18 Sep 2020

Home of the NFL Offseason

American Conference Preview: Wide Receivers (Part II)

In the last edition, I covered who I believe will be the top two receivers in the American Conference next season in Damonte Coxie of Memphis and Reggie Roberson of Southern Methodist. This week, I’ll be covering five more receivers from the American Conference that have a chance to boost their stock and improve their chances of having their names called come June of 2021. First, we’ll start with a receiver who could have entered the draft last season but decided not to in Marquez Stevenson.

Marquez Stevenson, Houston

6’0 | 190 LBS | Shreveport, LA

Marquez Stevenson is a 5th year senior for the Houston Cougars. Stevenson was a 3-star recruit according to 247Sports, and received 15 offers, most notably from Notre Dame, Baylor, Miami, & Utah.

Marquez Stevenson started his college career in 2016 where he suffered a broken collarbone in camp but returned in time to appear in only two games. He missed the entirety of the 2017 season due to a torn ACL during spring practice.

In 2018, Marquez Stevenson bounced back and broke out. He was Houston’s leading receiver with 75 receptions for 1019 yards and 9 touchdowns. Stevenson also got some touches on the ground and amassed 126 yards on 14 attempts with 2 touchdowns. He was an okay kick returner that year, averaging 22.4 yards per return, but with no touchdowns.

Last year (2019), in what should have been his senior season, Marquez Stevenson was the teams leading receiver for the second year in a row. His numbers went down, however, with 52 receptions for 907 yards and 9 touchdowns. His yards per catch went up from 13.6 to 17.4, and his impact in the return game was improved (2 kickoff return touchdowns).

Stevenson lines up in the slot, and is a vertical receiver at the most basic level. We’ll get into his game on a deeper level below.

Strengths:

  • Longspeed and quickness
  • Multiple gears, can go from 2nd to 3rd to 4th gear in the blink of an eye (acceleration)
  • Can make plays from out of the backfield
  • Quick-release
  • Tracking the football downfield

What To Improve On:

  • Route running needs work
  • Cuts/breaks are not sharp, tends to round them out
  • Improvising his routes base on what the defense is giving him
  • Feisty competitor, but needs to gain strength and play more physical

What To Look For: Of course, whether or not he improved on the above. Beyond that, he is good going downfield, but his short and intermediate route-running needs work. He also tends to get knocked off balance at the LOS when a physical corner gets his hands on him in press, so whether or not he will gain strength and be more physical, not just to beat press but also to add to his ability as a blocker will be something to keep an eye on. Lastly, Stevenson needs to add moves to his repertoire when it comes to his release. Currently, he is predictable and relies on getting off the ball extremely quickly to win out.

Way Too Early Prediction: Stevenson was eligible for the draft last year, but has a chance to boost his stock greatly. While I expect his skill-set to be improved, Clayton Tune will be the starting quarterback for Houston, and last season he completed only 59.2% of his passes with 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. On the other hand, Stevenson played with two different quarterbacks the past two seasons, so the fact that he will be the go-to guy and could have a full season with one quarterback could bring more consistently. I expect Stevenson to fall short of his season-high 75 receptions but will surpass his season-high in yards which is 1019.

Tre Nixon, UCF

6’1 | 180 LBS | Melbourne, Florida

Tre Nixon was a four-star recruit coming out of Viera High School in Viera, Florida. He received offers from top-programs such as Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, Florida among many others. Nixon decided to head to Ole Miss and red-shirted his first season in 2016. In 2017 he appeared in 10 games but recorded only a single catch for 19 yards.

Nixon entered the transfer portal in January of 2018, which may have had to do with sitting behind eventual 2nd round picks D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown, not to mention the post-season ban that Ole Miss received. He decided on UCF to be his next stop.

In his first year back in his home state of Florida he started all 13 games. He finished the season with 40 receptions, 562 yards, and 4 touchdowns. As a red-shirt junior in 2019 he had his best season yet. He caught 49 receptions for 830 yards and 7 touchdowns on a 16.9 average.

Strengths:

  • Longspeed
  • Ball-tracking
  • Vertical threat

Weaknesses:

  • Body catcher
  • Not aggressive at the catch-point
  • Awkward release
  • Sloppy footwork at the LOS off of the snap

What To Improve On:

  • Limiting the drops and catching with his hands
  • Becoming more physical
  • Crispness in his cuts/breaks
  • Footwork

What To Look For: Look for whether or not Nixon will continue to body-catch or if he will start extending and becoming a natural hands-catcher. Nixon is not very physical at the catch-point and struggles to bring in passes in tight coverage, look for him to be more physical and fight for the ball. In the three games of tape I watched, the defenses were mostly playing off-man, so whether or not Nixon can consistently beat press against physical corners is another question mark.

