College News & Analysis

Malachi Corley’s unlikely rise to becoming college football’s 'YAC king'

• Western Kentucky wide receiver Malachi Corley sits down for an exclusive interview with PFF.

• A top-10 receiver in college football: Corley recently placed 10th on PFF’s list of the best receivers in college football.

• “YAC king”: Corley’s 975 yards after the catch in 2022 were 292 more than the next-closest FBS receiver.

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

College football’s leading returning receiver isn’t Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka or Rome Odunze — a shortlist of household names at the position.

It’s Western Kentucky’s Malachi Corley, whose 1,282 receiving yards in 2022 placed fourth in the country. Despite his eye-popping numbers, he’s rarely brought up when discussing the nation’s best receivers. It's not the first time he's dealt with that.

Coming out of Kentucky's Campbellsville High School in 2020, Corley ranked outside of the top 2,700 recruits in the country, according to On3’s industry rating. He was also just the No. 30 recruit in the Bluegrass State.

“In the state,” Corley emphasized in an exclusive interview with PFF. “You don’t expect that.”

Even more insulting to him is that he was listed as a cornerback by most recruiting websites, despite his notable success at wide receiver.

“Honestly, that stuff still makes me mad to this day,” Corley said. “I didn’t go to any camps as a cornerback, I never put my name out there as if I was a cornerback. So when I saw that I was listed as one, that put a chip on my shoulder as well. Like, these guys don’t even think I’m good enough to have the right position.

“I see things about my high school stats where I scored six touchdowns in my junior year. I had like 30 touchdowns. So I don’t know where they get some of these stats at. My high school career was like a movie and it gets downplayed like I’m some snub who came out of the woodwork.”

Corley carried that chip into his career at Western Kentucky, the only FBS school to offer him. He spent his first two seasons as a backup before exploding in 2022. The “YAC king” earned that title, as his 975 yards after the catch were 292 more than the next-closest FBS receiver. Corley also forced 40 missed tackles after the catch, the second-best single-season mark in the PFF College era.

Most single-season forced missed tackles on receptions in PFF College era (since 2014)
Name School Season Forced Missed Tackles on Receptions
Carlos Henderson Louisiana Tech 2016 48
Malachi Corley Western Kentucky 2022 40
Rondale Moore Purdue 2018 37

It’s that after-the-catch ability that reminded PFF lead draft analyst Trevor Sikkema of San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel, a blueprint that Corley is trying to follow.

“Deebo is a unit,” he said. “He’s fast, agile and runs people over. He isn’t scared of contact. He is someone that I absolutely model my game after. He’s a unicorn in the league. He’s so versatile. They have sets with him in the backfield just like we use with me at Western Kentucky. I can say our game translates to each other very well.

“I’ve been telling [the coaches] on those fourth-and-1s, ‘Please give me the ball. I’ll go get us a yard.’ There’s not much fear in my heart. I’ll run through a brick wall if someone tells me to.”

Corley’s dominant 2022 season made him a top-10 receiver in the country heading into 2023, meaning he could’ve been a prized transfer portal addition for a Power Five school. But he never sought that type of environment.

Fewer than 300 students attended Corley's high school. His region championship team had 19 kids.

“I was never looking for the big stage,” Corley said. “I like being the whole wheel rather than a spoke in the wheel. I didn’t want to be another good player that went to Ole Miss or Texas A&M or wherever it may have been. I wanted to make a name for myself in my own way at Western Kentucky and leave a legacy. This community, the way that my coaches treat me, the way that I’m respected around the campus and amongst my peers, everyone here believes in me. All those factors were way more important than anything else like NIL or money. It never crossed my mind to leave here. This is home to me.”

Instead, Corley’s next team will be whichever NFL franchise drafts him. The junior is fixated on turning that dream into a reality.

“I’m dialed in. I can’t make it up,” Corley said. “In practice, I run the most yards every day. I push myself past the point where I feel like I need to throw up and still keep it going. I know there are guys listed above me and I have to outwork them and outshine them in order to be put into that position.”

Two players Corley will have to outshine to achieve his goals are Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka, the consensus best receivers in college football.

Luckily for him, his Hilltoppers travel to Columbus on Sept. 16.

“I can’t wait to go to Ohio State,” Corley said. “That’s going to be a highly watched game. There’s going to be like [100,000] people and not too many will be cheering for us. I’m going to feel like a supervillain going in there. I know the whole world will be watching and I can’t wait to show them, ‘This guy is for real.' I want people to be like, ‘Who is this guy?’”

While it may seem like Corley is solely focused on his football career, he knows his true calling will come once he hangs up the cleats.

“If you want me to be honest, my purpose is not in football,” Corley said. “My purpose is in ministry, being able to speak to people. Growing up, I’ve seen people more talented than me fizzle out because of whatever reason. They just need one conversation with someone who’s really done something with their life and been at the point that they want to get to, to tell them, ‘You can do it too.’

“Especially nowadays, social media and the world beats you down so much. My purpose is to speak to kids and impact them in whatever way I can. I just want to do great things in my life and impact them in a great way.”

Corley has a message for those kids who, like him, aren’t receiving the attention they feel they deserve.

“Even though the politicians might say that you’re not a five-star or a four-star, I’ve seen kids who are two-stars that are better than a five-star,” he said. “Stars don’t really mean much. You have to believe in yourself. It’s hard to stay confident with people knocking you. Somebody’s going to give you an opportunity, and once you have it, you have to make the most of it. I don’t care if I played in the FCS or the Power Five. Every time you get a chance on the field, you have a chance to do something special to be remembered.”

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