The second act is called “The Turn.” The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it.

– Cutter, The Prestige (2006)


While tempted, I might have been to compare myself to the magician in the above quote. I think a more appropriate linkage would be to Tulsa’s new head coach—Kevin Wilson, by way of Ohio State. I’ve written about Wilson previously in a write-up on Tulsa’s QB—Braylon Braxton. In it, I detailed his stellar history with productive QBs, and of course, as every good CFF manager knows: where there are productive QBs, there are usually productive WRs that follow.

That would be an easy fit if it weren’t for the fact that all of Tulsa’s most productive WRs from a year ago hadn’t departed the roster this off-season. However, there is one who returns—a Texas native by the name of Malachai Jones. With a near-vacant WR room, a potentially rising superstar QB, and a magician at the base of the offense, there are several reasons to get excited about Jones in 2023. Of which, I will not explain in detail below… kidding, of course. Imagine if that was it for the article. Absurd—we haven’t even reached the second act yet


WR Malachai Jones — 6’0”, 190 lbs.

As mentioned, today’s player is yet another Texas high school football product. It’s almost like… football is a religion or something over there… who knew? Well, Tulsa’s recruiters as they signed the former three-star wideout in Jones in the 2020 class. He redshirted his first season and — despite playing in 13 games — did little to nothing in his second. Overall, he finished 2021 with three catches on eight targets for 47 yards and no scores (0.6 FPG).

In the 2022 season, he would find himself on radars —specifically, degenerate gamblers and CFF players’ radars. Why is that? Well, a very productive opening performance vs. Wyoming did the trick. Jones secured six catches on 11 targets for 103 yards and a score (22.3 points). Not bad for an opener. I believe that’s what they call starting with a bang, right? 

Unfortunately, he would fail to replicate this performance at any other point in the season. There is some explanation for this, notably that other veteran WRs were ahead of him in the pecking order soaking up all the targets. But those guys are gone now, creating an opportunity for last year’s WR3 by yardage to fill in. While under a different staff, last year’s WR1—Keylon Stokes, vacates 76 catches, 1224 yards, and eight TDs. In totality, Malachai Jones finished 2022 with 37 receptions (68 targets) for 470 yards and 2 TDs (8 FPG).

The new staff, however, also have a pretty nice track record for producing 1000-yard receivers. Many already know that OSU has essentially become a 1000-yard WR factory, with the likes of Marvin Harrison Jr., JSN, Garret Wilson, etc. While we don’t honestly know how much influence Kevin Wilson had over there under head coach Ryan Day, we see that he comes from an organization that kept its same three WRs on the field a lot and pumped them full of targets. Lovely.

What is left to solve in this equation is where does Jones fit into the rotation? If it turns out he’s the WR1, this guy will likely be very valuable and make some lucky (or VP-subscribed) CFF players quite happy.

This is an excellent time to mention that Jones flirted briefly with the transfer portal in December. Like his QB Braxton, Jones ultimately flipped back to Tulsa, likely after being convinced by a pitch from Wilson. I’m not going to speculate too much on what that does or doesn’t mean, but my inclination is that he was probably told he will be part of this offense going forward.

Here is a breakdown from a Tulsa Rivals report on the WR room:

Watch out for Malachai Jones. He has some intangibles that could very well lead him to having a huge season for the Golden Hurricane in 2023.

As Tulsa’s only receiver with real experience, the 6-foot, 189-pound Jones should be ‘The Man’ among the TU receivers this season.

First-year Tulsa coach Kevin Wilson clearly likes Jones, a Houston Westfield HS grad.

“Malachai’s a real good player, he just doesn’t have phenomenal speed,” Wilson said. “He’s got strength. He’s very durable.”

Jones proved last season that he was a dependable player who could make key catches in traffic. He finished 2022 as Tulsa’s third leading receiver while playing in all 12 games, finishing with 37 catches for 470 yards and two touchdowns, while averaging 12.7 yards per catch.

With the top two receivers from last year, Keylon Stokes and Juancarlos Santana, having graduated, it appears to be Jones’ time.

