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Making the case: Can Tank Dell be an NFL wide receiver?

Dell is incredibly small, but has a skillset that might appeal to the Giants

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 04 American Championship Game - Houston at Cincinnati Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Yes, even at 163 pounds Houston’s Tank Dell can be an NFL wide receiver. But seriously, the New York Giants are in the market for wide receiver talent. Although New York’s wide receiver room is like Vegas - slot city - with several smaller framed wide receivers, Dell’s movement skills and playmaking ability differentiate him from any current Giants’ wide receiver.

Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell has the best change of direction and suddenness I’ve seen in a prospect since Kadarius Toney in 2021. Dell may be the most explosive player in this draft from static to movement. Dell’s 1.49 10-yard-split is indicative of that observation.

Dell posted a 108-catch, 1,399-yard season with 17 touchdowns and a catch rate of 71.1% for the Houston Cougars. He ran 67% of his snaps out of the slot and was impressive throughout the early portions of plays; this was not just due to his immediate burst but also his release package and his micro-movements up his initial stem to keep cornerbacks guessing. Here are a few examples:

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There are so many subtle movements up his initial stem. However, to be fair, good press NFL cornerbacks may impose their physicality on Dell if he attempts to step on a thousand ants as he did in the first clip at the next level, but Dell displayed control and determination while releasing off the line of scrimmage in college.

Much of the concern about Dell is all easily shown in the chart below:

Dell has THREE outlier traits in his profile. He is in the third percentile of height, the first percentile in weight, and the sixth percentile in hand size - all very important aspects of a wide receiver’s game. I understand these concerns, and they shouldn’t be overlooked. Some teams won’t have him on their board.

But creative teams - adaptive teams - who thrive with innovation week in and week out, who can scheme up designed touches and leverage what a player CAN do, and not just focus on what they CAN’T do will find a role for a player like Dell. The frequent readers of this site may be familiar with a coaching staff that fits this description.

Dell was one of the first players I watched to start my deep dive into the 2023 NFL Draft class. Here is my synopsis of his game:

If I had one adjective to describe Nathanial ‘Tank’ Dell, it would be FUN. The NFL is centralized around creating explosive offensive plays - Dell does that very well. Dell appears to be shot out of a cannon when he’s accelerating, yet he exercises excellent precision and timing when he’s changing direction. He has good body control when running his route, and his movements are deceptive. He’s difficult to jam, and it’s dangerous to give him a free release.

I really like Dell’s skill set and think he can be a difference-maker in the NFL. However, his frame will turn some teams off, and he’ll be relegated to the slot or as an offensive weapon in the NFL. Names like Percy Harvin, Tavon Austin, Tutu Atwell are typically associated with Nathaniel “Tank” Dell. I’m not necessarily in the comparison game, but I can see the similarities, albeit the suddenness which Dell displays could be superior to the players listed above.

I believe the landing spot is crucial for Dell’s success in the NFL. If he is drafted by a team with a progressive offensive mind who can leverage his strengths effectively, then he could be a dangerous weapon for that offense.

Dell is smart as a route runner, understands how/when to get open, can separate against man and zone, and has all the desired athletic traits for a wide receiver. He’s not perfect, but damn he could be a FUN player in the right situation.

The exciting prospect will turn 24 years old next season. I’m not advocating for the Giants to select Dell. There are plenty of holes on the Giants' roster, and selecting a 5-foot-8 wide receiver with small hands and a thin frame isn’t the most pressing need, but he could thrive with this current Giants’ coaching staff.

Joe Schoen selected two outliers in the top 100 in last year's draft: Wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson at 43 and cornerback Cor’Dale Flott at 81. Schoen may not be averse to selecting more outliers, but Dell will likely be selected far before pick 128 in the fourth round.

Is allocating another Day 2 pick to an undersized wide receiver with as many holes as the Giants’ roster possesses a prudent move? I can understand why some would say it’s not, and I don’t disagree with them. However, I would feel excitement on some level if the Giants were able to select Dell in the third round. It’s not the safest move. Still, with a Daboll and Schoen seal of approval, I would certainly be excited.