The football doldrums of summer often leads to many presenting their draft lists for next April. Peruse the wide receivers and you’ll often see the coveted devy prospects: Courtland Sutton, Equanimeous St. Brown, Calvin Ridley, etc. One name often omitted is Antonio Callaway, who has toiled in relative obscurity as Florida has scraped together barely passable quarterback play after the suspension and subsequent transfer of Will Grier. Despite modest stats, Callaway is every bit the prospect as his more heralded brethren and currently presents one of the better values available.
As a Recruit
The 247Sports composite rated Callaway as a high three star and a relatively modest 48th overall at his position out of Booker T. Washington High School in Miami, Florida. While the star ranking is not eye-popping, the offer list is. Other than the Gators, Callaway held offers from Alabama, Florida State, USC, LSU, among others.
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Callaway impressed from the start, pacing the 2015 Gators in receiving despite sharing looks with the talented if enigmatic Demarcus Robinson. His respectable 23% Market Share portended a big role moving forward, and he found himself named to a variety of Freshman All-American teams. He quickly cemented himself as one of the nation’s more explosive big play talents.
Callaway again led Florida in receiving with 54/721/3 line, though a major statistical jump was not seen as the Gators shuffled through the uninspiring duo of Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby under center. What we did see was Callaway expand his repertoire; by sheer necessity the true sophomore needed to become a better intermediate receiver as neither Del Rio nor Appleby were dropping dimes vertically. Callaway flashed route-running chops and strong hands along with the ability to leave defenders empty-handed after the catch. The strides between year one and year two were apparent, even if the numbers were depressed.
The only data available on Callaway is from high school testing, and it does not paint the picture of a premier athlete. Results from testing at The Opening below, courtesy of ESPN.com’s recruiting profile:
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.64
- 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.56
- Vertical Jump: 33”
- Power Throw: 31
- SPARQ Rating: 76.62
None of these numbers stand out individually; however, I have not seen anything from Callaway on the field which suggest he is a sluggish athlete. On the contrary, he does a lot of his best work in tight spaces and has been an explosive return man in addition to one of the SEC’s best receivers.
We’ve seen plenty of prospects improve their athleticism during the course of their collegiate careers due to elite strength and conditioning programs as well as natural progressions in physical maturity. While I do not expect Callaway to blow up the NFL Combine, I also do not expect disappointing numbers.
When I first saw the Miami product during his freshman campaign, I was surprised to learn he was listed at only 5’11”, 197 pounds. He plays a loud game and is fearless both at the catch point and gallivanting after the catch. He’s the epitome of a receiver who plays bigger than his size and is comfortable playing an above the rim game. His best trait may be his compete level; the motor runs hot at all times and there’s a swagger to his game which speaks to how confidently he goes about his business.
He’s an incredibly sudden route runner who can create separation with ease. It is easy for a receiver struggling through quarterback issues to get complacent off the line. Callaway never does; he demonstrates an explosive first step and understands nuance within his route. He offers an easy target for his quarterback and attacks the football. You’ll never see him lose a football due to lack of aggression.
His overall skill-set can be used both outside and in the slot. There are few areas of his game which are woefully underdeveloped. The Gators even use him on a few gimmick plays in the run game, and his aforementioned return skills are elite. As a freshman he posted 15.0 yards per punt return with two touchdowns, before posting a more modest 8.4 yards per return as a sophomore.
I’ll preface this by saying player comparisons are often a faulty endeavor. This is not to say he will have the same impact; it is just looking more at play style and body of work. With this disclaimer out of the way, Callaway shares some similarities with Odell Beckham Jr. Both were statistically challenged due to subpar quarterback play and their true talents have been masked thanks to this. Looking deeper, however, both have/had been extremely productive in relation to their teams’ overall passing output and flashed alpha receiver traits. While I do not expect Callaway to test in the same ballpark as OBJ, I do feel he is in the mold of a slightly undersized receiver who lacks an eye-popping resume yet displays dominant traits and the ability to contribute in a variety of receiving roles at the next level.
Unfortunately, you cannot discuss Callaway without also touching on off-field issues. He missed 2016 Spring Football due to suspension, likely stemming from an ongoing sexual battery investigation (one in which he was later cleared of wrongdoing) and was popped this spring for possession. Though nothing has kept him off the field for an extended period of time, a pattern of incidents is concerning. This is not a character assessment of Callaway. It merely points to the added risk associated with him.
From a football standpoint, he is one of my favorite prospects in next year’s class. Lacking elite numbers, size, and with a smaller recruiting profile, people have been a bit reticent to go all-in on Callaway. This has kept his price point at a very affordable level (38th overall per the most recent DLF ADP data). With either Malik Zaire or Feleipe Franks taking over the Florida offense, I would expect Callaway to have significantly more opportunities to flash his overall toolkit. He should be a fast-riser throughout the college football season.