Jameson Williams wasn’t the only wide receiver to take the SEC by storm in 2021. In fact, he wasn’t even the most surprising. That honor goes to Tennessee WR Cedric Tillman, whose 2023 NFL Draft scouting report now falls under the focus lens. Tillman legitimately came out of nowhere in 2021. But now, he’s making it impossible to look away.
Cedric Tillman NFL draft profile
- Position: Wide Receiver
- School: Tennessee
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height/Weight: 6’3″, 215 pounds
Football has always been a family affair for Cedric Tillman. His father, Cedric Cornell Tillman, played in the NFL in the 1990s. He was drafted in the 11th round of the 1992 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. Against the odds, he carved out a respectable four-year career. Already, the younger Tillman is following that same path — but with his eyes on even greater heights.
Like his father, Tillman was overlooked at first. Despite racking up 37 catches for 774 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior at football factory Bishop Gorman in Nevada, Tillman was a low three-star recruit in the 2018 class. He received few offers and ultimately signed with Tennessee.
Tillman redshirted as a freshman with the Volunteers. And across his first three seasons at Tennessee, he caught just eight total passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. He was expected to take on a greater role in 2021 after the departure of Josh Palmer, but no one anticipated the degree to which Tillman would emerge.
Tillman quickly became the favorite target of new QB Hendon Hooker, and across 12 games in 2021, he amassed 64 catches for 1,081 yards and 12 touchdowns. He ended the year on an absolute tear, picking up 41 catches for 787 yards and nine scores in the final six games. The hope is that Tillman carries that momentum into 2022, where the 22-year-old will officially put his stamp on the 2023 NFL Draft.
Cedric Tillman scouting report
Tillman did more than enough to get on the 2023 NFL Draft radar in 2021. But where does the Tennessee WR’s ceiling lie? There’s no unequivocal answer for where Tillman might land, but we can look at the tape to get an accurate guess.
At 6’3″, 215 pounds, Cedric Tillman has a strong, dense, and well-proportioned frame with great length. He also appears to have solid functional athleticism for his size. The Tennessee WR flashes great explosive capacity out of his stance, both vertically and laterally. He has the foot quickness to accelerate fairly well with runways. Especially in space, he can open up his strides and explode upfield.
Going further, Tillman has good lateral quickness for his size. He can generate displacement with fast initial footwork. He’s not elite in this area yet, but he noticeably improved his efficiency of motion as the 2021 season went on. Over time, he appeared lighter on his feet and more agile. Moreover, Tillman shows off definite twitch for his size when cutting his stems. He can generate sudden lateral movement, and he also flashes the ability to float out of transitions and sink his hips on direction changes.
While he can channel it more often, Tillman has solid explosiveness and agility, and his weight transfers are predominantly smooth. He also shows glimpses of good long speed when he has room to elongate his strides. But a more compelling part of Tillman’s game is his hand strength and catching instincts. Tillman is very independent and composed in contested situations, and his ability at the catch point can translate to the next level.
Tillman can contort while tightly covered and still make accurate adjustments for passes. The Tennessee WR is very smooth rising to adjust for passes when coming back to the ball. He can make high-difficulty adjustments in stride and consistently gets his hands in the right place. Even more impressive, Tillman’s leverage adjustments are very quick, sometimes with little time to react. He has great hand/eye coordination and naturally flows to the ball to corral imprecise passes.
Downfield, Tillman has great ball tracking ability, and he’s shown he can use diamond technique and catch the ball away from his frame. The Tennessee WR’s length allows him to extend far beyond his frame to secure throws, minimizing risk of disruption. Furthermore, he has the hand strength to haul in passes in tight spaces, even with the threat of immediate contact. Together, Tillman’s size, high-level hand strength, and instincts result in persisting reliability at the catch point.
While Tillman is a big-bodied receiver with natural instincts, his elite physicality is what truly makes him a force to be reckoned with. Tillman has an extremely physical edge, and can scrape off DB’s to compound separation. His long, strong frame allows him to outmuscle defenders, and he proactively fights jams, excelling at keeping himself clean. Tillman uses his length extremely well when imposing physicality and carving out space.
