NFL Draft

Summer Scouting Series: Penn State WR Jahan Dotson

New summer series for Steelers Depot highlighting a handful of 2022 NFL Draft hopefuls and options for the Pittsburgh Steelers we could be talked a lot more about nine months from now.

#5 Jahan Dotson / WR Penn State – 5’11” 184

The Good

  • Decent size and build
  • Good speed, quickness, acceleration and twitch. Although not elite, he gets the job done with his athleticism
  • Can line up at the X, Z, and in the slot. Likely projects to be a slot receiver at the next level, but he has shown the ability to fight through/beat physicality on the outside
  • Able to stretch the field vertically
  • Commonly run routes: go’s, slants, outs, hitches, drags
  • Runs the occasional post, corner, crosser, comeback
  • Has shown the ability to run double moves
  • Has shown the ability to run some slot routes (whip)
  • Fluid hips. Able to sink/snap his weight urgently. Incorporates head fakes to sell cuts. Smooth, glides. Able to vary tempo a bit
  • Shifty off the line at the snap. Hard for DBs to consistently get hands on him
  • Great use of hands at the line and in the stem of his routes vs. physicality. Able to fight through contact
  • Great, sticky hands. Instinctual hands catcher. Good at tracking the football at all levels of the field, makes highlight reel catches look easy. Good catch radius
  • Great body control in the air. Very good leaping ability and timing
  • Great RAC ability. Dangerous and elusive/shifty in both close quarters and open space. Able to make defenders miss with the ball in his hands. Good open field vision
  • Willing blocker
  • Has some experience as a returner

The Bad

  • Only one true season of production (2020 – need to see how he produces in 2021)
  • Will be 22 years old at the time of the 2022 NFL Draft (born March 22, 2000)
  • Likely won’t test exceptionally well at the NFL Combine. Not a “burner” in terms of long speed, or the most explosive or strongest athlete at the WR position
  • Can further diversify his footwork in his releases. Should work to expand and refine his release packages. Needs to show consistency when it comes to attacking his defender with a decisive plan of attack
  • Can further improve his footwork and lower/upper body control in his breaks (specifically out-breaking routes)
  • Lacks true breakaway juice on crossers/short drags at times
  • Can further expand his route tree in 2021, or show that he has the ability to run a complete route tree at Draft events. He has the ability to run a complete route tree based on film, but he needs to show that he can win on every route consistently in order to really improve his draft stock. He will need to be a true technician at the NFL level, he won’t be able to solely rely on his contested catch ability and after-the-catch ability. It’ll be interesting to see if he can create consistent separation in 2021
  • Willing blocker but limited by his size/frame

Bio

  • 2020 Stats (9 games): 52 receptions, 884 yards, 8 touchdowns
  • Career Stats (30 games): 92 receptions, 1,575 yards, 13 touchdowns
  • 18.1 yards per catch in 2019
  • Named to the Maxwell Award watch list for the upcoming 2021 season
  • Currently a senior
  • Has caught a pass in 29 straight games, dating back to his 2018 season
  • 26 career receptions of 20 or more yards
  • Has 5 career touchdowns of 60 or more yards and 6 of 40 or more
  • 2.78 yards per route run in 2020 according to PFF, which is second for returning Power 5 outside WRs
  • Majoring in Telecommunications
  • Team captain as a senior in high school
  • 4-star high school recruit
  • Originally committed to UCLA, but then changed to Penn State
  • Middle name Waltè

Tape Breakdown

Jahan Dotson, current wide receiver for Penn State, is a crafty technician of a football player. With a breakout 2020 season (he caught 52 passes for 884 yards and 8 touchdowns) earning him buzz, analysts and fans alike will have their eyes glued to his tape in 2021, and for good reason.

Dotson is a wide receiver prospect that could launch himself into the upper tier of ranks with a phenomenal 2021 season. He’s not the biggest, fastest, or most physically gifted wide receiver ever, and his athletic testing numbers likely won’t “wow,” but he produces on the football field. He is a dangerous route runner who can beat both off and press coverage. Dotson can work underneath, over the top, and across the middle of the field. He has sticky hands and he tracks the ball very well.

