One thing I love about watching college football and scouting players for the NFL Draft is getting excited about new players who burst on to the scene out of nowhere, or players  that really grow and come to the fore for their programmes.

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There is one player who has quietly been doing so through the first five weeks of this college football season and for me, right now, he’s the best wide receiver that you’ve never heard of.

This guy is only just starting to get some buzz around the draft community and I’m going to play my small part in further pushing his name the little bit further into the spotlight… And I’m also setting myself up to gain credit in April if and when he gets drafted early or if the big names really jump on him as a top prospect in the pre-draft process.

I’m talking about Isaiah Hodgins.

Hodgins in the star wide receiver for the Oregon State Beavers.

That’s right, Oregon State. Not the Ducks, the Beavers. Not the team with the really cool uniforms, well… actually I quite like Oregon State’s black and orange unis but that’s another article all together.

When I did my preseason Pac-12 preview I had the Beavs down as “the worst team in the Pac-12”. Shame on me,because right now, they’re not, not even close.

However, this isn’t a programme that is a hotbed of NFL talent, it isn’t a programme that historically has won a tonne of games and not since Brandin Cooks has it had a wide receiver that is getting people excited like Hodgins is – And this is exactly why Isaiah Hodgins is the best receiver you’ve never heard of.

So what’s to like?

Let’s start with the numbers; Hodgins is 6’4 and 209lbs. Intriguing size for NFL front office and scouting staff – They’ll love the length and see that he could pack a few pounds of muscle on what is currently a little bit of a slender frame.

I think that is pretty much going to be the train of thought surrounding Hodgins pre-draft; this is going to be someone who is going to probably be a day two pick (at least that’s where I currently rate him), who can be moulded, he can be improved and he has the ceiling to be a WR1 for a team or at least a high end WR2.

Production wise, Hodgins has already got enough talent and tape in the bank to show he’s more than a project at the next level. His receptions, his receiving yards and touchdowns have all grown each year at Oregon State. Last year in his Sophomore season, Hodgins had 11 games (9 starts), 59 catches for 876 yards and 5 scores, up from 31/275/2 from his Freshman year (also 11 games, 6 starts).

This year, through five games, Hodgins already has 43 catches for 632 yards and 9 touchdowns. He’s made that leap, again.

That currently has Hodgins ranked 5th in terms of receiving yards and catches and his 9 scores rank 2nd best in college football at the time of writing.

I love to see that growth from players year on year- it’s something I really look for when evaluating players on the offensive side of the ball.

This is also being done in a team that, as I said before, isn’t usually very good. The Beavers don’t have a star QB, they don’t have a star running back… they don’t have any other real stars. The opponent can game plan their defensive strategy around stopping Isaiah Hodgins and so far this season, no one has been able to do so.

A couple of points for context before I move on to Hodgins as a player and his tape.

So far in the Pac-12, Oregon State have played Stanford and UCLA, which means that Hodgins has lined up against Paulson Adebo of Stanford and had 10 catches for 162 and a TD and Darnay Holmes of UCLA and accumulated 10 catches, 123 yards and 3 TD’s… I don’t think either corner travelled with Hodgins but those are still some gaudy numbers.

OK, you have my attention.

Hodgins 632 yards is 46.3% of the receiving yards that Oregon State have generated this season so far. That’s insane… and like I say, no one can stop him even though it’s common knowledge that he is their offense.

So what am I seeing on tape and getting excited about?

First off the bat, Hodgins has strong hands at the catch point and can use all 6’4 of his frame to create a large catch radius and bring the ball in. Hodgins catches with good hand technique, away from his body and from what I have seen he rarely suffers drops.

This is a great example of Hodgins catching prowess from the Oklahoma State game earlier this season. Hodgins runs a nice route breaking inwards and into traffic. He plucks the ball out of the air at full extension and secures it before being tackled.

12 yards and a first down.

Hodgins, as he showed in the clip above, is a decent route runner, but again, this is an area he could yet grow in. He shows a variety of releases and runs a fairly decent route tree from what I have seen, Hodgins also possesses the ability to throw in a double move to gain separation,which to me, shows he understands the nuances of running routes and how to manipulate defenders and their leverages.

Just look at how pretty this is.

Hodgins sees the cushion that he’s been given in the slot and shows a little inside move, the defender bites and it’s goodnight.

Next, we should note that Hodgins has inside/outside versatility, meaning he can play as an outside receiver or as a slot receiver and both the clips I’ve used illustrate that. However a lot of his routes do come off of a vertical stem, which I believe is to utilise his length when going up to make catches but also to use his speed.

Hodgins isn’t the fastest of receivers, we’re not looking at a Henry Ruggs type here but he’s plenty fast enough, fast enough that defenses have to respect him.

The defender is close by to start off but after a quick hesitation, Hodgins really ate up the space and was on the cornerback’s toes whilst he was backpedaling. QB, Jake Luton threw a nice back shoulder throw and Hodgins adjusted really nicely, showing great body control to bring in another grab.

All in all, there’s a lot of tools to work with for offensive coordinators and receiver coaches. It still remains to be seen whether Hodgins will declare – He’s a Junior right now and could still opt to use his Senior year to further hone his skills, pack on muscle to fill out his frame and work on his long speed a little more. He will likely get to the end of the season and see what the NFL advisory board gives him as a grade. If he receives a “Stay in School” grade (which is a round grade later than the second round) then I believe he should follow the committee’s advice, however, if he keeps performing the way he is doing now, I think there’s a strong chance we will see Isaiah Hodgins in the NFL next year.

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