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Why speed sells at the wide receiver position

Breaking down video of Hankerson and Julio Jones. Matt Bowen

April 19, 2011
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Wide receiver is a “stopwatch” position, and you can’t hand out a final grade for a prospect until you have a 40 time to add to the report. Unlike scouting the RB position, top end speed sells for players that align outside of the numbers.

The vertical passing game, separation speed on the 9 (fade), 8 (post) and 7 cut (corner), plus the ability to turn an underneath concept into a big play. Today, let’s look at two WR prospects on video—Julio Jones and Leonard Hankerson—to highlight why speed sells in the open field on two simple route schemes.

Julio Jones

Start with Jones. With the Tide motioning to a 3x1 alignment, the WR “Missile Screen” is set up vs. off-man coverage. Create a matchup to get the ball to your playmaker with blockers and space to work with. Let’s check out the replay and then talk coaching points…

With LSU CB Patrick Peterson out of the lineup on this play, Alabama can work Jones vs. a safety playing off of the ball. The 3-step game is an option (slant, hitch, smash), but throwing the “Missile Screen” gives Jones a one-on-one matchup in the open field. Use play action out of the pistol alignment to force the defense to pursue to the closed (strong) side of the formation and then come back to the WR.

Nothing exotic here in terms of play calling as we see this often in the NFL from New England and New Orleans, but I want to focus on the top end speed from Jones. An easy throw from the QB that produces results because of the former Alabama WR’s ability to get up field and out run the defense.

Leonard Hankerson

Another basic concept to break down here for the former Hurricanes’ WR. Working against Georgia Tech’s Cover 2, Miami has “Houston” personnel on the field (3 WR, 2 RB). With Hankerson aligned as the W “receiver” inside the slot, the ‘Canes run a basic 9-curl combo to the closed side of formation. Let’s check out the replay and talk coaching points…

Use play action to open up throwing lanes. With the SS dropping to the deep half over the top of the 9 route, Miami wants to work Hankerson on the curl or throw the backside dig route (square-in) with the linebackers now reacting towards the line of scrimmage.

As we can see from the replay, a clear throwing lane to hit Hankerson on the 10-yard curl route. However, with the FS driving top down on the dig route, the Miami WR works back to the middle of the field and gets vertical. After that? All speed when he turns up field. And just like we discussed with Jones, a simple concept that produces results.

I agree that when we talk speed and top talent at the WR position it usually relates to vertical route concepts vs. a CB in Cover 1 or a deep half safety in Cover 2. Eat up the cushion of the defensive back and use that speed to separate when the ball is in the air. However, we just watched two basic concepts that we will see at all levels of football (from high school to the NFL) that produce big results due to the open field speed of these top prospects.

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