When evaluating players, especially those who are serious NFL draft hopefuls, it’s important not to judge a book by its cover. There might be no better advocate of that mantra than Western Kentucky WR Jerreth Sterns.
Sterns’ profile on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers’ roster page has the receiver as 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds. But when the Texas native showed up in Las Vegas, he measured in at just a hair over 5-foot-7 and 183 pounds. That would make him significantly smaller than not only his reported measurables but also the average frame of a receiver at the NFL level: about 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds.
Sterns never had a problem with production regardless of his body type. A significant reason for that is the fact that he wound up at Houston Baptist with quarterback Bailey Zappe and air-raid guru Zach Kittley calling plays. Sterns dominated the FCS as a receiver for three years before he, Zappe, and Kittley all moved on to Western Kentucky together.
Along with the move came a jump in competition, but what didn’t change were Kittley’s air-raid offensive scheme and the chemistry between the receiver and his quarterback. Sterns’ (and Zappe’s) senior year was his most dominant one yet. The former Houston Baptist standout receiver tallied 150 receptions for 1,902 yards and 17 touchdowns in his 14 games with the Hilltoppers. For all of the 2021 season and postseason, there were only four games in which Sterns didn’t put up triple-digit yardage and just four games in which he didn’t score a touchdown.
The Western Kentucky product was such a dangerous receiver in college because of his stellar route-running and good hands. Sterns was always creating separation downfield, whether that was from the slot or on the outside, over the middle or down the sideline. The guy just knew how to get open, and once he got open, even if it were just for a moment, he’d be able to secure the catch.
Looking at his tape from senior year, it often looks like defenders would either lose him in coverage or underestimate his speed and quickness given his smaller stature. Then—especially given his chemistry with Zappe—Sterns would get the ball in his hands as soon as the coverage was busted. Once he had the ball, his body strength and control set him up well for big yards after catch potential. He’d break through arm tackles and wiggle his way through gaps in the secondary pretty consistently for some big gains.
The stiffer competition with other college all-stars at the Shrine Bowl put Stern’s skill set to the test, and after four days of practice, it’s safe to say he passed with flying colors. He’s looked really quick off of the line of scrimmage, as well as fluid with his route-running.
He showed good burst and separation creation with clean cuts and changes in speed at the top of his routes. Sterns was winning his one-on-one matchups all week in Las Vegas, proving that size doesn’t really matter when you’ve got all of the tools that he has.
While he doesn’t have the body type of a prototypical NFL wide receiver, it’s been hard to sleep on Sterns given his production at the college level and performance during Shrine Week. He’s looked borderline unguardable at times with Western Kentucky and here in Las Vegas because of what he’s able to do as a route-runner and a pass-catcher. His routes are just too smooth and his hands too good.
NFL teams should be wary of passing up the chance to grab a value pick like Sterns. After all, who wouldn’t want a receiver who can consistently get open and generate yards both from the slot and on the outside? Sterns is a guy who can do just that, size be damned.