Analyzing Wide Receivers--An Extension of MHR University

As we continue with our Analyzing the Prospects service, we will take a look at one of the most technical positions on the roster, Wide Receiver.  Of all the positions, this one definitely requires a lot of rewinding, as you compare the receiver's routes to other routes on the field, gauging depth of routes and timing of cuts.  Despite this repetitiveness, there is a silver lining to all that rewinding;  what you see is clear and concise and usually quite easy to identify, once you know what you are looking for.

With that in mind, let's check out the chart for wide receivers...

 

Start at Snap

Look for the quickness of the first step.  Does the receiver have a plan for beating press coverage?  The first step off the line of scrimmage can determine who ultimately wins the press battle when players are evenly matched, and it gives a less talented receiver the chance to put a talented DB on his heels.  The first step should be explosive, and should get the player upfield in a hurry.

Release

Look for styles and execution of the second step off the line of scrimmage.  A receiver with a strong upper body should be able to keep a press DB's hands off of him and out of his body without breaking stride.  A receiver with a strong lower body should be able to sustain the burst with which they came off the line, getting the DB off balance.  The third step should be the route, so it is crucial that the receiver not have his stride broken up, or the timing of the offense will suffer and he won't be where the QB expects him to be.

Overall Pattern Running and Cutting Ability

Watch the route to see if it stands out clearly as a specific type of route.  The closer it conforms to its ideal, the "crisper" it is said to be, and the more effective it will be.  We'll look at what most of those particular shapes can be in the route sections.  The receiver should maintain balance and body control throughout the route, which will increase his ability to ad-lib and make micro-adjustments to the play.  The Cut should be sudden and should redirect with power.  This means setting the plant foot solidly and turning at the hips to encourage the change in momentum.  Make a note of the route depth and the type of coverage the player faces, whether press or off-coverage.  Most depths can be described as short, medium and long,with short being around 5 yards, medium around 10 and long 15 yards or more, but this varies greatly depending on the coverage.  If a player is in press, note whether he is held up, and if so, the route should generally break off sooner than the intended depth.  So a short out-pattern in press may need to break off at 3 yards instead of five in order for the timing to stay on.  These are all general observations, and mistakes are easier to spot than proper executions.

Short Routes

Quickness, especially in the feet and hips, as well as the awareness and agility to present the body to the quarterback for a good target.  On OUT routes, the receiver should break cleanly at about five yards and make a 90-degree turn to the sideline, turning his upper body to present a good target to the QB.  On an IN or DRAG route, the receiver should break sharply inside, at 90 degrees.  Some plays may require a LB read to break the route at the proper depth, either in front of or behind the LBs.  A receiver running an IN into high traffic probably made an incorrect read.

Medium Routes

Maintained burst off the snap and the agility to maintain balance through the cut become more important, as well as presenting clearly and finding the ball.  In a STREAK route the receiver should angle towards the middle of the field and find the soft spot between the underneath coverage and the deep coverage.  For a CURL route the receiver should gradually bend the route back to the center and back to the QB, presenting his numbers cleanly.  For a receiver who has run a SLANT route, go back to the snap and note which foot they put forward.  Because a slant is such a short route before the cut, generally the back foot is the plant foot, and the slant will be quicker and more decisive if the plant foot is the outside foot on the route, on the third step.  On a COMEBACK route, the player should sink his hips deeply at the cut and show the agility and balance to quickly reverse and be returning to the center of the field and the QB.  As a target he should present his numbers squarely.  This may be modified to a STOP, SIT or HITCH route, where the player merely cuts and turns around, without coming back to the QB.

Deep Routes

The player should maintain burst off the line, and have additional acceleration to separate from the defender.  On a POST pattern the player needs to time the break correctly, aiming at the goal post on a deep pattern.  On a STOP AND GO the receiver should sell a medium hitch route with the first step of a cut and then immediately release into a go route.  On a GO route the receiver should be at full speed from the snap and be able to outrun the defender and locate the ball.  On a CORNER route, the player should have the power and body control to sell a powerful first step of the cut to the inside, faking a post pattern, but then release into a route faded for the corner of the endzone and away from deep help.

Ability to Adjust to the Ball

A receiver that can maintain his balance through the cut will have the added opportunity to adjust either by twisting his body or extending his arms outside his body.  Look for players that can sink low to adjust to low passes or extend to get tipped passes.  The inability to adjust well can be a factor of inherent athletic limitations, or more likely, a player that doesn't keep his body straight and square through his routes, losing his balance and his basis for making adjustments.  Also look for poor timing in breaking off the depth of the route if the adjustments come too late or not quickly enough.

Focus in the Secondary

How well does the player keep track of defensive locations and adjust his body for the catch in traffic?  Good receivers know how to work back through the secondary in scramble drills and not cause traffic jams.  They also present themselves well by showing their numbers, giving the QB confidence for the throw in traffic.

Hands

The player should be able to prevent the ball from reaching his body by extending his arms and getting his hands on the ball first.  This reduces the impact speed of the ball, making drops and fumbles less likely while extending the offensive player's sphere of influence, which can prevent deflections or DB hand play from breaking up the pass.  Look also for players who are good at controlling the ball when it is outside of their framework, or who can quickly control tips.

Catching Concentration

The famous "catch it before you start running" mantra applies here.  The player should look the ball all the way into their hands consistently, and should be able to quickly secure it.  Watch out for players trying to get upfield without control.

Body Concentration

When hand catches are impossible, watch for a player who can adjust his body to ease the ball into his grasp by turning and moving with the ball.  This helps reduce the impact speed of the ball and helps prevent the ball from bouncing off of him and being trapped.

Hit Concentration

How does the player take a hit?  Does a smaller player reduce his stature and avoid big hits?  Does a larger player position himself and secure the ball for yards after the catch?  WRs shouldn't be taking a ton of punishment, so look for smart players who know how to avoid collisions when going down.

Awareness

Watch for players breaking off short routes a little longer if a first down is at stake, or shortening a long route to hit the gap between deep and short coverage.  A great WR skill is sideline awareness, where they have the ability and agility to work the sideline area without stepping out.  A receiver who can do this is a huge asset in close games, because he can get himself open in the high-traffic sideline areas.

After the Catch

The ability to catch, secure and turn the body without breaking stride.  How versatile is the player with a ball in his hands?  Does he secure it properly?  Does he do a lot of side-to-side or north-south evasion?  Does he rely on brute strength or finesse, and does he take advantage of his natural tools, whether Power or Quickness, to make that decision?  Watch out for quick players who insist on initiating contact, or powerful players who do more side-to-side than vertical running.  The rare dual threat, who can do both at leisure should be coveted.

Blocking

This comes down primarily to willingness and effort.  The willingness should be evident in urgency to engage the block and the effort should be evident in how long the block is sustained.  Watch for receivers who line up differently from play to play based on whether they are blocking or not.  In addition to being a critical tell, it indicates a player who approaches blocking as a different skill set than he normally uses.  Much of blocking is the mental attitude to know that you can beat the opponent.

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