Below is a transcript of James Kuntz’s interview with Jonah Tuls, who is a draft analyst with The Draft Network. This interview also aired in podcast form on the Turn on the Jets podcast.
FJT: Hope you’re doing well. My name is James Kuntz, and I’m a writer for Turn on the Jets. You can find me on twitter at Fuego Jets Takes (spelled fuego (f-u-e-g-o) jets takes. I’m really excited for this interview that we’re about to bring you. In anticipation of the NFL Draft, there’s been a lot of talk about prospects that the Jets could target, so I thought it would be insightful to hear about some of these prospects from NFL Draft experts.Today we’re going to be discussing receiver prospects and I’m extremely excited to be speaking with Jonah Tuls, senior draft analysts at the Draft Network. The Draft Network is one of the most rapidly growing media sites for NFL Draft coverage and College Football Analysis as a lot of you may know. Jonah, alongside his co-worker Jordan Reid, is co-host of the Locked on College Football podcast, which I highly recommend. So, without further ado, I’m pleased to present to you Jonah Tuls.
Jonah, how are you doing?
TULS: Hey dude, what’s up? Thanks for the great introduction. I really appreciate you taking the time to come interview me and talk about the draft process.
FJT: The Jets are widely expected to target receiver in both free agency and the draft. The Jets receiving core is in a massive state of flux. Jamison Crowder is the only Jets top receiver that is signed to a contract for next year. Robby Anderson, who is the Jets best outside receiver, will hit Free Agency this year. He may re-sign with the Jets but not before considering other offers. Quincy Enunwa, the other Jets top receiver, is recovering from an injury and we’re not sure when, or if, he’ll make it back. It’s safe to say, Joe Douglas and the rest of the Jets front office cannot allow the Jets to enter next season with only one legitimate NFL receiver in Jamison Crowder.Looking to the Draft, many analysts and fans expect the Jets to take an Offensive Tackle at 11 overall. However, in the event that none are available, wide receiver will be in consideration. According to your Big Board from January 31, you rank the top receivers as Ceedee Lamb at #1, Jerry Jeudy at #2, and Henry Ruggs at #3. Could you talk a little bit about those three as prospects, specifically Lamb and Jeudy. Is there one prospect that you favor one in particular for the New York Jets?
TULS: I think both are very similar in terms of their physical profiles. Above all other receiver prospects in this class, you look at their route running, their release package from the line of scrimmage, they just look more smooth than any of the WRs that we’re studying in this class. The one thing that really separates Lamb from Jeudy is his ability to win at the catch point in contested situations in traffic. I think both players are very good at working in open space, change of direction skills, route-running. All of the nuances that go into the WR position–both players are equal in that regard. Where Lamb separates himself is in that contested situation, those jump balls, that’s where Lamb takes the number one spot for me. But Jerry Jeudy, I think, is an Amari Cooper clone. He’s not going to win jump balls for you, but he’ll get open at will in man coverage, he’s a man coverage separator. That’s what the NFL wants, the NFL wants guys who can create separation against man coverage because that’s what the corners are today. You look at guys like Stephon Gilmore, Tre’davious White, two of the top corners in the NFL, you have to be able to separate against these guys. That’s why you see big receivers like Dez Bryant die out more. So you need to be able to separate, and Jerry Jeudy definitely can do that, but Ceedee Lamb offers that element of separating at the catch point, not just with his routes in man coverage.
FJT: In the scenario that the Jets go Offensive Tackle at 11, the team will likely look for a WR on Day 2 with one of their 3 picks. The Jets own the 48th pick, which is in the 2nd round, and then two third round picks: the 68th pick at the top of the round and the 79th pick in the middle. Looking at what the Jets might do with the 48th pick, I want to pick your brain about a few receivers they could target in particular. The first one is Jalen Reagor, who I know you talked about recently on the Locked on College football podcast. Could you talk about him and how you see him fitting into offenses at the NFL level?
