Around the midway mark of a bizarre and often testing 2020 College Football (CFB) season, eyes started to shift towards Provo, Utah and the campus of Brigham Young University. The reason, of course, was the on field performance of Cougars quarterback, Zach Wilson.
The hype continued to grow as Wilson tore opposition defenses apart down the stretch, seemingly solidifying himself as a top three pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
But Wilson himself was not the only one to benefit from the extra attention being paid to BYU’s roster, guys like Brady Christensen and Tristen Hoge will also be drafted after creating a solid pocket for their QB to work his magic from.
Then there’s the receiver that accounted for nearly a third of Wilson’s passing yardage during the 2020 season, Dax Milne.
Milne, like his QB, has come from nowhere as a prospect, recording only 21 catches in the 2019 season, for 285 yards and 2 TDs. He barely touched the ball as a freshman either. But in 2020 there’s no question he was one of the best pass catchers in CFB, as he finished fourth in receiving yardage behind fellow draft prospects, DeVonta Smith, Elijah Moore and Jaelon Darden.
A 2-star recruit with offers from Army, Navy and Weber State, Milne opted to enroll with his local University in 2018 after a high school career that saw him star on both the football and basketball teams of Bingham High School. He comes from sporting stock, with his father a draft selection of the Detroit Tigers in 1992 and it’s clear that a work ethic was instilled in Milne at an early age.
The jump from 2-star recruit to draftable talent is obviously considerable, but when you delve into his 2020 tape it’s obvious that the ability is there. Milne’s route running jumps off the tape immediately, in particular he possesses a nice double move which he’s able to sell effortlessly and creates acres of separation in the opposition secondary. The sharpness of his routes showcase a player that has worked at his craft and is self aware when it comes to his strengths and weaknesses, he’s not going to burn defensive backs with pure speed but his ability to break out of routes makes him a threat at all levels.
In pre-draft media appearances, Milne has stated how he enjoys being the underdog and proving people wrong. The stats he put up in 2020 show that he has the ability to back his words, as 70 receptions translated into 1188 yards and 8 TDs. A considerable amount of that yardage came as Wilson and his receiver roommate improvised, with Milne the favoured BYU target as plays broke down or the future NFL QB decided to exit the pocket. That speaks to Milne’s football IQ, finding space easily in zone coverage and creating angles for his QB to find him in traffic.
During the process of the catch the South Jordan native is incredibly controlled, getting his body aligned so he can reel in the football and get his feet down inbounds. He tracks the ball well downfield and there’s plenty of highlight reel grabs with the ball coming over his shoulder. Milne also has incredibly safe hands in 2020 with just 2.3% of catchable passes hitting the floor.
So what’s stopping Milne going on day two of the draft? There’s a few issues which will hold GMs and scouts back. The main concern will be physicality and athleticism, at his pro day Milne ran a 4.51 40’, and logged a 31” vertical – so not bad, but not the type of numbers you’re looking for from your first or second receiving option. That’s backed up by the film, where more physical defensive backs can hold the BYU product up at the line or knock him off course as he reaches the top of his route.
The other issue is Milne’s production with the ball in his hands, for someone with his frame and style of play scouts will have found his yards after the catch rate disappointing. After bringing in the catch it’s fair to say he isn’t the most elusive, his contact balance is pretty average and he has a tendency to go to ground after first contact. Whichever team drafts him won’t particularly mind this if they utilise Milne as a chain mover, but it’ll no doubt be an area designated for improvement throughout his rookie campaign.
With an abundance of receiver talent in this year’s draft it is quite difficult to pin down exactly where Milne is likely to come off the board. In an interview with the BYU media team he said he’d been told anywhere from the fourth round to completely undrafted. The Full 10 Yards Draft Guide has him as a projected fourth rounder, and it feels like anywhere after that has got potential steal all over it.
A host of teams have already met with Cougars’ product according to the Draft Network, and so it seems like Milne’s monster season isn’t going unnoticed. With Wilson having a passer rating of 155.7 when targeting him in 2020, maybe it was a case of the receiver boosting his quarterback’s draft prospects rather than the reverse?
By Andy Moore – @ajmoore21