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Jalen McMillan draft profile

Three Kings

Keenan Allen was a tremendous WR in college at Cal, definite 1st round talent. His final season in college, he injured his knee. Not fully recovered, he ran very slow at his Pro Day. Concerns about his durability, speed and his football character caused him to tumble all the way into the 3rd round of the 2013 draft. This was the same draft where the Rams traded up in the 1st round to get Tavon Austin with the 8th overall selection, giving up 2nd, 3rd and 7th round picks. Allen was taken only 2 slots ahead of the 3rd rd pick that the Rams surrendered in the Austin trade up.

Recouping picks they lost in the Austin trade, the Rams traded down from their other 1st round pick (from the RGIII trade), gaining a 3rd and a 6th round pick. They used the 3rd rounder on Stedman Bailey. By trading down, they missed out on DeAndre Hopkins. If the Rams had followed a different strategy in the 2013 draft, he still could have gotten 2 WRs, but instead of Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, those 2 WRs could have been DeAndre Hopkins and Keenan Allen.

Jalen McMillan is a WR from Washington. On most boards, he's treated as a fallback option from Ricky Pearsall. On the consensus board, Pearsall is 67th overall and McMillan is 91st. I understand this ranking from a logical standpoint, because Pearsall and McMillan have many very similar qualities in terms of size, speed, strength and playstyle. Not everything in the NFL draft is logical. To my eye, there is something different about McMillan, something special. I think he could be one of the biggest sleepers in this draft class and is very underrated.

To be fair, this isn't necessarily going out on a limb. McMillan was a highly touted high school recruit who was projected to be a future 1st round NFL draft pick, with Keenan Allen as his pro comp. A long list of powerhouse schools, including Alabama, Georgia, Oregon, USC, Oklahoma and Notre Dame all were pursuing him. In September of 2022, before McMillan had truly broken out, Ian Cummings for PFN declared him to be the top draft sleeper for the 2023 draft and said that he might be the most complete of the 3 Washington WRs, ahead of both Rome Odunze and Ja'Lynn Polk. In the summer of 2023, Sam Teets mocked McMillan as a 2nd round pick. In September of 2023, Brian Bosarge for Draftcountdown had him as the 28th overall selection, a 1st round pick. So, it isn't like McMillan is an anonymous nobody, his talent has always been there and experts saw his NFL potential. If he was such a good WR, why isn't he still a late 1st to 2nd round prospect?

McMillan injured his knee during the 2023 season, creating an "out of sight, out of mind" effect. While Odunze and Polk are high on draft boards, McMillan became a forgotten man and slipped down the board. Why did this happen? He didn't suddenly forget how to play WR. He just got injured.

WR is the strongest position group in this year's draft. I've always been an advocate of BPA over need and this year's draft could put that philosophy to the test. If the draft fell a certain way, I'd have no issue with the Rams using all 3 of their first three picks on WRs. Let's go through some reasons to justify such an unconventional drafting strategy:

1. The Rams need 3 "starting WRs", because that's McVay's preferred base grouping. Would you stop drafting OL after you had 3 starters? There are 5 starting OL. Why would you be satisfied with only 2 starting WR?

2. If we think that Cooper Kupp's career might be winding down and could be traded or become a salary cap casualty in 2025 or 2026, who would be our 3 starting WRs at that point? Puka Nacua and....who?

3. If you only had 2 good receiving targets, what often happens is the defense tries to double team those guys and you are forced to throw to the 3rd option. If the 3rd WR isn't any good, you are in trouble. This is what happened to the Patriots in 2009 against good defenses. The opponent could clamp down on Randy Moss and Wes Welker and Tom Brady struggled. Welker injured his knee in the final game of the regular season and when that happened the Pats and Brady were toast. In the Wild Card game vs the Ravens, Brady only had 154 passing yards, 3 INTs, a fumble and was booed by the home Pats fans. Joe Flacco was injured and could hardly do anything, only 34 passing yards, yet the Ravens crushed the Pats 33-14. If you have 3 WRs, what are you going to do if one of them gets injured, like Welker in 2009? This was a key reason the Rams didn't win the Super Bowl in the 2018 season. We had 3 very good WRs with Cooper Kupp, Cooks and Robert Woods, but once Kupp got hurt our offense didn't work properly. Josh Reynolds wasn't good enough to pick up the slack.