TULS: I love Jalen Reagor. I think this is a guy that’s going to go a lot higher than people think. I understand that at 48 overall, there’s some possibility now, but once he gets to the combine, he’s going to run 4.27, he’s going to jump 41 inches in the vertical, there’s going to be a lot of hype around Jalen Reagor. People talk about Henry Ruggs as a first round guy. I don’t understand why you talk about Henry Ruggs as a first round guy and have Reagor a round below him. There can’t be a round difference between Henry Ruggs and Jalen Reagor because Reagor has more college production than Ruggs. I know Reagor didn’t have a great year this past season, but his whole career at TCU he’s had elite production in that college conference. And Henry Ruggs–I know he’s playing against SEC guys, but one guy has college production and the other does not. They share the same sort of physical profile and Jalen Reagor is the better player in contested situations. There can’t be a one round difference between the two. Right now I have Ruggs ahead of Reagor slightly, because Ruggs runs a more complete route tree, I think he’s more of an advanced route runner going into the NFl than Reagor is. I think Reagor is more of a deep threat right now more than anything else. I think Reagor can really develop into a #1 WR. I’m not calling him Tyreek Hill, but he can have that kind of impact in the right offense if he’s used correctly. I’ve talked about mocking him to the New Orleans Saints. Imagine him with Michael Thomas in that offense. Michael Thomas dominates the short to intermediate game with Drew Brees. The one thing the Saints offense is lacking is that deep vertical threat. If you put Jalen Reagor there and it opens up the offense for everybody. So Jalen Reagor–I’m not calling him a Tyreek Hill, but he can have that type of impact for a team. He’s that deep threat, that presence, who can really develop as a route runner like Hill did in his early year in Kansas City.FJT: Looking at a guy who has a somewhat similar skillset to Jalen Reagor in Brandon Aiyuk, the Wide Receiver from Arizona State, who also has game-breaking speed, how would you classify him, first of all, in terms of how likely is it that he gets to 48 with the Jets? I know he missed out on the Senior Bowl–that may be something that affects his stock. The other aspect of it is how do you see his role in the NFL?
TULS: My favorite comparison for Brandon Aiyuk since the preseason is Michael Gallup, who plays for the Dallas Cowboys. He’s a great number two option and I think that’s what Aiyuk is going to be at the next level. I don’t think he’s ever going to develop into that true, dominant number one receiver for an offense, but he can be that solid number two option. I think with his speed, his ability to win after the catch–that’s something that’s going to be valued by every offense in the League. To me, that reminds me so much of Michael Gallup. Gallup can win with speed, with a little bit of strength, after the catch, before the catch with his route running. He’s a really complete player. There isn’t one weakness that you can point to that would mean he would fail at the NFL level. I think Aiyuk has the size, the length, the speed, and after the catch value that you want in a vertical WR prospect that’s starting for your team. The one thing you want to see him improve is running more a complete route tree. He didn’t really do that at Arizona State. I think this is a guy that has false steps out of his stance, I think he needs to work on the nuances of his technique at the line of scrimmage, but other than that he has all the traits you would want out of a starting WR at the next level. The thing with Aiyuk is, will he get to 48? I don’t know. I think his talent suggests he should go in the first round. You look at teams like Green Bay at 30, the New Orleans Saints at 24. There are multiple teams that need WR in the first round, but he missed the senior bowl because of his hip injury, and this is something that we need to monitor at the combine during medical rechecks, when we’ll hear a lot more about the severity of that injury going forward. So it depends on what the medical situation is but his talent suggest that he should be a first round pick, but I wouldn’t put it out of the conversation that he can make it to the Jets’ second round pick.
FJT: That’s really interesting. I know Daniel Jeremiah is one guy who’s super high on Aiyuk. In my opinion, I feel like Aiyuk would be a fantastic weapon to add to this offense and would make Sam Darnold’s life a lot easier. Moving to a different category of WR–guys who project as the prototypical X receiver at the NFL level–one guy I want your thoughts on is Denzel Mims. I know that he was the talk of the town at the Senior Bowl. Can you talk a little about where his draft stock is after the Senior Bowl and what type of skill set does he have and how will it translate in the NFL?
TULS: I think Mims entered Mobile as a fringe top-100 guy, and walked out as a Day 2 lock. It was really important for him to go against press coverage in Mobile because it’s not what he did a lot in the Big 12. The only team that played press against him in the Big 12 is TCU and that was his toughest match of the season when he played against Jeff Gladney, so we wanted to see him go against press at the Senior Bowl, which is primarily what they do in the one on ones. This was something he really needed to prove and he showed himself really well and separated. No one could really stick to his hip pocket in man coverage in Mobile. You look at guys like Lamar Jackson and Dane Jackson, who guarded him, and I think Denzel Mims proved a lot of things to evaluators, but two things in particular. One, the press coverage aspect that’s talked about. Two, that he’s a tall receiver who can separate and move as a route runner. Those two things are really important for his draft stock, and if he’s going to run a fast forty yard dash, and I think he’s a former track athlete so it would not surprised me if he’s sub 4.5, he’s not your typical x-receiver in that he’s a big burly guy who can only win at the catch point. He can win in a lot of different ways and he proved that in Mobile. As a result, he’s going to be right in the wheelhouse for the Jets Day 2 pick, and it would not surprise me at all if he can be one of those selections because he’s such a quarterback-friendly receiver. If you throw in his direction, he has the wingspan and catch radius to go get it, and he can win in man coverage as a separator, not just as a contested catch guy.
