American Football

A Look At 2024 Draft Prospect WR Ladd McConkey


Syndication: Florida Times-Union
Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

A dynamic playmaker with great character

Ladd McConkey is a fast, quick, elite route runner with great character and the best change of direction ability in this class. He is a smart kid, a National Football Foundation National scholar athlete who studies his opponents to find weaknesses he can exploit. His ability to stop on a dime, then start immediately to lose coverage, is elite.

McConkey runs nuanced routes. He changes speeds and makes razor sharp cuts to gain separation. He has elite speed to run away from defenders once he makes the catch. He had at least one rushing touchdown in all three years he played on 13 attempts (four total touchdowns). He has the vision to find the best route to secure the most yards on each touch. He’s a baby-faced assassin who can run by and around you, juke, and slither his way for a touchdown from anywhere on the field.

McConkey missed the first four games of the 2023 season due to a back problem, which skewed his stats a bit. He was also in a Georgia offense loaded with talent, so he didn’t have the touches you would see from a school with less weapons or a more prolific offense. Georgia was a physical team that relied on a powerful offensive line along with a great running game. 58% of the Georgia touchdowns and 53% of the yards gained were made by a strong rushing attack. Georgia also had a neophyte quarterback who was in his first year of starting. Carson Beck threw for nearly 4,000 yards, but his two leading receivers were his tight end and slot receiver. He wasn’t pushing the ball down the field. He also dropped off 22% of his passes to his running backs.

McConkey runs precise routes so the quarterback will know exactly where he will be, allowing the quarterback to deliver the ball on time with anticipation. He is exceptional on comeback routes as he loses coverage, catches the ball, then avoids a tackle from even the stickiest cornerbacks. He has great speed that he combines with great acceleration to make splash plays.

McConkey’s route tree is varied. He ran at least nine different routes for receptions in 2023. He uses a variety of methods to avoid press coverage including chops, swipes and diamond releases. He can cut at acute angles due to ankle flexion which most defender don’t have. He also has punt return value, with a 13.3 yards per return career average.

McConkey has tremendous character. He was the Wuerffel Trophy winner, honoring the player “who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.” McConkey was also a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy (aka “the Academic Heisman”), and he was named to the AFCA Allstate Good Works Team for his community service work.

Let’s look at some clips from the 2023 season.

In this first clip McConkey runs a basic 17 yard deep dig route into the middle of the field. It shows how he can take a basic route and tweak it with his own personal touch, using some the skills I mentioned earlier. Let’s take this one step at a time.

Florida is playing a shell defense meant to keep one on one battles to a minimum by squeezing the receivers towards the middle of the field where all the congestion is. More defenders in a small area means possible deflections for interceptions, or, if the ball is completed, a bevy of defenders to rally and make the tackle. McConkey’s primary cover man is #3, junior Jason Marshall, who is Florida’s best cover corner. Marshall had 11 passes defended in 2023, more than double the total of any other Florida player.

At the snap McConkey sprints off the line, but at five yards he veers left towards the middle of the field. This brings Marshall, who sprints in that direction. After the next five yards Marshall is now only a couple of yards away and closing on the dig route. McConkey then starts upfield like he is running a sluggo route (slant and go). Marshall thinks he is in trouble, so he redirects his path upfield. Once he does, McConkey then cuts towards the middle of the field wide open, just like he planned.

Marshall redirects again, but he is too deep, as he is four yards behind McConkey as he makes the catch. Once McConkey catches the ball he slams on the breaks, changes direction back from where he came and is wide open again, but this time with the ball in tow. Now he uses that great acceleration, gets up to that sub 4.40 speed in a couple of steps, and races untouched to the end zone. In this one clip McConkey shows how to leverage a route, how to run nuanced routes against certain coverages, how to stop on a dime from a sprint, elite acceleration and elite speed. Not bad for a single route. Most NFL receivers don’t have a skill set with this assortment of talents. You also notice the ball is right on target because that is exactly where McConkey was supposed to be. It’s an easy read for the quarterback.

This next clip is another simple dig route, but this time out of a trips look to the left. His cover man on third down and 11 is #8, who just wants to keep McConkey short of the sticks, then either cause an incompletion or a tackle for a fourth down.

