High school ranking: .9595 (4-star)
ArDarius Stewart entered the Alabama program as a top 100 recruit and the third highest-ranked athlete across the country. He became a major factor in the passing attack in his sophomore year, but with the emergence of Calvin Ridley, he had to settle for a secondary role for both that year and this past junior campaign. Passing volume is no hallmark of the Rolling Tide offense, and despite that Stewart managed to put up decent numbers in those two seasons, providing a vital element to the attack to lift the Tide to two consecutive national championship appearances.
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Stewart saw limited work in 2014 and took on a full role in the passing game in 2015. He worked all over the field as the number two receiver, but lacked efficiency, gaining just 7.1 yards per target. His production proved steady but unspectacular with frequent games between 60 and 80 receiving yards.
In 2016, Stewart once again served as the second receiver behind Ridley and alongside OJ Howard, but saw his role change vastly. The season prior, Jake Coker relied on him for gains all over the field, far and short, but with Jalen Hurts, Stewart worked largely as a deep threat. The disparities in yards per reception between 2015 and 2016 clearly exhibit this difference, as he gained 164 more yards through the air on nine less receptions in his final year.
Stewart’s last season proved quite successful despite the secondary role. In a limited-volume offense, he recorded the SEC’s seventh most receiving yards and fifth most touchdowns and a much-improved 10.4 yards per target.
Career receiving stats:
[table id=108 /]
Stewart’s body is built well, but with muscle everywhere it still allows him to navigate short areas. At 5’11”, he stands a bit short of the optimal height range for split-out receivers. However, his other attributes still allow him to execute some roles from the outside if asked to do so.
Stewart regularly catches passes with his hands when necessary. I noted one drop across his games that I reviewed, a mark that’s good enough to ensure that he won’t be missing out on opportunities due to drop concerns. His hands lose strength when throws veer away from his body, but that’s more of a concern for another area.
Route running polish: B-
Despite serving primarily as a deep threat this last season, I saw Stewart run a near-complete route tree and a few double moves. He still works best on downfield routes, finding the correct spots between safeties to get open on posts and corners and leveraging his speed and physicality to gain nice positioning against defenders. He routinely sets up and sells his routes all over the field and identifies holes in zones, especially between linebackers and safeties.
Stewart’s weakness in this department is his consistency, or lack thereof. It’s unclear whether he gets lazy (he maintains good play-to-play pace) but his routes are often quite sloppy. He could beat coverage often using purely his strength and athleticism in the college ranks, but he’ll have to work much more steadily in New York if he wants to hold a full role in a passing game.
ArDarius uses some of the class’s best feet to beat defenders on routes and with the ball in his hands. He possesses tremendous short-area quickness that allows him to pull away from players at the line and squeeze through tight areas once he’s caught a pass. Exceptional agility allows him to make tight cuts while maintaining speed and navigate small spaces on screen passes. Altogether, his footwork allows him great upside in both route running and running after the catch; he has proved promising in the former and already realized his potential in the latter.
After the catch: A
As mentioned above, Stewart has all the tools in his legs to be a great runner. He can get around the field quite well, but has more features working in his favor. He routinely shakes tacklers with finesse, pointing to an elusiveness that exceeds raw agility advantages. Stewart also uses vision and maturity that most receivers don’t have in order to take the best course of action to gain yards. These traits can be most easily seen when he runs sweeps, as he looks for the first hole for him to cut up into instead of merely racing to the sideline. Because he has the feet to make such a turn, when he finds the hole, he’ll hit it too. Finally, with his sturdy build and hair-on-fire intensity while running, he regularly finishes runs by plowing through tacklers.
All in all, ArDarius Stewart checks all the boxes with the ball in his hands.
Ball skills: B-
Stewart was relatively untested as a pass-catcher when I reviewed his games, but he still looked promising. He uses aforementioned route running proficiencies to gain nice positioning to make catches easier for him and his smaller body. He regularly addresses passes as quickly as possible, ensuring that he gets to them instead of allowing covering defenders to make plays on the ball. Solid body control allows him to adjust to passes thrown off-target and make tough catches look effortless. Finally, he adjusts to ball trajectory well on deep and intermediate throws, a key characteristic for a player with his style.
I would have liked to see more of his work with difficult catches, however. He didn’t receive many contested targets, so it’s hard to tell just how good he is with defenders in his face. At some times, his catch radius looked tremendous, but his hands were largely inconsistent when he was forced to contort his body.
Putting everything together, he can be seen to have all the traits you’d look for in a receiver at the catch point, but he hasn’t consistently put them all together, partially due to a limited number of opportunities.