4. The odds make it unlikely that all 3 of the WRs you draft will pan out and be great. If it were so easy to get a WR, Van Jefferson would be one of our starters. At least one of them could be a bust. Maybe they will all be good, but one of them will suffer an injury and his promising career will be derailed. In a best-case scenario where they all hit and we ended up with 4 Pro Bowl level WRs, is that really such a bad problem? We could probably trade one of those guys for at least a 1st round pick. When the Packers drafted Jordy Nelson in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft, he was their 4th or 5th string WR. Jordy Nelson didn't start at least 10 games in a season until the 5th season of his NFL career. Did that make him a bad draft pick?

5. It is important to have overlapping skills to cover every game situation. Some WRs are good in the red zone and on 3rd downs, some are deep vertical threats, some are good in the slot, others are good outside, some win vs press, others are better vs zone, some are good vs big and physical CBs, others are good vs fast and quick CBs. This is why I felt that Kupp, Woods and Cooks were such a great trio, they had a mix of different skills that complemented each other.

6. WR is a premium position. If the Rams got to the 3rd round, already had taken 2 WRs, and there was another WR still on the board with a top-50 overall grade, why would you pass on that guy to take a player at a less important position (say ILB, G or S) who you have ranked as a 4th to 5th round prospect? How does that make any sense? Do you normally trade a 2nd round pick straight-up for a 5th round pick? A 5th round S normally would be a backup. We're trading a starting WR for a backup S? Really? That's basically what we'd be doing by making that draft choice. That's a horrible way to build out your team's roster. Never turn down a valuable commodity to get something that is much easier to acquire. It isn't difficult to get a backup S with a cheap free agent signing, an UDFA, a waiver claim, poaching a PS player or the like. QB, WR, CB, EDGE, OT, if you see a prospect at any of those positions that you think will be a good starter in the NFL, don't pass on them, just keep drafting them until all those guys are off the board.

The reason I've spent so much time discussing this hypothetical scenario is because the Rams potentially could face this exact dilemma. In my opinion, Jalen McMillan is ranked too low on all the draft boards, which is what creates the potential for a fierce BPA vs needs draft debate.

Background

Name: Jalen McMillan. Turns 23 years old in December of 2024. 4th year redshirt junior.

School: Washington

Size: Listed 6'1'' tall, 192 pounds. NFLDB est 4.38 sec (40 time), per Ian Cummings ran 4.53 seconds in 40 in HS. Was listed at 185 in 2020, 180 in 2021 and 186 pounds in 2022. NFLDraftLounge lists him at 6' 5/8'' tall, 186 pounds and an estimated 4.45 sec (40 time). ESPN's HS recruiting page had him at 6'1'', 172 pounds with a 4.53 second 40 time.

4-star recruit from Fresno, CA. Had offers to play baseball in college. Sprinter in track, 10.67 second personal best in the 100 meters.

Knee injury early in 2023 season, missed most of the middle of the season. WR made catch and as he was landing on his back, the CB landed on WR's left knee, bending his leg sideways at an awkward angle.

Team had more of a run-oriented scheme in 2021, then changed coaching staffs and became a wide-open pass-oriented offense in 2022.

2021 (11 games) 39-470-3

2022 (13 games) 79-1,098-9

2023: (11 games) 45-559-5

9 career punt returns for 83 yards. 1 career fumble (in 2023)

Tough minded, dedicated, determined, level-headed, cares about football, has chip on shoulder, works at his craft, professional in interviews.

NFLMDD consensus board 88th (3rd rd)

PFF 78th (3rd rd)

NFLDB 80th (3rd rd)

PFN simulator 77th (3rd rd)

PFN (Owain Jones) mock draft 85th (3rd rd)

Sam Teets (October 2023) Had hand injury in 2021. Savvy, detailed route runner with terrific footwork, high points ball, willing blocker. Had 7 dropped passes in 2022, disappointing burst off line at times, lacks speed to separate vertically, limited threat to off-coverage, bumped off routes by minimal contact, poor vs press, limited wiggle to shake man coverage, struggles to catch in crowd, not dynamic with ball, poor blocking strength. Middle to late 4th round grade. On Teets's draft board, 93rd overall in the late 3rd to 4th round tier.

Ian Cummings: Speed to threaten vertically and manipulate cushions. Agile and fluid after catch. Natural hands catcher. Secures tough catches through contact. Tough WR over middle. Beats jams with swipes. Tracks ball deep. Controls contested balls, keeps feet inbounds at boundary. Average play strength, not elite burst, focus drops on low passes or extending outside of frame, goes down on 1st contact. Mid-to-late Day 2 prospect.

