By: Ryan Roberts | @RiseNDraft
Ryan Roberts sat down with University of South Alabama Jaguar wide receiver and 2021 NFL Draft prospect Jalen Tolbert for an exclusive interview.
Finishing his season amongst the elite wide receivers in all of college football, including receiving yardage (1,085), receptions (64) and touchdowns (eight), South Alabama redshirt junior Jalen Tolbert is among the biggest breakout stars we have seen in this haphazard 2020 campaign.
Blessed with next-level size and athleticism, you will not find many more talented wide receivers on the Group of Five level, or any level for that matter. Growing up a multi-sport star at McGill-Toolen High School in Mobile, Alabama, the opportunity to play both sports that he loved once drove the college decision for Tolbert heavily. There was one Big Ten team specifically that piqued his interest before he ultimately ended up a part of the Jaguars team.
“I was interested in Michigan State but South Alabama offered me the chance to play football and baseball for the school, Tolbert told NFL Draft Bible.”
Playing a sport on the Division I level is hard enough. Playing two? That is a whole new list of challenges, especially while also making the difficult transition in the classroom.
After an injury put his baseball career on hold, Tolbert decided to put baseball on the back burner during the Spring of 2019, a decision that would pay huge dividends in his football development.
“After I stopped playing baseball, my body started to fill out and my body started getting the rest time it needed.”
A difficult decision for Tolbert, his love for football, ultimately won out over the opportunity to continue playing baseball. When hearing about his background, it’s easy to see how close football has been for him. He has seen some of the best first hand, while coming from a football family.
“I’ve been following Julio Jones closely since high school. My dad coached at Williamson against him while he was at Foley High School.”
Since that early introduction into Julio’s game, Tolbert has done his best imitation of his game through his ascension to one of the premier pass catchers on the Division I level.
As a redshirt sophomore in 2019, Tolbert began to show the signs of his upside, posting 521 yards and six touchdowns on 27 receptions, averaging nearly 20 yards per catch.
Last season served as a stepping stone for Tolbert but 2020 would pave the way for a star to be born.
Heading into Week 14 of the college football season, being inside the top five of most major receiving categories doesn’t quite put into perspective how special Tolbert is as an athlete. Now in his fourth year on campus, this redshirt junior is going to have a big decision on the horizon.
The NFL is firmly in the future for Tolbert and it’s something that he has seen first-hand for many players over the years.
“Being from Mobile, I go to the Senior Bowl every year,” he recalled. “I’ve watched a lot of great players, such as Gerald Everett, Dexter McCluster and Jalen Hurts.”
With a year of eligibility left, the question on whether Tolbert will ultimately make the jump will soon be on the table. The talented wide receiver has taken advantage of every opportunity that 2020 has thrown at him. Will the 2021 NFL Draft be his official entrance to professional football?
That question will be answered soon… or at least by the January 18th deadline theoretically. In the meantime, Tolbert is soaking in all of his success. As for when that dream becomes reality, the talented six-foot-three pass-catcher understands the magnitude of the blessing.
“It would be a surreal chance and a life changing opportunity.”
FROM A SCOUT’S EYE
Highlighted by a bunch of contested catches, which have already graced the SportsCenter Top 10 Plays, there’s much more to Tolbert’s game than his ability to levitate to outstanding heights. This is not your typical possession receiver who offers little after the catch.
No, Tolbert is a dynamic athlete who is a tough player to counteract in the open field.
Slippery is not a term you usually see associated with such a long pass-catcher but Tolbert has an uncanny ability to create additional real estate after the catch. Long-limbed and explosive, he’s able to capitalize on space, showing speed to eliminate angles from opposing defenders.
Fluidity and body control are the name of the game for Tolbert.
You often hear the stories of multi-sport stars using their background to assist on the football field. Basketball is usually the natural one, especially for pass catchers. In Tolbert’s case, baseball attributed big time to one of his biggest skills as a wide receiver.
“For baseball, I played outfield. It’s all about tracking the ball in the air.”
Many associate success as a vertical threat to fully depend on straight-line speed. The Allen Robinson and Mike Evan type of wideouts have proven that thought process to be flawed. Size, body control and explosiveness can supplement any speed deficiencies to experience success in that area. In Tolbert’s case, he is the best of all worlds.
There are players who are never truly covered. No matter how good the coverage, how well-positioned in phase, Tolbert always has the ability to win with his combination of length and leaping ability.
An innate ability for some, Tolbert again taps into his sports career to help as a contested-catch monster. In his spare time, outside of dominating on the gridiron and baseball diamond, he was indeed also a notable basketball player on the high school level at McGill-Toolen.
“Each sport has its own positives,” he said. “In basketball, you have to be explosive, jumping obviously, physicality at the catch point.”
It should come as no surprise that Tolbert has enjoyed great success at the catch point, considering his experiences on the hardwood, combined with his athletic prowess. It’s an area that he takes pride in; elevating his game from traditional possession receiver, to game changer.
“I track and play the ball well in the air, contested catches have always been a strength for me.”
If this season is any indicator, Tolbert’s rise is just beginning. His best football is firmly in front of him. It is not often that underclassmen in the Sun Belt conference are afforded the opportunity to forego a season of eligibility, in order to chase their professional dreams.
The talented Tolbert just might fit the bill. With the increased importance in the passing game on the NFL level, a team can never have enough dynamic pass-catchers, who offer mismatch opportunities.
Should Tolbert choose to explore his options for the 2021 NFL Draft, teams will be sure to inquire about the dynamo, starving for his type of athletic profile on the outside. If granted the opportunity to check off some of the boxes athletically, a dramatic rise has a good chance to begin.
Make no mistake about it, this isn’t a supplementary weapon. This isn’t your typical Sun Belt wide receiver, lacking a trump card to make a significant impact on the next level. No, South Alabama wide receiver Jalen Tolbert may just be the most talented wide receiver you’ve never heard of!