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Georgia Tech Football: Meet the Newcomers - Slot Receivers

A pair of playmakers join the cast at a position that’s rich in talent

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Slot receiver Ahmarean Brown’s unexpected departure in December left the Jackets in a bit of a strange situation. Only two players return at the position: Nate McCollum, who had only two receptions as a true freshman in 2020, and Josh Blancato, a walk-on who saw very limited action a year ago.

The arrival of Northwestern grad transfer Kyric McGowan, a Swiss army knife on offense who was covered in Robert’s wide receiver newcomers article, gives Tech a seasoned veteran who’s likely to see at least some action in the slot. But a pair of 2021 signees will also be in the mix, and the situation is ripe for one or both of them to make a major impact.

Malik Rutherford

Size: 5-9, 165

Hometown: Hialeah, FL

247Sports Composite Rating: 0.8688 (5.7 on Rivals)

A native of the Miami area, Rutherford became the first 2021 prospect to commit to Geoff Collins’ program at the tail end of the 2019 season. Per 247Sports, he had reported offers from a handful of Power 5 schools, including Indiana, Louisville, Nebraska, and Syracuse, along with apparent interest from in-state programs Florida and Miami.

Since he committed early on, Rutherford’s last film compilation is from his junior year, but he also has highlights posted from individual senior-year games, one of which is included here:

Rutherford’s athleticism goes beyond just raw speed. His biggest asset is his agility—he can change direction crisply even while running almost full-tilt to rack up yards after the catch. It’s a very useful skill for a slot wideout and could make him a major weapon on quick slants and screen passes. As for catching ability, he’s already developed a consistent habit of putting his hands out to snag the ball instead of letting it come to his chest. He’s also a surprisingly good blocker for his small frame, and with Tech likely to rely on the run game heavily once again in 2021, receiver blocking will continue to be important.

If not for his size and his early commitment, it’s possible that Rutherford would have racked up more offers and ended up with a higher rating from the recruiting services. Regardless, he’s a very valuable pickup for Tech with the skills needed to make an immediate impact. He might need some time in the weight room before he’s ready to be an every-down player at the college level, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him see the field this fall in certain four-wide or five-wide sets or as a punt returner.

Jamal Haynes

Size: 5-9, 175

Hometown: Loganville, GA (Grayson HS)

247Sports Composite Rating: 0.8606 (5.6 on Rivals)

Haynes became the second player to join Tech’s 2021 class when he committed in January 2020, leading to a weird time period where Tech had two slot receiver commits and zero at any other position. Still, it was welcome news given the team’s lack of depth at the position, and Haynes became the second Grayson wideout in as many years to commit to Geoff Collins’ squad, so he’ll get to reunite with former high school teammate Ryan King in Atlanta. Haynes chose Tech over reported offers from Maryland, Pittsburgh, and Purdue, according to 247Sports.

Grayson is routinely one of the most talent-rich programs in the state, so it’s a good sign that Haynes made as much of an impact as he did for that team. Much like Rutherford, his best asset is his ability to evade defenders by changing direction on the fly, and his film shows him putting that to use on a variety of routes and out of the backfield. His speed isn’t overwhelming, but he’s certainly fast enough to project as a good slot receiver at the ACC level and beat defenses over the top when those opportunities arise.

Haynes was initially planning to enroll in January, but a few days before the semester began, he revealed on Twitter that the influx of transfers had changed the scholarship situation and prevented him from enrolling until May. It’s not exactly clear what happened here, but Haynes, to his credit, seems to have taken it in stride. While it’s unfortunate that he’ll miss out on spring camp through absolutely no fault of his own, he’ll still have a shot to play as a true freshman and should be fine in the long run.

Conclusion

At this stage it seems likely that McCollum and McGowan will see the majority of the snaps in the slot for Tech this fall, but it’s entirely possible that one of the freshmen enters the mix. Rutherford and Haynes both bring intriguing athleticism to the table, and even if they don’t see a ton of playing time out of the gate, both have potential to be playmakers in the slot for Tech before too long.