This is the time of year when investigate rookies I have not yet scrutinized closely. Sometimes I find what I expect, and sometimes I find less than I hoped, but now and again I get to learn something as well. Cedric Tillman is one of those opportunities.
So, sit back, relax, and let me walk you through the somewhat unique production profile of the Tennessee Volunteer wide receiver.
Rated a three-star recruit out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, Tillman was not a particularly high-rated recruit and committed to the University of Tennessee in 2018.
Courtesy of 247 Sports.
While he was at the school for five years, he only registered two relevant production years and only one over most of my sample thresholds. His first two years saw him earn barely six games and eight total receptions.
Courtesy of Sports Reference.
In 2021, with the departure of Josh Palmer to the Chargers and the arrival of a better level of passing efficiency in Hendon Hooker (quarterback rating of 126 in 2021 vs Jarrett Guarantano’s 83.7 in 2020), Tillman found himself in a window of opportunity.
He took advantage of that opportunity and recorded 63 receptions and 1,081 receiving yards. This was with an impressive 23% target share (versus Palmer’s 21% the year before) and 33 routes per game (vs Palmer’s 23 per game in 2020).
Palmer and Tillman operated in a similar role as the lead wide receivers of the Volunteers in different years. However, while both had an aDot over 16, Palmer had twice the slot rate (16%) compared to Tillman.
There’s also a notable difference in their Targets per Route Run (TPRR) in this role, with Palmer earning a target of 23% of his routes while Tillman only managed a target of 19%.
I bring up these defenses to point out that Tillman – while operating at a higher volume in a more efficient offense – was somewhat less able to fully dominate his opportunity compared with Palmer in 2020. This was even though some of his per route or attempt numbers look better, or higher at least.
Tillman’s 2022 was off to a better start with a 30% target share. However, injuries – including a high ankle sprain that resulted in him undergoing tightrope surgery before he could try and return – shortened his season to only six games.
Unfortunately, this dropped him below a significant volume threshold needed to judge. It did however clear the way for his teammate Jalin Hyatt to expand on his role, where he also earned a target on 23% of his routes. It’s notable however that Hyatt, in replacement, beat most of Tillman’s production numbers per attempt and over-opportunity percentage, including a 23% TPRR.
He’s currently listed as 6’3” and weighs 215 points. All measurements are subject to change until the official combine testing. However, as it stands, given his high aDot and reported size, he is likely to test as a big-bodied player with decent athleticism for the NFL level.
While not exactly a “downfield’ receiver (since he had a lower aDot than Palmer but also a lower slot rate), he looks more like a middle-of-the-field role, than an all-round lead wide receiver. But that’s a skill set the NFL often values.
While his overall role and performance in the offense were below the situational adjustments of his age and quarterback, he did catch the ball at a 74% rate which is above the average for a player working under so many air yards.
Around 3% of wide receivers drafted in the first three rounds, including Josh Palmer, have come from Tennessee. That’s a relatively significant rate of draft capital, and with Jalin Hyatt also attracting attention this year, there is an above-average chance that scouts and NFL teams are taking a close look at him.
During the heights of his 2022 season, Cedric Tillman had some second-round expectations but since then, given his drop-off and the depth of the class, his likely draft round has fallen to the third round in the 2023 NFL Draft and has remained there consistently.
Courtesy of NFL Mock Draft Database.
The NFL is more in want of quarterbacks and running backs right now, but a valuable skill set will always attract attention. While the wide receiver class in 2023 is crowded, there are not many players with high aDot roles with as much volume as Tillman boasted in 2021.
While limited, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him end up with day two draft capital on a decent landing spot, or even put up some numbers eventually to create a value jump in the dynasty.
Overall, he looks like a limited player who failed to excel above the team’s most successful NFL prospect despite a significantly improved situation. His lower slot rate and aDot suggest he was getting more air yards but was ultimately a more limited player. I’m also concerned he was always at the back of the depth chart until 2021 and was easily replaced if not surpassed by Jalin Hyatt in 2022, suggesting he’s more replaceable even at the college level, never mind the NFL. I think he might have more use for an NFL roster than a fantasy one.
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