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2018 NFL Draft Profile: Wide Receiver D.J. Chark

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The fastest receiver in the draft has one thing going for him: speed.

LSU v Alabama
This picture pretty accurately captures D.J. Chark.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As of right now, the Titans only have four “reliable” receivers on the roster, and when I say “reliable,” I mean that to separate the top 4 (Rishard Matthews, Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, and Tajae Sharpe) from the practice squad (Darius Jennings, Zach Pascal).

General Manager Jon Robinson is likely not finished adding free agents to this team, and there are still a few unsigned veterans with the potential to contribute (like Brice Butler and Jordan Matthews, to name a couple).

Regardless, I’m of the opinion that Robinson will likely add at least one young receiver somewhere in the middle rounds of the draft.

The big trait missing from the Titans’ receiver group right now is breakaway speed. There aren’t any “burners” in this group. There’s no guy that backs corners up before the snap and forces safeties to be aware of their threatening deep speed (although Taywan Taylor has the most potential in that regard).

Enter D.J. Chark: the fastest receiver in the 2018 class.

Player Profile

D.J. Chark, Wide Receiver, LSU, Senior

  • Height: 6-2 7/8
  • Weight: 199
  • Hand: 9 1/4
  • Arm: 32 3/8
  • Bench press: 16 reps

Chark is a true senior prospect but is young for his class (21 years old). He didn’t play as a freshman and didn’t see his first game action until the final game of his sophomore season in the Texas bowl against Texas Tech.

As a junior, Chark started to make an impact as a big-play threat, both rushing and receiving, averaging 17.9 yards per catch and 10.2 yards per carry on 12 carries. His senior season was by far his most productive with 40 catches for 874 yards. He also returned punts as a senior adding 2 punt return touchdowns in addition to 63 rushing yards and one rushing score.

Despite the limited production, you can see from Chark’s spider graph on mockdraftable.com why scouts are excited about him. Chark proved himself at the combine in Indianapolis to be an explosive athlete with good height (just under 6’3”) and a huge wingspan (6’7”). But what really pops out are Chark’s positional-best results in the 40-yard dash (4.34), vertical jump (40”), and broad jump (10’ 9”).

Supporters of Chark’s defend his less-than-ideal statistics with explanations about quarterback struggles and big play ability.

Film Study

D.J. Chark will probably end up as a fairly polarizing player in this wide receiver class full of mid-round talent. There’s no questioning Chark’s elite speed, and that trait will make him desirable to many NFL teams, but there is one huge drawback to Chark as a player...

He can’t catch.

Okay, that may be a little harsh. He can catch, but he’s not remotely close to being a “natural hands catcher,” unlike fellow former LSU Tiger, Odell Beckham, Jr.

But before we dive into the aspects of Chark’s game that will limit his success in the NFL, let’s talk about what he does well.

Note: Chark wore #82 as a junior but switched to #7 for his senior season. Don’t be confused by the number changes in the clips below.

Strengths

Chark has a number of strengths that will make him a tantalizing prospect to many evaluators.

Deep Speed

As already mentioned numerous times, Chark is fast. He simply runs by people. And he’s big, too, for someone with that kind of long speed.

Take this play from the Senior Bowl for example. Chark performs a little stutter-step release at the line of scrimmage before running straight past the defensive back for a long completion. Nice throw by WKU QB Mike White, too. I would’ve liked to see Chark beat press coverage, but this is a fine play nonetheless.

D.J. Chark showing off the jets in the 2018 Reece’s Senior Bowl, running by South Carolina DB JaMarcus King.

Although not a very nuanced route-runner, Chark has the explosive ability to separate at the catch point. In this next snap, watch him pull away from the defensive back just as the ball is arriving and get both feet down in-bounds while securing the catch. Impressive play from Chark here.

Stays in bounds despite the push from behind by the defensive back.

This is an NFL catch (not that anyone can easily explain what an NFL catch is) in the sense that Chark manages to drag his back foot and maintain possession all the way through the ground.

If only Chark could make plays like this more consistently...

Yards After Catch

Chark is able to utilize his elite explosiveness to create yards after the catch. He is truly a big play waiting to happen.

In this next clip, he is simply faster than anyone trying to catch him and manages to take it all the way for an 80-yard touchdown.

Chark shows off his speed again, making a house call on this deep slant.

