Powerful, mean, dangerous, and smart. Those four words have been used to describe the Razorback wild boar, but ironically they are the perfect description for Arkansas safety and 2023 NFL Draft prospect Jalen Catalon. An aggressive playmaker in the secondary, he rose up draft boards before injury led to a decision to return to Arkansas. Catalon’s scouting report reveals why he’ll be one of the best safeties in college football this year.
Jalen Catalon NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Arkansas
- School: Safety
- Current Year: Redshirt junior
- Height: 5’10”
- Weight: 200 pounds
Jalen Catalon Scouting Report
Despite the safety position being relatively undervalued by most NFL teams, the requirements and responsibilities are vast. The modern safety has to be versatile enough to cover multiple alignments and remain strong in coverage all while impacting the game in the box.
Catalon’s scouting report reveals he has the requisite skill set to succeed at the next level. He’ll have the opportunity to elevate and improve during the upcoming season, but he already starts with an impressive base level in the 2023 NFL Draft class.
As mentioned above, versatility is next to ability in evaluating the safety position. The Arkansas safety doesn’t merely check the versatility box — he fills it. Catalon lined up as a single-high and split-field safety, slot cornerback, and boundary cornerback in the games studied. Furthermore, he played in the box and saw at least one snap lined up as a pass rusher off the edge. Catalon is every bit as versatile as any safety in this draft class.
The first thing you notice watching Arkansas is #1. Catalon is everywhere on the field, playing with a great motor that never stops until the play is dead. He flies around the field with relative ease, making his presence felt at all levels of the defense.
Aggressive, athletic, and intelligent
Whether defending the run or pass, Catalon is a heavy hitter as a tackler, putting his full effort behind every hit. Aggression and physicality are his calling cards. However, he can also disengage from blockers with finessed handwork when required.
Catalon possesses excellent athletic ability. He’s fluid, displays short-area quickness, and has decent change-of-direction ability. As a result, he’s able to click and close with insane quickness to snuff out the play. With his closing speed and aggressive playstyle, he’s a terrifying prospect to face for running backs or wide receivers.
Finally, Catalon combines his athletic ability with football intelligence. He’s able to read the quarterback, diagnose the target, then break on the route to make a play on the ball. It isn’t by luck or coincidence that the Arkansas safety has 5 career interceptions through 16 appearances.
Areas for improvement
While Catalon has a scouting report brimming with NFL Draft potential, let’s not pencil him into the first round yet. He’s still relatively inexperienced, with room to grow and areas for improvement. His return to Arkansas will certainly help in that regard.
Although it’s not something that the Arkansas safety can control, Catalon will potentially be viewed as undersized by the NFL. At 5’10”, he’s somewhat shorter than the accepted rule of 6’0″ and over 200 pounds. Catalon currently makes it work with his motor and aggression. However, will that approach work against more physical players in the NFL?
Like most players who play with their hair on fire, the Arkansas safety can be overzealous in his approach. This sometimes results in him missing tackles as he flies past his man. Additionally, it can result in his taking bad tackling angles, with the same result of him missing on the tackle.
Although there don’t appear to be any complications as a result of season ending shoulder surgery, Catalon’s ability to return to full fitness with no drop off in his ferocious playmaking style will be something to keep an eye on at the start of the 2022 college football season.
Jalen Catalon Player Profile
Although he featured prominently early in the 2022 NFL Draft cycle, Catalon’s young career could have taken many different courses. The epitome of a multi-sport athlete, the Texas native was an accomplished baseball center fielder and basketball player. There was the potential for him to play baseball in college.
However, he was a gifted football player. While it’s not uncommon for a player to line up on both sides of the ball in high school, Catalon was a dangerous dual-threat quarterback as well as a game-wrecking safety. A testament to his athletic ability, he rushed for 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns while throwing for 1,122 yards and 18 touchdowns during his junior season for Mansfield Legacy High School.
While his offensive output was outstanding, his defensive domination was delicious. He tallied 284 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 12 interceptions, and 9 forced fumbles through two seasons. Catalon’s play in his junior season earned him 2017 Defensive Player of the Year honors by multiple Texas-based outlets.
Primed for a standout senior season, disaster struck. Catalon suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener. Despite the loss of his final year, there was still significant interest in the four-star safety. He held over 20 offers, taking official visits to Oklahoma, TCU, and Texas before choosing Arkansas over Alabama, Clemson, and Florida.
“Arkansas just felt like family,” Catalon commented at the time of his commitment. “When I went on my first visit, it just felt like home. I feel like the best opportunity to grow as a person and as a football player would be at Arkansas.”
Catalon’s career at Arkansas
Coming off a severe injury, there was no pressure on Catalon to perform immediately for the Razorbacks. Many college players redshirt their first season without ever seeing the field, but Catalon tasted action in four games while retaining his year of eligibility.
The phrase “leave them wanting more” couldn’t have been more appropriate. In his final appearance of the season, he announced himself to Arkansas fans with a spellbinding display against Western Kentucky. Catalon recorded 6 tackles, 1 pass breakup, and 1 forced fumble in an otherwise disappointing Arkansas performance.
Catalon’s 2020 campaign was a season of firsts. The Arkansas safety made his first start against Georgia, logging 9 tackles and 1 forced fumble. Against Ole Miss, he secured his first career interception, breaking up a Matt Corral pass and returning for a touchdown. In doing so, he became the first SEC player to have 9 tackles, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble in a game since 2000.
Award-winning season turns conference recognition to national attention
Catalon earned SEC Defensive Player and Jim Thorpe Award Player of the Week honors for another incredible display against Tennessee. Registering 12 tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 1 interception, he became the first Arkansas player to snag an interception in consecutive games since 1997.
With 99 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, 4 pass breakups, and 2 forced fumbles, the Arkansas safety earned first-team All-SEC recognition from the AP. Catalon was named second-team All-SEC by the conference’s coaches, becoming the first Razorback to achieve conference recognition since 2007.
After receiving significant national attention ahead of the season, Catalon began his 2021 campaign in dominant fashion. The Arkansas safety tallied 11 tackles and 2 interceptions against Rice. He was a ferocious force as the Razorbacks shocked Texas. Although he failed to add any more interceptions, he broke up passes against Texas, Georgia Southern, and Mississippi.
However, after suffering a shoulder injury that was compounded by a broken hand, Catalon’s season was over by mid-October. While there was still potential for him to declare, the Arkansas announced in December: “My family always told me, ‘Follow your heart and just enjoy the journey,’ and that journey will continue here.”