Big things come in small packages, at least how that’s the saying goes.
Of course, there’s also the belief that football is a big man’s game. If that’s true, than Houston wide receiver Nathaniel “Tank” Dell has no place in the NFL. At 5-foot-8, 165 pounds, he is a decidedly normal sized man, and certainly not big.
But even so, his (relatively) small package had a decidedly big impact on the field for the Houston Cougars.
Dell was a big play waiting to happen pretty much any time he touched the ball, and was incredibly productive in his junior season. Despite his small stature, his 17 touchdowns and 1,398 yards speak for themselves.
The New York Giants showed that they didn’t have a problem drafting undersized players with the selections of Wan’Dale Robinson and Cor’Dale Flott on the second day of the draft. The Giants also need all the help they can get on an offense that struggled to consistently produce through the air. Could Dell be a spark plug for their offense?
Prospect: Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell (1)
Games Watched: vs. Cincinnati (2021), vs. Texas Tech (2022), vs. Memphis (2022), vs. Louisiana (2022).
Games Played: 35
Yards (YPC): 3,155 (13.8 per catch)
Games Played: 13
Yards (YPC): 1,398 (12.8 per catch)
Best: Athleticism, competitiveness, run after catch, ball skills
Worst: Size, play strength, contested catch
Projection: A slot receiver or “offensive weapon” in a Spread or West Coast offense.
Dell Jr. is an undersized but extremely athletic and competitive receiver prospect from the University of Houston.
Dell is very undersized compared to the NFL archetype at 5-foot 8 ⅜ inches, 165 pounds. However, he is also an extremely twitchy athlete who has learned how to use his size as an asset against his bigger opponents.
He has exceptional quickness throughout his routes. He fires off the line of scrimmage against off coverage, driving his stem vertically and burning up cushions. That often forces corners to flip their hips and run, only to see Dell sharply break back towards the ball. He also uses his quickness as a weapon against tight man coverage. He’s able to avoid jams and use quick footwork and hesitations to stop the feet of corners (or force them to open their hips in the wrong direction) before getting into his own route. His early-route acceleration allows him to turn an instant of hesitation by the defender into a fair amount of separation.
Dell has great ball skills down the field. He does a very good job of locating, tracking, and adjusting to the ball in flight. He also has very good body control to contort his body to maximize his (limited) catch radius. Dell is a natural “hands” catcher who works to extend and pluck the ball out of the air away from his body before securing the catch.
He’s a very dangerous ball carrier after the catch – or on designed touches such as wide receiver screens. Dell has great vision in the open field, excellent stop-start quickness, and change of direction skills. As expected from his route running, Dell is explosive out of his cuts and is able to “out-athlete” defenders in close quarters. He’s able to turn a glimmer of space into a sizeable gain.
He also has experience returning both kick-offs and punts, one of which he returned for a touchdown in 2022.
Dell is probably best described as “quicker than fast” and he has a noticeable lack of long speed. He appears to play in fast forward in the early part of the rep, but he isn’t able to sustain that extra gear throughout the play. That’s likely due to (relatively) short legs and a very quick stride frequency. He’s able to accelerate and change direction very quickly, but he isn’t able to lengthen his stride the way taller players can, limiting his top speed. Dell is fast enough to maintain his early separation against linebackers and most safeties, but he can be run down from behind by fast defensive backs
Of greater concern is Dell’s overall lack of size. He can be out-muscled in close quarters by average (or slightly below average) sized defensive backs. He has solid contact balance as a ball carrier, but even glancing blows can disrupt his routes and timing. Likewise, he can be bullied at the catch point by cornerbacks and have the ball knocked out of his hands as he comes down – or knocked out of bounds himself.
And while Dell is a very competitive player, he would serve an offense much better as a ball carrier than blocking for his teammates.
Overall Grade: 6.7
Tank Dell projects as a slot receiver or perhaps more accurately, an “offensive weapon”, in an offense that’s based in Spread or West Coast principles.
Whether or not he’s considered a starter will likely come down to weekly match-ups and team depth. However, he should see the field plenty on offense and should get a look as a returner. Dell resembles nothing so much as a Jack Russell Terrier out on the football field. He’s a coiled spring of an athlete who’s willing to mix it up with the biggest mastiffs out there, and few bigger dogs can keep up with him.
Dell lacks size, mass, and strength, and he will almost certainly come in below some team’s size thresholds. But he’s also exceptionally quick in and out of his breaks, has excellent acceleration, and is able to make opponents pay for small mistakes. His explosive lower body and great body control allow him to play bigger than he measures, and he’s a viable deep threat despite his lack of size and average long speed.
Dell is, in some ways, a very limited receiver. He probably shouldn’t be matched up on the outside in the NFL, and even average sized corners could give him fits in the right (wrong) situations. But if could also be a very dangerous weapon if he’s schemed a bit of space in the slot, bunch formations, or on screen plays.