Even in these big plays, you can see the concerns in terms of Chark being a “body catcher.” On both of these plays, the one above and the one below, Chark allows the ball to come into his body and then secures it in his bread basket instead of aggressively attacking the ball with his hands in a triangle formation.

Chark was rarely pressed at the line of scrimmage due to his threatening deep speed, which allows him to make plays like this next one, where he runs vertically before stopping and turning on a button hook to take advantage of the cornerback’s cushion.

Auburn’s Carlton Davis (#6) will probably be a first- or second-round cornerback.

Although Chark is able to use his body as a shield and make a nice catch-and-run play here, you can tell that his route-running technique is not very refined. I don’t really feel him driving vertically here to sell the “go” route, because he quickly gets very upright. If talented Auburn CB Carlton Davis wasn’t playing so far off the ball from the start, I doubt this would’ve resulted in a completion.

Versatility

Chark’s speed makes him a threat to score on any snap, and with generally poor quarterbacking play often limiting Chark’s effectiveness, LSU had to find other ways to get him the ball.

The very first touch of Chark’s career came against Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl in 2015. It was the only target or carry he received in his first two seasons, coming on a reverse hand-off that he took 79 yards for a touchdown (available here if you want to see it).

This next clip comes from Chark’s junior year. His playmaking ability in space is quite apparent, as he’s able to read his blocks and use his explosive acceleration to find the end zone.

Chark scored two touchdowns against poor Southern Mississippi, a team that simply didn’t have the speed to contain him.

To give Chark more opportunities to use his speed to make game-changing plays, LSU had him return punts his senior year, and again he displayed excellent open-field abilities and the explosive athleticism also exhibited at the combine.

Chark does a nice job of alternating between patiently following his blocks and quickly accelerating through open lanes.

Very similar to Ted Ginn, Jr., Chark will be able to make an impact as a receiver, runner, and returner if given the opportunities at the next level.

“Spectacular Catch”

D.J. Chark is rather puzzling to me, because he is the furthest thing from a “natural” hands catcher I’ve scouted in this class, yet he actually has pretty darn good hands. You saw him secure the catch and get both feet down in one of the clips above.

Check out these next two plays...

In the first, Chark somehow manages to track the ball and corral it with both hands before it makes contact with the turf. This is a remarkable catch.

Incredible hands and concentration by Chark here to keep this ball off the grass.

In the second, he exhibits good spacial and sideline awareness and again has the mindfulness to drag his back foot and ensure that he is in-bounds for an excellent “hands” catch.

Toe-drag swag.

My question is... if he is so good at catching with his hands, why does he insist on being such a hardcore body-catcher?

Blocking

The importance of blocking for a receiver is valued differently amongst evaluators, but it’s never a bad thing when a receiver is a good blocker.

D.J. Chark has a rather slight frame for his height, only 199lbs at nearly 6’3”, but he plays physical in the run game. Just look at him throw his shoulder through a linebacker to free up his running back for a touchdown in this next play.

Chark laying the boom.

He doesn’t always win as a blocker, but it’s encouraging that he tries to block rather than taking run plays off.

Concerns

If you only look at his highlights, you would think Chark is surely one of the top receivers in the draft.

The problem is that he doesn’t consistently play at the level of the above clips.

“Body-Catcher”

I’m sure the first thing you’ll notice in this next play is that it’s another example of Chark making a catch on a comeback/stopping route and turning it into a bigger gain with his explosive speed.

But in the replay, it is easy to see what I mean about Chark being a body-catcher.

Nice move, but catch it with your hands!

He rarely, if ever, attacks the ball while it’s in the air. Instead, he is more than content to let the ball into his chest. Here he is at it again:

Seriously, it looks like he’s fielding a punt.

Rather than being aggressive with that “my ball” mentality, Chark is the complete opposite. Look at this next play against Marlon Humphrey.

Take a quick break from reading and hold out your hands like you’re going to catch a football. Look: are your thumbs facing in, or are they facing out? Now watch D.J. Chark’s thumbs...

Chark does a great job of tracking the ball, but then he puts his arms out and waits. If Marlon Humphrey had gotten his head around (i.e., if Marlon Humphrey had ball skills), this pass would’ve been broken up. Chark sees and tracks the ball very early, but it never cross his mind to use his insane 40” vertical to explode upwards and high-point the ball away from the defender.

