Josh Doctson: An Undersold Superstar of the 2016 NFL Draft
Draft time is a time for discussions. It’s a time when people have more free time than during the season so there are more opportunities to be introspective or philosophize about the process of evaluation.
In short, a lot of big, unnecessary words are bandied about.
One of the more popular discussions that has gained some momentum over recent years surrounds the wide receiver position. It is the debate between ‘Separation’ and ‘The Catch Point.’ Because the NFL is a sport that embraces fickleness, we tend to look towards what has worked recently to determine what is the best way to do something.
With more athletes playing wide receiver than before, a greater focus on bigger receivers who can win at the catch point has spread. The theory is simple, too simple really. It’s the idea that receivers such as Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Allen Robinson can get to more passes because they are bigger than the smaller receivers who typically rely on creating separation.
How a player is effective in college matters a lot. But that “how” is being misconstrued.
If you are a big receiver who wants to rely on winning at the catch point in the NFL, you need to be catching the ball away from your body and show off the athleticism to adjust while fending off defensive backs. If you have that size in college but don’t show off those traits, you can still be productive at that level but will be significantly less so in the NFL.
If you are a receiver of the faster, shorter variety, you need to be able to run routes. You can’t just be someone who runs away from college defensive backs because every defensive back in the NFL is a world class athlete or at least close to it. You have to be better technically to create and find space in the NFL than in college, especially if you play in a simplistic college offense that naturally creates space for you.
Therefore, how you win in college does matter just not in the way that is so often discussed. Once you’re in the NFL, it doesn’t matter how you win so long as you consistently do. The very best receivers don’t need to worry about how they win because they win in different ways. One receiver who has the potential to become that type of player in the NFL is Josh Doctson.
Doctson played three seasons at TCU after playing for Wyoming in 2011. He finished that four-year stretch with 214 receptions for 3,177 yards and 34 touchdowns.
The NFL has enjoyed a huge influx of talent at the receiver position over recent years. It’s easier to play receiver now because of the rules and offenses are pass-heavy, spreading the field as much as possible to attack secondaries in every possible way. Players such as Odell Beckham, Amari Cooper and Sammy Watkins may not have even been playing receiver in previous generations, but now they are and they are immediately excelling against the best defensive backs in the league.
Doctson isn’t on the same level as Cooper, Beckham or Watkins, but he does boast that kind of upside.
The main issue with Doctson entering the league is his ability against press coverage. Press is an obstacle all NFL prospects need to prove against the top level of talent after they enter the league, but some have proven more than others in college. Doctson didn’t face press a huge amount and too often showed poor technique when he did. The above play is a great example.
Doctson moves directly towards the defensive back but exposes his chest and stands tall while essentially leaping forward to create flat feet. He can’t shift his weight quickly or comfortably from this position, while giving the defensive back a wide space to engage.
The defensive back is able to hold Doctson up and prevent him from releasing into his route, forcing the quarterback to scramble.
It’s not that Doctson doesn’t have the ability to beat press coverage. He shouldn’t fall into the trap that has curtailed Davante Adams’ chances of being a quality NFL receiver. Doctson measured 6’2″ and 202 lbs at the combine. He stood out in drills also, showing off athleticism that is obvious for all to see when he steps on the field.
With that athleticism and those dimensions, Doctson should become a very well-rounded receiver in the NFL. He just needs to be taught how to release from the line and how to make his routes sharper downfield. Instead of making elongated, slow movements with his feet off the line of scrimmage, he needs to be taught to be aggressive and decisive with his movement.
In the above gif, Doctson’s footwork is much more aggressive than on the previous play. He still has a moment of hesitation to begin, but stays hunched as he advances towards the defensive back before using that hard step outside with his right foot to open the passing lane for the slant route.
Some receivers can’t make those movements. Others can but don’t have the size or strength to fend off more aggressive coverage techniques. Doctson shouldn’t have those issues.
What’s more significant with Doctson at this point of his career is his ability after releasing into space. Doctson has outstanding ball skills and shows off the combination of fluidity, quickness and awareness that has allowed players such as Larry Fitzgerald and DeAndre Hopkins to dominate defensive backs repeatedly on Sundays.
If we go back to the first play showed in this article, when Doctson was held up at the line of scrimmage, we can find the other end of his skill set arc. His quarterback extended the play, giving time to Doctson for him to run his comeback route. Although his quarterback helped him extend his route, he didn’t help him with his pass.