Pairing these traits with his ability to contort and control his body, while jumping with most anyone, allows Dotson to be a threat in jump ball situations (he has already made numerous highlight plays in said situations), as well as on the aforementioned designed routes/route combinations.

Even more, Dotson is a playmaker with the football in his hands, as he is elusive and possesses good vision, which allows him to pick up yards after the catch, especially when given manufactured touches.

We’ll have to wait and see about the state of the Nittany Lions in 2021, but even with spotty QB play, Dotson should produce a fine 2021 season. If Penn State proves to be able to consistently feed the senior wide receiver, then Dotson could put up numbers that will have him recognized as one of the top WR prospects heading into the 2022 NFL Draft. If not, Dotson could still provide value on day two or three of the NFL Draft, pending health and a solid Combine.

 

Dotson’s technique and nuance as a route runner is what I most enjoyed when watching his tape. This first clip from his 2020 game vs. Michigan gives a glimpse why.

Lined up at the top of the screen, Dotson is being guarded by a DB with inside leverage, playing in a soft shoe technique. The DB mirrors Dotson’s movement off the line without engaging with his hands, and Dotson takes full advantage of the space the DB gives him. Dotson initially uses hesitation, then begins to stem inside after slightly dropping his weight to make it look like he’s taking off. Next however, he freezes and drops his weight yet again, sinking his hips and dragging his right leg in a half step fashion, then chopping his feet and slightly shifting his direction back square, giving the impression of an out-breaking cut to the DB.

With the DB lurching all over the place in an attempt to stay in faze, Dotson then instantly cuts back inside with quick twitch, now having enough separation for his QB to deliver a throw. Dotson secures it before being shoe-stringed tackled. A lot shown on this route from Dotson, definitely a play worth analyzing.

 

 

Moving on, these two clips are from Penn State’s 2020 game vs. Ohio State, a game in which Dotson had a strong outing (8 catches for 144 yards and 3 touchdowns). Both clips are examples of Dotson beating press coverage with the use of a hand swipe/chop to the DB’s (the Baltimore Ravens’ 2021 NFL Draft fifth round selection, Shaun Wade) attempted jam.

In the first clip, Dotson (bottom of the screen not shown) uses an arm pump release with staggered steps. DB Shaun Wade attempts a jam with his right hand, to which Dotson swipes at it with his left hand, then continuing to the side he swiped Wade away from, having inside momentum while Wade is slightly angled to the outside. Dotson just needs a step, which is what he gains, continuing to open space for a catch.

The second clip tells a similar story. Dotson is at the top of the screen. He takes the same arm pump release, and Wade attempts a right-handed jam yet again. This time however, Wade strongly commits to the outside, and Dotson’s swipe/push to the arm that Wade is attempting the jam with sends Wade’s momentum completely to the outside. Dotson then beelines upfield and gets his eyes to the throw, snagging the pass with strong hands and diving for the end zone.

He handled Wade’s physical jam attempts with ease in both clips. Dotson does a great job of fighting for his space with his hands, both in the release and stem of his routes.

 

Next, this is another clip from Penn State-Ohio State, 2020. Dotson is at the top of the screen. In this clip, Dotson exhibits a silky-smooth cut to the inside with synchronous head and body snap. He sinks his hips and immediately gets his head around after snapping inside. To finish the catch, he smartly drops down to avoid being cleaned by the middle of the field safety. An underrated aspect of a receiver’s ability to work the middle of the field is avoiding big hits. Toughness is key but knowing how to avoid taking free shots is also of the utmost importance. Availability is the best ability. Holding onto the football is second in line to health as well.

 

Here’s yet another clip from the 2020 Penn State vs. Ohio State matchup. Dotson is at the bottom of the screen (off-screen) boundary side, working against Shaun Wade (who’s in press) again. After some initial hesitation, he puts his head down and takes a speed release up the sideline. Dotson is slippery here, keeping his balance as he absorbs the contact and slides past Wade in order to stack him. Then, he demonstrates amazing concentration to finish the catch after trapping it onto his helmet with his left hand. His right was being held behind his back by Wade, but he still managed to bring the ball in.

