Every now and then I like to take a look at CFBstats[dot]com, go to the national leaders category and see who is in the Top 50 in terms of production around the country. They have all kinds of stats from touchdown passes to rushing yards per attempt to receiving yards. All that good stuff. So this week I decided to check back in to who might be on top of college football's receiving stats and the name I saw at No. 1 I didn't recognize.
Arkansas State WR Omar Bayless.
Bayless currently leads the country in receiving yards with 1,070, is fourth in the country in catches with 60, and once again leads the country in receiving touchdowns with 12. Those are some crazy numbers, especially for how talented we know the wide receiver group in college football is this year.
That led me to do some digging, and what I found out about Bayless is that his story is even more noteworthy than his stats.
Bayless grew up in Laurel, Mississippi, where he became a 3-star recruit playing at Laurel High School. It was there he made plenty of friends on the football team, friends he thought he would have for a long time.
The time turned out to be shorter than anyone could have imagined.
Trenton Daeschner of the Arkansas Democrat tells Bayless' story of how in 2018, Bayless lost one of his high school teammates, Vincent McGill, to gun violence. Not long after that two of his cousins and his uncle died. And following that, another one of his high school friends was killed in a car accident. All of this happened in just a five month span. Fast forward to this year and the summer before the 2019 season began, Arkansas State's head coach Blake Anderson lost his wife to breast cancer, a loss that deeply affected the entire team. Eight days after Wendy's death, Bayless received the news that his long time friend, Justin Mack, was killed in a shooting.
Just four days after the news of his friend passing away, ASU kicked their season off against SMU. It was the same day as Mack's funeral. Bayless couldn't make it.
But thing were almost the other way around. In April of 2018, when McGill was killed in a shooting, Bayless was at ASU's spring camp. He wasn't able to be back home with his friends and family for the tragedy. When his cousins and uncles passed away and he yet again could not be there because of football, he thought about giving it up.
"I was so close to not coming back," Bayless said to Daeschner of the Arkansas Democrat. "I was in a dark place at that time. I [didn't] really want to talk to anybody. Just holding all my anger and hurt inside of me, it just kind of sent me down from everybody and everything that I really wanted to do."
As he searched for someone to talk to, his mother, Angelia Stevens, was the open ear. He vented to her about what he was feeling, how he wanted to give up football, stay with the family, and not go back to ASU.
"He came and talked to me. He's like, 'Momma, I just don't think I can do it. I'm just losing so much here at home, and it just seems like I'm never around when stuff's happening,' " Stevens said. "I'm like, 'Baby, it's not for you, this is not for you. What's meant for you is for you. So you got to take yourself out of it and allow God to work things out for you.' "
According to Daeschner, Bayless took time, and eventually he returned to ASU and the football program. Since then he's been on a different path. He didn't see things in a way of him feeling sorry for himself or sad that he wasn't around his home town when these tragedies happened. Instead he turned his focus towards where he was and why he was there. He decided to honor those he lost with what he could do. He was chasing his dream, he was doing what he worked so hard to do.
And now he's not just doing it for himself. He's doing it for them.
"It's a choice -- either you're gonna dwell on it, or you're gonna overcome it and you're gonna get through it," Bayless said. "I chose to overcome all those challenges that were thrown my way."
So far here in 2019, his new outlook has taken him to new heights. Here's what that has looked like, and what it means towards his NFL Draft future.
Play No. 1: Those Fast Fancy Feet
The first game I popped in for Bayless was the 2019 Georgia game, and immediately his quick footwork stood out.
As the outside receiver at the top of your screen, even though Bayless didn't get the ball, that rep was a great example of just how quick Bayless can chop his feet at the line, and how he can catch defenders on their heels when doing so. That kind of quick and precise footwork can translate to many different aspects of playing the position, too.
Play No. 2: Set Up Stud
One of those aspects comes in route running, particularly in setting up defenders to go one way and beat them another.
Bayless is mainly a vertical route runner, meaning most of his routes are 9 routes (the "go deep" route), comebacks and screens. It's not much stem work that asks him to break quickly horizontally. But even with him going vertical most of the time, he can still use those explosive, quick feet in way like the one above where he double moves and fools the defender to beat them with momentum while still going down the field.
Where is route tree won't be the most diverse, he's still relatively flexible within a more vertical plane.
Play No. 3: Separation Anxiety
Though there are things that draw you to Bayless' game, let's just say speed isn't one of them. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds he's more of the style of a big body target than he is one who will burn you down the sidelines.
Because of this, he has a hard time separating if defenders get into him early in press and don't fall for his quick feet. It's certainly something to keep in ming as you project him into different roles in the NFL, but the speed does take away from where he wins (with strength).
Play No. 4: Where Strength Shows
Let's talk about that strength.
Bayless, where he does have a lot of yards, is someone who I think will do his best work on the money downs and in the money areas -- those being third downs and in the red zone. He isn't going to be a guy who jumps out of the gym, but he is someone who can make strong catches through traffic up and over defenders.
The best of which is shown below
Play No. 5:The O.M. Ar. Moments
Ok that camera angle isn't good enough to fully appreciate that catch. Let's zoom it in.
One handed grab from the side with pass interference? That's grown man strength.
With a new outlook, Bayless is having a career year. Bayless already has ASU's career receiving touchdowns record, and he's on the road to capturing the program's single-season records for receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, too.
In a wide receiver class studded with talent, it's the ones who have something to offer above the shoulders and beyond the lines of the field who might stand out.
Bayless stands tall in stats, in size, and in his story.