Real quick – Who led the ACC in receiving touchdowns in 2017? That would be then Wake Forest redshirt freshman wide receiver Greg Dortch who was also one of just three players in the conference to average more than 90 receiving yards per game last season.
And Dortch was on pace to do a whole lot more damage.
Tallying 53 receptions for 722 yards and nine touchdowns across Wake’s first eight games of the season, Dortch missed the Demon Deacon’s final five games with a punctured intestine that he suffered when landing on a pylon while scoring a touchdown against Louisville. Against the Cardinals, Dortch was having the game of his life with 10 receptions for 167 yards and four touchdowns, but it turned out to be his last action of the season.
Dortch found immediate production in his career, but it wasn’t because he was feasting on lesser competition. In five games against ACC foes, Dortch racked up 39 receptions for 536 yards and five TDs – his yards per game against ACC opponents was higher than what he averaged against non-conference teams Appalachian State, Presbyterian and Utah State. Despite missing five games, Dortch was named second-team All-ACC and the runner-up to Boston College’s AJ Dillon as ACC Rookie of the Year.
Two big question marks loomed over Wake Forest’s offense entering this season: How would its top receiver bounce back from the intestine injury and could true freshman quarterback Sam Hartman be a viable successor to John Wolford.
Week One’ s thrilling overtime victory on the road over Tulane gave evidence that Wake is in good shape on both fronts.
In Hartman’s first taste of action, he completed 31 of 51 passes for 378 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He added 64 rushing yards on 13 carries with plenty of clutch throws and runs that proved decisive in the Demon Deacon’s 1-0 start.
Having Dortch at his disposal to rely on in those pivotal moments of the game certainly helped Hartman find success in his first start. Hauling in a career-high 12 receptions, Dortch totaled 149 receiving yards as part of his 200 all-purpose yards.
From an NFL perspective, there’s a lot to like about Dortch and one notable knock – he’s only listed at 5-foot-9, 170 pounds.
But Dortch is a playmaker and that is not something the NFL quickly discriminates against. His diminutive frame is not unlike Brandin Cooks, Jamison Crowder, Tyler Lockett or Taylor Gabriel – all weapons who have signed lucrative contract extensions in the NFL. Dortch has similar upside and his traits were on display against Tulane.
In order for smaller receivers to find success in the NFL, they must be crisp route runners that leads to separation with excellent ball skills. On this play, Dortch illustrates how he checks those boxes. Running a stop-and-go, Dortch draws the defensive back in by selling the hitch before releasing back outside and making and excellent adjustment to the ball in the air. The timing and tracking skills displayed on this rep are a thing of beauty.
In a pivotal 3rd-and-five, Hartman looked to Dortch to covert the third down which set up Wake’s touchdown to open a 17-14 lead midway through the third quarter. While it appears to be a simple slant route where Dortch adjusts his route to find space in a small window and provide an option for Hartman, it’s how he hangs on through contact that impresses. Dortch is 30 pounds away from being 200 pounds but that doesn’t mean he can’t take a big hit and hang on through contact. You don’t want to see Dortch taking these shots often but it speaks to his competitive toughness and willingness to fearlessly work the middle of the field.
I like receivers who continue to work on every rep. There are times that coverage is simply going to take you away on a given ply but sustaining effort and finding space to offer your quarterback a target when things break down is the sign of a competitor. On this play, Dortch does just that.
Wake is facing a third-and-nine backed up deep in its own territory in the fourth quarter. Facing a potential punt that would inevitably lead to favorable field positioning for Tulane, Wake was in need of a big conversion. Things looked bleak initially but Hartman did a wonderful job of extending the play and Dortch snuck behind the secondary for a 45-yard gain.
Seeing Dortch back on the field making plays and picking up where he left off was a delight to see. In his last three contests, Dortch has caught 30 passes for 441 yards and four touchdowns.
Primed to be on the the ACC’s leading receivers again in 2018, Dortch may be small in stature but that doesn’t stop him from being one of the top playmakers in the conference. He just might be the next undersized receiver that proves to be a valuable NFL weapon.