 

Jahan Dotson is a walking highlight reel. Here’s another phenomenal catch from the 2020 Ohio State game. Like the last catch, he also pulled this one in with hand, but this time with the right. Gotta show both hands some love.

Lined up against Wade (tough day for him covering Dotson) boundary side yet again, Dotson battles through the hand fight with him. Dotson then turns around to locate the ball while Wade looks lost and drifts out of position. Seeing the throw, Dotson climbs the ladder and gives his best OBJ impression, snatching the football out of thin air with a gargantuan right hand.

 

In this clip from Penn State vs. Iowa in 2020, Dotson is at the top of the screen, lined up as the outside receiver closest to the sideline, just next to another receiver. With the defense giving cushion, he shoots forward at the snap. In order to get the deep defenders to bite on something so that he can gain ground and momentum on them, Dotson runs a sluggo (more of a post look based on depth) double move up the seam.

This way, the defenders in front of him bite forward on the look of an in-cut, allowing Dotson to race past them deep. That’s exactly what happens. Dotson runs the cuts well with quick-twitch snap, then he slices between the two defenders in front of him and gets his head around to track the deep ball. He finishes the play by scoring, despite two late tackle attempts from the trailing defenders.

 

Here’s another double move from Dotson (top of the screen), this one coming from his 2019 game against Buffalo. This time, he runs a bit of a stutter-go. With plenty of space to work with, Dotson takes off vertically. Once he reaches right in front of the sticks, he sits down and angles himself towards the sideline as if he’s about to cut outside on an out route or maybe even a comeback route. The defender eying him bites hard because Dotson sells it so well, and Dotson is able to get his head up to start moving vertically again (with a little push-by technique to the defender on his way past him).

Dotson has immense route running potential, as the last two clips made evident.

 

 

These two clips put Dotson’s RAC ability on full display.

The first clip is from Penn State vs. Illinois in 2020. Dotson is at the top of the screen and runs a stop route vs. off, bail coverage. He then turns square upfield and jukes two would-be tacklers to gain some great YAC all by himself. Dotson can make defenders miss.

Here’s another example of that in a clip from Penn State’s 2019 Cotton Bowl game against Memphis. Boundary side, the defender lined up in Dotson’s face blitzes, so Dotson sits on a “now” route, receiving the pass after his QB begins to exit the tackle box and look to make something happen.

With a defender closing fast, Dotson uses timing against him, juking the defender right before he arrives and begins to reach for the tackle. Then, Dotson puts a nasty dead leg on full view for a few more defenders as he reaches the sticks for a first down. Again, that’s all Dotson. He’s a playmaker with the ball in his hands.

Not to mention, Dotson also provides the added value of being an explosive return man with big play potential anytime he fields the punt/kick cleanly and has solid blocking in front of him.

 

Next, we have Dotson hauling in a deep ball against Indiana in 2020. More than anything, this is a really nice play design/call by Penn State on the scissors concept run by the two boundary side receivers. They switch positions just past the first down marker, with the inside receiver running a corner route to the outside, and the outside receiver (Dotson) looking lethargic post-snap before darting into a post route to the inside. Dotson waits for the inside receiver to clear to the outside and occupy the eyes of the boundary safety, before accelerating to full speed towards open space in the middle of the field. Then, all he has to do is track the pass and secure it, which he does before continuing into the end zone for six.

 

 

Here’s what really stood out to me when watching Dotson in contested catch situations; his leaping ability (i.e. vertical, timing, and body control). Dotson pairs sticky hands and a good catch radius with a great leaping ability. He can jump with most DBs in contested catch situations.

I wouldn’t be shocked to see him have a very good vertical when it’s time for testing before the NFL Draft. Dotson’s leaping ability is the main reason (besides his hands) he’s been able to come down with the number of highlight reel grabs that he has. I’m expecting (and can’t wait to see) more in 2021 and beyond.

In this clip from Penn State vs. Maryland in 2020, Dotson (top of the screen) opts for a speed release to the outside, then he skies for the 50/50 ball, hanging onto it in the air like he’s holding onto the rim after a rim-shattering dunk in basketball. As he goes to the ground, he then tucks it into his stomach so that he completes the process of a catch in the end zone.

