By David Bradford for VFL Insider.
The Tennessee wide receiver who stole all the headlines last season wasn’t Josh Malone.
It was Jauan Jennings.
After all, Jennings produced a pair of definitive moments for Team 120.
First, his 64-yard touchdown reception over Florida cornerback Jalen “Teez” Tabor not only gave the Vols a 24-21 lead after the team fell behind 21-0 in the first half, but it also changed Tabor’s genetics.
Tabor’s ankles were so eviscerated that Jennings became his biological father. For the rest of Tabor’s career, he’ll have to deal with Jennings’ ghost.
Then, there was the infamous Hail Mary against Georgia.
Not only did this play catapult Tennessee’s record to 5-0, but he followed it up with two all-time soundbites.
“When coach called the play.” – On when Jennings knew he was going to catch the Hail Mary
“I’d say second behind burning Tabor.” – On where the Hail Mary ranked in Jennings’ all-time catch list
Jennings’ charismatic personality is a thing of beauty. He’s often referred to as a dawg and allegedly barked in practices. Seemingly overnight, he became a Tennessee icon. Pushing personality aside, although Jennings produced unforgettable moments, Malone was the team’s real dawg out wide.
Malone isn’t a household name. Credit that to his reserved personality, but also give credit to an offensive system that doesn’t reward wide receivers with anything other than dig routes and screens. Sure, Malone caught his fair share of deep balls (more on that momentarily), but he was blanketed by a system that didn’t show off his skill set.
As a result, Josh Malone is the best wide receiver nobody has heard of.
Adjusting to the ball
Remember how I said “more on that momentarily” when referring to Malone on downfield receptions?
That moment is now.
Malone’s junior highlights are truly a joy to watch. He was on the receiving end of some beautiful Josh Dobb deep balls, but Malone also showed an inate ability at locating the ball and adjusting accordingly.
In the NFL, not every throw is meant to hit a receiver in stride. Sometimes, a quarterback will loft up a prayer, leaving it up to the receiver to make the play.
Malone can clearly make the plays. His SEC-leading 11 touchdown receptions last season averaged 41.3 yards in length, with none of them covering less than 20 yards.
Vision in the open field
While Malone was often limited to downfield throws — both a blessing and a curse considering Dobbs’ accuracy issues with intermediate throws — he also made the most of his opportunities in the open field.
Just look at how shifty Malone is on this play. With only one blocker in front of him, he already knows he has to make one defender miss, which he accomplishes easy. He then has the presence of mind to set up another oncoming defender by running straight before making a nice cut when the helpless Commodore no longer has an angle on him.
And look at that burst when he finds a hole to run through. It’s no surprise that Malone posted a blazing 4.41 40-yard dash time at he combine, proving he has the wheels to play on Sundays.
Josh Malone is the perfect No. 2 wide receiver
There is heavy demand for a No. 2 wide receiver in the NFL, especially one that can stretch the field.
Although he’s considered a late-round prospect, see how many of the following boxes you would check for Malone.
Pro Tip: You should’ve checked all five.
This isn’t to say Malone is a first-round talent. He isn’t. But should he be paired with one of the league’s top receivers, then suddenly, Tennessee’s true headline receiver presents plenty of value.