The 2022 NFL Draft is absolutely loaded at wide receiver. Several high-level pass-catchers are expected to fly off the board in late April. Even with a plethora of impressive receivers vying for draft positioning, former Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson is one of the top pass-catchers available and has an excellent chance to hear his name called during the first round.
Dotson is an exciting and ascending receiver that places a ton of stress on opposing defensive backs. Dotson is a crafty and nuanced route-runner that creates separation with ease. His quick-twitch abilities make for a difficult assignment. Dotson possesses all of the tools necessary to make an immediate impact at the next level.
Dotson recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network to discuss his monstrous 2021 campaign, his combine performance and experience, his favorite route to run, his crafty and experienced release package, how he responds to the undersized label, why NFL teams shouldn’t let him get past the first 32 picks, and so much more.
JM: You got better every year at Penn State, and you experienced a career-best campaign in 2021 by surpassing 1,000 receiving yards for the first time. You also scored a staggering 12 receiving touchdowns. What led to the improvement this past season?
JD: I would honestly just point to the amount of work I put in throughout the offseason. We had a new offensive coordinator in coach Mike Yurcich coming into my senior season. We were really excited about the offense he installed. We knew we were going to be able to spread the ball around a lot. I knew I was going to receive a bunch of opportunities to make plays.
We believed in our coaching staff, we believed in our quarterback, offensive line, and the entire offense really. Those are the things that allowed me to have a great season.
JM: You set the program’s single-season receiving record with an unbelievable 242 receiving yards against Maryland in early November. What was it like being in the zone for that game?
JD: It was pretty cool (laughs). I remember playing against Maryland during my junior season and they really tested us by basically playing man-to-man, single-high coverage on essentially every single snap of the game. Going into that game during this past season, we had a pretty good idea that they were going to play that way again.
I knew I was going to receive a bunch of opportunities throughout the course of that game. We had a lot of plays drawn up for me throughout our week of preparation. My coaches did a great job putting me in positions to be successful. It goes back to what I said earlier about putting in the work. I had a big night in front of my entire family, who were in attendance for that game against Maryland. It was pretty cool knowing all of that work paid off and that I got to write my name in the history books of Penn State.
JM: You certainly did that. When we turn the tape on, we see a crafty route runner that creates natural separation. How did you develop that aspect of your game?
JD: It’s all about perfecting my craft. My dad preaches it to me every single day. Since I was a little kid, he’s basically been telling me that you have to perfect your craft in order to be successful in whatever you decide to do. I take a lot of pride in my ability to run routes. I’m not the biggest guy on the field, so creating separation is a bit of a necessity for me.
I love running routes. It’s like an art to me. You can run routes in different ways. Everyone has their own unique ways and ideas of getting open. I honestly find it so much fun to get open and create separation.
JM: It’s so refreshing to hear that. I have to ask you then, do you have a favorite route to run? If you had to pick just one.
JD: To be honest with you, I’d say a simple slant route—a three-step slant. There are just so many ways you can run that. There are so many ways you can make it look like a different route. You can release both inside and outside. That’s where I get to use one of my greatest abilities, and that’s my quickness at the line of scrimmage. That’s one of my greatest assets. I love getting open on slants.
JM: You’re such a student of the game, so I’m going to go into even more detail on this topic with you. Tell me a little about your release package and how you use it to create separation.
JD: It goes back to what I said about my quickness being one of my greatest assets. I love using my quickness at the line of scrimmage. It really helps me get open a lot. It creates separation.
My position coach at Penn State, coach Taylor Stubblefield, he talks a lot about winning the line of scrimmage. He preaches that if we do that, it becomes way easier to win down the field. I try to get guys off their line. I move guys in different ways and take them outside of their comfort zone. I attack leverages.
These are all things I take tremendous pride in. I love doing it and I love working on my craft. I work on it literally every single day after practice. We get with the cornerbacks and try new things. It’s so much fun for me.
JM: You’re also capable of creating a ton of yards for yourself after the catch. What is it about your skill set that allows you to be so dangerous post-catch?
JD: I would honestly say that’s just a part of having fun while playing football. That’s a part of being a kid. It reminds me of being a kid.
I was the youngest of roughly 10 cousins growing up. They were always trying to tackle me and beat me up when we played backyard football (laughs). We played free-for-all football together nearly every single day. When I got the ball in my hands, I always tried to make everyone miss.
It’s a part of being a kid again. It brings me back to my days spent running around trying to make guys miss. I love making big plays.
JM: That’s a great story. What do you feel are the three most important traits a successful receiver must possess?
JD: I would say the ability to create separation comes first and foremost. You need to have great hands. Never forget that the number one job of playing receiver means catching the football. You need to have tremendous hands.
Last but not least, you have to approach the position with the appropriate attitude. You’re asked to do a lot as a receiver. You’re asked to be aggressive, savvy, and creative. I would definitely say that your attitude toward the position matters.
You have to know when to be a dog when your coach asks you to crunch down on a safety in the running game. A different scenario may call for savviness as opposed to aggression. Being able to catch, create separation, and your attitude are three traits that immediately come to mind.
JM: Those are important traits. You’ve also been a big-time player on special teams. Do you hope to play special teams at the next level?
