While the 2020 NFL Draft’s wide receiver group was exceptional, the 2021 class might have even more depth and dynamic potential. One 2021 NFL Draft prospect who doesn’t get enough attention for his contributions is Clemson wide receiver Amari Rodgers.
We’re entering a golden age of NFL offense, and the recent wave of wide receiver talent in the NFL Draft only makes this era more exciting. Let’s dive in!
Amari Rodgers NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 210 pounds
Position: Wide Receiver
Current Year: Senior
Sometimes, even talented players don’t have a direct path to the NFL. Such was the case for Amari Rodgers, a four-star recruit and a top-75 player in the 2017 recruiting class.
A standout at Knoxville Catholic High School, Rodgers amassed 3,498 receiving yards and 47 receiving touchdowns in his career there. In his senior season, he put up 40 catches for 1,238 yards and 18 touchdowns. He averaged over 30 yards per catch in that season and caught a touchdown on almost half of his receptions.
Rodgers’ success made him the 12th-ranked wide receiver recruit in the nation. Additionally, his athletic testing numbers compounded his appeal. A senior in high school, Rodgers was already 209 pounds and had a 4.49 40-yard dash and a 38-inch vertical jump on record.
The scholarship offers start rolling in
Rodgers predictably received offers from a host of Power Five schools, among them Alabama, Florida State, LSU, Tennessee, and USC. Originally, Rodgers committed to USC, eager to play with star quarterback Sam Darnold.
But late in the process, the defending national champion Clemson Tigers showed interest, and Rodgers diverted course. Rather than going west to California, he went east to South Carolina to help build with Dabo Swinney.
Amari Rodgers’ career as a Clemson wide receiver
Rodgers aimed to follow a line of Clemson receivers that included DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, and Jacoby Ford, but he knew he’d have to wait his turn.
Earlier in 2017, the Tigers sent Mike Williams to the NFL Draft as a first-round pick, but they still had players like Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud, and Hunter Renfrow fighting for snaps. Additionally, fellow freshman Tee Higgins came in highly-rated, just as Rodgers did. Rodgers had to work to make an impact.
Rodgers was used sparingly in his first year at the college football level, catching 19 passes for 123 yards. In his second season, Rodgers moved up the depth chart, and his output increased. But again, he was used as more of an ancillary piece to Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins.
The fork in the road
Rodgers hoped to use his 2019 season as an opportunity to take the next step and speed his progress on the highway to the highest stage. But before his work even got started, he suffered a setback. In late March, during spring practice, Rodgers tore his right ACL. The average recovery time for an ACL tear is eight to ten months. Rodgers returned in less than six.
The unnatural recovery was more about Rodgers than anything else; he’s just built differently. Through the entire grind, he stayed focused on his goal. He wanted to be back for the team’s game against Syracuse. He wanted to redeem himself for a poor performance in years prior.
“I want to be that story kids can look up to, look up to me when they go through something like I did, and know that it will be OK,” Rodgers said about his remarkable recovery timeline. “It’s about your mindset and how, if you have the right mindset, you can definitely bounce back and come back stronger than before.”
Rodgers indeed bounced back, but it took him a bit longer to regain full comfort. He only caught 30 passes for 426 yards and four scores in 2019. Nearing his last chance to boost his NFL Draft stock, there were questions over whether Amari Rodgers would be as dynamic as he once was. With his 2020 campaign, Rodgers put those questions to rest.
Emerging from his 2019 chrysalis and showing up stronger in 2020
Thus far in the 2020 season, Rodgers has 69 catches for 966 yards and seven touchdowns in 11 games. In the absence of Justyn Ross, Rodgers has become Clemson’s top weapon in the passing game. He and Trevor Lawrence have established strong chemistry, and Rodgers, almost two years removed from his ACL tear, looks just as explosive as before.
Rodgers has a chance to end his season on a high note in the coming month. Clemson is one of four teams in the CFB Playoffs. They’ll play Ohio State in the first round. A win grants them a matchup against either Alabama or Notre Dame.
Rodgers will be key toward catalyzing offensive success, just as he’s been all season. And after that, he has an appearance at the Senior Bowl on deck, where he can rise even further on draft boards.
Amari Rodgers is an underrated 2021 NFL Draft prospect
Rodgers is just now becoming a name to remember, and he’s worked for every bit of recognition he’s gotten.
As an analyst, I don’t like to have “favorites.” I think it can sometimes preclude one from thinking objectively, and it can coax people into skewing for “their guys.” Amari Rodgers is one of my favorite receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft in the interest of full disclosure.
Favorite doesn’t equate to highest-rated here; Rodgers has some issues that keep him from working into the top tier, as we’ll get to in a minute. But Rodgers’ skill set is incredibly conducive to success in the modern NFL, and it starts with a foundational propensity for creating space and creating yards after catch.
Analyzing Rodgers’ traits under the microscope
There were worries that Rodgers’ ACL tear would impact his explosiveness, but that hasn’t been the case in 2020. Rodgers still has excellent stop-and-start ability, and he’s able to gear up quickly across short distances. His speed also hasn’t suffered.
Rodgers should run somewhere within the 4.4’s, and on film, he clearly has enough breakaway speed to be a threat downfield. His ability to reach that top speed quickly only makes him more dangerous.
When you couple Rodgers’ athletic traits with his frame, he becomes an even more enticing prospect. The Clemson wide receiver measures between 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-10, but he has a compact, well-built 210-pound frame. His thick lower body allows him to shrug off contact, and his balance amidst contact enables him to stay on his feet and extend short catches.
Beyond Rodgers’ speed
He magnifies this ability with impressive competitive toughness.
Rodgers’ run-after-catch potential is by far his most intriguing trait. However, he’s also a good route runner with an understanding of head fakes and deception, and his explosiveness comes useful when breaking off route stems.
Rodgers’ middling length limits him somewhat in contested situations, and focus drops are a notable concern. But Rodgers has the elite athleticism, balance, and toughness to be a versatile weapon at the NFL level.
Amari Rodgers’ best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Rodgers profiles best as a slot receiver at the NFL level. Clemson uses him often in the slot. There, Rodgers can get into space easily, and once in space, he has a lethal combination of burst and balance that makes him one of the draft’s best YAC weapons.
The issues with projections stem from Rodgers’ size and catching consistency. The Clemson wide receiver has improved with drops this year, but they still show up occasionally. And while his vertical athleticism and toughness give him a fighting chance in contested situations, his length can hurt him against more disruptive cornerbacks.
Drops can stick around at the NFL, but if there’s a silver lining with Rodgers, it’s that he has a work ethic that rivals DeVonta Smith‘s. Rodgers’ worst issues are fixable, and even considering his modest limitations, his ability to create and extend plays matches up with some of the best prospects in the class.
Rodgers’ need for further consistency and polish prevents him from joining that group at the moment, but in Rounds 2 and 3, he’s an exciting investment to make.
Teams that make the most sense for Clemson wide receiver Amari Rodgers
Teams with a succinct emphasis on YAC would benefit most from Rodgers’ presence, but he has enough overall utility as a receiver to transcend schematic preferences. The Chiefs, Washington Football Team, Dolphins, 49ers, and Texans are all favorable destinations for Rodgers. Additionally, A.J. Schulte mocked Rodgers to the Browns in his latest three-round mock draft.
The path hasn’t been linear, but Amari Rodgers wouldn’t have it any other way in all likelihood. His trials have forged an internal resilience and have hardened him in the face of adversity. At the NFL level, where adversity can overwhelm even the most talented players, Rodgers shouldn’t have a problem.
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