I actually think it’s very interesting how impressive Chark’s skill as a ball tracker are despite his not being good at catching with his hands. In each of the above plays, Chark shows the ability to track the ball through traffic and displays excellent concentration to find and secure the catch.

I just wish he would be way more aggressive with his hands.

His natural inclination to use his body prevents him from making plays like this next one.

Doink!

The ball hits Chark right in the hands. But look at the position of his elbows. Rather than utilize his 6’7” wingspan and stretch out his arms, he seems to be trying some kind of blend between proper triangle technique and his instinctual bread basket style.

Bottom Line

D.J. Chark has the physical tools to be a difference-maker in the NFL from day one purely because of his threatening speed.

While his poor ball skills and frequent body-catching limit his NFL ceiling, any team that needs speed could benefit from Chark’s abilities.

Overall though, it’s a lot of potential that I feel will go wasted. His 40” vertical jump could be used as a so-called trump card to catch jump balls over smaller defensive backs (and most larger ones, too), but he doesn’t utilize his explosiveness because he never high-points the football. His long arms aren’t an advantage because he doesn’t use his length.

Thus, his catch radius is minimal. You’d expect a 6’3” player with a huge wingspan and a 40” vertical to be an ideal high-point receiver with a huge catch radius. That is simply not Chark’s game.

His route running is not terrible, though he rarely faced press coverage in the six games I watched. He has a tendency to round off his routes downfield. The separation he creates appears to come from his athletic advantage.

Chark’s a speedster through-and-through, and he just happens to be taller than most other speedsters.

My player comparison for him is Ted Ginn, Jr. I was tempted to compare him to Will Fuller, because Fuller is a little bit taller than Ginn, but Fuller put up big-time numbers in college, whereas Ginn was closer statistically, though still better than Chark, at Ohio State.

Overall, Chark doesn’t have the production you look for in a high draft pick, totaling just 66 catches for 1351 yards and 6 receiving touchdowns to go along with 25 carries for 264 yards and 4 more touchdowns for his entire career at LSU.

For reference, Corey Davis had 97 catches for 1500 yards and 19 touchdowns in his senior season alone.

Thus is the dichotomy of Chark. Even in the plays for which I was criticizing him above, against (future and current) NFL cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Carlton Davis, Chark still made the catches. He makes big plays. He just doesn’t always look pretty doing it.

I’m tempted to say that those types of plays won’t work at the next level against better athletes and more refined cornerbacks, so I worry that Chark will be limited to gadget plays and deep routes.

But Ted Ginn, Jr. is pretty much limited to those types of plays, and he has continued to be a solid contributor for NFL teams throughout his career.

While Chark could potentially add the final missing element of the Titans offense with his deep-threat ability, unfortunately, I don’t think he will be in play for Jon Robinson. It’s not the lack of production, actually, but just the fact that speedsters like him don’t often fall very far in the NFL draft.

For example, Ted Ginn, Jr. was the 9th overall selection. Will Fuller, who many “experts” had pegged as a second-rounder, was picked 21st by Houston. Both of these guys, Ginn and Fuller, are similar to Chark in that they are not natural hands catchers.

Ginn and Fuller especially were more productive than Chark in college, particularly in the touchdown department (including returns, Chark scored 12 career touchdowns compared to 27 for Ginn and 30 for Fuller), but Chark’s big-play ability combined with his poor quarterback and extremely explosive combine results could push him into the back-end of the first round.

Here’s what Lance Zierlein wrote for NFL.com on Chark:

Chark will be coveted by play-action passing attacks looking to win with chunk plays down the field, but he’ll need to improve his ball skills to take advantage of all that speed. Chark could struggle early on against press coverage, but he has the ability to become a solid WR2.

That sounds a lot like the type of player the Titans might be looking for in Matt LaFleur’s offense - a player to match what other teams in the division have in Will Fuller, Marqise Lee and T.Y. Hilton as a legitimate downfield threat. I just don’t know if the price is worth paying for a player with such a limited, although effective, skillset.

Despite their inability to effectively catch the ball with their hands, both Ginn and Fuller have made an impact as big-play threats that can do damage in a variety of ways including on screens, reverses, returns, and (obviously) deep passes.

Chark is next in a line of guys who make big plays with the ball in their hands but lack the skilled hands necessary to consistently get the ball.

What do you guys think - should the Titans do what it takes to select D.J. Chark?