Chark

The poster child of the “big play” in today’s NFL has been none other than LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. While arguably the NFL’s best talent the wide receiver position has to offer, Beckham hails from a program not particularly known for producing high-end receiver talent.

Despite reeling in highly regarded QB talent seemingly every year, the Tigers coaching staff remained inept at developing their guys. It was clear whoever they had under center lacked confidence, and that in-turn affected their ability to operate properly on the offensive side of the ball. LSU hasn’t been known as a pass heavy team in recent years, however, roughly a decade ago they were able to cover that up and showcase their weapons in the passing game, going back to Rueben Randle and the Brandon LaFell and Terrence Toliver days.

As unfortunate as it is, poor QB play in Baton Rouge has masked the full capabilities of some wide receiver talent in recent years, going back this past draft with Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural. While I wasn’t a big fan of either, both generated some hype last year (mainly Dupre), and the former even went in the 7th round to the Green Bay Packers, making him the first LSU wide receiver drafted since OBJ and Jarvis Landry in 2014. This year, the Tigers will be sending a surefire draft pick to the NFL in D.J. Chark.

Prior to my film study of Chark, I realize I may haven been too stereotypical. After my displeasure with Dupre and Dural last year, I assumed Chark would be another victim to poor QB play, resulting in a hindered outlook in my evaluation. It didn’t take long to realize that stereotype would be put to bed as Chark flashed right off the bat.

D.J. Chark Film Session

Most of Chark’s receiving production came on vertical routes. The defense always has to account for his speed, and even when they do, he can still beat you. Here he burns coverage off the top and gets a few steps on his man into the endzone. Impressive hand placement from Chark as he keeps his hands high and tucked in order to inhale the ball into his upper body.

Overall I would say Chark has inconsistent hands, which is something NFL teams should overlook when you account for his estimated 4.3 speed, overall athleticism and potential. On this play Chark does a nice job of tracking the ball with a man on his back, but plays hot potato with it.

This was my favorite rep from Chark, and perhaps his most impressive. This is a Julian Edelman, Super Bowl LI-esque grab. Chark does a goob job to clamp the ball down low, uses nimble body control and strong hands to pull the it up while he secures the catch and gets his body down, all while keeping the ball from touching the ground.

Typically you’ll see Chark get a clean release, and he’s fun to watch on those. You don’t want to give him any space to work with at the line, because he’ll make you pay with his speed and quickness. Here you see him just blaze past the BYU defense and adjust to the underthrown ball deep downfield, which he was forced to do a lot in college.

Another clean release from Chark, this time working against potential 1st round draft pick, Carlton Davis. I want to say this was the most impressive route I saw from Chark. Sets up the in and out with a fierce double move. Blows past Davis and the safety is late as he makes the catch downfield. But, Chark coughs up a costly fumble. You’d like to see Chark improve his ball security at the next level. Overall, Chark had decent success working against the highly touted Davis.

If Chark wasn’t running a deep route, you would catch him on a quick hitch if out wide. His immediate acceleration after the catch and ability to shake off blocks when on an island makes him lethal on these types of routes. He gets down the sideline in a hurry.

As I mentioned, you typically see Chark on a 9 or hitch route, but LSU liked to implement him in this formation as well, where you’d often see him run a wheel route. Here he motions from the slot to the left side of the line and makes a nice comeback grab off a timely push off.

LSU trailed earlier in this game, and as you saw earlier Chark was the victim to a fumble. Chark prides himself on playing it smart as a punt returner, as he’s said, “field position comes first”. You have to admire that type of mindset, but you also have to admire his ability when he’s willing to break one loose. This was a huge turning point in this game and sparked a comeback win for LSU despite trailing by 20 points in the first half. He works his way left, gets a key block to win the sideline angle, and his speed does the rest.

While he primarily makes his money with separation on deep routes, you’ll see him battling in these 1-on-1 situations a lot as well. Chark has incredible air sense and seems to be a step ahead of the defensive back when it comes to winning with concentration and savvy. Chark routinely keeps his eyes glued on the ball in these jump ball scenarios, and here you see a body catch on a desperation attempt.

