.
His on-field athleticism matches what he accomplished in shorts too. His burst to go get the ball at the last second left defenders stuck in mud as he accelerated past them with perfect timing. Cornerbacks had to be perfect with their technique and physicality, and even then Doctson could still complete the play.
Large Margin for Error
What makes Doctson so incredible to watch is his ability to make up for poor accuracy. He’s an asset for any team regardless of quarterback situation because Doctson will make the quarterback look so much better. We saw this with Mike Evans at Texas A&M with Johnny Manziel, who would lob deep passes for him to track.
Boykin often did the same thing with Doctson and got away with bad throws. Most receivers simply lack the spatial awareness, focus and body control to come back for a pass and take the contact. To Boykin’s credit, he had confidence in Doctson and allowed him to showcase these talents.
It’s good to see such plays because even average NFL backups could lob passes up and let Doctson do the hard work. Even on low throws, Doctson can scoop and snatch to save a reception. Putting him with a quality quarterback would only make his job easier.
Doctson gives a huge catch radius because of his blend of size, athleticism and tracking ability, but his effort needs to be recognized as well. The best deep threats in the NFL aren’t just fast—they’re smart and manipulate advantageous spacing and desperate cornerbacks.
Breaking away from a cornerback at the right time to get the ball effectively strips the power to play the ball from the defender. The play below is a good example, as Doctson laid out to complete an incredibly difficult catch near the sideline. The defender never had a chance despite providing good coverage.
This special skill set is what allowed Allen Robinson and DeAndre Hopkins to develop into top NFL receivers at a young age. Each shows terrific body control on the sidelines and the end zone, showing no fear to make an acrobatic play with little room to operate. Doctson has the same special mindset and physical capability.
Whether Doctson will develop into that caliber of receiver remains to be seen. He was rarely given opportunities to make plays after the catch, although his open-field moves gave reason for hope. This was also a function of a simple offense that just wanted its great athletes to find a green area and settle in.
With the ability to influence an offense as an outside and slot receiver, Doctson will walk into a situation and quickly earn a starting role. He’s an incredibly dangerous player who can only improve as the nuances of the game come to him. This will take experience, but in the meantime, he will be a matchup nightmare performing basic routes.
The formula for Doctson’s success is simple. Throw high-arcing passes in his area, and chances are great he’ll complete the catch. Anticipation throwers will maximize his talent as they'll see the little leverage he creates and give him the chance to explode for the ball at the last second. There’s not much NFL cornerbacks can do to consistently stop it.
Watch for Doctson to be an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. Unlike Treadwell, who didn’t look as explosive in 2015, or Coleman, who has less dominant on-field traits than Doctson, the former TCU star is low-risk and high-reward. He’s just that good.
All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com.
Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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