If your favorite NFL team wants a big-play wide receiver whose best football is ahead of them, this year’s deep class should give plenty of value in the middle and later rounds. One player we should all be keeping an eye on is former Illinois receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe.
Imatorbhebhe is one of this year’s most athletic pass-catchers and spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about the results he put up at his Pro Day, why the best is yet to come, and why an NFL team should use one of its draft picks on him.
JM: Your journey from USC to Illinois has been well documented. Tell me a little about the emotions that you went through there.
JI: I felt like it was time to make a change. I found myself in a situation that a lot of players have gone through before me. I had to go find a great opportunity elsewhere. Whether it’s because of injury, inconsistencies, or the fit simply not being the right one, a lot of players have to enter the transfer portal. I felt like I made the decision that was best for me. Anybody in my shoes would have made the same decision that I made.
JM: You went to Illinois and put together two really strong seasons. How do you reflect on your time there?
JI: I had a great time at Illinois. I feel like I was able to show some flashes of what I’m capable of. I still feel like the best is yet to come, though. It was great because Illinois gave me an opportunity to show what I wasn’t able to show at USC. At the same time, I don’t feel like I’ve reached my full potential. There’s still a lot of meat left on the bone. That’s an exciting thought to me. If you’re ever going to peak, the best time to do it is in the NFL when they’re paying you to play professionally. That’s what’s gonna happen for me. I have a huge opportunity in front of me.
JM: Your Pro Day was so exciting. It was fascinating to watch. What do you think you proved to NFL scouts there?
JI: I just feel like I possess a rare amount of athleticism. I say that with all the humility in the world. It’s a gift that I’ve been given. I’ve worked at it. I’ve cultivated it over the years. It’s rare and it shouldn’t be overlooked. I’ve tried to develop myself athletically. There are certain things that you can’t coach. You can’t teach athleticism.
D.K. Metcalf is 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, and runs a [4.33-second 40-yard dash]. You just don’t find guys like that. You can develop and coach players, but you can’t create a monster like that. That’s the kind of guy that can really shock the league. I can do that. I hope that the scouts thought they were watching something special and rare at my Pro Day. I hope they saw something they feel that’s worth investing in.
JM: I have a feeling that they did. When I turn the tape on, of course, your size and athleticism jumps off the screen. The ball skills and how explosive you are also stands out. How did you develop those aspects of your game?
JI: It took practice, man. It really did. You have to hone your skills. I go hard every single day. I’m always working on my game. I try to work on the things that I’m going to be expected to do at the next level. When I’m called upon to do something in a game, it’s something I’ve already spent a lot of time on. I know that I have my perceived weaknesses as well. We all do.
I feel like I’ve always done the best with what I was given. Most of the routes that I ran were a hitch, fade, and slant, right? I’m not going to deny that. I ran a lot of one-stick routes. I got really good at that because that’s what I was asked to run. When I have to run other routes, I’m sure I’ll get really good at them as well. That’s the type of player I am.
JM: When it comes to evaluating prospects, I’ve always been a big believer in not faulting a guy for mastering what he was asked to do.
JI: Sure. That’s 100% the correct way to go about it. I typically lined up as the back-side receiver in our offense. That gave me a lot of chances to run hitch routes and whatnot. If it was press coverage, I ran a fade. It was an [run-pass option] offense. 80% of the time, I ran a hitch or a fade. That’s what I got really good at. Most of my highlights are composed of me running those routes. That’s simply because that’s what I was asked to do.
JM: Have any NFL teams had anything to say about this during your Zoom meetings?
JI: I hope that they understand what I’m saying. I don’t really know what they’re thinking. They’re very good at playing their cards close to their chests. I hope that they see something in me. We can look at D.K. Metcalf again. There are so many successful receivers in the NFL that didn’t run a full route tree in college. A guy like Metcalf went into the league and continued to develop his athleticism. Much was made about what his transition would be like but he didn’t have any issues making the transition. No issues whatsoever. He has a ton of skill. I have no idea what NFL teams are thinking.
JM: That’s fair. You’ve spent some time talking about your perceived weaknesses. What’s one area of your game that you're looking forward to taking to the next level?
JI: I’m looking forward to running more routes underneath. I wanna make my presence felt. I still feel like people don’t realize how explosive I can be to every area of the field. I wasn’t able to show that in the offense that we ran at Illinois. I have a lot of speed. I can be used more on slants and underneath routes. You haven’t really seen me catch the ball and go. I’m looking forward to doing more of that. I’m looking forward to being a more explosive receiver. I’m gonna get better in every aspect.
JM: We can’t wait to see that. Earlier, you mentioned that you have no idea what NFL teams are thinking. From your side of it, how do you think your meetings have gone?
JI: I’ve had conversations with almost every team. In my opinion, the meetings have been going well. I’m excited about the process. Not only have they gotten to know me better as a player, but they know me as a person as well. They’re seeing the value I can bring to an organization. You never really know what they’re thinking. All I can do is put myself out there and show them who I am. I’m confident that if a team wants to draft me, it’ll be because they’ve identified me as an excellent fit for their culture.
JM: If you could catch a pass from one NFL quarterback, who it would be and why?
JI: That’s a good question, and I probably shouldn’t answer it (laughs). I would be privileged to catch a pass from anybody in the NFL. I don’t wanna come into the league on a high horse. I’m not gonna sit here and say I’d like to catch a pass from Tom Brady or something like that. I’d be privileged to catch a pass from any QB that plays in the NFL. I’d love to catch a pass from any backup QB. I’m going into the league with the mindset that I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I’m going in with that type of humility. That’s what it comes down to.
That’s how Tom Brady came into the league, right? He came in with a humble attitude. I’m gonna be the same way. He worked his tail off. It’s the perfect example of when preparation meets opportunity. Beautiful things can happen. That’s my mindset. Whoever is throwing me the ball, I will be more than happy to catch it.
JM: I’ll allow it. That’s a great answer. You’re going in with the right attitude. We’d like to wish you the best of luck this weekend. I’ve really appreciated your time today. In closing, what kind of impact is Josh Imatorbhebhe going to make at the next level?
JI: People tell me that I’m a natural-born leader. I feel like I’m able to energize the people around me. I’m very passionate about the game of football. I believe it rubs off on my teammates. I really believe in what I say, but more importantly, I believe in what I do. I feel like I’ll be able to lead people with my actions.
If I end up on a team that’s been struggling a bit, I can bring some positive energy to the table. That’s what happened at Illinois. I’m not gonna lie about it. We were struggling to win four games before I showed up. I came in and it was the first time we reached a Bowl game in like 10 years. I’m going to help improve the culture of an organization. We’re going to win football games.