From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling Texas Tech’s leading receiver for the past three years. This receiver enters the 2022 NFL Draft as a redshirt junior, having demonstrated respectable and gripping game tape as a Red Raider. This receiver could be of appealing value come day three, or he might surprise and go off the board earlier than expected. His athletic profile is next:
#13 Erik Ezukanma, WR, Texas Tech, (R-Jr.) – 6017, 209 lbs.
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Erik Ezukanma||6017/209||9 3/8||33 1/2||78 1/4|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
*Pro Day figure
— Great size and build
— Good long speed, great acceleration and burst. Amped-up athletically. Considerably twitchy and smooth for a guy his size. Great body control
— Can line up outside or in the slot. Projects as a dual threat that has the flexibility to line up dependent on the situation/particular defense/offensive personnel. X receiver would optimize his talent at beating aggressive corners
— Commonly run routes (some much more than others): gos, posts, hitches/stops, digs, drags/crossers, outs, hitch-now/tunnel/etc. screens
— Suddenness as a route runner, especially impressive and surprising for his size. Able to sink his weight in his breaks, good flexibility and coordination, lower-half especially. Strength and elite hand-arm usage to deter or eliminate physicality in his release and/or route stem. Decently shifty at/off the line. Good stacking ability thanks to H-W-S (height-weight-speed). Appears capable of working all areas of the field
— Solid foundation of releases, seemed to be experimenting with different approaches. Definitely room to polish those he is attempting to expand. Foot fire is best in his current arsenal
— Elite RAC/YAC thanks to explosiveness and sturdy, almost fixed center of gravity with the ball in his hands. Elusive and built. Always driving onward. A difficult tackle to bring down, will wear the defender out. Defender needs to bring their all or he will make them pay, arm tackles usually won’t cut it
— Utilized in creative alignments/ways (diversified splits, H-back, direct snap) and in motion/across the formation for schemed touches or to influence the defense
— Strong hands, hands catcher for the most part (time and a place, he understands that). Frequently wins contested catches and 50-50 jump balls. Commands his space. Great catch radius. Great ball tracking, body control, timing, and concentration. Red zone weapon
— Good, willing blocker with the size and strength to effectively complete his assignment on a consistent basis. Will do the dirty work. Spirited competitor on tape
— Sells running plays well, keeps his defender occupied or removes them from the play
— Prospective special teams contributor
— Didn’t run the 40 at the Combine. Pro Day time was a reported 4.5. Takes time to reach his top speed against tight coverage
— Didn’t run an expanded route tree (possibly a lack of exposure; he could have been limited by his program’s scheme and what was asked of him)
— Not currently classifiable as a top-notch technician from game tape I watched (sparks of potential for development expansion are evident)
— Disappeared from chunks of game time production-wise
— Lacks full-bore route/break salesmanship at times. Gives DBs the time/opportunity to read and react as a result. A bit too upright in certain instances, rounds the occasional route. Can focus on route tempo and path
— Slow foot speed, clumsy attempts at route deception on occasion
— Sometimes looks for unnecessary contact with defenders in his route stem
— Tendency to push-off/shove in battle for space/hand fighting/when it’s time to make a play on the football (as a coach I’d rather have to tone that down with a WR than teach them how to work for their positioning – AB was the king of subtle pushes at the right moment; it can be an asset)
— Effectively-placed jam can stall him at the line in his release
— 2021 Stats (11 games): 48 receptions, 705 receiving yards, 4 receiving touchdowns. 10 rushing attempts, 138 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns
— 2020 Stats (10 games): 46 receptions, 748 receiving yards, 6 receiving touchdowns
— 2019 Stats (12 games): 42 receptions, 664 receiving yards, 4 receiving touchdowns
— Career Stats (35 games): 138 receptions, 2,165 receiving yards, 15 receiving touchdowns. *only year with a carry was 2021: 10 rushing attempts, 138 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns
— 15.81 yards per reception in 2019, 16.26 yards per reception in 2020, 14.69 yards per reception in 2021
— 74.8 yards per game in 2020
— Became only the 15th Red Raider since 2000 to record at least 2,000 receiving yards in his career
— Texas Tech Captain
— All-Big 12 Conference Coaches’ Second Team in 2021
— All-Big 12 Conference Coaches’ First Team in 2020
— One of seven siblings
— Sport Management major
— Four-star recruit out of high school
Just the same with many other wide receiver prospects in this year’s draft class, Erik Ezukanma is a later-round wide receiver whom I have been researching as a potential value selection for the Steelers in the 2022 NFL Draft. Along with Bo Melton, Ezukanma is one of my favorite later-round wide receiver targets for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2022 NFL Draft, having watched a good chunk of the mid-to-later-round prospects to this point in time (and also liking a good deal of them – this class has depth). If either Ezukanma/Melton last into day three, they could be of great value for the Steelers, who gravely need to bolster their wide receiver core. There are a solid amount of suitable candidates to fit that bill in this year’s draft class due to the depth of the wide receiver group, so time will tell how the Steelers choose to assess and attend to their needs.
