The Washington Commanders were in need of a spark coming out of halftime down 22-0 to the Detroit Lions, and it did not take long for Carson Wentz to find it.
Wentz, who had struggled for most of the first half with just 59 passing yards, dropped back and took a few steps to his right. He spotted Jahan Dotson, who had just run past cornerback Will Harris, set his feet and fired a 40-yard shot to the rookie. Dotson made the leaping grab at the Lions' 20-yard line, and three plays later, the Commanders were in the end zone for the first time all afternoon.
"The kid keeps showing up," Wentz said. "I can't say enough good things about Jahan and the way he keeps showing up like that. I think that was a bit of a spark that we needed."
Though he is only two weeks into his rookie season, Dotson has already stood out among the other wideouts in the 2022 draft class. He is fifth in yards (99), fourth in yards per catch (14.1) and second among all receivers in touchdowns (3).
Ron Rivera said when Dotson was drafted that he plays outside his 5-foot-11 frame, and nowhere on the field has that been clearer than near the red zone, where he has emerged as a potent threat.
"His route running is very precise," Rivera said Wednesday "And I think, of those young guys coming out...he's one of the top two or three guys, as far as route running is concerned."
Dotson has been praised for how quickly he has picked up certain aspects of being in the NFL, and that preparedness is becoming more and more commonplace among young receivers. Not only are colleges throwing the ball more often, but their offensive coordinators are also placing their receivers in different spots on the field.
"Now, they learn to run all types of routes," Rivera said. "They learn that they gotta work on specific types of releases, those types of things. So, they're coming to us better prepared, as far as that position's concerned."
Receivers also start that work at an earlier age through seven-on-seven circuits in the summer. Terry McLaurin remembers some of that when he was attending Ohio State, but players like Dotson have been working through those circuits since middle school.
"They're used to route running, they're used to having to make plays down the field," McLaurin said. "Now, you see receivers being more of a premium position in this league."
The Washington Commanders have begun preparing for their first NFC East division matchup of the year. Check out the photos from Wednesday's practice ahead of the Week 3 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders
But Dotson has done more than practice in seven-on-seven circuits to perfect his craft. For the past two years, he has been working with Tevin Allen and Gold Feet Global, which specializes in helping athletes from all sports improve their speed and quickness, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to improve his route running.
"He's helped me get right to...excel my game and be ready for the moment in the NFL," Dotson said.
And Dotson was ready for his moment. His first touchdown came on a second-and-6 at the 7-yard line, where extra space is difficult to come by. That did not present much of a challenge for Dotson, who stuttered his feet before breezing past Shaquill Griffin for the score.
Clearly, Dotson likes that move, because he used something similar against the Lions last Sunday to get past Harris once again. This time, it was at the 1-yard line on a third-and-goal, and the play looked like a repeat for his first career score. Dotson got a step on Harris and leaped to haul in the pass.
Rivera also commented that people underestimate Dotson's catch radius, and that was on display back in Week 1, when Dotson left his feet and maneuvered himself around Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Tyson Campbell to make the 24-yard touchdown catch that helped seal the win.
That efficiency when the team needs him the most is why Dotson leads all receivers in DVOA, which is a metric Football Outsiders uses to measure a player or team's effectiveness compared to a league average.
Dotson's DVOA is 58.3% above the average.
"I think his routes are very sharp," Rivera said. "His cuts are very good."
Dotson and the Commanders offense will face another tough challenge during their return to FedExField. The Philadelphia Eagles secondary is anchored by two Pro Bowl cornerbacks, Darius Slay and James Bradberry, who will be eager to stop the rookie's strong start.
Don't count on that rattling Dotson, though.
"We're going up against a very tough opponent," Dotson said. "We know it's a test, so we definitely gotta get off to a fast start this week."