 

This clip is from the 2020 Ohio State game. Here, Dotson (top of the screen boundary side) runs his out route with the thought process that if his arms go dead, so too will his feet/momentum, allowing him to break down and snap outside in order to get his head around and locate the throw on time to catch it before stepping out.

While I think Dotson could have made this break even cleaner by getting his hands/arms and upper body (lean/dip) moving more in sync with his feet/legs (he did do a good job of keeping his route stem uniform to keep the DB in his bail technique and not alert him to an out-break), while dropping his weight in order to better stop his momentum before the cut and maintain easier balance after it, this is a technique that NFL receivers such as Keenan Allen (one of the best route runners in the league) display in their route running when utilizing hesitation in their route stem and/or when breaking.

The traits that have cemented Keenan Allen in the upper echelon of NFL route runners are his footwork and coordination with his lower body, so if Dotson is attempting to emulate that same style of route running, that’s what he will have to focus on. At the end of the day, you can’t argue with results. There’s a time and a place for the use of different types of route running techniques.

 

This clip contains two more out breaks from Dotson (both top of the screen boundary side) from later on in the same game. The defense was giving major cushion due to the little amount of time left, allowing Dotson to easily catch the first pass because he did a good job of keeping the stem of his route uniform, selling a go route and not clearly tipping his hand enough on the out-break to warrant a jump from the DB.

However, the main lesson here is that Dotson can definitely still work on the consistency of his footwork, and lower/upper body control in his breaks on routes to the outside, which will help improve his balance and overall consistency/efficiency when breaking down and cutting. The second play in the clip is a prime example of why he still has room to improve, as he loses his footing and falls over when coming out of his break, resulting in an incomplete pass.

 

Moving on, this clip is from Penn State vs. Iowa in 2020. It is an example of why Dotson can work to improve his release packages, and specifically his footwork at the snap. He doesn’t vary his footwork too much off the line, leading to some predictable releases. He does a great job of getting his arms involved and using his hands to fight through physicality at the line and in the stems of his routes, so adding some more spice to his footwork with varied tempo would definitely serve to aid his unpredictability/difficulty to press and/or jam at the line. As of now, he doesn’t have a very developed release game with his footwork (though he does show the use of tempo change on occasion).

The good news is that he has time to develop in that regard because this report is being written before his senior season.

In this clip, he opts for a pretty basic hop/jab to the inside before trying to work back outside for his release and stem. However, with Dotson lacking explosion, the DB mirrors his movement and engages him with his left arm, keeping it on Dotson as he moves towards the sideline, allowing the DB to stay on top of him with ease. The DB squeezes Dotson to the sideline and the QB basically throws this ball away.

 

Here’s another clip displaying a lack of burst off the line from Dotson. Basic footwork shown again and he walks himself right into the DB. The DB definitely does hold him for a good amount of time here, but Dotson didn’t do himself any favors at the line. He didn’t seem to have a decisive plan of attack mentally mapped out, and this ended up with him falling over following a spin away from his defender after being bear hugged down the field.

If Jahan Dotson receives consistent QB play and capitalizes on his opportunities in 2021, putting together a strong season in the process, his draft stock could (and likely would) skyrocket. As of right now, it’s fair to say Dotson possesses day two value. He has some great tools for the wide receiver position, but like any prospect, he can work to further develop his game.

For Dotson, 2021 will show how much he’s progressed with his releases and footwork in his breaks. Those are the two main areas that I’m going to be analyzing closely for Dotson’s final collegiate season, as well as eagerly watching to see if he’s made his route running even sharper, specifically his ability to create consistent separation.

Overall, Dotson’s name is definitely one to monitor this year. The Steelers will most likely look to add to the wide receiver room in the 2022 NFL Draft, due to the expiring deals of JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Ray-Ray McCloud, plus the fact that they didn’t select a receiver in 2021 (which is a position they usually invest consistent draft capital in).

Projection: Day Two

Games Watched: Buffalo (2019), Memphis (2019), Indiana (2020), Ohio State (2020), Maryland (2020), Iowa (2020), Michigan (2020), Rutgers (2020), Illinois (2020)

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