With that said, let’s discuss Ezukanma as a football player. His route tree is not fully expanded, and he isn’t the most dialed in route runner ever coming out of college (given that he was a multi-year starter, this is somewhat worrisome due to his lack of complete technical development), but for his size, he offers great promise in that area (good normally, great considering his athletic build). He excels most in contested catch, 50-50 jump ball situations. While this oftentimes means that the receiver may have difficulty separating against NFL competition, Ezukanma has shown the aforementioned promise as a route runner. Thus, he does not only win with the DB still on him, and the context of contested/jump-ball reps must be analyzed. EZ can create space with his movement(s) before the throw as well. In addition to his good and expansible foundation as a technician, Ezukanma has also shown that he shines after-the-catch in close quarters and open space. It was most surprising to see how hard it was for defenders to tackle him, and he’s probably the best WR after-the-catch that I’ve written a profile on this year, besides Wan’Dale Robinson’s slipperiness and contact balance. I think Ezukanma is definitely more of a load though.
Let’s go to the clips to visualize what I just described.
Per usual, here’s a set of combined clips. This coalescence of clips illustrates Ezukanma winning vertically. While he is not a burner, and he won’t be the most consistent deep threat ever, he has shown the ability to win deep by means of nuance, physical dominance, and an outright knack for the subtleties that are vital to success if lacking gifts such as elite speed (he will need to further enhance his route running, as I have already expressed).
First clip in the set is from 2020, Texas Tech against Oklahoma State. Ezukanma is on the line at the top of the screen to the field. He gives the DB a one-hop into a foot fire with arm pumps release, then he explodes to the outside and up the sideline. Feeling he has the defender beat, he throws his hand up to indicate he wants a throw. He manages to get out in front of the defender, and he tracks the well-placed pass to the sideline (perhaps EZ could’ve been gone if it was just a *hair* more inside and vertical, but smart idea to locate it away from the defender), able to catch it over his shoulder before being pushed out. His release and burst set him up for success, and he did a good job of tracking then securing the throw in the bucket, over his shoulder.
Second clip in the set is from another 2020 game, this time against Oklahoma. Ezukanma is lined up at the bottom of the screen boundary side. He catches the DB in front of him looking back at his team when the ball is snapped, so he drops and takes off into an outside speed release. To recover, the DB initiates contact and grabs hold of him, but Ezukanma is able to shrug the contact off, then stack him as he continues vertically. His QB overshoots him, but Ezukanma lays it all out there to try and somehow reach the landing trajectory of the football.
Third clip in the set is from a Texas Tech v. Oklahoma game yet again, but this time it comes from Ezukanma’s 2021 season. EZ is lined up at the top of the screen. He is guarded in press with the DB shaded inside because of the WR’s plus split outside of the numbers. No catch to report here, but look at how he beats the press with a blend of body movement and then physicality of his own. This is a riveting technical foundation that Ezukanma strikingly boasts. I wrote about it in “the good” section; his hand usage is regularly karate-like in defeating press. There were even more examples of reps that I did not include in the clips for this write-up. I am going to be glued to his career arc to see if he is able to continue advancing his adroitness to beat press, on top of his athletic profile and foundation/feel for the wide receiver position.
Next, we have three clips with the last one depicting two plays from the same game. The first two clips are standalones.
In clip A, EZ is on the line at the top of the screen. Texas Tech-Texas, 2020. Texas Tech gets a free play, so after a foot fire release with arm pumps, Ezukanma gets going outside and up the sideline. He swats away the defender’s arm in doing so, eventually coming even to the defender as they head farther downfield and into the end zone. Ezukanma turns his head around to his QB as he keeps his arms up into the defender to maintain his space. Because the QB recognizes the free play (due to the penalty on Texas), he lofts EZ a chance at a 50-50 jump ball. EZ fights for positioning as the ball drops from the air into the two player’s location. Right as EZ is about to jump for it, he gives a subtle final nudge to the defender. Falling backwards, EZ latches onto the football with strong hands and maintains it all the way to the ground.
In clip B, from the 2021 Oklahoma game, Ezukanma is lined up at the bottom of the screen field side. Post-snap, he runs forward then drifts toward the outside sideline of the back of the end zone. His QB tosses him another jump ball that EZ is able to extend and snatch out in front of his frame, over the two defenders present. Again, Ezukanma’s hands are soft to receive the football, and strong to secure it (the closing safety even made slim contact at the catch point). Notice how he turns and pulls away from the defenders as he brings the football into his frame, getting both feet inbounds before being taken out.
