After sudden breakout, tight end Josh Pederson still aims higher

It wasn't an easy path to tight end Josh Pederson's breakout 2019 season. But now that he's past it, he's not looking back.

For every blue-chip talent across the country preparing for their final season atop the college football world, the vast majority of next-level hopefuls are mired in obscurity, their teetering draft stocks largely hinging on the season ahead. Louisiana Monroe tight end Josh Pederson, perhaps the Sun Belt’s best-kept secret, qualifies as the latter. Despite coming off a career season as a redshirt junior, the small school pass-catcher faces an arduous climb to national prominence. However, as you’ll soon learn, defying improbable odds is merely second nature for Josh Pederson.

[sv=slug mocksim]

The Early Years

Josh Pederson grew accustom to change at an early age.

For perspective, when Pederson enrolled at the University of Louisiana Monroe in 2016 and asked to share a little-known fact about himself in one of his introductory classes, he casually intimated that he’d moved at least a half-dozen times growing up.

However, Pederson’s innate adaptability to transition wasn’t limited to his knack for adjusting to the continuous uprooting. Years earlier, before evolving into one the more dynamic pass-catchers in the Sun Belt Conference, Pederson contemplated a vastly different career path.

An avid golfer as an adolescent, with aspirations of playing at the collegiate level, Pederson excelled on the green as a freshman at Moorestown High School (N.J.). His talent level was on full display amid inclement weather conditions in the Burlington County Scholastic League championship, where Pederson shot a par of 71 to propel the Moorestown Quakers to a title that afternoon.

After Josh’s freshman year, the Pederson family relocated to Overland Park, Kansas. His father, former NFL quarterback Doug Pederson, had been named offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs under newly appointed head coach Andy Reid.

Determined to forge ahead in his pursuit of a successful golf career, Pederson soon returned to prominence at Blue Valley North High School. The sophomore wunderkind guided the Mustangs to the regional championship in 2014.

Before he had time to relish his newfound success, Pederson was sought out by Blue Valley North football coach Andy Sims to rekindle his childhood affinity for the gridiron.

“Junior year, we got a new head coach,” Pederson explained. “He went through the school and found all the athletes, came to me, and said, ‘Hey, I want you to tryout. If you like it, stay, if not — you won’t hear from me ever again.'”

For the first time since eighth grade, Pederson turned in his golf clubs in exchange for football pads. Questions about what position he would play in the fall were laid to rest during the comprehensive evaluation.

“Not to brag,” Pederson said, “I kind of got a cannon. That is one thing that was definitely passed down. I kind of have an arm, so they stuck me at quarterback immediately.”

While Pederson’s golf obligations occupied the crucial summer months, effectively removing himself from the quarterback race, his natural athleticism prompted the coaching staff to try him out at tight end. Pederson finished his brief, albeit productive Mustangs’ career ranked fourth in school history in receptions (73) and receiving yards (1,102), and earned all-state and All-Eastern Kansas League second-team honors as a senior.

Coming out of Blue Valley North High School, Pederson received offers from every Division II school in the Midwest, but the wiry tight end envisioned a college career similar to his older brother Drew, who was a quarterback at the Division I FCS level. The University of Louisiana Monroe eventually offered late in the recruiting process, and due to strong family ties, Pederson needed little convincing.

“My dad went [to Louisiana Monroe], so that was a draw,” Pederson acknowledged. “Pretty much most of my family is in Monroe. My family, we consider Monroe home, we have a house here. When my dad played in the NFL, we would obviously be in the city and state where he was playing during the season, and in the offseason, we would move back to Monroe. [Monroe] is where him and my mom met each other.”

Finding His Way

Arriving on campus as a 215-pound tight end with minimal playing experience, Pederson was predictably given the redshirt designation. He spent his first season on the scout team, integrating himself within the offense and demonstrating his versatility while adding the requisite weight to his slender frame to compete at the collegiate level.

“I was just a raw kid,” Pederson admitted. “I didn’t really know much about football, other than what I saw from my dad and my brother. I was a raw athlete on the football field.”

