When you look around the NFL, what is a commonality in the league’s elite pass-catching threats? Can they soar for contested catches? Is their top-end speed enough to stretch defenses, where they are also able to break off a route at a moment's notice? What about their hands and awareness in space?
What if I told you Jahan Dotson has been the best-kept secret in all of college football?
Let me explain.
He’s everything the NFL represents today. A 5-foot-11 combo blend of speed and articulate footwork, Dotson has quickly become one of college football’s most premier boundary prospects. A career in Happy Valley that almost never was, Dotson’s progression during his time at Penn State has quickly welcomed video-game-like numbers and a fundamental skill set matched by few in the nation.
A 4-star prospect out of high school, Dotson's commitment to Penn State came after an extended tether to the UCLA Bruins, where the Nazareth, P.A. native ultimately switched his collegiate preference on National Signing Day to James Franklin’s Nittany Lions. While his collegiate career kicked off with a slow start, totaling just 13 receptions during his first year on campus, since then, Dotson has been nothing short of spectacular the past two-plus campaigns. Just five games into his senior season, Dotson has amassed the fourth-most receiving yards in the Big Ten (446), 35 receptions, and six touchdowns, tops among all Big Ten wideouts. With seven games left to be played, he’s currently projected to finish the season with 91 receptions, 1,160 yards, and 15 touchdowns, where his yards accumulated would be the second-most in a single season in program history and his touchdowns would shatter the current single-season record of 13, formerly held by Bobby Engram.
While some of his success should welcome applause toward the game planning ability of Franklin and execution of Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, make no mistake about it, Dotson by no means is a product of the system—he’s his own individual coverage nightmare.
You won’t find stickier hands in the country than the pair of mitts Dotson uses to snatch balls out of the air. Couple his vertical comfortability with his ball-tracking prowess and you can see why teams have doubled and bracketed Dotson from the onset of his sophomore campaign. Running man-to-man on him isn’t enough, as his breakaway speed is enough to embarrass defenders while his footwork and ability to stack corners, and in turn, disguise routes, makes it a near-impossible task to keep No. 5 under wraps. While national attention has turned toward Drake London (USC), Chris Olave (Ohio State), and John Metchie III (Alabama), it’s time Dotson’s name is included at the top of conversations as to which pass-catcher should be first off the board come April.
An alpha at the catchpoint, as we begin to project Dotson on Sundays, he’s become the mold teams look for in immediate production. While there is still room for talents like the 6-foot-5 towering presence of London who can dominate in tight space and overpower physically weaker defenders, Dotson’s increasingly diversified game within an NFL offense that prioritizes airing out the rock could see the Nittany Lion standout cement his status as WR1 sooner rather than later.
Initially projected as a primary threat out of the slot due to his lack of vertical prowess, Dotson makes his money on the outside against longer, more physical corners. And while his versatility is a part of his makeup, his competitive mentality sets Dotson apart from many of the elite pass-catchers in his class. Whether he lines up adjacent to the tight end, out at X, or in the backfield on occasion in Franklin’s offense, Dotson continuously finds ways to have his number highlighted within the game script week in and week out.
A test against the No. 3 Iowa Hawkeyes lies in wait for the Nittany Lions and Dotson. A defense that currently sits fifth among all defenses in passing efficiency allowed (96.96), while leading the nation in interceptions (12), will prove to be Dotson’s best bump yet in his senior campaign.
An electric athlete with the ability to reach paydirt each time he touches the football, expect nothing less than showtime moving forward from Dotson; college football’s best-kept secret.