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‘That dude is like Deebo Samuel’: Meet the Group of 5 wide receiver viewed by NFL scouts as an early-round NFL draft prospect

Matt Zenitzby:Matt Zenitz06/13/23


The execution of the route, an out-and-up, fooled the FAU defensive back so badly that Malachi Corley had five yards of separation by the time he caught the pass at the Owls’ 23-yard line.

Then came the resistance, a meeting at the 2-yard line between Corley and a different FAU defensive back standing between him and the goal line.

The outcome? The FAU player landing on his side in the end zone courtesy of a Corley shoulder to the chest and Corley stepping over him for a Western Kentucky touchdown.

The play was one of many highlights for Western Kentucky’s All-Conference USA wide receiver in 2022.

Now, just three years removed from joining the Hilltoppers as a running back, Corley is quietly one of the nation’s top NFL draft prospects at receiver.

NFL scouts are high on him. So are college coaches.

“That dude is like Deebo Samuel,” a Power Five assistant told On3. “I could see him at the end of the year being a damn first-rounder. I don’t know if (NFL scouts) have a player comparison on him or not yet, but I guarantee you that’s what they will all put, Deebo Samuel. He catches. He runs. He’s strong as s—-. He’s super physical. You just can’t tackle the guy. The dude’s contact balance is through the roof. There may not be a player in college football who’s better with the football in his hands.”

Six years ago, another Western Kentucky wide receiver, Taywan Taylor, was a third-round NFL draft pick of the Tennessee Titans.

It’s very much possible that Corley, whose 1,380 scrimmage yards last year ranked No. 2 among FBS receivers, could end up being selected even earlier.

Multiple NFL scouting sources have told On3 that they view the 5-foot-11, 210-pound Florida native as a legitimate early-round possibility. So does the Senior Bowl.

In addition, one of the scouting services used by NFL teams has Corley with a preseason second-round grade.

“We have a glass half-full Day 2 grade on Corley based off 2022 tape,” Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said. “I’d be careful comparing anyone to Deebo Samuel, but if people are doing that it’s because Corley is strong and aggressive with the ball in his hands.  From strictly a play style perspective, it makes sense.”

It’s been a steady progression for Corley since making that move from running back to wide receiver not long after arriving at Western Kentucky in the summer of 2020.

By the end of 2020, he had advanced enough that he started in the Hilltoppers’ regular season finale. He then ranked third on Western Kentucky’s record-setting 2021 offense with 73 catches for 691 yards and seven touchdowns before breaking out even more last season.

In addition to the 2022 scrimmage yard total, Corley also ranked fourth nationally last year with 101 catches, fourth with 1,293 receiving yards and tied for seventh with 11 receiving touchdowns.

Paired with an NFL prospect at quarterback in Austin Reed, who’s now back for a second season at WKU, Corley posted six 100-yard receiving performances along with five other games that he finished with at least 77 receiving yards.

Corley closed the year with 11 catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns in a 44-23 victory over South Alabama in the New Orleans Bowl.

That followed the aforementioned game against FAU, which featured 127 yards and two touchdowns from Corley to go along with the not-so-great moment at the goal line for that FAU defensive back.

“He would be an elite player in a conference like the SEC if he were there, but he’s an elite-plus player (at WKU),” said a Conference USA assistant with experience at the Power Five level. “He’s going to dominate this conference.”