'YAC King' Corley eager to deliver for Jets

If there was ever an NFL Draft match made in heaven, it may be have happened last week when the New York Jets selected Western Kentucky wide receiver Malachi Corley with the first pick of the 3rd Round, and the 65th overall selection of the 2024 edition in Detroit.

Corley appears to be just what the doctor ordered for the Jets, a snake-bitten franchise with the longest active playoff drought in the NFL, having not reached the postseason since 2010.

You remember Corley, right? He’s the sure-handed speed and power fellow who led the nation in yards after catch in 2022, earning him the moniker “YAC King,” and he put together three glorious seasons as a Hilltopper — fueling a high-octane WKU team that won three consecutive bowl games.

In 2021, Corley caught 73 passes for 691 yards and seven touchdowns — but he was just getting started. The following season, he made 101 receptions for 1,295 yards and 11 touchdowns, and last season he snared 79 aerials for 984 yards and 11 more scores.

A two-time All-Conference USA first team selection, the 5-foot-11, 207-pound Corley was the 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl Offensive Breakout Player of the Week, and the 2024 Reese’s Senior Bowl National Team Top Wide Receiver.

He became the second-highest drafted player in Hilltopper history, with only All-American offensive lineman Forrest Lamp (Second round, 38th overall pick, Los Angeles Chargers, 2017) selected sooner. He is the 40th Western player of all time selected in the NFL Draft.

How bad did the Jets want Corley?

According to an article by ESPN’s Rich Simini, about eight hours before the start of the second round of the draft, Jets head coach Robert Saleh texted an action photo of Corley to the team’s general manager Joe Douglas. Underneath the photo, Saleh wrote: “No matter what.” Douglas immediately responded: “No matter what.”

It took a trade to pull it off.

The Jets didn’t have a second-round pick — it went to the Green Bay Packers last year in the Aaron Rodgers trade — so they moved up seven spots in the third round and selected Corley with the first pick in the third round. It cost the Jets their own third-round pick, plus a fifth-rounder.

The organization had such a high grade on Corley that Douglas started calling teams in the middle of the second round before making a deal with the Carolina Panthers for the 65th pick.

“We’re juiced, man,” Douglas said. “Malachi is a guy, you watch his tape and it’s hard not to get excited.”

Since 2021, Corley accumulated a mind-boggling 2,068 yards after catch — more than 400 yards more than anyone else in FBS during that period — and Corley fully embraces that trait that separates him from the pack.

“The biggest strength of my game is yards after catch,” Corley told reporters last Friday night. “I think that’s my calling card, and I think I do that better than anyone else. I think that when I get the ball in my hands, I can make special plays. I can take a 2-yard bubble screen 20, 30 yards if I have to.”

The veteran Rodgers, a future Hall of Famer who was sidelined with a torn Achilles after only four plays in his first season with the Jets in 2023, apparently loved the team’s selection of Corley, who was quick to acquire the quarterback’s cell number from the organization — and equally quick in calling Rodgers.

“Oh, my God,” Corley said. “It’s unbelievable. It’s just a testament to my work ethic and everything I’ve put forward toward my game, knowing that someone who is a great and who has played this game at the highest level for over a decade sees me in the same light.”

Corley will bring a dynamic new dimension to the Jets receiving corps, which had the league’s second-fewest yards after catch last fall, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“My goal is to not only play at the next level, but to achieve great things once I get there,” Corley said, prior to the Hilltoppers’ 2023 season. “I’ll continue to work to become the best player I can be, and I’ll be ready to produce in a big way in the (NFL) when that day comes.”

All of this coming from an overlooked player who was a 247Sports and Rivals two-star (repeat, two-star) prospect out of tiny Campbellsville High School; choosing Western over FCS schools Austin Peay, Eastern Kentucky, and Murray State.

It’s an improbable, inspiring journey to the big time (and the Big Apple) for Corley that has been nothing short of amazing — quite like the “YAC King” himself.