“Malachai’s been a little bit more like the best receiver in the crowd,” Wilson said. “He’s bigger, but doesn’t have a lot of great speed. He’s one of my best players (on the team).”

Although Jones won’t wow with speed, he still times faster than Stokes did. That is significant because Stokes became Tulsa’s all-time leading receiver in yards last season, surpassing 1965 Heisman Trophy runner-up Howard Twilley. Stokes had 76 catches for 1,224 yards (16.1 yards per catch) and eight TDs to lead the Golden Hurricane in 2022.

There is real open competition for all the receiving spots, especially given the lack of experience there outside of Jones.

Marquis Shoulders (5-10, 165, SO) and Kamdyn Benjamin (5-9, 172, SR), along with Nick Rempert, are the only three other TU receivers who caught passes last season. Shoulders had three receptions for 23 yards and a TD, while Benjamin caught three passes for 18 yards.

“Marquis has done well. He’s slight, fast, immature,” Wilson said. “Shoulders needs to pick it up. He should be a player, but he’s young. Been inconsistent.

“Kam Benjamin has been really good. Like Marquis, he’s a little slighter. I wish he was bigger.”

Besides Shoulders and Benjamin, [Oklahoma State] transfer Braylin Presley (5-8, 165, SO) appears to have a great shot at significant playing time.

“Presley, he plays fast,” Wilson said of the former Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year from Bixby. “Presley plays with more courage and confidence in traffic, because he’s just had the ball in his hands more. He’s a good player.”

Wilson was comparing Presley with his other small receivers, noting that since Presley was a running back in high school, his running after the catch ability is good.

“I think Marquis and Kamdyn and Braylin are three really good players,” Wilson said. “But I just want them to be a little bigger from a durability and blocking standpoint. Playing without the ball and making competitive plays. I just think they’re a work in progress with their strength level.”

Other than Wilson mentioning that Jones is slow as sh*t (paraphrasing), I would say the notable takeaway seems to be an acknowledgment that Jones is one of the best players, not just in the WR room but on the team. That generally bodes well for playing time come autumn. 

At this point, something may seem off to the reader… *Light bulb comes on* Now you’re looking for the C&S section I typically do, but you won’t find it… because, of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t want to know. You want to be fooled...

Okay, okay, you can find coverage on the staff here. Beyond that, I’m willing to wager a guess that if you’re reading this article, you’re already familiar with what OSU’s been doing at the WR position. Wilson was the OC for the Buckeyes between 2017 and 2022. During that period, OSU had five 1,000-yard WRs, including two seasons with two apiece (2021, 2022). Excluding the COVID year, that’s five in five. Need I say more?


Concerns

  • This is a big-time projection profile. Not just with Jones but with his QB—Braxton, and his new head coach. We are expecting Wilson to work some magic in year one. But what if he wasn’t that influential at OSU? Or maybe he struggles to implement his regime in year one (as we’ve seen so often happen before). 
  • Well, Wilson said it himself, Jones is slower than a one-legged chicken in a mud race (again, paraphrasing). Though, Rivals did adequately point out that he’s been timed as a faster player than last year’s WR1—Keylon Stokes, so there’s that. You would think that of all the incredible WRs that OSU has had over the last half-decade, they’d be filled to the brim with former speed demons. That’s not really the case. Chris Olave was not; neither was JSN, and MHJ isn’t either. Egbuka is pretty fast, and so was Wilson. My point is Wilson made it work with slower wideouts before.

Closing

Jones currently holds an ADP of 228.5 (around the 19th round in 12-team formats). That means that in a typical CFF league (ending in 16/17 rounds), he is likely to go undrafted. Does that make sense to me? Well, not really. But I get that there are a lot of options to choose from, and Jones, along with the rest of this offense, is an unproven commodity. Certainly, there is significant risk with this profile, but there is an upside to justify taking him late. I don’t see a problem with using a 16th or 17th-round flyer on him if you’re looking for a potential lottery ticket to ignite your WR room. In fact, given the upside, I’d probably be willing to take him a little higher. Anywhere in the teen rounds seems appropriate to me, especially in PPR leagues.


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