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Juston Christian: The FCS Wide Receiver The Buccaneers Should Target

When your offense requires big plays and plenty of passing, there are never enough wide receiver prospects

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Every year there are small-school guys who make NFL rosters, so we can assume sooner or later it’ll stop being a surprise and it’ll just be a thing. Until then, guys like Juston Christian will continue to fly under the national spotlight and look for their opportunities to shine for whoever gives them the chance, whenever they get the chance.

Ali Marpet is a small-school player who has found success in the NFL. Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took a flier on Justin Watson out of the Ivy League to try and find some receiver talent. Time will tell if he can make a similar impact or not.

Christian is one more guy who’s going to get his opportunity to make it as a professional football player, just about this much is known. He may have been a secret not too long ago, but his name is gaining some traction and has certainly grabbed the attention of some NFL teams.

Participating at the University of Buffalo Pro Day recently, Christian reportedly turned in a sub 4.4 40-yard dash.

As a freshman in 2015, Christian brought in 35 receptions gaining 826-yards and scoring six times. He improved in catches and yards in each of the next two seasons while maintaining solid touchdown production.

With the Marist Red Foxes football team, he turned in four years of play and improved every season. Head coach, Jim Parady told me, “He was always a guy that could run right by a defensive back at our level, and what he really improved on was his route running. He’s a real student of the game. Loves to study coverages and the man that he’s going against and that was the biggest part that I saw in his development over his four years is his ability to break down a defensive back and not just run by him.”

In 2018, the Senior turned in his second-straight 1,000+ yard season, averaged over 20-yards per reception for the third time in his career and busted the ceiling open with 15-touchdowns in his final act.

Pretty nice way to go out.

Through it all, he’s shown solid feet with the ability to get in and out of breaks quickly without losing much if any of his speed. His feet don’t cap out in their running motion though and several times over the course of his career he was found tight roping the sideline or showing off some “Toe Drag Swag” (Hello, GMFB) thoroughly impressing his teammates and fans while frustrating his opponents.

What stood out to me more than anything when watching what I could find however, is how he uses his brain playing the game. This may sound strange, but follow me here.

Some receivers, especially when playing against less than stellar athletic ability, can rely too much on their own physical talent to basically overpower their opponent.

While the stats will still be there, what will be missing inevitably is a demonstration of football IQ and next level ability.

Christian doesn't seem to do this. Instead, you can find plays over and over again where he uses his feet, his release, his stem development and the defenders own movements against him.

Just like coach Parady referenced in his development with the team, he also commented on how his football IQ has been a focal point of his NFL preparation, “Obviously we’re not going to see as many coverages as what he’s going to be exposed to at the next level, and that was one of the things that I think he attacked after he got done with us in November,” Parady said about Christian’s studying of NFL coverages.

He followed up by saying, “What he’s been doing in the last three or four months here, he’s actually exposed himself to it in his training methods. So, I think in that part he’s really grown in that area.”

Turning and stacking cornerbacks looks easy when done right. He makes it look easy. Taking inside leverage on a safety who’s lined up inside of the break and is trying to hold inside position is no easy task. But Christian does it, over and over again. Now he’ll have to learn how to do the same at the NFL level, and it’s encouraging to know he’s already preparing to face professional competition.

When The Draft Network and USA Today both do profiles on you talking about how you’re the best kept secret in this year’s draft, I think the secret may be out.

But this isn’t a day one receiver. He’s probably not even a day two pick. I don’t think he’ll make it into the undrafted free-agent pool though, and this fact makes him the ultimate value pick.

He’s already got a lot of ability and a strong base of talent to springboard off of. Given NFL caliber coaching and peers to learn from like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, he’ll be able to refine some of those raw skills he already brings to the table and turn them into a career as a professional wide receiver.

Christian has already talked to the Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans according to his conversation with DraftWire’s Justin Melo. The New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens are also teams who have shown interest in the FCS talent.

Recently, the Buccaneers had wide receiver Marquise Brown in for a visit. Most would think the area ‘Hollywood’ will get drafted is a bit high for a team like Tampa Bay to invest in the position.

This may be true, but the team is doing their due diligence, and if they’re looking at a speed threat who is going to go in the first two-rounds, then a sub 4.4 guy with physicality and production on day three is definitely on their radar.

What are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers going to get if they draft him? According to Christian himself speaking with Melo,

“I plan on taking advantage of every opportunity. I’m a humble guy and a great teammate. I’m just trying to be the best player that I can be.”

Speed, intelligence, desire, and he’s played both outside and in the lost. Sounds like a Bruce Arians type of prospect if you ask me.