Wide receiver Josh Malone stars at Station Camp (Gallatin, Tenn.) High School, where he has attracted national attention as a top-tier pass target. The 6'2.5", 190-pound playmaker is putting on a dominant display during his senior season, solidifying his spot among the nation's premier offensive prospects.
Entering this season, the hype surrounding Malone centered predominately on potential. He tallied 51 receptions for 1,112 yards and 18 touchdowns during his sophomore and junior seasons, per 247Sports.
Those statistics, while very solid, don't necessarily scream superstar. That's changed this fall, as his production has spiked.
Malone has 38 receptions for 862 yards and 15 total touchdowns through seven games this season. Those numbers are a testament to his improvement as an athlete and route-runner.
He is listed as the nation's No. 6 wide receiver and No. 55 overall prospect in 247Sports' composite rankings. The 4-star recruit is coveted by programs across the country.
Malone holds scholarship offers from a long list of schools, including Clemson, Vanderbilt, Stanford, Florida, Notre Dame and Ohio State. 247Sports identifies Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State as his favorite choices at this stage.
The 2014 recruiting class features an abundance of talented receivers. Let's break down the tape to discover what makes Malone such a special weapon in the passing game.
The blend of size and speed is what sets Malone apart from most receivers. That's apparent at first glance.
His 6'2.5" frame has room for growth and allows him to line up anywhere on the field.
He appears comfortable running any pattern, but Malone becomes particularly dangerous when he receives the football quickly with an opportunity to rack up yards after the catch. Defensive backs can't afford to play him tight because of his strength, so he routinely has opportunities to create in space with even the slightest amount of cushion.
Take a look at the video frame above. Malone corralled a quick pass on an intermediate slant route before surveying the situation.
He immediately finds himself in traffic among a swarm of defenders near the first-down mark. While Malone could be content to use his size to break a couple tackles and pick up extra yardage, he instead turns on the jets and leaves the would-be tacklers in his wake en route to a 68-yard scoring play.
Let's continue to focus on his quickness, which is a major cause of concern for opposing defensive coordinators. Malone displays elite speed again after taking a handoff on a reverse in the video still below.
He receives the ball with two blockers out in front and five defenders in excellent position to make a play in pursuit. There's no hesitation in Malone's next move, as he turns upfield with one cut and races to the end zone.
Seconds after it appears they have him corralled, the defenders can only watch as Malone trots into the end zone. Thanks to his burst, he is a touchdown threat from anywhere on the field.
When his offense moves into the red zone, Malone's leaping ability makes him a unique target. He'll already own a height advantage over just about every defensive back he stands to face at the collegiate level, and his tendency to attack the ball at its highest point only adds to his dominant approach inside the goal line.
Both of the above video stills capture the moment he attacks the football while skyward. These passes were lofted by the quarterback and well-covered by the cornerbacks, but he times his leap perfectly and comes down with the football.
He's an absolute handful in goal-to-go situations.
Malone is also a major threat in the kick-return game. He has scored several special teams touchdowns this season.
In the picture below, he serves up a stiff arm to the first man who meets him on a put return. He follows the physical effort by zigzagging through the coverage unit, pulling away for another score.
Malone must be considered one of the most explosive receivers in the nation. His 15 touchdowns in seven games this season serves as evidence.
Malone doesn't leave much room for critiquing, especially with the way he's evolved as a senior. There are times when he rounds off routes that should be much sharper, setting himself up for catches that are more difficult than they need to be.
He can rely on his athleticism to pull down those passes in high school, but coverage is substantially more tight in college. Rounding off routes can result in deflected balls or interceptions.
This is a commonality he shares with most young receivers, and his route precision will be polished and crafted throughout freshman training camp.
Malone won't be able to bowl over every defender he encounters in college, but it would be nice to see him display physicality more often. There's nothing wrong with running straight forward upon contact and churning out two or three extra yards instead of looking for daylight with lateral movement.
He hasn't been called upon to consistently block in the run game. Malone must embrace that facet of the sport at the next level, where he won't be deployed as a decoy nearly as often on rushing plays.
Florida State, Tennessee and Georgia each have rich histories at wide receiver. Malone falls in line with the past playmakers who starred at each school.
His size and physical prowess set the stage for him to contribute early in college, perhaps even during the early stages of his freshman season. Malone is a menace in the red zone, so that may be his best opportunity to establish a role for himself.
Judging by his vision and burst, Malone could continue to make an impact on special teams. He is better suited as a kickoff returner than a punt returner, as his game is based more on straight-line speed than shiftiness.
Malone is just scratching the surface of his promise as a receiver. He has plenty of strides to make based on the vast improvement he's shown since his junior season, and that's a scary thought for whichever conference is forced to contend with him in the coming years.