McConkey is covered by Jalen Kimber, who is a redshirt junior, just like Marshall, and was second on the team in passes defended in 2023. McConkey wins here by making sharp cuts at full speed, with a tiny wiggle to stop the feet of Kimber. It’s just for a split second, but it’s enough to get him plenty of separation. Once he has the ball McConkey is off to the races. This was a simple play that normally would have been a 10 yard gain that turned into 54 yards.

This next play is against Mississippi and shows how the defense can be affected by dual threats aligned together. If this was the Jets it would be McConkey and Garrett Wilson. Here it is McConkey set out wide with Brock Bowers in the slot tight to the line. At the snap Bowers runs a crossing route, which takes the safety to that side with him. This leaves McConkey alone against a cornerback playing off coverage aligned on his outside shoulder, which is a recipe for disaster as McConkey runs the seam.

Once the safety vacates the right side of the field, no defensive player is ever between McConkey and the quarterback, Carson Beck. Beck has a direct line of sight with an open throwing window. McConkey takes nothing for granted as he leans outward towards the sideline, which makes the cornerback adjust ever so slightly. This gives McConkey a clear path to the end zone. This is pitch and catch as senior cornerback #6, Zamari Watson, plays behind McConkey the entire play. The safety, John Saunders Jr., who was playing to the left, sees the problem and crosses the field, but is too late to intervene. Saunders is a smart kid who had eight interceptions in three years, but the play developed so quickly he had no chance.

Later in the same game McConkey is up against #7, Deantre Prince, who is as speedy as McConkey and matches him in quickness. This is straight off man coverage that McConkey clears with a great double move, leaving Prince in the dust.

This should have been an easy touchdown, but the pass was late and terribly underthrown. It prevented an easy score, but the gain was substantial, all the way down to the two yard line.

McConkey is versatile, as he can play nearly anywhere as a receiver, but he lined up outside as a boundary receiver 78.7% of the time in 2023 after lining up there 75% of the time in 2022. Yet half of his catches in 2023 came on screen passes or out of the slot position. Playing as a boundary receiver McConkey averaged 21.5 yards a catch in 2023. He has a skill set to play anywhere an offensive coordinator wants him to play, which is special.

This next clip is in a game against Missouri where Georgia trails in the third quarter, so they need a big play. They split McConkey out wide to the right, then have him come in motion, passing the quarterback just before the snap. This play highlights some of the things that make McConkey special.

McConkey is not a big kid, but he is strong for his size, with great contact balance and superior quickness. Here he makes a cornerback miss in the backfield, pulls away, then shows terrific acceleration to immediately turn on the jets. He passes three defenders who take a poor angle as McConkey leaves them behind. This is a 17 yard gain that helped Georgia take the lead shortly thereafter.

This is another play in the same game against Missouri where Georgia needs a big play. McConkey is split out wide right, then Georgia sends their usual slot receiver, #6 Dominic Lovett, in motion, which catches the eye of the safety to McConkey’s side.

The safety drops down to cover Lovett, so the middle is wide open. McConkey comes off the line like a sprinter, which puts the cornerback in peril. All the cornerback can do is give ground to stay on top of McConkey. McConkey gives a quick jab step to the right, then cuts left wide open. The ball is late and thrown high, so McConkey has to slow, then jump to catch it, which allows the cornerback to close in. If this ball is on time and out in front of McConkey he scores easily. Still, it’s a 33 yard gain, which puts Georgia in position to take control of the game.

This next play is a two man game, where Georgia has McConkey outside with Brock Bowers in the slot inside of McConkey. They are playing against a Vanderbilt team that uses a shell coverage, with one player playing an “anchor” position, which is a hybrid linebacker/safety close to the line. Georgia has Bowers run a seam route straight up the field, which takes two defenders with him.

McConkey runs a five yard stop route that is wide open, so the anchor player (#12 Jeffrey Ugochukwu) immediately comes over to cover McConkey. As soon as #12 nears, McConkey takes off on a crossing route, leaving #12 far behind. McConkey then does what he always does. He catches the ball, then accelerates, forcing defenders to take poor tackling angles.