JD: I for sure hope to return punts at the next level. I’ve been doing it essentially throughout my entire career. I take great pride in it and I have a lot of fun doing it. It’s another opportunity for me to get the ball in my hands. Who doesn’t love getting the ball in their hands?
JM: You’re electric back there. Do you model your game after any receivers in particular? Which receivers did you enjoy watching growing up?
JD: I try to be different. I try a lot of different things. I don’t really mimic guys. I watch a lot of film. I watch a lot of Davante Adams. He’s one of the best at the line of scrimmage, and that’s where I win most of my routes. I watch a lot of Calvin Ridley. He’s another smooth route-runner. All of his routes look exactly the same and I love that. That’s how you disguise things.
I wouldn’t say I model my game after them, though. I try to be creative by taking little things from everyone I watch. I even watched my own teammates. I love watching our young guys play. I’m always willing to learn. Watching those guys every day, seeing the little things they do, if I find something that works, I’ll try to work on it after practice. I love trying to get better. I love implementing new ideas into my game.
JM: You’re a true student of the game. You’ve talked a lot about how your coaching staff put you in positions to be successful. How do you feel playing in Penn State’s offensive scheme helped prepare you for the next level?
JD: I would give a ton of credit to the guys around me, especially our defense. Every year I spent at Penn State, we had one of the best defenses in the country, and certainly one of the best secondaries in the country. Going against guys like Jaquan Brisker, Joey Porter Jr., and Tariq Castro-Fields every single day in practice prepared me for what was coming next.
Practicing against those guys honestly made Saturdays easier for me. Those guys pushed me every single day and I pushed them back. It was great to compete. We competed at a high level every single day. Saturday’s weren’t different to us. We competed Sunday through Friday leading up to Saturday. When it was game day, it was time to put on a show.
JM: You practiced like you played. You played the X, Y, and Z receiver positions at Penn State. Which is your favorite?
JD: To be honest with you, I really don’t. That’s one of my greatest attributes, my ability to be a versatile weapon. I can move everywhere on the field and create mismatches for my team. It allows me to get open against different defenders.
I love it. I honestly do. I love playing inside. That’s where I started at Penn State. When I got moved outside, I loved that just as much (laughs). I honestly don’t have a preference. I actually prefer to keep moving around and square off with different defenders throughout the course of a game.
JM: It’s part of what makes you so impactful. You’re a very willing blocker in the run game. You touched on that earlier, being a dog in the run game. Talk to me about the mentality it takes to play as a blocker. Not every receiver enjoys blocking, but you’re an exception to that stereotype.
JD: With me not being a bigger guy, defenders aren’t always expecting me to enjoy blocking (laughs). Blocking is a necessity in order for my team to be successful. My team did a great job giving me opportunities to play as a blocker.
I played in a lot of situations that set me up for success as a blocker. Being that I was the No. 1 guy in our offense, we had to call some plays where I had to be a decoy. We had some plays where guys thought I was running a route when I was really coming to crack down on a safety or on an outside linebacker (laughs).
It goes back to what I said about having that dog mentality or attitude. I wanted to better my team in every way possible. I wanted to get the job done as a blocker. That’s something I take tremendous pride in.
JM: I love that. You recently participated in the NFL Scouting Combine. You ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds and recorded a 36-inch vertical. How do you reflect on your performance?
JD: I feel like I did a great overall job at the combine. You probably noticed it on television, but I wasn’t happy with my 40 time. While training for it literally the week before, I was running in the low 4.3s. Running that 4.4, it really bothered me at that moment. I was frustrated.
That was just me being a competitor at the end of the day. I knew my potential and I didn’t run what I wanted to. I didn’t let it impact me, though.
I feel like that’s another attribute of mine. It goes back to my positive attitude. I could have let the rest of the combine go to waste after that 40 time but I chose to go harder. I could have walked away and declined the opportunity to run routes and compete during the on-field portion, but that’s not who I am as a person and player. I’m a competitor. I moved past it. If people weren’t going to remember my 40 time, they were going to remember how smooth I looked running routes and catching balls. I was one of the best route runners there. That’s how it went for me.
JM: It was crazy to see some of the takes because 4.43 is still a good time and you’re a 4.3 guy on tape all day long. You’ve mentioned that you’re not the biggest guy when discussing your willingness to block. You’ve heard the term “undersized” throughout your career. How do you typically respond to that?
JD: I let my play speak for itself. I’m not the biggest guy. I’m not a trash talker. I’ve always allowed my play to do the talking for me. When I get on the field, it seems like I’m 6-foot-5, 250 pounds (laughs).
I’m going to run every single route and I’m going to catch every single ball thrown my way. I’m going to be able to get open against the majority of defenders I come across. I let the criticism go in one ear and out the other. I just go out there and ball. That’s all I’ve been doing since I first started playing football at a young age. I go out there and have fun. I love to ball.
JM: That’s the best way to handle that question. I’ve really appreciated your time today. I feel like this conversation has highlighted why Jahan Dotson is one of the best receivers in the 2022 NFL Draft. Why should Jahan Dotson be a first-round pick later this month?
JD: Because I’m one of the best receivers in the draft. It’s pretty simple. You can just cut on the tape and see for yourself.
I’m going to have a lot of fun at the next level. I’m going to compete every single day at the highest level imaginable. I’m going to have fun doing it. I’m going to be a great teammate. I’m somebody you want to have in your locker room. I’m a winner at the end of the day.