Shane Hallam 90th (3rd rd)

Fanspeak boards: Shoup 100th, Broncos 98, Packers 140th (5th rd), Chiefs 107th, Bills 93rd

Strengths

Over his career, McMillan has a catch rate of 67.9% when targeted. Marvin Harrison Jr. is commonly listed as the best prospect in the 2024 draft. MHJ's career catch rate is 62.5%. This isn't because McMillan catches a bunch of smoke screens. In UW's offense, his catches come on legit, pro-style plays.

A potential illustration of McMillan's value can be seen by looking at the 2023 stats for the QB, Michael Penix Jr. In the games where McMillan was out or hardly played (he appeared to aggravate his injury in the 1st qtr of a game and I don't think he returned at any point in that game) Penix only had a completion percentage of 58%. In the 2023 games when McMillan was playing, Penix had a completion rate of 69.8%, almost 12 percentage points higher. I don't feel that this is purely a coincidence. Jalen McMillan was essentially the "Cooper Kupp" of Washington's offense.

Mostly in the slot, sometimes in a tight split. Was useful releasing into routes from RB position. His ability to run short routes better than any RB made him difficult to cover coming out of the backfield.

Sufficient burst off the LOS and route tempo. Quick feet like driving pistons.

Elite body control, concentration and hand-eye coordination. Jumping mid-air, knows how to adjust his body and get his feet down in-bounds near the sideline. His background in baseball isn't just trivia, he has tremendous hand-eye coordination. I wonder if he could have become a professional baseball player if he had chosen that sport.

Great hands. Frames the ball perfectly when he catches. It is amazing, the ball doesn't move, no double-catches, not crooked in his hand, catches the front part of the ball and it doesn't slip through his hands to grab the middle or back of the ball, doesn't bounce off his hand, it is like his hands meet the football at precisely the correct spot and time and the ball is immediately glued to his hands. Natural hands catcher. I didn't see a single body-catch. He might pull it in immediately to protect the ball if he's getting hit in the air immediately after the catch, but he never traps the ball, he has excellent ability to track the flight of the ball, adjust to it and get his body in position to catch with his hands. Great leaping catch, elevating over a CB, then held onto the ball through hit by S while still in mid-air, immediately after the catch. Fearless, with good concentration on the ball. High points the ball.

I didn't see any true drops in the games I watched. Per Sam Teets, he had drops in 2022. The instances where he didn't catch the ball in the games I reviewed fell into the following categories: (1) He's relatively short and doesn't have long arms, so he doesn't have a huge catch radius. He can't get to some throws that are too high or too wide and rescue them; (2) Related to the 1st point, Michael Penix Jr. didn't throw the ball accurately, he missed passes. IMO, those aren't drops by the WR, they are the fault of the QB; (3) He couldn't catch one pass in the end zone, because the CB was holding his arm down, should have been pass interference and wasn't called; (4) He is slender with limited length and not a big body, so what happened multiple times is the WR catches the ball in his hands, but the CB rakes through and knocked the ball out of WR's hands before he could complete the catch. I consider those "losses" vs contested catches, because a good WR with more size could win those reps, but I don't count them as "drops" since the WR would have made the catch if the CB hadn't intervened.

Displays vision to gain yards after the catch, can spin and weave past defenders.

He's a classic "New England Patriots" slot receiver. Would have been a perfect fit to play the Welker, Danny Amendola or Edelman role for Tom Brady. Smooth routes. Very crafty, sneaky route runner. Deceives the CB with subtle turns. Super slippery and constantly in motion. Quality jerk routes. Freezes defenders, sometimes they lose balance and fall down. He'll be an option route master in the NFL, CBs have no chance against him. Freezes LBs and can cut both inside and outside, leaving them in the dust. Red zone, beautiful sell of outside release vs bracket coverage then slips inside on slant to beat the defenders for TD. Subtle nod at top of route to sell corner route, then catches TD on deep post route. Tricky tempo changes in the stem. Wiggle in hips disorients the CB. Sells vertical route on inside release with wiggle of hips and tempo change, then breaks inside on intermediate square-in with nice leverage. Sinks hips to snap off routes. Easily makes 90-degree turns on routes. Subtle nod and go move. Head-and-shoulder shake in stem causes defenders to look like incompetent fools.