Now let’s see some slot plays, since it would be a major help to the Jets to have a dynamic slot guy. Of course McConkey can play anywhere, but he is a quick, fast, physical receiver who may be a huge mismatch against some of the smaller slot cornerbacks in the NFL.

Here McConkey is playing in the slot, but he is outside the tight end Lawson Luckie, who is split out from his inline position on the line but inside of McConkey. This is in the Orange Bowl, with the two teams who were left just outside of the championship round. This play is indicative of numerous Georgia plays that make defenses make quick decisions.

McConkey is going to hesitate at the snap so he can follow the tight end, making a two man conga line for the first five yards. McConkey allows the tight end to take much of the coverage in the middle of the field away. McConkey is running a quick hitch route underneath the zone coverage, which is nearly picked off due to the quarterback being late with the pass. McConkey could have come back towards the quarterback to take away that threat, but he would have given up his forward momentum, which would have made the play less dynamic. This is a quick pass that McConkey expects to hit him as soon as he turns around. The point of this clip isn’t the route or the catch, it’s what he does after the catch. He is surrounded by defenders who converge on him, yet he is able to weave his way for a 22 yard gain, which is a very positive play for such a simple route concept.

Now let’s see what McConkey can do off script. He has had some nice set up plays where he takes advantage of poor coverage or just out-athletes his opponent. What about pure skill – the ability to make something happen?

We have this last clip, which is also against Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Florida State was one of the best defensive teams in the country in 2023, although 34 total players from that team did sit out the bowl games, so Jared Verse was not on the field for this one. This appears to be an intended slot receiver catch then pass, but the receiver was covered so McConkey had to find an answer quick.

This is just pure talent, vision, speed and desire. This was a 27 yard touchdown run that McConkey probably ran twice that distance, through almost the entire defense, and he was barely touched. Very impressive.

MacConkey averaged a touchdown on every 7.3 touches. His elite skills have been grossly underappreciated. He may never be a #1 option, but he can be a pivotal addition to a wide receiver room that will make it much better overnight.

Currently the Jets have an offense that is directed by a future first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, with a dynamic running back in Breece Hall behind him and Garrett Wilson and Mike Williams as receivers. The current slot receiver is listed as either Xavier Gipson or Malik Taylor. Gipson had 21 scoreless receptions last year with 10.9 yards per reception. Taylor has seven career receptions in three years with two coming as a Jet.

McConkey would make a wonderful addition to the Jets receivers room. He would not have to carry a heavy workload as a rookie, being a second or third option on pass plays, but he still gives you that high athletic ability every play. McConkey also offers versatility. He is not just a slot guy and could play as a boundary receiver if needed.

McConkey is probably not in the conversation as a selection in the first round of the NFL draft. The Jets might trade down several slots, pick up an additional second round pick, take a future offensive tackle who would get a redshirt year as a swing tackle like an Amarius Mims, Tyler Guyton, Olu Fashanu or a Troy Fautanu, then use the second round pick on McConkey. This is just one of many possible draft scenarios.

As the draft approaches more and more smoke will form around possible scenarios. A month ago there were three first round quarterbacks. Now it seems like there could be four quarterbacks in the first 10 to 12 selections. Someone looking for possible help may be calling the Jets about #10. There are at least six teams looking for quarterbacks: the New England Patriots, the Denver Broncos, the Washington Commanders, the Chicago Bears, the Minnesota Vikings and the Las Vegas Raiders. In addition, the New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks could possibly be in the quarterback market.

There are probably only five quarterbacks who a franchise could truthfully tell their fans they would like to build around. If you are a team in need of a quarterback, how do you explain to your fans that you didn’t even try to obtain a possible solution to your problem? If you don’t try, and a Bo Nix or Michael Penix comes in and lights up scoreboard, the fans will not be so forgiving.

This year as the draft approaches, teams will get antsy. Let’s see what happens. It only takes one team to want a guy and #10 in the draft is a lot less expensive than trading into the top three. The Jets should be getting calls. Let’s see if the listen or hang up the phone.

What do you think?

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