Before the preseason kicked off it seemed as though the receiver position was going to be a really tough one to break into for any of the slew of undrafted guys who were brought in. Chester Rogers has been out injured for a while now and Phillip Dorsett has as well.
Dorsett’s preseason was, and still is, seen as one of the most critical for any of the returners from last season’s roster. Kamar Aiken was brought in to compete for the top four at the position as well, but that doesn’t really seem to be what he’s been showing unless, of course, Rogers remains out for a substantial amount of time.
We’ve seen Bug Howard getting some reps as well, and with so much uncertainty at the position right now – who will stay, who will go – it appears that it’s as wide open as it’s ever been since OTAs kicked off. But, there’s another addition who is making a real strong push to make this roster that most thought just didn’t have the size or receiving ability to make it solely as a specialist.
However, JoJo Natson seemingly is proving everyone wrong in this assumption.
He has shown the ability to be a good route runner and quality sure-handed receiver in just two preseason games and adds a ton of speed to the return game as well. “I use it as motivation – people doubting me.” Natson stated in response to feeling as though he always has to prove himself. “I’ve been doubted all my life, so it’s nothing really new. I just like the overview of things once I do prove those doubters wrong, just to see the look on their faces then.”
Thus far Natson has tallied 8 catches for 111 yards on 12 attempts (9.25 yards per target), is averaging 23.3 yards per kick return on 4 attempts and has even gotten a shot in the running game. Needless to say, Natson is making an already difficult position to cut down even harder.
“Every chance I get, I just try to make something happen. If it’s something small – if it’s a block, just do something to catch the coaches’ eyes. Just help the team as much as I can. Every time I get in there I just try and make a play as best as I can.”
From what we’re hearing out of Chuck Pagano, it appears that he’s doing just that.
“He’s an electric guy. He’s got that game breaking speed and elusiveness. He’s got to see some things, make some decisions and he’s going to continue to get better. He can catch that kick, he’s tough, he’s fast, he’s fearless. He’s going to have opportunities. As a wide receiver, he’s making plays. At the end of the day, he’s going to make it hard. That’s all we did was challenge him from day one to make it extremely hard on us to say goodbye and he’s doing that. 150 pounds – I mean, why not? I love him.”
I took the liberties of editing out the metaphorical nonsense that Pagano puts into these post-practice pressers, but you get the point. Pagano and this coaching staff clearly like what he’s able to provide to the team as a whole. Last year we saw Quan Bray take care of the kick return duties and was a serviceable receiver when he was forced to come into the game.
Natson may just be more than that though. He’s undoubtedly faster, and could conceivably have a larger impact in that manner. He’s looked good catching the ball, and depending what happens with the rest of the receiver corps, he may just have a rotational role as well.
We’ve seen that, at least rumors suggest, Dorsett could be on the trade block and he was supposed to be the burner to assist in taking the lid off opposing defenses alongside T.Y. Hilton. If Natson can do that and be a better all-around option for the roster, why not, right?
Natson is making himself look awful necessary right now, which is something Pagano and every other NFL coach says is what players need to do in camp and throughout the preseason. I had my reservations about him early on, but I can say that I am pretty excited to see what he can prove in these last two preseason games before the 53-man roster cuts come down.