Don’t look now but the Virginia Cavaliers have scored at least 42 points in two of its first three games to start the 2018 season. Reaching 42 points is something that only happened twice in 2016 and 2017 combined. In recent years, the Cavs offense usually looked stagnant and uninspiring as Virginia plodded along to an 8-17 record over that span.
Underwhelming offense has unfortunately become the norm in Charlottesville. Not since offensive tackle Morgan Moses in 2014 has a Virginia offensive player been drafted to the NFL. You have to go all the way back to 2009 when running back Cedric Pearman was a sixth-round pick to find an offensive skill player the NFL believed was worthy of a draft selection. That is likely to change in the coming draft where senior wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus is following up a record-breaking junior campaign with an explosive start to the 2018 season.
As a junior in 2017, Zaccheaus set a new single-season school record for receptions with 85. With 20 receptions through three games, Zaccheaus is 36 receptions away from breaking the all-time school record for career receptions. Barring injury, accomplishing that feat is likely to be in his future.
After being the favorite target of Kurt Benkert for two seasons, Zaccheaus has acclimated nicely with JUCO transfer quarterback Bryce Perkins whose dual-threat ability has helped take Virginia’s offense to new heights. Zaccheaus has two 100 yard receiving performances already in 2018 and had a record-setting day against Ohio in Week 3.
Zaccheaus started 2018 with six catches for 101 yards and a touchdown against Richmond before a down performance against Indiana in Week 2. Against the Hoosiers, Zaccheaus dropped four passes and was limited to just 15 yards on 5 receptions, mostly by his own doing. He bounced back against Ohio in Week 3 to set a new Cavs’ single-game record for receiving yards with 247 on nice receptions while also scoring two touchdowns. His dominant outing against the Bobcats encapsulates why he is primed to be the first offensive skill player from Virginia to be drafted in nearly a decade.
Listed at 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, Zaccheaus lacks the ideal height and length for an NFL wide receiver, even for the slot. And while that will push down his NFL valuation, playmakers who thrive in space and have the burst Zaccheaus offers is not something the NFL will overlook. There’s a lot to like about his skill set.
In Zaccheaus record-setting 247 receiving yard performance against Ohio, he ripped off touchdowns of 77 and 86 yards which speak to his dynamic ability. On his second score of the contest, Zaccheaus’ ability to accelerate was on full display. Quickly snatching the football, he turns up the field and is untouched for 70 yards after the catch and breaks the pursuit angles of three different defenders.
The defense couldn’t lay a hand on him. That type of explosive burst demands opportunities for Zaccheaus to create in space. Whether it’s a screen, a quick-hitting pass, a hand off or in the return game, Zaccheaus has the acceleration needed to take it the distance in a variety of scenarios.
A high school running back, Zaccheaus complements his burst with good field vision and spatial awareness. He has nearly 70 career rushing attempts in college and offers the upside to carry the football in the NFL. But where his background as a running back helps him most is in winning post-catch and breaking tackles.
On Zaccheaus’ first touchdown of the game, he runs a quick flat route, makes an adjustment for the football, breaks a tackle and sprints over 80 yards for the score. His low center of gravity and thick lower half in relation to his overall frame enables him to win after the catch.
At Virginia, Zaccheaus is the focal point of the offense and has developed into a productive player. In the NFL, that won’t be his role. With that said, it’s exciting to think about what he can do with help around him and filling a role instead of being the guy teams key on as having to take away. His skill set is best utilized in a complementary role and that’s what his NFL upside is.
While it was his bread-and-butter against Ohio was taking quick passes to the house, there are more dimensions to how Zaccheaus can win. His athletic ability, ball skills and hands make him a potent vertical threat that is capable of getting behind the secondary.
While Zaccheaus may lack the height and length the NFL prefers, he gives back fourfold when Virginia allows him to touch the football. Don’t discount him being a valuable weapon on Sundays.