Subtle yet impressive rep here. Not many human beings can twist their hips and upper body with coordination like that. Hits the spin quick and violent. This elusiveness makes him a threat when put on an island. He can beat you over the top with his speed, or down low on these comebacks with a man behind him with his ability to spin off or break leg tackles.

Despite his prowess as a deep threat and overall playmaker, Chark has shown the willingness to improve as a blocker. You could tell through the years he was more active as a blocker and really polished that aspect of his game. This clip from the Citrus Bowl against Notre Dame, you see him completely bury his man on blindside impact. He proceeds to casually and confidently walk off the field like a boss. I love that swagger.

How’s this for a first career touch? Coming from the 2015 Texas Bowl, Chark takes the handoff and whips around the left side, cuts it back through the middle of the field and has just enough gas to finish for the touchdown as he moved all the way across field to the opposite pylon. Great effort.

Versatility Expands Playmaker Tag

As you saw, Chark can make plays in a variety of ways. His first career touchdown came on a rush attempt, he scored two touchdowns on punt returns in light duty (18 returns) and of course his ability as a receiver. Not only is the Chark the type of player who can contribute in a variety of ways, he excels at them and brings an extra dynamic with his speed and overall athleticism.

As you see in the tweet above from Anthony Amico, Chark is one of two wide receivers since 2000 to average 20 yards per reception, 10 yards per carry and 10 yards per punt return, with Brandon Tate being the other. Chark is also the only LSU player to score both a rushing and receiving score of at least 75 yards. The production, versatility, athleticism and upside are off the charts for this 21 year old.

Even at his young age, Chark is mature, soft spoken and full of energy. He’s a team player who understands the brotherhood within the game. He was named a permanent captain during his final season in Baton Rouge, and his style of leadership was well respected within the locker room.

What I Want to See in Mobile

You didn’t see Chark work the middle of the field much in college, I’m hoping that changes at the Senior Bowl. While his overall utilization as a receiver may look limited, at this time at least, I see no reason why he can’t tighten up the screws where needed. The ability to work inside the hashes will answer my biggest question regarding Chark’s game, although he’s not at fault as that wasn’t what he was asked to do in Baton Rouge.

Aside from developing an expanded route tree, I’m hoping Chark can show reliable hands in practice. He certainly flashed on a handful of big catches in college, but you often saw the catch technique a bit off or reliance on the body catch.

Senior Bowl & Beyond Outlook

We’re set to feast our eyes on an extremely talented wide receiver group down in Mobile this year, and Chark could be the most compelling among the big names. While I’m a huge fan of Cedrick Wilson, Michael Gallup and Tre’Quan Smith, among many others, I think it’s easy to recognize Chark’s higher ceiling compared to the others.

Chark could have the most gifted ability as a burner in this entire draft class. I expect him to test extremely well as I expect his Combine to be headlined by a 40 yard dash in the low 4.3s. This is a huge opportunity for Chark to show out against the best of the best on the big stage. Too bad he won’t be able to hook up with Baker Mayfield. I went in-depth on this wide receiver group in my Top 5 Senior Bowl Storylines piece.

RELATED: Ranking the Top 5 Non-Group of 5 Wide Receivers

If Chark impresses in Mobile, he will only carry that momentum into Indianapolis at the Combine as he is sure to be among the most impressive among the wide receivers, if his testing scores are symmetrical with what you see on tape.

With his age and untapped potential in mind, along with what he already brings to the table, I expect Chark to cement himself as a day two pick heading into late March, with a chance of hearing his name called in the 2nd round.

About The Author Jonathan Valencia

The Editor-in-Chief of Breaking Football, Jonathan has been an amateur NFL Draft evaluator for nearly the past five years. He prides himself on producing extensive, informative content. Follow him on Twitter @JonValenciaBF for fresh draft takes and GIF analysis of draft prospects. Born and raised in the Jersey Shore area, Jonathan now resides in Washington state with his wife.