Very few people thought this was a good idea for Josh Malone, and he’s adamant about showing he knew what he was doing.
Malone had a fine junior year at the University of Tennessee, but not good enough by most standards to leave early for the NFL Draft. When the league’s advisory committee expressed that to him by recommending he stay in school, that only seemed to motivate him more.
Several other receivers who left early are projected to go in the first two rounds, and Malone is a fringe prospect at this point. That spurs him, too, as he eyes the chance to convince teams he’s just as good as the receivers at the top of their draft boards.
“I feel like I’m right in the mix,” Malone said. “I just felt like they had more opportunities than me to get the ball in their hands and showcase their ability. I’m trying to show what I’ve got and that I’m in the mix with them.
“There’s a chip on my shoulder because I feel underrated. I’m just out to prove something.”
He made headway on that mission at the Combine this month by running the third-fastest 40-yard dash time at his position with a 4.40. He also placed 15th among receivers in the 20-yard shuttle (4.19 seconds) and 60-yard shuttle (11.77).
If the Dolphins shop for a receiver in this year’s draft, this is the aisle they’re likely to browse, and Malone said he had a good meeting with team representatives.
Miami doesn’t need immediate help at the position with Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker intact as the main three targets, but it could use someone developing behind them. That becomes even more important if the team doesn’t reach an extension with Landry, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next year.
As of now, the Dolphins’ options are Jakeem Grant, Leonte Carroo and Rashawn Scott. All three are still vying to prove themselves as receivers, and Carroo was the only one with a reception last season.
Miami traded this year’s third- and fourth-round picks, plus its 2016 sixth-round pick, to take Carroo in the third a year ago. He had three catches for 29 yards and a touchdown, then was replaced by Scott late in the year. Carroo was healthy but inactive for the final two regular-season game and the Dolphins’ playoff appearance. Grant worked mostly on special teams with a few unsuccessful offensive plays sprinkled in and is likely to stay in his role as a return man this season.
If Miami is able to fill its more pressing needs early in the draft, spending one of its compensatory fifth-round picks or its seventh rounder on someone like Malone would be reasonable. CBS and draft site WalterFootball have him going no earlier than the fifth, and ESPN ranks him the 14th-best receiver in this class.
“He’s fast, he’s explosive, he’s physical at the line and has great hands,” former UT quarterback Joshua Dobbs said in November. “He has it all to be a great receiver and he’s definitely shown that throughout the season.”
While primarily an outside threat, he believes he’d also be an effective slot receiver at 6-foot-3, 208 pounds.
In his final year with the Volunteers, he caught 50 passes for 972 yards and 11 touchdowns. He put 91 yards on four receptions against Florida, which was loaded with NFL prospects in the secondary and ranked third in the nation in pass defense.
“Most teams ask about my knowledge and intelligence,” Malone said. “I can move around in the offense. I can play any receiver position they need. Most teams probably like me as an outside receiver, but I’ve been showing them I can move inside. I’m a versatile guy.”