Analysis: What Isaac TeSlaa Brings to Arkansas Football

Following the conclusion of last season, it was clear what was going to occur with Arkansas’ wide receiver room. Replenished with transfers Jadon Haselwood and Matt Landers last season, they would inevitably take on the NFL. With the pair vacating their seats, contributors Warren Thompson and Ketron Jackson also took on a new chapter. 

While the staff still believes they have something in the young players behind those leaving, there was still going to be too much of a void to stare into. Bryce Stephens – when discounting Rocket Sanders’ receiving stats –  is the returnee with the most yards from 2022. How many yards was that you may ask? On just nine catches, he totalled 109 yards. Jaedon Wilson is even further back due to lack of playing time up until the Liberty Bowl. In all, the Razorbacks lost over 2000 yards worth of production from pass catchers. It certainly made the stomach churn leading into the first portal window, but Pittman was ready to search far and wide.

Flowing back into the present slowly, the aforementioned Haselwood and Landers presented themselves in the NFL Combine once it rolled around. While one can shrug at that statement, it was marketing material for the Arkansas coaching staff. Bringing in two coveted wideout transfers for one season and sending them off to the draft? That paid major dividends for Arkansas’ search, needless to say. 

Getting involved with countless wide receivers at different levels in the portal, the Razorbacks returned with three top-notch, yet under the radar prospects. While Texas A&M C.C. transfer Andrew Armstrong was the first to join the squad, the first transfer breakdown will revolve around the one with the most hype thus far. That player being Hillsdale College transfer, Isaac TeSlaa (Teh-Slah). 

Background

The path to where the Hudsonville, MI native is now was one of many twists. Leading his high school team to a state title in 2018, he did so at the quarterback position. Alongside being an option quarterback, TeSlaa was also involved in basketball and was highly successful in track. Despite his efforts, no stars would be plastered by his name and destiny led him to division-two Hillsdale College where his position would change. 

Injuries would carve out the path to playing time for TeSlaa during his freshman season at wide receiver. Despite just playing in three games, he created a spark that would only build over the next two seasons. Getting the full-time starting job by game two of his sophomore year, 45 catches would result in nearly 700 yards and seven touchdowns. Each of those categories were first on the team and earned TeSlaa a Second-Team All-Conference nomination. 

Despite a coming out party, nobody had any idea what was in store for his junior year. Upping his stats in each category, he hauled in 68 catches for 1325 yards and 13 touchdowns. Seven out of his eleven games played provided over 100 yards receiving. The ridiculousness of those numbers earned TeSlaa Offensive Player of the Year in his conference as well as team MVP. Doing his bidding for the college his father attended, it was time to play with the big boys. 

Entering the transfer portal, the 6-4 wide out had offers from the likes of Miami, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Wisconsin. His recruitment boiled down to five schools in which Arkansas’ culture and high-class resources proved enough to add him to the fold. With stars finally placed by his name, TeSlaa was rated as a high three-star by both 247 Sports and On3. 

Now settled into Fayetteville, spring ball has had lots of whispers emerging that were centered around TeSlaa’s performances. Ranging from his one-handed snag in practice to overall consistencies, there has been a lot to like. While the spring game didn’t have him produce but one catch, there is a ton to like about the uber-talented receiver. There are even flashes of a recent Razorback great in his game.

Human Fly Paper

Said best by the Hillsdale College commentator, TeSlaa is the human version of fly paper. When breaking down his film, it’s the first thing to stick out. To put it in simpler terms, he catches anything he touches. There are two cases in particular that stand out that also showcase his catch radius and both under different circumstances.

The first snag stemmed from a fly route versus a soft press cornerback. As TeSlaa did often, he blasted by the defensive back with his deceptive 4.50 speed and created two steps between the opposition. The throw was placed a touch out in front and over the shoulder and wouldn’t have been hauled in by many receivers at the highest level. TeSlaa made it look easier than ever. Leaping forward from the ten yard line, he extended his left hand to have a chance at the football. While also sacrificing his body, the ball was palmed and secured leading up to the collision with the turf at the two yard line. Going from a full extension of the left arm to the twisting motion of bringing the ball to his body is special. The ability resembling some of the madness that former Razorback Treylon Burks provided. 