Finally, in clip C from Ezukanma’s 2021 game vs. Iowa State, we see two more touchdowns from the man himself. First comes in the red zone. EZ is at the top of the screen. He gives some stutter/hesitation foot fire with arm pumps off the line before shooting outside and getting his head and body back to the quarterback. He engages the defender with his arms and muscles him backwards. Then he hops for the pass which hits him and the defender before it drops into EZ’s underhanded, awaiting palms. Good concentration to come down with it on the second effort. EZ also lets the defense know about it in his celebration. Second, Ezukanma is out wide to the field. This rep looks effortless, as he shows an ever-so-subtle frame shift with slight hesitation to freeze the defender and contemplate moving forward rather than continuing backwards. EZ easily lets the ball fall to him and he plucks it at its high point, then he turns away from the defender to secure it, driving his feet down as well to certify the catch.
Moving on, here are two more consolidated clips. Route break technique displayed.
I noted the first rep as a hitch/stop route. Hitch due to depth (hitch is more shallow than a stop, which is the intermediary between hitch and curl), and stop due to the technique he conveys to create separation. With the DB opening up to move downfield with him, EZ (top of the screen boundary side) employs a push-by technique to break off into the hitch while sending the DB’s momentum away from himself, and farther downfield. As he catches the pass, EZ exercises a quick pullback-tuck of the football and turns as he does so to gain more yardage post-reception. The clip is from the 2020 Texas game.
The second clip is a run. But, in the clip, Ezukanma (top of the screen boundary side again) demonstrates another powerful push-by to send the defender staggered-sprawling/flailing upfield. The clip is from the 2020 Oklahoma game.
Here are two more commingled clips. RAC/YAC exhibited, which as noted, is one of EZ’s main strengths.
#1 is from the 2020 Oklahoma State game. EZ is at the bottom of the screen field side. He does run upright and hence doesn’t do much to sell the plant and turn, but anyhow that’s not what I’m focusing on with this clip. What I’m focusing on is his hulk-like mindset to carry a defender on his back for as long as he can. Definitely remarkable.
#2 is from the 2021 Oklahoma game. Ezukanma is in the slot field side. He runs an out route against off coverage where the defender is sliding inside. This results in a completion in open space. Then Ezukanma assesses the oncoming defensive threats. He spins around the closest and closing threat first, side-steps the second, and finally puts his head down and his forearm into the third to pick up as many extra yards as he can at the end of the impressive elusive showcasing. He gains a slight clip before being thrown down out of bounds.
And again, we have another melded, fusion of clips. Three more this time. They all depict Ezukanma running in-breaking routes.
In the first (from the 2020 Oklahoma game), EZ is at the top of the screen, working against off coverage. What’s notable about this clip is his body sink and smooth, swivel break on the dig. He does drift upfield and round the top of it to a degree, which ends up placing him in front of the DB and aids in the DB’s ability to get hands on Ezukanma, but his body control in the initial cut inside is good, especially when his size is taken into consideration. He also plucks the pass and holds onto it through the tackle. So, this is a rep that can be worked with for improvement. Good things on presentation.
In the second (2021 Oklahoma game), EZ is lined up boundary side, at the top of the screen. He shows the pressed DB a skip foot fire with arm pumps, then he scoots across the DB’s face and bursts inside on a slant. He carries into open space and traps the pass before taking a backside-hit from that DB he beat off the line.
In the third (2020 Texas game), Ezukanma is at the top of the screen boundary side. He is the outermost receiver. He runs a slant/dig that he travels inside and through the convoluted spaces of the defense. Being boundary side, the area is obviously tighter-quarters and more constricted as a result. However, this doesn’t stop Tech’s QB from placing a high throw in a window that EZ is able to leap to grab. He turns himself into running position as he lands, and when his feet hit the ground he hits the gas, shaking off the first two tackles and then more, finally driving a pile forward for as long as the afterburners will burn. Ezukanma is a certified mass to bring down.
You know the drill by now. Three more conjoined clips. Three screens rendered. Ezukanma is a big receiver, but he does provide RAC/YAC (discussed earlier as well) and Texas Tech took advantage of the fact in a variety of different ways, as I’ll get into now.
The first is from the 2020 game vs. Oklahoma. I jotted down that it is a mix between a hitch-now “quick” screen and a tunnel screen (I’m not exactly sure how Texas Tech would classify it – I’d lean toward quick-developing hitch-tunnel). It has the look of a tunnel screen, but an immediate turn from the WR and throw from the QB. The slot receiver also picks up the sideline boundary DB with a block. Ezukanma catches and turns, sprinting upfield behind a convoy of blockers.
