ASHBURN, Va. – The decision was easy: a young Jahan Dotson liked catching the ball much more than he liked push-ups. His cousin was throwing Dotson footballs at a local park, forcing him into diving catches. A dropped ball was equivalent to 10 push-ups.
“I got tired of that real quick,” said Dotson, a Washington Commanders first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. “So catching the ball is something I’ll do.”
Even if that means shooting a pass like a rebound in basketball, or reaching high to catch one with two hands, or reaching far inside for a throw. Everything the rookie receiver showed in training camp and during a stellar college career at Penn State.
That’s why Dotson wasn’t easily impressed watching and discussing some of his varsity highlights this spring at the Washington training facility. Commanders loved Dotson for many reasons, including shrewd running and a mature approach, but some of those takes at Penn State revealed another reason he stood out. He played bigger than his stated height of 5-foot-11.
“I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I do it so often and practice all the time because you never know when it’s going to happen,” Dotson said.
The New Orleans Saints traded with Washington to select receiver Chris Olave at No. 11 overall, and Dotson, at No. 16, was fifth of six wide selected in the first round. Although he is the smallest of the six, his hands (9.5 inches) are larger than two of the receivers selected above him and his 36-inch vertical leap has been matched only by Garrett Wilson (n 10, New York Jets) among first-round receivers at the scouting combine — metrics that help explain why Dotson is playing bigger than his size.
Five plays from his Penn State career help explain why COs are excited about him.
The strong points
Sept. 18 vs. Auburn, first-and-10 Penn State 23: Dotson, lined up inside the numbers on the right, ran a deep cruiser to break free 20 yards down the field. A safety eight yards behind him prepared to grab an interception on a pass that looked too high. Instead, Dotson jumped high and turned to his left for the 22-yard catch.
“The ball was a bit above my head, so I had to do an acrobatic catch and pick it up,” Dotson said. “Interceptions are hard to come by, so knowing that I’m pulling one off the defense and moving the sticks is really cool.”
Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz said, “He catches the football as naturally as anyone I’ve been around.”
Jahan Dotson catches an 8-yard touchdown
October 2 against Indiana, second and goal on the 8: Dotson lined up on the numbers and sold a crossing route, only to end up at the back of the end zone. Another high pass resulted in another twisting hold and a touchdown.
“It’s my attention to detail and my focus,” Dotson said. “When the ball is in the air, I’m completely locked on the ball and nothing else. I have tunnel vision and I feel like I can go down with these plays. I love catching the ball. I keep a football with me anywhere. I ride the Jugs machine as much as possible.”
Dotson has yet to prove himself in the NFL. While Washington felt he was one of the most pro-ready players in the draft, others wondered if the COs picked him too high (ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Dotson 22nd in the draft). overall hopefuls and Scout’s Inc. had him ranked #1. 25).
But, in practice, he showed that the work of his hands paid off.
“He has hands like [former Indianapolis Colts receiver] Reggie Wayne,” said former NFL wide receiver Santana Moss, who provides analysis on the Commanders website. Reggie was catching a BB in the dark, it was as simple as that. That’s how I see Jahan. The things he does are very neat. … I attribute this to his catch radius and his mitts. Look at his hands, it’s like a suction cup. Carson’s over there throwing the ball, but you don’t hear him hit [Dotson’s] mittens.”
Sean Clifford lifts the ball upfield and Jahan Dotson passes three Illinois defenders to carry it.
October 23 against Illinois, first and 10 of the Penn State 22: On a pass down the right side for Dotson, three defenders converged. One of them reached for the ball, but Dotson ran up and stole it. After he and Jartavius Martin landed, they looked at each other and Dotson shook his head.
“He was like, ‘I thought I had that one’ and I was like, ‘No sir,'” Dotson said.
Does he understand how frustrating this situation is for a defender?
“I don’t care to be honest,” he said.
During Washington’s first week of training camp, Dotson caught a contested 40-yard pass over Wentz’s shoulder. That impressed fellow receiver Terry McLaurin, who liked that Dotson maintained the same path on the road. This allowed Wentz to punch him on his outside shoulder. Dotson also didn’t raise his arms until the last minute, preventing the defender from reacting quickly enough.
“I’m still working on that skill a bit as well,” McLaurin said. “You have to use little subtle things like that to keep [defenders] to get their hands on the ball. So it was really good to see a young man.”
Jahan Dotson lands a nice catch and stays inbounds long enough to allow Penn State a touchdown.
Nov. 27 vs. Michigan State, first and 10 of 27 Spartans: As snow blanketed the pitch, Dotson sprinted down the right sideline, making a leaping catch a foot from the boundary. As he catches the ball just inside the 3-yard line, he begins to fall out of bounds, but stretches the ball over the pylon for the score.
“It was the craziest weather game I’ve ever played,” Dotson said. “It’s hard to get a foothold, your hands are frozen and it’s hard to catch the ball. It’s all distractions, you just have to keep the main thing going.”
The key, for Dotson, involves the details and having a plan at the receiver. That’s why veteran Commanders cornerback Kendall Fuller called him “a pro since day one.”
In the spring, Dotson faced Fuller on consecutive days in the same formation and against the same cover. He beat him away on the first day. On the second, Fuller anticipated another outside cut. Dotson knew that, so he burst inside for a wide-open take.
“To get the same look and have a counter, that’s huge,” Fuller said. “It’s a veterinary gesture.”
Jahan Dotson catches an impressive one-handed catch and does magic again on the next play for a Penn State touchdown.
October 31, 2020, first and 10, Ohio State 20-yard line: Dotson was pinned at the line, but the pass went to him at the 10-yard line. As a defensive back, Shaun Wade, leaning back Dotson, reaching high, caught the ball with his outstretched right hand and never tripped as he ran into the end zone.
“The previous game I had a drive out and made a pretty cool catch for about 40 yards,” Dotson said. “I was dead tired and trying to get out of the game to get some water but we were going to hurry. I had a horrible outing and the DB pinned me down on the touchline but I fought at the end and gave my quarterback a chance.”
Dotson has been training with NFL wide receivers this offseason, including Chris Godwin and Jarvis Landry, and close friend KJ Hamler. But he also learned from former teammate and tight end Pat Freiermuth, a 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers second-round pick.
“Pat does a great job of taking people out and playing big,” Dotson said. “Watching him every day and how he maneuvers and attacks the ball in the air… We have the same mindset when the ball is in the air, that it’s ours. People call it 50 -50 bullets, but we think it’s 100 to zero.”
Those who know Dotson nod in agreement.
“In this 2020 season, he’s had a few dips early on, whether it’s in camp or whatever,” said Penn State wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield, a former college wideout. “He just gradually continued to improve to a ‘wow’ factor. ‘Oh, he got that.’ It depends on his competitiveness.”
At Washington’s rookie minicamp in May, receivers coach Drew Terrell pulled him aside and told him he needed to run faster.
“He didn’t look like he was trying or running, but he is. He’s just as fluid,” Terrell said. “He’s not a guy you have to plan a game for – ‘how are we going to get this guy the ball?’ He can go out and produce naturally, that’s what he put on his college tape.