Draft season is in full swing, and while quarterbacks are the hottest ticket in town, they must have someone to throw to. Rookie wide receivers don’t always make big impacts, but they’re important building blocks for any passing attack. Brett Casella breaks down Josh Doctson’s tape, and tells us what to expect from him at the next level.
TCU wide receiver Josh Doctson began his collegiate career at Wyoming in 2011, before transferring to his home state after just one season with the Cowboys. He exploded onto the scene as a junior in 2014 for the Horned Frogs, racking up 65 catches for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns. He followed that up with an even more spectacular senior season, hauling in a school-record 79 catches for 1,337 yards and 14 touchdowns in only 11 games (due to a wrist injury), earning consensus All-American honors along the way.
Tale of the Tape
Doctson officially measured in at the NFL Combine at 6’2”, 202 pounds – eight pounds over his listed weight during his senior year. This bodes well for him, as he looked thin at TCU and could still stand to pack on an additional 5-10 pounds. He posted a 41” vertical, 10’11” broad jump, and displayed good speed (4.50 second 40-yard dash) and quickness (4.08 20-yard shuttle) for his size.
What He Does Well
Wide Catch Radius
When it comes to going up and getting the football, nobody in this year’s draft class is better than Doctson. Between his height, arm length, and leaping ability, his catch radius would rival that of even the best receivers in the NFL. He constantly out-jumps and out-muscles defensive backs, playing above the rim to come down with jaw-dropping catches.
The following play against the Texas Longhorns sums up Doctson’s abilities pretty well. The QB throws the ball up for grabs on an end zone fade route, trusting his wide receiver to make a play – and Doctson didn’t disappoint.
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Doctson consistently bailed out quarterback Trevone Boykin on errant throws thanks to his ability to catch nearly anything in his vicinity. He routinely displayed amazing body control – twisting, turning, and contorting his body mid-air to make unbelievable grabs. His “my ball” mentality gave him the upper hand when it came to coming down with 50-50 balls.
Here is another example, this time against Kansas State. Doctson runs a go route from the 32-yard line and Boykin just puts the ball up for grabs. Doctson locates the ball on the move, leaps into the air, turns his body around, and plucks the ball out of the sky in one smooth movement.
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It’s not just the jump balls Doctson succeeds at catching. He displays a full 360-degree catch radius, showing the ability to snatch balls above his head, below his waist, in front, and behind him on the move.
Take the video below for example. Doctson runs a dig route, and despite having enough separation to catch the ball cleanly on the run, Boykin throws a low ball away from his frame. This is no problem for Doctson though, as he lays out comes away with a clean catch anyways.
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Strong Hands Away from Frame
The first thing to look for when evaluating a wide receiver is the ability to attack the ball with his hands. That is part of what makes receivers like Dallas Cowboys star Dez Bryant and New York Giants stud Odell Beckham Jr. two of the best in the game. Doctson is another player who exemplifies this trait. He has very strong hands, consistently catching the front of the ball cleanly away from his frame, rarely letting it hit his body.
It probably wouldn’t make his highlight reel, but this is one of my favorite Josh Doctson plays. Boykin once again struggles with his ball placement on a 10-yard out. Doctson is still able to extend his arms and come away the a fingertip catch, picking up a first down in the process.
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Tracking the Deep Ball
Part of what makes Doctson a premier deep threat is his ability to track the long ball while on the move. He has exceptional concentration and focus to look the ball into his hands from any angle or body position. If you watch him catch a deep pass in slow motion, you will almost always see his eyes locked in on the ball, following it with his head until it is firmly secured in his hands.
If you want to see his tracking ability on display, look no further than this catch against the Texas Tech Red Raiders. He gets the outside release on a go route, and his QB puts the ball where it needs to be on his outside shoulder. Doctson successfully locates the ball in the air, tracks it over his head, makes the diving catch, and makes sure to land inbounds – all in the middle of a rain storm.
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Though not the fastest or the most explosive athlete, Doctson has developed a knack for creating separation – both at the line of scrimmage and at the top of his route. In both instances, he uses his hands just as much as his feet to beat defenders.
