The Indianapolis Colts spent the 73rd pick in the 2022 NFL Draft on tight end Jelani Woods out of the University of Virginia. Woods was far from a finished product at the college level, but his rare combination of size and athleticism was too much for the Colts to pass on in the third round.
His rookie season has been far from perfect, but he has steadily shown flashes of what he can be in the league. In ten games played, Woods has 15 receptions on 22 targets for 177 yards and three touchdowns. He had his career-best outing this past week, notching eight receptions for 98 yards on Monday Night Football against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While he has only appeared in 28% of the Colts' total offensive snaps, Woods has consistently shown that he has what it takes to be a legit pass-catching option in the NFL.
Running Away From Defenders
Jelani Woods is a massive human being, standing in at 6'7" and weighing 253 pounds. What is even more remarkable is just how easily he moves at that size. He may be built like a tight end, but he can pull away from defenders like a receiver.
In week three against the Kansas City Chiefs, Woods had his breakout moment of his rookie season. With less than a minute to go in the game, the Colts were trailing the Chiefs by four points. Quarterback Matt Ryan knew exactly where to go with the ball with the game on the line.
This game-winning touchdown catch against the Chiefs was the perfect encapsulation of what Woods can be. He uses his massive frame beat the safety to the inside, but then he has the speed to create separation near the goal line.
This play against the Jacksonville Jaguars is just another example of the speed that Woods' possesses. The Jaguars opt to blitz the play-side linebacker, which leaves the weak-side backer alone with Woods on the sail route.
The way that the blitz is designed gives Woods all the space he needs to win to the outside. He uses a speed cut to get to the outside, and the result is a quick 17-yard gain.
Woods is winning with physicality early on in his routes, but then he is finishing plays with his insane athleticism. This next play below is basically a combination of the two previous clips.
Woods eats up space between himself and the linebacker in coverage in a hurry. He then creates separation with a subtle push-off to the outside. From there, Woods is able to pull away from the defender with quick feet and his natural explosiveness.
These are high-quality routes from a young tight end, and they would have gone for even bigger gains with a better quarterback throwing him the ball.
Catching in Traffic
Woods has been slightly inconsistent with his hands this season, but he made some outstanding catches in traffic on Monday against the Steelers. It is great to have a weapon that can pull away from defenders, but the tight end position is ultimately the quarterback's security blanket. These are plays that NFL tight ends have to make, and Woods was able to do that on Monday.
The first clip below is just a big man making a play. He catches this ball on the run and absorbs the hit from the cornerback with ease en route to a solid gain.
The other big catch he made was on the team's final drive of the game. He is aligned backside in a 3x1 set against a cornerback in off-coverage. This ball is going to come out hot once Woods makes his cut to the inside.
He effectively shields off the cornerback on the play and makes the catch despite being contacted as the ball arrives. Again, this is a play that NFL tight ends have to be able to make consistently. Woods was able to do that on Monday Night.
Route Running Savvy
Jelani Woods was labeled as a raw player coming into the league, and he still is in many ways, but one area that he has impressed in so far is route running. He isn't perfect, by any means, but he is showcasing his potential as a pass-catching threat.
This play against the Tennessee Titans is the perfect example. Woods is running a double move on the play, so he has to really sell his inside route in order to create space to the outside.
He gets behind the zone linebacker and even contacts the linebacker from behind. This subtle move was Woods letting the linebacker know that he was behind him in coverage. This minor contact keeps the linebacker pressing inside, which gives Woods all the space he needs to break open on the double move.
The Bottom Line
The NFL is a passing league. Tight end Jelani Woods may not be a complete tight end, but he is showing the potential to be a major asset in the passing game going forward. If he can continue to build on his already strong game, the sky is the limit for this young athlete.
Jelani Woods is a rare athlete that is starting to put it together on the field. If the Colts can figure out the quarterback position (and the holes on the offensive line), he should be a prime weapon in this offense going forward.
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