Playing the number two to Calvin Ridley allowed Stewart to generally avoid the press, so he’s quite inexperienced against the coverage. On the other hand, he has the raw traits required to thrive against pressing corners: quickness, strength, physicality, and agility. I’m not sure how much work he’ll get playing at the line and against pressers, but I trust that if the Jets ask him to do so frequently that they’ll ensure he approaches his potential.
Stewart ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, a good-not-great mark. However, he puts all of this combine speed to use on the field in games (where other prospects might not necessarily do so), as he proved to be a great deep threat against SEC defenses. He also displayed great long speed when pulling away from tacklers with the ball in his hands. His measured speed doesn’t pop off the page at you, but it’s plenty functional on the field.
The Jet’s leaping ability tested strangely at the combine, as he finished in the 75th percentile in the broad jump while managing just the 33rd percentile in the vertical. On the field, he veered much closer to the former measurement. He can make hard cuts to jerk away from coverage (though I’d like to see him do so more often) and has nice acceleration to suddenly pull away from tacklers; both of these traits can conveniently be seen in this clip. He gets into the air well too, managing to get his hands on many throws that sail far over his head.
Stewart is one of this draft class’s most relentless players. He embraces contact and plays with both great maturity and striking intensity. He maintains composure well throughout his play and stays in control as a ball carrier (unlike someone like Marlon Mack) He’s one of the class’s most engaged blockers and punishes defenders while carrying the ball. I docked him some for his inconsistency in route running, but it’s unclear whether that inconsistency is due to lack of effort or polish.
The basis of ArDarius Stewart’s game lies in his exceptional footwork and optimized attitude. He has worked hard with his route running, and when paired with his quickness and agility, he offers nice upside as a route runner. Running after the catch requires less technique, and thus he has already become a well-rounded terror with the ball in his hands. His athleticism allows him to make tough plays on balls. He looks raw in that department due to a lack of experience, but he should be at least solid at catching passes in any scenario.
His primary drawbacks come in his release and size. He was tested little against the press in college, and he’ll have to develop before he can be relied on to get past NFL corners. His size limits him to a similar extent, because it’s just not plausible for him to serve some roles for the Jets at such a small height.
Putting these two sides together, I see a deep threat and manufactured-touch receiver with a lot of potential. His speed doesn’t require any development, and he can combine that with his short-area quickness to get past his man on long routes. His ball-carrying skills also don’t require development, and he’ll be a menace in the screen and sweep games from day one. On the other hand, he has yet to fully develop in every other area and his weaknesses provide clear (and permanent, in the case of his size) limits to what he can do. He won’t be relied on to win contested catches and he’ll have to work hard on his release just to line up as an X.
At the end of the day, though, I see a great athlete who works passionately and has shown plenty of flashes of upside in every facet of the game. Call me crazy, but when I look at a guy at that height with that combination of traits, I can’t help but think of Steve Smith. If he puts it all together, he can become that sort of exceptional receiver capable of being a number one despite a height deficiency. I’m not saying you should count on him reaching this level at all, but I definitely think it’s within the realm of possibility.
ArDarius Stewart was taken with the 79th pick in the draft by the New York Jets. He entered the weekend ranked as a third-round NFL Draft talent, so I was pleased to see that the Jets felt similarly about his abilities. The draft slot doesn’t merely show that the Jets felt he was a strong talent; it also provides them with incentive to invest in him, as any pick inside the top 100 of the draft is a valuable piece. I trust that New York will invest in Stewart and be patient with his progress.
As for the actual landing spot, I feel lukewarm about the Jets. There is very clear opportunity in the passing game, as every member of the receiving corps is either aging (Eric Decker) or a marginal talent. On the other hand, the offense is quite ugly with abundant unanswered questions. Brandon Marshall’s absence provides some volume to go around in the short term, but I expect the Jets offense to mostly drown in the coming seasons until they finally find some consistent quarterback play.
ArDarius Stewart entered the NFL Draft as my eighth-ranked receiving talent, showing a vast array of traits that could produce a Steve Smith-like talent if put together. The Jets took him in the draft with an encouragingly-high amount of draft capital. The offense looks quite bad for the time being, but if Stewart solves the puzzle, the opportunity is there for him to be the top dog in the receiving game down the line. As things stand now, he will likely serve as a burner and gadget-type player while he (and his surrounding offense) continues to develop and refine. I feel that Stewart offers a decent (though volatile from week to week) floor and pleasant ceiling altogether. Evaluating these scenarios, their likelihoods, and the same factors for other players, he currently stands as a middle second-rounder for me in rookie drafts and my seventh-ranked rookie receiver. From what I’ve observed in rookie drafts to this point you can probably wait to pick him up until the end of the second, in case you’re looking to optimize the value of your rookie picks. Still, if you ask me, you should be happy to take the immensely-fun ArDarius Stewart any time after the top two tiers of receivers are taken.
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