It’s no secret that the Las Vegas Raiders are in the market for a deep threat this offseason. Jalen Tolbert, wide receiver from South Alabama, has the speed and hands to fill that role and beyond. He’s from Mobile and will have home-field advantage at the upcoming Senior Bowl, where I expect his NFL Draft stock to begin to rise.
WR | South Alabama | 6’3” 190 pounds | Mobile, AL | February 27th, 1999 (22.9)
Jalen Tolbert was a two-star recruit and the 415th ranked wide receiver for the 2017 class, per 247 Sports, and opted to stay in his hometown for college, choosing the Univesity of South Alabama over Michigan State and Vanderbilt, his only Power Five offers. An injury kept Tolbert sidelined as a true freshman, but he earned a starting spot as a redshirt sophomore went on to set school records with 178 catches, 3,139 yards and 22 touchdowns for the Jaguars. He eventually became South Alabama’s No. 1 receiver and was used in all three areas of the field with his impressive speed, strong hands and ability to make contested catches.
- Very good height and solid weight for an NFL wide receiver
- Uses a variety of releases to beat press coverage; foot fire, jab and jump releases, and he varies the timing of his releases to keep cornerbacks off-balance
- Dips his shoulder to avoid contact at the line of scrimmage and has the speed to make defenders pay when they try to jam and miss
- Smooth and explosive off the line of scrimmage to eat cushion against off corners
- Attacks leverage and clearly understands spacing during the stem phase of the route
- On double moves, he does a good job of using his head and shoulders to sell the first route
- Very good at recognizing and attacking the soft spots in zone coverage, maximizing the throwing window for quarterbacks
- Has the balance, upper body and core strength to fight through physical play and still create separation when defensive backs grab a hold of him after falling out of phase, also has shown a solid push by move to win at the top of the route with physicality
- When running 45-degree routes, he has solid explosion out of the cut to kick it into another gear and create separation
- Consistently works back to the ball on curls and comebacks
- Gets behind defenses on deep routes with his speed and tracks the ball in the air well to match the ball’s path
- In contested catch situations, he has a good vertical to high-point the ball, is tough and has strong hands to make grabs through contact or distractions/with a defender’s hand in his line of sight
- Impressive body control and ability to quickly adjust to back shoulder throws, giving defensive backs less time to make a play on the ball
- He has natural and plucky hands to make catches with his arms outstretched, he rarely even bobbles the ball and can make one-handed grabs
- After the catch, he has good vision and his long speed allows him to break angles
- Improved his YAC/reception by 2.7 yards from 2020 to 2021, showing signs of being able to grow that area of his game
Areas of improvement:
- He could add some quickness on his foot fire releases to get the cornerback to move when attacking leverage against press coverage, he’s more reliant on the jab step and head/shoulder fakes right now
- At the line of scrimmage and in the five-yard window, he’s gotten away with letting defensive backs get their hands on him as he’s able to play through it, but that will be more difficult at the next level if he doesn’t start getting his hands involved on his releases
- Adequate change of direction overall, he’s not all that sudden on curls and looks like he has to run them with his shoulders high since stopping is a bit of an issue, and he rounds the cut pretty badly on deep outs after getting to top speed
- He does have a small issue of running before securing the catch on short routes, looking to turn upfield before securing the catch
- After the catch, he’s not going to run anyone over and will go down fairly easily after contact
- Could afford to add more wiggle/elusiveness with the ball in his hands to make defenders miss
- 2017: Knee injury (redshirted season)
NFL Mock Draft Database consensus big board rank: 70th, 3rd round
For being a small school guy, Tolbert’s stock is already pretty high but, as mentioned above, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get another boost after the Senior Bowl. To me, he fits the profile of a late-bloomer who will turn some heads once he goes against and starts beating guys from Power Five programs. Obviously, the former Jaguar still has to go out and prove that on the field, though.
As far as a scheme that he would be best in, I think he can make an immediate impact in an offense with a vertical passing attack or that is looking for someone to stretch the field. If he can continue to grow his YAC skills like he did this past season, Tolbert could develop into a complete receiver who can win has the speed to win deep, has the toughness to make contested catches over the middle and can be used on short routes.
What do we need to know?
How does he stack up against the big boys? Truth be told, this is probably the biggest question that any Group of Six or small school prospect faces. There are always questions about how impactful/productive those players can be when they’re consistently going up against NFL-level competition and not future accounts and salespeople. Again, the Senior Bowl will be Tolbert’s best opportunity to kill that narrative.
Fit with the Raiders:
Every year I have a few prospects that I fall in love with and selfishly want the Raiders to take. Tolbert is one of those guys for me this year. I think Las Vegas can get tremendous value by taking him in the late-second or early-third rounds if his current projection holds. Not only would Las Vegas find someone who can stretch the field immediately, but they’ll also get a wideout who has the potential to develop into a “go-to guy” in the future.
A perfect post from Jalen Tolbert:— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) January 23, 2022
-Attacks leverage to create more space on the inside (the FS taking the cheese helps too)
-Kicks it into another gear out of the cut
-Adjusts to the ball and high-points it to take it away from the CB
Also, shoutout to the QB for taking a shot https://t.co/I2sZj3Q1cw
Beautiful spacial awareness by Tolbert to find the soft spot in this zone and maximize the throwing window, then hauls it in with 3 guys around him https://t.co/cSGcXHhfeH— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) January 23, 2022
Not the cleanest route but Tolbert's speed and head fake get the CB to open his hips and bite on the In https://t.co/riEPYE4Tbx— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) January 23, 2022
Another route that isn't very pretty but I love how Tolbert works back to the ball and hauls this in through contact https://t.co/8wt8K8RKLd— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) January 23, 2022
Tolbert putting on a clinic on how to win on deep route vs press:— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) January 23, 2022
-Win on the release with the jab step
-Clear the CB with speed and work back to the red line
-Show hand(s) late and finish with some style points https://t.co/MgiJ0z9tqE