FJT: How do you see him projecting at the NFL level? What’s the ceiling, what’s the floor?
TULS: I don’t want to throw out a player comparison right now until I have one that I feel is good enough, but I will say he can be a legit starting X-receiver. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a pro-bowl player, but his upside is probably 1,000 yard receiver or 10 touchdowns. He can play the X or the Z. It doesn’t matter. I think you play your best receivers all over the field, regardless of whether they’re an x, or z. I think a lot of people get caught up with X, Z, or slot. Denzel Mims can play any of the three, I believe. With what he’s shown at Mobile against press coverage, at Baylor with his production in the red zone and his ability to win in contested situations, I think you play him all over the field and see what happens. I think his upside is relatively high. This is a guy, like I said, who is a former track athlete, and really fast. He separates against man coverage, he showed that in Mobile, and he can win at the line of scrimmage. And of course, he can win in the red zone, where he probably has the best hands of any receiver in this draft class. This is a guy that has a lot of upside and he’ll get drafted a lot higher than people think. Don’t be surprised if you see him in the top 50 because of all of his traits.
FJT: Before we move on to the later rounds and players the Jets could target there, is there anyone else that comes to mind as a possible target at 48?
TULS: Oh man, there’s a name I want to throw out that not a lot of people are talking about, and that’s Bryan Edwards from South Carolina. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to attend the Senior Bowl because of a late injury but this is a guy that I think is really going to rise up draft board. He really had a lot of good production at South Carolina at a really young age as a freshman. He just gets better with each season and he’s really underrated because he’s a guy, at 6 foot 3, 225lbs, who doesn’t get a lot of publicity despite his production in the SEC. He’s not just your big x-receiver who can’t separate. He’s a guy that’s an underrated route-runner, who can win in open space, and he’s a great player after the catch. His play strength is really advanced for his age, and he’s a guy who can step in right away and play that x role. Unlike Mims, I don’t think he’s going to be a Z or a slot. I don’t think he can play all three spots, but to me, Bryan Edwards is a guy who can step in right away and be a top red-zone threat and run after the catch guy. So don’t be surprised if you see him in that top-50 range because I think he’s going to have a good day at the Combine. I think he’s a good linear athlete, in terms of running sub-4.5, I don’t think 40 inches in the vertical, but I don’t think you’re going to have to worry about his ability to turn as a route runner. But in terms of beating guys deep, winning vertical, getting yards after the catch–this is a guy who’s going to surprise people. I’m not going to throw out names like DK Metcalf, but you look at a guy who can win vertically, after the catch, but won’t go and turn as well, that’s kind of the same mold as Bryan Edwards. There are going to be a lot of people who are surprised by how well he tests at the combine, so don’t be surprised if he’s a name that starts rising up draft boards late in this process.
FJT: I think I’ve seen Bryan Edwards in one or two mock drafts in Jets twitter, but he’s definitely someone to keep our eyes on. I want to look at three guys who are in a similar category of that stereotypical x receiver: Collin Johnson, Michael Pittman, and Antonio Gandy Golden. All three were at the Senior Bowl, and given the fact that the Jets don’t have that role in their receiving core filled–that X receiver–debatably Quincy Enunwa but his injury status is up in the air, how do you see these three guys stacking up?
TULS: It’s really interesting because they’re three very similar players. They all fit that prototypical X role and going into Mobile I would have had it Pittman, Gandy-Golden, Johnson just on the film. I think I left Mobile thinking it was Johnson, Pittman, Gandy-Golden. The one question I had with Johnson going into that event was can he move. He’s a 6 foot 6, 220lb receiver. I wanted to see how he could test guys going vertically, turning laterally, and he did a great job. There wasn’t any corner in Mobile that could consistently stay on his hip pocket and it was really surprising to me to see how fluid he is at that kind of size. His play strength is far superior than a lot of players in this class, especially at this X spot. One of the few concerns you have is that he only has 8.5inch hands, which really surprised me, but this is a guy who still thrives as the catch point, winning contested catch situations, those jump balls in the red zone, and moves better than I thought. So Collin Johnson–it wouldn’t surprise me if he goes somewhere on Day 2. I think a lot of people have him more as a fringe top-100 guy, but he played really well at the Senior Bowl and it would not surprise me at all if he sneaks into that late Day 2 range.