Way Too Early Prediction: Nixon is poised to have his most productive season with it being the first time he will be expected to be the number one target on the outside. I believe he will surpass his current highs in receptions and yardage, but am not sure he can do enough to boost his stock to the point where he will be drafted any earlier then the last two rounds. Nixon has been a decent receiver, but has thus far just been another guy. At this point I predict he will go undrafted and try and stick to the back-end of a roster through special teams.

The next three receivers to be covered do not currently have enough film available to truly evaluate their game (if any), and so their previews will be less detailed.

Branden Mack, Temple

6’4 | 220 LBS | Wyncote, Pennyslvania

Branden Mack started his college football career in 2016, after receiving only two offers coming out of high-school as a three-star dual-threat quarterback recruit.

As a true-freshman, Branden Mack redshirted, but as a redshirt freshman in 2017 he mostly played special teams, earning the APEX Predator Special Teams Player of the Game Award twice over the course of the season.

Mack started on the outside in 2018, accumulating 44 receptions for 601 yards and 5 touchdowns. Last season (2019) Mack was awarded the #1 jersey which actually means something at Temple, as they only give single-digit jersey numbers “to the toughest players on the team.” Mack had his best season yet hauling in 59 receptions for 904 yards and 7 touchdowns but was the number two receiver behind Jadan Blue who we will be covering later.

I mentioned him being awarded a single digit jersey number due to being one of the toughest players on the team. You see that toughness in his game. At 6’4 220-pounds, Mack is a big target and he uses that size well. He excels at bringing in passes in traffic and winning in jump-ball situations. His ball tracking down-field as well as his body adjustment are also strengths. While not the fastest receiver, he is able to make big plays after the catch, he runs tough and has shown he is fast enough to breakaway when need be.

With quarterback Anthony Russo returning I see another productive season by Branden Mack. Expect his yardage to stay around the same but for his touchdowns to go up as his route-running improves and he becomes a bigger threat in the red-zone.

Jadan Blue, Temple

6’0 | 185 LBS | Randallstown, Maryland

Keeping the focus on Temple, Jadan Blue was Anthony Russo’s number one target last season for the Owls, following a season where he was at the back of the roster and only accumulated three receptions.

Jadan Blue started his career at Temple in 2017 where he redshirted. Prior to that, he was a 2-star recruit coming out of high school with Temple being the only FBS school to offer him a scholarship. As stated earlier, Blue saw his first action as a redshirt freshman in 2018 but was deep within the depth chart. He burst onto the scene in 2019, coming in 2nd among American Conference receivers in receptions with 95 which was the 7th most in the entire NCAA. He also had 1067 yards and 4 touchdowns. The 1067 yards was good for 4th in the American Conference.

Jadan Blue is a quick slot receiver who knows how to get open evidenced by his large number of receptions. He is extremely quick off of the line and has the footwork you want when exploding off of the snap. He also possesses long-speed and the short-area quickness to match which allows him to break away when he gets into the open field. This makes him a prime-target for screens.

The redshirt junior still has two more years left of eligibility, so it is not only possible he does not declare for the 2021 draft but likely. Still, he is someone to keep an eye on either way.

Keylon Stokes, Tulsa

6’0 | 190 LBS | Manvel, Texas

Keylon Stokes was a 3-star recruit coming out of high school. He received only three offers, from New Mexico, Texas State, and of course, Tulsa.

Stokes saw action in 9 games as a freshman in 2017, but was a depth piece and only caught 6 passes for 143 yards. As a sophomore in 2018 he started in 11 of 12 games, finishing the year with 41 receptions, 575 yards, and 4 touchdowns (2 rushing). In 2019 Stokes had a career year, with 62 receptions for 1040 yards and 6 touchdowns.

As a kick returner, Stokes hasn’t been terribly effective. He averages only 20.7 per return, and has yet to score a touchdown on 58 total returns. Last season he returned 12 punts as well, for 52 yards on a 4.3 average.

Tulsa has had struggles at quarterback the past two seasons, and therefore ran a run-heavy offense. Stokes’ numbers are deflated because of that, and with a large number of starters returning to the Tulsa offense, he is poised to have his best season yet.

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