Receivers who are praised for their catch radiuses are typically praised for high pointing the ball or adjusting to high passes that are away from their bodies. The very best receivers make those plays but can also drop to the ground to pull up low throws from their quarterbacks.
Hopkins and Fitzgerald have excelled both excelled at this over the course of their careers because while both are big, strong receivers, neither is gangly.
Doctson falls into a similar category as someone who is big enough to offer his quarterback a wide window to hit while being compact enough to quickly adjust when passes arrive below his waist. Those are accuracy-erasing receivers. It’s not just about executing fade routes in the endzone for touchdowns. Accuracy-erasing receivers high-point the ball, adjust against impending hits, adjust against tight coverage, work back to the ball, manipulate defenders before the ball arrives, make toe-tapping receptions on the sideline and pull the ball off the ground like Doctson did above.
His 2015 tape offers examples of all of these types of catches.
This was probably Doctson’s most spectacular catch of the 2015 season. It’s easy to see why from this angle, but this angle leaves out the technical aspects that make it exciting from an evaluation point of view. From this angle, we can see Doctson’s stem.
He held his discipline relatively well, running straight to the cornerback instead of drifting towards where he was ultimately going to go. If he had drifted, he would have allowed the cornerback to close of the space and force him too far towards the sideline. Dotson could have angled slightly further infield or made a more aggressive cut, but he did enough to set up the play.
The Texas defensive back has perfect coverage on this play. With his size, there should be no way that this ball is caught by Doctson. It’s not that the quarterback put the ball in a perfect spot to throw Doctson open, he just put it in a spot where Doctson had a chance. Doctson still had to manipulate the defensive back to create a passage for the ball to get to him.
In order to create that passage, Doctson subtly pushes the defensive back at the perfect time. It prevents the defensive back from positioning himself tight to Doctson so he can play the ball in the air.
With his athleticism, Doctson is then able to spring into the air and reach for the ball above the defender. He twists in the air while he does this, showing off the natural body control to still comfortably control the ball while doing so. It’s important that Doctson twists so he can drag both feet inbounds before falling over the pylon.
This is a phenomenal play from Doctson. The type of play that will work against any type of defensive back, not just one playing at the college level.
It’s easy to see why Doctson draws comparisons to A.J. Green. He is extremely comfortable adjusting to the ball in the air and reaching away from his body to catch it. This play occurs in space so it’s not the toughest reception Doctson will ever be asked to make, but you can see his fluidity and overall movement skills to pull the ball in comfortably before quickly transitioning to being an on-the-ground receiver.
Doctson was aware enough and quick enough to avoid taking an unnecessary hit at the end of this play. His awareness generally is exceptional. The receiver not only knows how to adjust to the ball in the air, but he doesn’t run himself into big hits and knows when to attack the ball in order to draw pass interference penalties.
Doctson was very impressive against Texas. He showed off different elements of his skill set while going against a defensive back who appeared to play relatively well on the day. This was his most impressive play of the game. Even though the cornerback gave him a free release, Doctson needed to be smart in his route to create space down the sideline.
The cornerback is giving him an outside release by establishing inside initially, but Doctson wants to force him to commit to the in-breaking route so he can’t turn and run with the receiver.
He does this by bending his route inside before making one aggressive step at the perfect time. Doctson’s aggressive step allows him to push off towards the sideline while the cornerback is still drifting infield. Because of the coverage the Texas defense was playing, Doctson has a safety working across the field to prevent a free run downfield.
The ball is thrown his way but it is underthrown. Doctson is quick to recognize the flight of it, turning his body and planting his foot so he is facing it head-on. He doesn’t risk the pass breakup from the recovering cornerback, instead leaving his feet to high-point the ball. As it generally does, the ball immediately sticks to Doctson so he is able to swing it away from the cornerback’s extended hand.
This not only speaks to his athleticism and ball skills, but his awareness once again.
There are obvious reasons to be concerned about Doctson but focusing on the smaller issues too much would make you overlook the qualities he has. His ability to consistently snatch the ball out of the air with his athleticism and awareness will allow him to be immediately effective in the NFL.
It could take some time for him to refine those technical edges that need refining, but a good coaching staff could accelerate that process.
Doctson is a star prospect. He doesn’t appear to be mentioned much as one though. Players with his variety of skills are tough to find in the NFL, it’s why his type of skill set is typically worthy of being selected in the top 20 of the draft.