Very QB-friendly WR. Short 3rd down, intelligently turns his body so that as he rubs for RB it isn't a potential penalty, plus immediate turn so that he's catch ready and slides into passing window to present QB with nice target on spot route. Works back up the stem on comebacks. Very precise in the details so that QB knows exactly where to throw the ball and can rely on the WR to be at a very specific spot on the field. Sits in zone voids, slows down in the passing window. On WR middle screen, good deception to sell other route, then fluid pivot, love the attention to detail in execution. Works to uncover for the QB, swims, COD, doesn't quit or stop on the route. High football IQ player.

Outstanding understanding of how to craft the angle of vertical routes. From slot, the CB playing inside leverage, WR manipulates the CB off the line, then sticks foot in the ground and bursts upfield and cuts behind the CB, winning leverage on the route, wide open for a 48-yard TD, but Penix messes it up with a bad throw. [Amazingly, on the very next play a different WR is open on another deep bomb and again Penix misses it with a terrible throw. That was wild. How many times have you seen a QB miss 50-yard TDs on back-to-back snaps?]

Obvious that he was the designated "3rd down WR" on his team. The most trusted WR to win on his route, get open and reliably make the catch to pick up the 1st down, and over and over he delivered. He owns 3rd downs, that is when he really shines.

Clutch player. Critical 3rd down late in 4th quarter of conference title game, clinging to 3-point lead, crafty fake where he makes it look like a curl to the inside but then turns outside for speed out, converts the 1st down, game over. Critical play late in 4th quarter, trying to get into position for winning FG, WR initially not open, but then very intelligent COD to uncover and is super wide-open, but Penix throws the ball out of bounds.

Good ball security, tucks the ball to his chest. Only 1 career fumble. Has 2 hands on the ball in traffic.

Outstanding hustle and effort as a blocker, gets to great blocking angles, good understanding of the angle on wide plays, corrects his angle when his assignment changes, excellent effort. Good technique, uses his hands to engage, moves his feet to try to sustain, takes his blocking duties seriously and is conscientious with the details. Didn't whiff or blow his assignment on any rep in the games I watched. Granted, he "lost" almost every time, the defender would toss him aside and disengage, but like Roman Wilson, WR initially was there and momentarily blocked the defender, at least he got in the way. Good effort blocking downfield for other WRs. If he's running off the CB, makes it look like an actual route.

Might not be strong, but he's not soft or scared, he can be aggressive and feisty as a blocker. Violent club move vs CB. Powerful shoulder charge knocking CB off balance. WR is blocking away from the POA, downfield from the LOS. Many WRs I've watched would take this play off, get lazy and relax. Not McMillan. He accelerates with 2-step burst, then throws a heavy 2-handed punch into the CB's chest. If I were the CB, I'd be like "Oh, so that's how it's going to be today. Okay, go tell your QB to call another run play. I've got something for you next time, tough guy."

Should have had far more receiving yards on his stats, but Michael Penix Jr. blew it with some terrible throws when WR was super wide-open and had very long TD opportunities. CB loses balance and falls down, so WR is 100% uncovered, no defender on him, potential 65-yard TD and QB misses the throw. 1st-down play, WR destroys the LB with release move, wide-open in the middle of the field, QB targets Rome Odunze and wildly throws the ball out-of-bounds, not even close to Odunze.

The Rams repeatedly tried to put in waiver claims on Kyu Blu Kelly, a Stanford CB who was a 5th round pick in 2023 and is on his 4th NFL team. Apparently, Snead and Rams think that guy has potential. In 2022, McMillan made Kelly look like lunchmeat, humiliated him, the CB had no chance whatsoever covering the WR. Spun CB 360 degrees, leaning way outside the wrong way, then WR goes vertically upfield, dragging 2 different CBs with him, opening up big space for Rome Odunze to make a catch. WR destroys Kelly, wide open for 87-yard TD but Penix ruins the play with a terrible throw. If Kelly is a "typical 5th rd CB" then it seems to me that McMillan can't possibly be a 4th rd WR. McMillan would eat those guys alive in an NFL game, WR might have 250 receiving yards by the end of the game. You cannot put a random CB on McMillan. He will completely destroy lower tier CBs. If I were the OC or QB, we'd just keep going to McMillan over and over until the defense did something to stop it. They'd have to double team him or roll the coverage his way, otherwise every single play, every drive, keep feeding him, keep going back to that well.

Got a running TD as a Wildcat QB.

Weaknesses

Was on a team stacked with talent. Washington had good players at QB, OL, RB, TE, several good WRs, a video game type offense that inflated statistics. Opponents couldn't focus on just one WR, there were so many weapons, UW steamrolled opponents, piling on big plays and huge yardage. Spread offense has some very wide WR splits, giving the WRs large open spaces to operate.