In the rare cases that he faced press coverage, or at least a defensive back that wasn’t 8-10 yards deep, he often prevailed thanks to some nifty footwork and excellent use of his hands. If Doctson is planning on running a fade route down the sideline, he will take his first step or two inside to get the defender to open his hips or lunge with their upper body. Likewise, if he is running an inside slant, his first move will be toward the sideline. Once the defensive back is slightly out of position, he uses his hands like a defensive lineman, ripping or swimming across their face and getting the inside or outside advantage.
Look at this play, for example. Doctson runs straight at the defensive back before breaking down and chopping his feet, signaling that he can go either way. The defender freezes for a moment, but it’s too late. Doctson swims over him and gets the separation he needs to make the catch and convert a very long third down.
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Even though he lacks top-end speed, he consistently manages to create just enough separation on his downfield routes to come away with the catch. He seems to kick it into an extra gear when the ball is in the air, and can get that extra bit of space before the ball arrives with a crafty lean.
In this video against the West Virginia Mountaineers, the defensive back is running step-for-step with Doctson while his hand on his shoulder for the first half of his route. Once the ball in the air, Doctson dips his shoulder to gain a step on the defender and come away with a touchdown catch.
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Even when he can’t create the separation he needs, he creates opportunity for the catch by using his big body to shield defensive backs.
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Awareness of Defenders
One of Doctson’s most overlooked traits is his awareness of where defenders are on the field, which allows him to find the soft spot in zones and avoid nasty hits.
When running certain routes, his awareness helps him identify and settle into the soft spots in zone defenses. There were some crossing routes this past season where, if he kept on going across the field he would run into another defender’s zone, but instead he settled in a open zone, giving his QB a wide window to deliver the ball.
In this play, Doctson works the back of the end zone on a crossing route before settling into a gap between two defenders, giving his QB an easy touchdown throw. If he kept running across, he would have run himself straight into coverage.
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This awareness also helped to keep him on the field by avoiding potential injuries that could come as the result of a big hit. It is not the most exciting or entertaining play to watch, but sometimes ducking or falling after making a catch is the right thing to do.
Here, Doctson makes a grab while blanketed by two defenders and immediately drops to the turf. The defenders hit each other as a result, and Doctson gets up unscathed.
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Areas to Improve
For how good his awareness of other players can be, the same cannot always be said about his sense of where he is on the field. There were some instances of Doctson running comeback routes short of the sticks on third down, but this problem was most prevalent on his go routes. Too often Doctson ran too close to the sideline, leaving his quarterback little-to-no room to deliver the ball to his outside shoulder, like this play against Texas:
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Run After Catch
Doctson is not explosive, and this is most evident after the catch, where he had generally not been a playmaker. Some receivers have breakaway speed, some are exceptionally quick and shifty after the catch, and some use brute strength to break tackles – Doctson does none of these things. He occasionally slips out of the grasp of a defender, but more times than not, it can be attributed to poor tackling. He does like to use his stiff arm, but this generally only gains him an extra yard or two as opposed to breaking out of the tackle.
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It’s not so much that Doctson isn’t capable running a full route tree, it’s the fact that he wasn’t asked to in TCU’s Air Raid offense. According to Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception slants, curls, posts and gos accounted for nearly three out of every four routes that Doctson ran.
Doctson may not be a polished route runner like some of the prospects to come out of college in recent years, but that’s not to say he cannot become one. Doctson is a fluid athlete who moves very well for his size, as evident by his impressive combine numbers. He is a long-stride runner who lacks a quick twitch in his feet, but he possesses the overall fluidity in his movements to develop into a good route runner with some proper coaching at the next level.
Doctson is a top-three wide receiver in this class, and could potentially be the first drafted. He should be taken somewhere in the mid to late first round.
He has the talent to step in and be a productive wide receiver from day one, and should make a big impact in the red zone immediately. With that said, he should ideally be a number two receiver for his first year or two. He will probably struggle to beat press coverage early on, but could develop into an elite WR1 in due time. He has the height, length, leaping ability, body control, and strong hands to become a quarterback’s best friend.
Follow Brett on Twitter @NFL_iQ.