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On the Draft Board: Arkansas’ Jadon Haselwood

Kansas City has now been connected to a former top high school recruit.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs will almost certainly add to their wide receiver room in this month’s draft, but information about which wideouts the team may be considering has been surprisingly scarce.

On Wednesday, word leaked that the Chiefs had scheduled a meeting with Arkansas wide receiver Jadon Haselwood.

Haselwood, a former five-star recruit, played three seasons at Oklahoma. Unfortunately, he never lived up to his highly-touted recruiting pedigree. After head coach Lincoln Riley (and quarterback Caleb Williams) left the Sooners for USC, Haselwood transferred to Arkansas — where he led the Razorbacks with 702 receiving yards in 2022.

Here’s what you need to know about Haselwood:

Background

Hailing from Cedar Grove High School in Ellenwood, Georgia, Haselwood was the nation’s top high school wide receiver recruit in 2019. After reportedly receiving 17 offers, he committed to Oklahoma. There he played a rotational role as a freshman before tearing his ACL preparing for the 2020 season. He missed the first eight games of the season.

As a redshirt sophomore in 2021, Haselwood totaled 399 yards receiving and six touchdowns while matched with Williams, who is the early front-runner for the top overall pick of the 2024 draft. After transferring to Arkansas, he had his best statistical season in 2022, catching 59 passes for 702 yards and three touchdowns.

At the NFL Combine, Haselwood checked in at 6 feet 2, 215 pounds and 10-inch hands; size is his most desirable attribute. While his 4.66-second 40-yard dash is a red flag for a wide receiver, his 37-inch vertical jump and 10-foot-3 broad jump are much more respectable for the position.

Film evaluation

After transferring to Arkansas, Haselwood’s film is heavy on plays in motion or short targets in space. He is not an explosive player. He is far enough removed from his 2020 ACL tear that his speed numbers probably paint a clear picture of what to expect in the NFL. He does have excellent vision with the ball in his hands — and he is difficult to tackle.

Much has been written about the overall lack of size among the wideouts in the 2023 draft class. But among the late-round options, Haselwood stands out. His large frame allows him to bring in high passes over defenders — and may be the only trait that has kept him on draft radars.

Though his testing numbers are no mirage, Haselwood’s vision (and ability to break tackles) make him a dangerous receiver. No one will mistake him for former Kansas City wide receiver Mecole Hardman on a jet sweep, but his size can make such a play work. Considering that defenses largely sold out to defend against Arkansas’ running attack, his success on this play is especially impressive.

For a slower receiver to have any chance to make it in the NFL, he has to be able to stay on his feet and break tackles. While Haselwood’s college career can best be described as a disappointment, he displays good balance while catching difficult passes — and the first defender is rarely able to bring him down alone.

While his raw stats were better at Arkansas, Haselwood looked more like an NFL player at Oklahoma, getting a better variety of routes in Riley’s offense. Though his pairing with Williams in the Sooners’ offense was short-lived, Haselwood showed good potential in working with an unpredictable quarterback to extend plays.

How he fits with the Chiefs

After signing free agent wide receiver Richie James — and with Justin Watson’s subsequent return — the Chiefs appear to be less likely to throw numbers at the wide receiver room as they did with the secondary in 2022. It’s more likely that Kansas City will prioritize a higher- profile prospect to solidify the room.

That said, it would not be surprising to see the Chiefs use a late round pick on Haselwood — or perhaps more likely, prioritize him as an undrafted free agent. Any team taking a flyer on him will see his highlights against top competition and hope its staff can re-establish what he displayed in his highly-touted high school days. Chiefs general manager Brett Veach is, after all, famous for buying low on former top talent.

Before the 2022 draft, the Chiefs hosted a somewhat similar player: Texas Tech wide receiver Erik Ezukanma. While the former Red Raider was much more raw than Haselwood as a route runner, he boasted significantly better athletic traits — which led to him being selected by the Miami Dolphins in the fourth round. If the Chiefs are interested in putting a larger body into some of head coach Andy Reid’s trademark designed plays, a minimal investment in a player like Haselwood would not be surprising.

The bottom line

With a major injury during his college career — and then the most high-profile collegiate coaching change in recent history — Haselwood has had some bad luck. With no discernible value on special teams, his path to making it in the NFL is very narrow. Still, his size (and football smarts) should keep him on the league’s fringes for a while; teams may want to keep him on their practice squads so he can mimic opponents’ bigger receivers on scout teams. Once he’s there, he can make his case for a new chance.

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