Having looked at each of the Jets’ draft picks in detail, we’ve now moved on to discuss each of their undrafted free agent signings. We continue today with a breakdown of Wake Forest wide receiver and return specialist Greg Dortch.
The 21-year old is listed at 5’7” and 173 pounds and was an all-American return specialist last year after returning two punts for touchdowns. He entered the league after recording over 1,000 yards and 89 receptions in his redshirt sophomore season.
Dortch was a three-star recruit out of college, but only had two scholarship offers from power five schools, eventually opting to accept an offer from Wake Forest, where he redshirted his first season.
As a redshirt freshman, Dortch made an immediate impact with 53 catches, including nine touchdowns, as he also served as the team’s kick and punt returner. He was on course for much bigger numbers only to suffer a season-ending injury in the eighth game of the year.
In 2018, Dortch was ninth in the nation with 89 receptions and ended the season with 1,078 yards and eight touchdown receptions. He also added another two scores on punt returns.
Dortch decided to enter the draft at the end of last year despite the fact he had two years of eligibility remaining and was invited to the scouting combine, although he didn’t work out.
The Jets signed Dortch as an undrafted free agent after he went unselected in the draft last month.
Now let’s take a look at what Dortch brings to the table, divided into categories.
The first problem with Dortch is that he’s extremely small. That’s not unheard of for someone whose main role will probably be as a return specialist, but could be a detriment to his ability to produce on offense. For context, his main competition for the return specialist role - Quadree Henderson - is also considered small, but based on his listed height and weight is an inch and 19 pounds bigger than Dortch.
Dortch shows good quickness and change of direction skills on film but his overall athletic numbers from his pro day were disappointing. His agility numbers were above average, but his speed (4.59 40-yard dash) and explosiveness numbers underwhelmed. He didn’t participate in the bench press but does not display much strength on film.
In his two seasons with the Demon Deacons, Dortch played primarily as a slot receiver, although he did line up outside or in the backfield sometimes. In high school, Dortch also played some cornerback.
Let’s first consider Dortch’s special teams abilities because this is his most likely path to a roster spot.
Dortch was one of the most sought-after return specialists in this draft class because he was the only player in this year’s class with multiple punt return touchdowns, as well of being one of only a few who return both punts and kicks.
However, a deeper look into his numbers suggests that perhaps his body of work is not all that impressive. Both of his punt return touchdowns came in a game against lowly Towson and even with those he still averaged less than 10 yards per punt return and only 21.5 yards per return on kickoffs.
Nevertheless, he does showcase some outstanding elusiveness, as displayed on this spectacular play.
Ball security was only a minor concern, as it often is with young return specialists. He was reliable at catching punts, but allowed the ball to be stripped away from him on this kickoff.
Other than return duties, Dortch has not contributed on special teams, although he did serve as a holder in high school.
Turning to his abilities as a receiver, Dortch seems to operate best against off coverage and, since he works out of the slot, most of his downfield threat comes from running down the seam.
He was more effective on downfield routes in 2018 than he had been in 2017, where he only came down with a few of them.
You’d expect a slot receiver with Dortch’s kind of numbers to be impressive in terms of his route running but his film is actually quite disappointing.
One thing he does do is make sharp breaks and this gains him some decent separation as a possession receiver, which can be useful with his ball-carrying abilities.
However, he tends to over-rely on his quickness to beat his man to a spot and as a result can be guilty of sloppy technique. He can be easily diverted or redirected off his route by physical cornerbacks and doesn’t show great burst off the line, faring better on routes where he can come out of the blocks slowly and then catch the cornerback on his heels.
Dortch is pretty good at breaking down on stop routes or coming back to the ball on curls and comebackers, but he has a tendency to run out of ideas if he doesn’t immediately lose his man on downfield routes.
Dortch’s hand size is below average and his catch radius is extremely small. Nevertheless, he can go up to get it and will hang on when taking a hit over the middle. He has showcased an ability to reach out for some spectacular catches over the past two years.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to fare quite so well on low passes, although he only had a handful of drops over the past two years.
Dortch posted a solid 71 percent catch rate in 2018, although many of his targets were short passes.
Dortch has been a decent red zone weapon over the past two seasons, as evidenced by his 17 total touchdown catches. His quickness can be an asset here, as on one play where they motioned him out to the left side and threw a flare to him in the flat for a short touchdown.
Dortch also came down with a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch on this fade route to the end zone.
He’ll need to work hard on the nuances of route running to be able to get open as easily against NFL-level wide receivers though, because his short-area quickness won’t be enough.
Yards after the catch
With his return abilities, Wake Forest smartly tried to get the ball into Dortch’s hands in space as often as possible. 58 of his 142 catches over the past two years were caught behind the line of scrimmage, generating over 400 yards. Here’s an example.
Dortch also does a good job of turning upfield when he catches the ball further downfield and can often make the first man miss to pick up some extra yardage.
Dortch shows willing at times, but mostly looks a bit lost when required to block, as you can see on this play.
When blocking in space, his size can be an issue as he’ll often be easily moved off his spot and he sometimes doesn’t locate a target at all. In fact, he often doesn’t get blocking assignments, instead being used as a decoy.
Dortch doesn’t really attempt to overcompensate for his lack of size by being physical. As noted, he can be knocked off his routes and often makes a minimal contribution as a blocker, but will at least fight for yardage as a runner and come up with the occasional contested catch.
His lack of strength at the catch point is evident here as the ball is ripped away from him for a turnover.
Another concern is that he’ll often give up on his route or make a half-hearted effort to go after a pass that seems within his reach.
Dortch displays some good instincts as a runner and seems to be capable of settling down in the soft spot of a zone defense to catch passes. However, he also has the occasional lapse where him and the quarterback don’t seem to be on the same page.
He doesn’t dance around and lose yardage often as a return man, but is not immune to making mental errors when fielding kicks.
Dortch seems to play with a big chip on his shoulder. He gets chippy with his opponents at the end of plays, displays frustration when things don’t go his way and is fired-up with high energy on the field.
With that said, his teammates seemed to have only positive things to say about his effort, hard work and hustle and raved about his positivity and the energy he brings to the team. He won a team courage award in 2018.
He only had two penalties called on him during his two-year college career, with his only 2018 penalty being for a push-off in the season opener.
Dortch bounced back from a tough injury during the 2017 season, as he was found to have punctured his small intestine during the eighth game of the year and had to have season-ending surgery.
In 2018, he missed his team’s bowl game when he suffered a wrist injury. This also kept him from working out at the combine. This was apparently a re-aggravation of a 2016 injury where he broke a bone in his wrist.
The Jets currently plan to use Jamison Crowder as their primary slot receiver, although both Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa, as well as tight end Chris Herndon, can go into the slot and produce. That’s before we even talk about the running backs.
Dortch therefore faces an uphill climb to win a role, with Deontay Burnett perhaps being his main competition to be the number two slot receiver.
It’s on special teams that he has the best chance to lock down a role as the team’s return specialist.
On the basis of his body of work and pre-draft reputation, Dortch is one of the highest-profile undrafted free agent pick-ups for the Jets this year.
However, despite the fact that Andre Roberts’ departure leaves the team with a void at punt returner and kickoff returner, Dortch perhaps isn’t the shoo-in for a roster spot many believe.
He’ll get his chances to win the role in preseason, with whoever wins the job arguably most likely to be the player who catches punts most efficiently in training camp.
As to whether he can develop into an offensive weapon, that’s going to be difficult for someone with his lack of size unless he really sharpens up his route running and perhaps displays more consistency of effort and physicality.