Jalen McCleskey is an athletic and versatile wide receiver prospect entering the 2020 NFL Draft. McCleskey played for Oklahoma State prior to making the move to Tulane University where he played his 2019 season. His 202 career receptions for 2,359 yards and 20 touchdowns highlight his production at the position. He was the leading receiver in receptions during his 2016 sophomore season at Oklahoma State, and would become the sixth all-time receptions leader in Oklahoma State history.
We discussed how he is preparing for the next level, his eye-popping makeshift pro day, and what he is willing to do to make an NFL team.
Kade Kistner: First things first, how is everyone doing? Are you and the family safe and virus-free?
Jalen McCleskey: Oh, yes. Yep, we are all safe, just taking the proper precautions everyday, making sure we wash our hands. If we go somewhere we make sure not to touch our faces, but yes, everyone is healthy.
KK: You just finished working out. What does that consist of, or look like while preparing for the NFL during a quarantine?
JM: The workout I just got done with, I just did a bunch of receiving stuff, footwork, working on coming out of breaks. Basically it’s now just about keeping people safe, healthy and taking proper precautions. But still working out and getting ready for what I have to do which is making a team. So, just making sure everyone stays safe but still getting work in.
KK: Other than working out, how have you been passing the time?
JM: I go home, and I chill, I’ll play video games, watch TV, and watch film of receivers in the league right now like Cole Beasley and Julian Edelman, those slot receivers and how they run their option routes. I also just try to do pushups and stretch. Things you normally would just knowing you can’t go anywhere.
KK: There is a video out there showing your makeshift Pro-Day. Pretty eye-popping numbers with your 4.28 40-yard dash and 40-inch vertical jump, pretty crazy stuff. Would you consider your speed and athleticism your calling card?
JM: Most definitely. I feel like I can play all the positions, outside receiver, slot receiver. But I feel like in the slot I bring a different aspect because I can run all my option routes, all the stuff slot receivers run, but I also have that vertical threat ability to take it over the top. I also have the ability that once I catch those out-routes and shorter routes I have the speed to turn a smaller gain into a really big gain.
KK: Playing at the next level in the NFL is the goal. Would you be willing to play special teams if that’s what it takes to find that opportunity?
JM: Most definitely. Whatever helps me make the team and whatever helps the team win. At the end of the day that’s all that matters, winning games. Going in there showing I can be a punt returner or a kick returner. And even though I may not have game film at gunner, at Oklahoma State and Tulane I had reps in practice. So going in there and showing them I can do that also.
KK: What part of your game are you focusing on improving right now?
JM: Right now, I am focusing on coming out of my breaks like curl routes, comebacks, things like that. And also coming out of my breaks on options routes like little 5-yard out-routes, 10-yard outs. Just being able to attack the leverage of the DB, so no matter what the DB does I can always get open.
KK: Let’s talk about that game against Houston last season. What was going through your mind when you caught that last second pass from Justin McMillian to put Tulane up top late in the fourth quarter?
JM: We had been working on that end of game play since fall camp. So we knew that if we ever got in that situation we knew which play Coach Hall would call, so that when he calls it, we just have to execute it. When Justin completed the pass, I knew there was a bunch people around me and I knew we had one timeout left. I just have to hold onto the ball, and I’m gonna get hit but we would call a timeout and kick a field goal to win the game. When I caught it, I bounced off the hit and started running, and I knew I had to score because I didn't know how much time was left on the clock and if we would have time to call a timeout.
KK: Which NFL players do you look up to and try to model your game after?
JM: My favorite NFL receiver was Antonio Brown. I just like his work ethic, and how he works. He comes in there and gives it 100% every time. I have to go away with him because of his off the field issues and that’s not a path I would ever go down. But on the field, AB. I really look up to him because of how he worked. He is always in there. He’s a smaller receiver also, and had that mindset where everyone was saying “He’s too small...he can’t do this,” so I feel like we have that same mindset in that regard.
KK: What is your Mount Rushmore of NFL quarterbacks?
JM: This is actually gonna be based off of quarterbacks I’ve seen myself. If I haven’t seen them play I won’t put them in there. Let’s see, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and then I would have to go with Peyton Manning.
KK: Gotta ask, have you seen Tiger King yet?
JM: I have not. I need to start watching it though. I always remember that there was a billboard for that place [Joe Exotic’s zoo] on your way to Stillwater when I was going to school at Oklahoma State. They had a sign for his little tiger place, so that’s crazy I would always pass it.