The second is from the 2020 Oklahoma State game. EZ is at the bottom of the screen. Same story, he catches the instant pass post-snap again after taking a couple steps forward, then working back. He lets his caravan of blockers lead him down the field. Somehow, he also spins out of a tackle attempt as well, which earns him more yardage.
The third is from Texas Tech’s 2021 game vs. Houston. EZ is #2 slot field side. This time, his turn is even more prompt. He’s contacted with at the line after bringing in the pass. As if that mattered to him, he astonishingly puts his head down and grinds his way free, managing to stay on his feet and then high-step away from any last-ditch effort, shoestring tackles. Now with a head of steam in the open field, it takes a defender to ride EZ to the ground, as he drags said defender past the 20-yard line and into more Houston defenders.
EZ is a beast to tame with the ball in his hands.
Last set of “the good” clips this time.
As I just mentioned for the screen clips, Texas Tech also found other, even more innovative/adventurous ways to get Ezukanma the football. In these two clips, first (2021 Houston game) we see Ezukanma going into motion and then receiving a swing pass that he’s able to charge upfield after dodging then outrunning would-be tacklers. After racing down the sideline, EZ attempts a hurdle that catapults him off the incoming defender who checks EZ with his shoulder, and into the air. Second (2021 Iowa State game), we see Ezukanma take a direct snap then fake a dump-off to a teammate (which even fools the camera man/woman on the replay angle). EZ strides up a nicely-picked path behind and between blockers. Large gain.
Lastly, two more merged clips portraying part of “the bad” in Ezukanma’s game.
The first is from the 2020 Oklahoma State game. Ezukanma is in the slot at the top of the screen to the field. Post snap, he clumsily lumbers and stumbles straight into the defender in his path. There isn’t any clean deception from EZ to move the defender off his spot or maneuver around him. It looks like he was trying to set up and run an out route from his ending situation. I’ve seen him unsuccessfully try to run through defenders in his stem instead of going around them a couple times in his game film. His route path and spatial awareness could be an area to clean up.
The second is from Texas Tech @ Texas in 2021. EZ is at the bottom of the screen field side. He jogs off the line and into a hitch route. The problem is that he runs it too stiff/upright, turns his head early, and really does nothing to threaten vertically or make an effort to move the DB onto his heels or off his spot sideways–with a sense of urgency or a break indicator. Due to this, the DB just chills in a half-turn and reads the QB, who doesn’t put a lot of mustard on the far-hash throw to about just past/at the numbers. The DB sees it and jumps it for a pick-6.
Of the wide receiver prospects I’ve profiled for Steelers Depot this year (there were even more in this class that I liked watching and wanted to profile), Erik Ezukanma and Bo Melton are the two I’d bill as the most likely to be selected by the Steelers in the 2022 NFL Draft. Jahan Dotson would be my favorite option, but he may not make it out of the first round, which presumably puts a damper on that parade. EZ and Melton may be had in the later rounds, at a discount. Ezukanma and the Steelers had an informal meeting at the combine according to Steelers Depot’s own Jonathan Heitritter. Ezukanma seems to check some of the boxes the Steelers look for in drafting wide receivers. Size, testing numbers, and solid production are on Ezukanma’s resumé. Melton’s as well minus the size that Ezukanma possesses. On the contrary, Melton swanks superior straight-line speed.
As I noted with my profile on Bo Melton, I think both receivers can sneak into earlier rounds than their draft grades indicate (maybe even late day two), because they each possess technical promise, feel, testing numbers, and pedigree for the wide receiver position that is very much so worth looking at to develop, especially for a later-round selection spot if they are to last. Both have the making of a Josh Palmer-type under-the-radar selection from last year. Also the same for Melton, I think Ezukanma’s synopsis aligns with the Round 4 “Raw Traits/Upside Prospect” more so than the “Backup/Special-Teamer” of Round 5, when observing our grading system.
Ezukanma could end up being drafted as a steal value when we look back years from now. Same with Melton, and some other later round options I’ve been looking into, which I will discuss on my Twitter. As you can tell, there’s a good deal of guys that caught my eye, and I’ve appreciated and enjoyed watching them for this draft class. I can’t wait to see who is selected where.
My comp thoughts on Erik Ezukanma range from Quincy Enunwa to Dez Bryant, for what that is worth.
Projection: Early Day Three
Depot Draft Grade: 7.0 Backup/Special-Teamer (Round 5)
Games Watched: vs. Texas (2020), vs. Oklahoma (2020), @ Oklahoma State (2020), vs. Houston (2021), @ Texas (2021), @ Oklahoma (2021), vs. Iowa State (2021)