The other notable catch was the one that provided TeSlaa with the tagline of “human fly paper.” On a crossing route ten yards deep versus zone coverage, TeSlaa had run from the left sideline to the right hash. With his quarterback rolling right along with him, he attempted to hit Isaac in the zone gap. The laser thrown by his teammate wound up behind a full-speed TeSlaa. Once again making an impossible catch look ordinary, he reached back with his right hand and cherry picked the ball out of thin air. Bringing it into his body, the ball would not shift a centimeter as he trotted into the end zone. 

Going from a full extension of the left arm on the first catch to a full extension of the right on the second, proved his superhuman range of motion. Being able to contort his body in the manner that he does while catching anything that touches his fingers will translate to any level. That’s just the case when he gets one hand on the ball. When making snags with both hands, it might as well be the equivalent of  a bear trap. The message will be clear to KJ Jefferson regarding TeSlaa: throw a catchable ball and good things will likely happen. 

Leverage and Body Control

While trying to avoid bleeding over from body control to insane catches, they go hand-in-hand. In order to set himself up for the circus catches, TeSlaa presents an astounding amount of understanding in control. Most commonly sent on fly routes, it almost seemed as if he had no other choice but to adapt. No matter the coverage situation, he always had a shot at the football. 

It can be broken down into a few separate categories. Beginning with single coverage, it almost isn’t fair to defensive backs lined up against him. While the caveat of division two lingers, that doesn’t take away from TeSlaa’s natural ability of shielding and shifting through defenders. Getting a read on the football, he can place himself in the best spot to make a catch. Whether that be going over the top of a poor cornerback or using his body to ‘box out,’ TeSlaa prevails on numerous occasions. That is especially the case on routes near the sideline where his understanding of back shoulder throws reigns. 

Moving to double coverage, the same principles apply for the most part. While using his body to shield defenders isn’t as successful against two, it does play a role. Identifying where the football is in the air, he can slither between or around DBs to once again set himself up. His ability to high point the football then takes over once in position. While not showing off the most adequate vert in game, his 6-4 frame is often enough to keep opposing hands from spoiling a catch and absorbing contact. Each aspect mentioned to this point combine to make TeSlaa a super red zone threat for Dan Enos’ offense.

When faced with a back shoulder fade, range, high pointing the football, and shielding the defender all mesh. Not to mention his size as a primary factor. While he wasn’t used as a primary red zone threat for Hillsdale, that’s a role I expect to increase in Fayetteville. It was something seen in Treylon Burks as he continued to develop. Being able to control his body in mid-air and haul in any ball, it translated perfectly in the red zone as it did everywhere on the field. 

Final Thoughts

Boiling down the primary aspects of his game, TeSlaa is an inevitable matchup problem in the SEC. While mentioned earlier, Isaac does own a 40-time on record just above 4.50. Plugging in his 6-4 build and 215 pound frame, that number stands above average. That speed is enough to gain a step or two on an unsuspecting defensive back and can be seen often on tape. Even as an alright player getting off of press coverage, that acceleration is sometimes enough in those cases. 

When his deceptive speed isn’t enough to get him open, it wouldn’t make a difference. Much like Waffle House, TeSlaa is always open, no matter what sink is thrown at him. The body control, leverage, and fly paper hands create a monster for SEC teams to figure out and in a hurry. In a lot of cases, there likely won’t be an answer. 

As TeSlaa continues to grow his route tree much like Haselwood had to do coming in from OU last season, that’s the area that needs the most growth. That’s where the division two level shade can be thrown. Being a part of their Mustang offense, there wasn’t too much asked of TeSlaa when he did what he did. The majority of his route tree includes fly routes and basic crossing routes with a handful of outliers. How much more he will be asked to learn from Enos’ offense is still unknown. One thing is still for certain however, KJ Jefferson will have one heck of a deep ball threat for his arm.