Had 9.3 yards per target in 2022. The other 2 seasons, he only had 8.4 yards per target.

Quicker than fast. No explosive burst or threatening long speed. Not enough burst to stress the DB in off-coverage and drive them backwards to open up more underneath space. Doesn't have elite burst off LOS.

Not sudden or explosive out of breaks to create separation. Cannot separate from the CB using pure speed. Not an elite deep ball threat to stretch the defense downfield.

Poor running power. Lacks size and bulk. Easy to tackle. Took easy way out and stepped out of bounds on jet sweep, not seeking out contact and trying to run upfield. He's not Malachi Corley, you don't dump the ball off to him and expect him to break it for 50 yards after the catch. McMillan is primarily a possession WR you target on intermediate and short throws, he's not a big play type WR.

UW calls a trick play, resulting in McMillan catching a screen pass with 6 blockers (the entire OL) in front of him to block and only 2 defenders. Looks like a huge play developing, maybe a long TD. Instead of accelerating and bursting downfield with speed, WR hesitates, tries to pick his way forward and the pursuit from behind catches him, tackling him 3 yards short of the first down marker. Seriously? You have 6 blockers vs 2 defenders and you can't make that work? Deebo Samuel could turn around, run backwards and would have gotten 20 yards on that play. Come on, man.

Not tall, doesn't present QB with a big target. Average effective catch radius. Doesn't appear to have big hands or strong forearms. Won't win many jump balls or back-shoulder fades vs bigger DBs. Can't box-out the CB with his body and protect the catch point from challenges. Christian Gonzalez, the 1st round CB for the Pats in 2023, nearly jumped up in air and wrestled an INT away from him in 2022.

He tries to block but is below average in blocking effectiveness. Very easy to shed. Too small, weak and slender. Gets overpowered at POA. Can't sustain blocks.

Durability questions due to slender build and small size.

Draft Grade and Pro Comp

2nd round grade. (Amon-Ra St. Brown, 4th round 2021, Detroit Lions, USC)

St. Brown was 1st team All-Pro and a 2nd time Pro Bowler in 2023 after a stellar season with 119-1,515-10. In 3 NFL seasons, he already has 3,588 receiving yards. He was 5'11 1/2'' tall, 197 pounds with 30 3/8'' arms. At his Pro Day, he ran a 4.61 second 40 with a 1.63 second 10-yard split. That split time would have been the slowest among any of the WRs at the 2023 NFL Combine. Puka Nacua was projected to be a 6th round pick (he was the very last pick in the 5th round) after running 4.57 seconds in the 40. Puka ran faster than St. Brown in the 40 and had a 1.62 second split, almost identical to St. Brown's split. St. Brown was both small and slow.

Lance Zierlein had a 2nd to 3rd round grade on St. Brown, with an "eventual average starter" grade, Keelan Cole as the pro comp. LZ said that St. Brown was unlikely to separate vertically, had concerning focus drops, and was a woeful run blocker. Lacked play strength, was bothered by press, very average foot quickness and long speed, below separation burst out of breaks, drifts into route turns, no 2nd gear. He liked St. Brown's smooth body control, deep ball tracking, and calmness catching with the S bearing down on him.

If I could have any of the UW receivers on my team, Odunze, Polk or McMillan, the guy I'd choose would be Jalen McMillan. I get it, the outside packaging isn't impressive. McMillan is small, he's not fast, he doesn't "look the part" of a standout NFL WR, he looks like a WR3 or WR4. At first blush you might ask, what is the difference between McMillan and Charlie Jones, a late 4th rd pick in 2023 who was just a punt returner as a rookie?

The reason I like McMillan so much isn't complicated. He gets open. He catches the ball. Isn't that what WRs are supposed to do? It isn't rocket science. If other NFL teams want to draft all these really tall WRs and fast WRs who drop passes and don't know how to run routes well, go ahead. Those types of players will win the Combine; McMillan is the WR who will win you games.

McMillan might run an unexpectedly slow 40. If that happened, it could drop him even lower than where Amon-Ra St. Brown was drafted in 2021. Should things unfold that way, don't fall for the trap. Jalen McMillan could end up being one of the very best players to emerge from the 2024 NFL draft. If I were in Snead's shoes and already drafted 2 other WRs for the Rams and McMillan were still on the board in the 3rd round, am I passing on him? NO WAY! The 2024 draft is a WR all-you-can-eat buffet. Get as many as you can while they last. McMillan isn't a side of mashed potatoes, he's prime rib.