As far as Pittman and Gandy-Golden, I think both are similar, but they have different flaws. Pittman is a guy who needs to get stronger. He’s a guy who–if you watched the Utah game, he thrives at the catch point, with his ability to win vertically, moves really well. When he gets press man coverage will be his biggest hurdle going into the next level because he didn’t face that much in the Pac-12. That’s where he struggled in the Senior Bowl in Mobile in practice. I think Gandy-Golden is to some extent the opposite. He’s a really strong guy, physically advanced for his age, his size/frame all check the boxes. You’ve got a lack of concentration at the catch point, a guy who drops a lot of passes, who doesn’t separate that well, doesn’t move all that well. His 40 time will be really important because Gandy-Golden, to me, is a guy that does a lot of things well in terms of his physical profile, strength, length–much more advanced than a lot of receivers in this class, but the drops are a concern and the speed is a concern. Whereas I don’t think speed is a concern with Johnson and Pittman. I think Johnson and Pittman are both good linear athletes. I think both will run between the 4.48 and 4.53 range, while I think Gandy-Golden will be closer to 4.6. If I had to rank them right now, I’d probably go Johnson, Pittman, then Gandy-Golden.
FJT: I know that Pittman has the USC connection with him and Darnold. Obviously, no one knows if that will factor into Joe Douglas’ decision, but he’s definitely a guy that the Jets could target. Looking at Johnson and Pittman, are there any guys who are currently in the NFL whose playing style remind you of Pittman or Johnson.
TULS: You just look at the big receivers who have played. One of the few names that comes to mind for Michael Pittman Jr. is Marvin Jones, a bigger receiver who moves well. I don’t think Pittman Jr. will be that guy right away, but if he gets stronger–again Pittman is a guy who’s 6 foot 5, 220 lbs–but I think he needs to play stronger, getting off with a clean release. Marvin Jones has done a great job advancing his game in that regard, so I think that’s what you hope for with a guy like Pittman Jr. With Collin Johnson it’s hard to imagine another player in his mold because you don’t see guys at 6 foot 6 at WR anymore. The WR mold is 6 foot, 200lb separator who can win at man coverage. If you look at the corners today, it’s kind of—I know in 2012, 2013 it shifted towards the long corners to deal with the Dez Bryants and Brandon Marshalls, with guys like Richard Sherman, Xavier Rhodes, Jimmy Smith. Now the league is shifting to the Stephon Gilmore/Tre’davious White corner, that’s 6 foot/5’11” to deal with guys like Amari cooper, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry–all those guys who are a little shorter and can win against man coverage. It’s all about trends and I think Collin Johnson might be five years later in terms of meeting that trend of the big receiver, but there’s going to be a role for him. Whether that’s at the X spot or as a big slot/move tight end, this is a guy that can thrive in the right offense. To me, I’d take Collin Johnson over Pittman Jr. right now because I think he’s more NFL ready, but I think both players have a high upside.
FJT: Okay, last question. Is there any guy that fans might not know about who can be a late round target? Someone with a high floor or even a high ceiling who you like later in the Draft.
TULS: There’s a name that you guys need to get very familiar with. His name is Donovan Peoples-Jones. The reason why I say this is because he’s not getting any hype right now because he didn’t produce a lot at Michigan. He didn’t get much help from his quarterback play, but this is a guy who’s a freak athlete. He’s going to run sub-4.4 and jump probably the highest of any player at the combine. He may jump 44 inches. He’s a guy who’s a freak athlete. He jumped 42 inches in high school so this is a guy who can really move, is really explosive. The thing with him is that it’s all kind of unknown because the quarterback play at Michigan was so subpar that his traits weren’t able to be accentuated towards the level his athleticism is. His production doesn’t match his athleticism because he’s been held back in that offense, but if he’s put in the right situation and given the opportunity, he can be one of the steals of this draft. He has all the production and traits you look for in a first round guy. In terms of just the physical profile, he’s just as good as any receiver in this draft. You look at his size, speed, athleticism–but the one question you have is the production. A lot of people don’t know–his route-tree at Michigan was literally just a slant, a go, and a screen, so a lot of people don’t know what he can do route-running wise. You wonder: how’s he going to look at those route running drills at the Combine running the full route tree, and how is he going to test. If those two things check the boxes, he could really rise into that late first round, early second round range for the Jets pick.
FJT: I think he’s a guy who’s been largely overlooked, especially by Jets fans. I don’t see him in very many mock drafts at all. He’ll definitely be someone to keep our eyes on. Jonah, I just want to thank you so much for coming on here. If anyone is interested in following your work, where can they find you?