Over the last three seasons, Tennessee receiver Josh Palmer has been no less than consistent. In those campaigns, he has caught 23, 34, and 33 balls for 484, 457, and 475 yards, respectively. Palmer caught seven touchdowns over the 33 games he played in those seasons, and he was less notable than teammates Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway, two players who didn’t appear in a game during their 2020 rookie seasons in the NFL.
But now Palmer could find himself drafted as high as the second round. Why?
Here’s PFF’s evaluation after they ranked him 10th at his position in the 2021 draft class:
Palmer never caught more than 34 balls or recorded more than 484 yards in a single season at Tennessee, so it’s safe to say that he isn’t a household name. But given the role he played and the quality of quarterback play at Tennessee, it’s tough to blame him. The Volunteers deployed Palmer as a deep threat almost exclusively — his 16.6-yard average depth of target was one of the highest in the country — but they just didn’t have a quarterback who could maximize that ability.
After Palmer put on a show at the Senior Bowl one-on-ones, it’s easy to see some parallels to Terry McLaurin at Ohio State. While Palmer isn’t that level of athlete, he could easily be more productive in the NFL than he was in college.
McLaurin wasn’t a number one receive at Ohio State for his first three seasons there, but did catch 35 passes for 701 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior. “Red flags” like age and production caused McLaurin to fall to the third round but now he’s one of the top receivers in the NFL and he’s done so without a quarterback in Washington.
Should Palmer be compared to Terry McLaurin?
Palmer is 6’1, 210 lbs, with nearly 33” arms. At his pro day, Palmer ran a 4.51 with a 34” vertical and a 10’4 broad jump. It’s harder to care about pro day numbers this year though when so many college pro days have been resulting in receivers who have 4.3 and 4.4 speed. Palmer is nearly identical in his measurements to Michael Gallup. Does that make him the next Michael Gallup?
Or the next (Fred Ross, Shaquelle Evans, B.J. Cunninghams, and the many other players with similar measurements who haven’t or didn’t make it)?
That’s what post-draft is for: to find out if your risks will reward.
But 6’1, 210, 4.51 doesn’t really stand out. Palmer’s old teammate Callaway measured 6’1, 205, ran a 4.55, 38” vertical and had a 10’6 broad jump. He was more productive in college, had a similar/better physical profile, and didn’t get drafted. Palmer is being called the 10th-best receiver in a high-quality receiver class by PFF.
CBS Sports doesn’t have Palmer in their top-20.
WalterFootball has Palmer 20th, but lists that as being good enough to go as high as the third round.
Some site named Athlon Sports doesn’t have Palmer in their top-40.
Mel Kiper didn’t put Palmer in his top-10.
USA Today doesn’t have Palmer in their top-30.
What exactly are we supposed to believe? That Josh Palmer will go undrafted, like no less than Athlon Sports or USA Today would believe. Or that he will go in the second or third round, like PFF or WalterFootball would defend in an argument? To anyone who wants to argue that “This is what happens every year” I will take the opposition, because I’ve been following the draft for 25 years (not as long as some, longer than others) and the lack of agreement on prospects and big boards site-to-site, analyst-to-analyst has never been this dramatic less than a month before the draft.
Josh Palmer is just one example out of many. There are other receivers with evaluations that are all over the place, like UNC’s Dyami Brown, but there’s also the disagreement on who the top-five quarterbacks are and where they should go. There’s people who are watching film right now, seeing a player make one exciting play or having one unforgettable game, or maybe like Zach Wilson, having one extraordinary season and draft campaign follow-up, and they’re saying, “Well, in a year of so much uncertainty, at least I know that I’ve liked watching this player.”
And maybe that’s all it takes right now.
Josh Palmer could be an excellent NFL player or he could be forgotten by the time the draft is over. I certainly can’t tell you that PFF is wrong about Palmer, no more than I can say that Kiper was right to exclude him from his own top-10. I like people going out on limbs for prospects.
The LA Rams have three day two picks and a couple more on day three and I will continue to advocate for them drafting a receiving weapon of some sort. I don’t believe the 2021 draft is necessarily going to be one where the Rams should be focusing on 2021 “needs.” I would also advocate for taking less risk, not more, when selecting prospects. Sort of like banking on Netflix or Apple stock, I would stop short of attempting to find the next GameStop. What are the solid bets?
If the risky ones are going up the board, I believe that’s going to be good news for the Rams later down the line.