In 2019, anyone who targeted Preston Williams in the late rounds of rookie drafts or grabbed him off the waiver wire found a diamond in the rough. Williams went undrafted in the 2019 NFL Draft and signed with Miami. After just a couple of preseason games the instant fantasy value was evident. Now, I’m looking for a guy like this in this year’s draft class. Draft him with your last pick or simply wait until your draft is over and let the waiver wire open, then pick up your free money.
Quintez Cephus is a Junior wide receiver from the University of Wisconsin. After a mediocre Sophomore season with 30 receptions for 501 yards and 6 scores, he showed some promise and would be the lead receiver the next season. The 2018 season never came, as Cephus was accused of sexual assault, taken off the football team and expelled from the university. He missed the entire 2018 season while in court fighting the charges, and in early August of 2019 he was fully acquitted and reinstated to the team.
While he wasn’t going to grab huge market share percentages in Wisconsin’s run-heavy offense, Cephus had arguably missed a crucial window of time to break out. Though he flashed early against Central Michigan with 7/130/2, it took him half the season to get back to game speed. Against the last four ranked opponents he faced, Cephus had 24 receptions, 389 yards and 3 touchdowns. These numbers do not impress on paper, but taking into account the Badgers style of offense and those four ranked teams – Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio State and Oregon – these numbers are encouraging. It’s not a college breakout in the literal or traditional sense, but is validation Cephus can compete with and win against NFL caliber cornerbacks. In fact, in February he received high praise from one of the top cornerbacks entering this years draft: Jeff Okudah from Ohio State said Cephus was the best receiver he faced in college. Those aren’t numbers and it isn’t in any way measurable, but is coming straight from a competitor of the highest caliber and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Cephus does not win at the catch point with size and does not create space with speed or route running. However, his upper body strength, hand fighting and exceptional body control gives him more opportunities at catches than he probably should. His feet do great work while the ball is in the air, which suggests route running and technique can be refined and sharpened at the next level. The separation he can create well is at the line of scrimmage and you can see him confidently use different techniques to do so. The immediate creation of space allows him to feel safe on crossing routes and - with his strength - he doesn’t mind the contact.
Quintez Cephus continues to play his way up NFL draft boards, especially the in the Big Ten Championship game and now today on the Badgers’ biggest stages. pic.twitter.com/xuSYgDJxLj— George Balekji (@GeorgeBalekji) January 1, 2020
At 6’1” and 202 lbs, Cephus casually impressed and then dramatically disappointed at the NFL combine. His 23 reps on the bench press caused the initial stir but were followed by a devastating 4.73 40 yard dash. However, Wisconsin was able to complete its pro day before the rest of the world came to a screeching halt amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. While most eyes were on Jonathon Taylor, Cephus quietly calmed skeptics with a 4.56 40 yard dash.
Because of Cephus’s physicality and tenacity, my earliest player comparison was Antonio Brown. It’s not projection of career arc, just an observation of the on-field – in play – mentality. I’ve seen Zac Pascal floated out there as well and that’s definitely a better literal comparison. In the style of D.J. Moore and Deebo Samuel, I like to target wide receivers who are not afraid to run the ball after the catch. Pass catchers who make every catch feel like a punt return that’s about to be busted off for a touchdown are valuable commodities.
Cephus is best suited for a role in a wide receiver room that has some established talent, but needs the fresh legs to support it. Cephus needs professional wide receiver coaching to become any of the names mentioned above, but he does have the frame, physicality, and intangibles. It’s very likely he lands on a team with immediate receiver needs. Oakland and the New York Jets will need receivers and if he signs for a team like that after the draft; Cephus could be another diamond in the rough. If instead teams like Kansas City, the Los Angeles Rams, or New Orleans show interest in him, I might have to burn third round rookie picks to make sure Cephus is on all of my teams.