Going further, Tillman effectively supplements footwork on releases with one- and two-handed swipes and jabs. He uses swipes to attain desired leverage, whether inside or outside. On releases, he’s shown he can stay square with defenders and maintain synergy between his footwork and hand usage. He can also tempo his releases to manipulate defenders, a skill he’s steadily improved at employing.
Tillman’s route running is one of his weaker traits, but he still shows promise there. The Tennessee WR has surprising stopping ability for his size. He can stab a halt-step and quickly snap around on deep hitches and comebacks. He brings an urgent energy on breaks. He’s able to press upfield with throttle control, then whisk his head back around. Additionally, Tillman has the capacity to sink his hips and sustain acceleration. Over the course of 2021, he sunk his hips better and played with improved pad level at stems.
After the catch, Tillman has an aggressive demeanor. He’ll shoot his hands and fight to stay on his feet with stiff arms. His dense frame can absorb initial contact to a degree. He can also keep his legs churning through arm tackles, then quickly recollect his feet and accelerate upfield. Tillman isn’t fazed by opposing physicality and consistently finishes forward in RAC situations. He’s also shown he can reset his feet ahead of short passes to maximize RAC yards.
Finally, Tillman brings utility as a blocker as well. The Tennessee WR’s size affords him great natural ability as a blocker. He can square up defenders and fully extend to exert power. Moreover, he has the desired urgency and demeanor in the blocking phase. He can channel force through blocks, but also understands leverage, and can drive DBs downfield. More often than not, he’s an assignment-sound blocker who can sustain blocks through plays.
Areas for improvement
While Tillman is a good athlete for his size, he doesn’t have elite initial burst or explosion. His speed is more of the build-up variety, and he doesn’t always cover expansive ground out of cuts and transitions. Tillman’s feet can be a bit heavy at times, and he can be more consistent in sustaining foot quickness through reps. Tillman also has minor stiffness in his lower body, and can’t always generate and sustain acceleration through breaks.
Tillman’s route running, while trending up, remains imperfect. His feet can be more efficient at stems. He sometimes has wasted motion, which delays his breaks and impacts his timing. The Tennessee WR can also lose his balance on transitions. He can be tighter and more efficient with his technique. Moreover, Tillman plays too tall as a route runner at times. When he plays too upright, he hinders his ability to effectively sink his hips and manipulate space. Overall, Tillman has room to keep expanding his route tree.
Moving on, Tillman sometimes times his extensions a bit too early at the catch point. He can let the ball roll off his hands and into his torso at times. While he’s a reliable contested threat, he’s not as consistent with defenders inside his frame.
Among other things, Tillman doesn’t have elite long speed. And as a run blocker, he doesn’t always generate power efficiently, which can impact his ability to maintain lanes for ball carriers.
Current draft projection for Tennessee WR Cedric Tillman
Despite his late breakout, Tillman is a WR worthy of Day 2 consideration. And if he sustains his production through the 2022 campaign, he could be a top-75 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. He doesn’t quite have the elite athleticism to guarantee a first-round ceiling, but the early-round range could be where Tillman lands, especially in a wide-open WR class.
What are traits you look for when surveying the field for X receivers? Before almost anything else, you look for size and physicality. Tillman has great size and length at 6’3″, 215 pounds, and he might legitimately be the most physical receiver in the class. Not only is he a tenacious, relentless competitor, but he knows how to use his physicality and play strength efficiently to compound separation and keep himself clean.
With his size, hand strength, and hyper-aggressive style, Tillman can be a handful for defenders on the boundary. Factor in his solid athletic profile, his natural catching instincts, and his upward trend as a route runner, and Tillman could eventually grow into a premier weapon at the X position in the NFL.
The Tennessee WR needs to keep refining his route running and efficiency of motion. Nevertheless, he visibly progressed through 2021, and he has the necessary bedrock traits like hip sink and stopping ability. If he can channel his explosiveness and athleticism with maximum efficiency, the ceiling is high for a well-sized, strong, and uber-physical threat like Tillman.