The highly anticipated battle to find the Warhawks’ starting tight end was expected to be a two-person race between Pederson and fellow 2016 recruit Tyler Lamm. However, the position battle never materialized, as Lamm sustained an injury before the start of the season and was forced to miss time. Pederson entered his redshirt freshman season as the starter and managed to get his “welcome to college football” moment out of the way in the season opener against the talent-laden Memphis Tigers.

“Playing against Genard Avery, that was the first NFL prospect that I played against,” Pederson recalled. “I had an outside zone that I had to run and he was my guy that I had to cover up. My goodness did he give me a wakeup call.”

Appearing in 11 games (6 starts), Pederson finished sixth-best among Warhawks’ pass-catchers with 12 catches for 136 yards, including a season-best three-catch, 42-yard outing against Southern Mississippi. Although he made encouraging strides in his second season with the program, Pederson was quick to point to areas of opportunity.

“I learned that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was,” Pederson admitted. “I was playing against 21, 22-year-olds who were bigger, faster, stronger. So that kind of made me think, ‘Alright, if you want to do this, you need to step your game up. You gotta be way better than you were your freshman year.'”

Defying the Odds

Before his redshirt sophomore campaign ever got off the ground, Pederson experienced adversity — a setback that temporarily put his immediate future on hold.

For two months, a mysterious stomach infection suspended Pederson’s promising outlook. Missing the entirety of summer workouts and fall camp, Pederson’s prolonged illness dropped him from 230 pounds to 200 pounds over two weeks.

“For the two months that I had that whole deal, they could not figure out what was wrong with me,” Pederson said. “So that was kind of the scary part.”

Pederson gradually began to regain some of the lost weight, miraculously returning to action two weeks before the season opener. While he didn’t dress for the season opener against Southwestern Louisiana, Pederson appeared in 11 games, starting the final four games of the season. The rangy tight end finished with 12 receptions for 121 yards and two touchdowns.

The Breakthrough

Adding twelve pounds to his frame over the offseason, Pederson arrived at spring workouts noticeably bigger, stronger, and faster than ever before. For the first time in his collegiate career, Pederson experienced a normal offseason, one he ambitiously approached with the intent of taking the college football world by storm.

Prior to last season, Pederson’s production had been limited to 24 receptions for 257 yards and two touchdowns in 22 games. While various setbacks thwarted his path to prominence over the years, his redshirt junior campaign proved to be different. In 12 games, the 6-foot-5, 232-pounder amassed 43 catches for 567 yards and 9 touchdowns.

“Last season, I had a full year, a full spring, a full fall camp — I was healthy,” Pederson reflected. “They put in all the new stuff for my position — new routes, new personnel, everything. And that’s kind of when I had a breakout year.”

Oddly enough, one of Pederson’s signature performances in 2019 came in a seven-catch, 82-yard, two-touchdown showing against a nationally-ranked Memphis team.

“That goes back to the whole confidence thing,” Pederson said. “I remember back to my freshman year — zero confidence out there playing against NFL talent. That year, I kept telling myself I could do this, and now I’m the NFL talent.”

2020 Outlook for tight end Josh Pederson

A byproduct of hard work, trusting the process, and standing tall in the face of adversity, Pederson suddenly finds himself amongst the premier offensive weapons in the Sun Belt Conference.

Fitting the mold of a modern-day move tight end, Pederson possesses the athleticism and route running prowess to move around formations to create mismatches, the ability to win in contested catch situations, and a unique vertical element. In 2020, he will team with running back Josh Johnson to comprise perhaps the most fearsome offensive tandem in the conference.

With SEC powerhouses Georgia and Arkansas on this year’s docket, Pederson will have another opportunity to earn national recognition.

“I want to be the best tight end in the Sun Belt this year,” Pederson said. “It’s on me. If you want to have the season you had last year, you gotta do everything you did last year — and more.”

Listen to the PFN Scouting Podcast

Listen to the PFN Scouting Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Scouting Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review! Rather watch instead? Check out the PFN Scouting Podcast on our Scouting YouTube channel.

Related Articles