Tajae Sharpe greeted the college football world in 2012 in an unassuming way; by catching a pass in every single game en route to a 20-206-0 campaign. The raw numbers may not grab your attention, but this should: Tajae was 17 years old for every game of that season.
In 2013 he authored one of the 25 most precocious college receiver seasons of the decade, identifying himself as one of the most promising young receivers in the country. Since then, he’s continued to shoulder an exceptional portion of the UMass passing game and making plays that have garnered NFL attention. On the eve of his nationally televised showdown against #6 Notre Dame, let’s put Tajae Sharpe’s career and prospect status under the microscope.
Long, Lean, Small and Mean
As is customary in my receiver evaluation articles, we’re going to visualize Tajae Sharpe’s career against the college careers of the NFL’s top-producing receivers. The data points you’ll see below are representative of the player’s age and market share of team’s receiving yards.
Also, because of Tajae’s small-conference roots, I’m going to pull in similar small-school players who were drafted in the top 100 and have builds similar to Tajae’s long, lean frame of about 6 feet 3 inches and 188 pounds. Note that these guys have had varying degrees of NFL success, but that’s less relevant than the fact that their college performance earned them enough credibility to be drafted in the top 100. That cohort includes
- Jerome Simpson (pick 46 in 2008)
- Aaron Dobson (pick 59 in 2013)
- Laurent Robinson (pick 75 in 2007)
- Austin Pettis (pick 78 in 2011)
Besides just being on the field at a really young age, there wasn’t much to admire about Sharpe’s debut season. Since then, however, he has authored three of the four best age-adjusted seasons of this group alongside Laurent Robinson’s junior year. In terms of career trajectory, Sharpe’s résumé is rock solid.
But, Jon, he plays against lousy competition!
Maybe week-in and week-out the MAC defenders don’t provide the best test for Tajae, but he’s actually played 11 Power-5 foes in his career. If we look at his most recent games and essentially construct a “conference schedule” against Power-5 opponents, his results look like
- 2015 @ Colorado: 11-138-0
- 2014 @ Penn State: 4-99-1
- 2014 @ Vanderbilt: 8-73-0
- 2014 Colorado: 5-83-0
- 2014 Boston College: 2-90-1
- 2013 Vanderbilt: 7-45-1
- 2013 @ Kansas State: 9-98-0
- 2013 @ Wisconsin: 1-13-0
Not too shabby, eh? That averages out to 5.9 receptions, 79.9 yards and 0.4 touchdowns per game. For reference – and I’m not saying that he’s comparable to any of these players – that line is pretty similar to what impact rookies Odell Beckham Jr. (72.9), Kelvin Benjamin (69.0) and Keenan Allen (86.8) did in conference play in their final college seasons. Bottom line is that for a small-school guy, he has played at a very high level against Power-5 competition.
In terms of age-adjusted production, Tajae Sharpe has been about as elite as could be. As far as his strength of schedule, he has displayed an ability to elevate his game against top competition. Finally, as I think you’ll see in the video below, he flashes an impressive level of athleticism, even if his body-type is that of a young pup growing into his paws.
The only thing left to see is how highly he’ll be drafted. I would support him being a top-100 pick. Here’s guessing his performance against Notre Dame this weekend will go a long way toward determining that.