Though the buzz surrounding prolific 2020 NFL Draft prospects Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs and Tee Higgins is certainly warranted, there’s an overlooked wide receiver dominating the Sun Belt Conference that is quietly putting together an even better start – Arkansas State wide receiver Omar Bayless.
His size — 6-foot-3, 207 pounds — is fairly typical for the position and he isn’t quite the burner that one might expect. You’d also have to take a trip to Jonesboro, Arkansas if you wanted to see him play.
After operating in relative anonymity for the past three seasons, this redshirt senior has taken the college football world by storm, effectively boosting his draft stock for the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft.
This is the story of Arkansas State wide receiver Omar Bayless, the nation’s leading receiver.
First three seasons
A three-star recruit coming out of Laurel High School (Laurel, Miss.), where he helped lead the Golden Tornadoes to a Mississippi Class 5A state championship, Bayless committed to Arkansas State on Jan. 31, 2015.
Considered a raw, albeit tantalizing talent, Bayless was given the redshirt designation as a freshman. He spent the season working on honing his craft on the scout team.
Bayless would go on to play in 11 games (4 starts) the following season. Despite limited opportunities, the redshirt freshman contributed 13 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. His lone score came in the waning moments of a closely contested bout with Georgia Southern. Bayless hauled in the go-ahead touchdown with nine seconds left in the fourth quarter. Arkansas State won, 27-26.
While he didn’t receive any starts as a redshirt sophomore, Bayless bested his numbers from the season before, hauling in 32 passes for 439 yards and six touchdowns. His breakout season was highlighted by a brilliant performance against New Mexico State, where he tallied 73 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He was named to the Honorable Mention All-Sun Belt Conference list for his efforts.
Bayless played in all 12 games (3 starts) as a redshirt junior. Building off of his previous career season, Bayless improved on nearly all of those numbers in 2018, totaling 39 receptions for 566 yards and two touchdowns. He was once again recognized on the Honorable Mention All-Sun Belt Conference list.
While Bayless steadily progressed each season, nothing could have prepared him for what he had in store for his last encore ahead of the NFL Draft.
Redshirt senior season
The tone was set right out of the gate and as a result, was named one of PFN’s draft analyst Tony Pauline’s Riser of the Week.
Perhaps playing for his NFL future, Bayless burst onto the scene in Week 1 against Southern Methodist, amassing 10 receptions for 149 yards and four touchdowns. He followed his stellar performance with a six-catch, 149-yard, one-touchdown game in a lopsided victory over UNLV.
In consecutive games against Troy and Georgia State, Bayless combined for an astounding 18 catches, 367 yards, and four touchdowns. As I’m typing this, Bayless is currently the nation’s leading receiver with 53 catches for 993 and 10 touchdowns.
He will look to add to those totals when Texas State comes to Jonesboro.
Going into this season, many had never even heard of Bayless. After all, he’d only started 7 games, compiling numbers that likely wouldn’t have made him one of the 200+ draft picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. Instead, he likely would have only gotten him a minicamp tryout invite next spring. Credit Bayless’ resilience and work ethic for putting himself in a position to enter the NFL Draft conversation.
Many will point to Bayless’ pedestrian first three seasons and wonder if his breakout senior campaign is the exception, rather than the norm. Some will question his perceived “lack of competition” and immediately write him off, unfair as that may be.
I’ve always been of the belief that if you can play, you can play. And the ability that Bayless has demonstrated on the football field through the first seven games has been special.
Bayless has shown he’s versatile enough to play outside and in the slot, aggressive at the catch point, can effectively track the ball down field, and is a versed route runner. The 6-foot-3, 207-pound wideout is electric with the ball in his hands and has a propensity to create yards after the catch. His physicality off the line and innate ability to high-point the football should make him a feared red zone presence at the next level.
Operating in relative anonymity for his first three seasons, the dynamic wideout now has record books in his sights — and is building a convincing case to hear his name called earlier than expected in the 2020 NFL Draft.