Greatness lies not in being strong, but in the right use of strength.
- Henry Ward Beecher
Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill is tall, fast, and has a frame that will likely support another 10-15 pounds of muscle without sacrificing his 4.36-40 speed. Cal wide receiver Marvin Jones is a shade under 6’2″ and 200 pounds and he appears to have the type of physique that wouldn’t add weight if he injected liquified Crisco with an IV. Yet if I were building a team from scratch and you asked me which receiver I’d rather have catching passes from my quarterback, at this moment I’d take Jones despite the fact Hill’s physical skills are uncommon.
I understand that Hill has a higher ceiling of potential than Jones and this makes his draft stock more valuable. If I have a stronger team with a veteran that I know will help Hill become all the player he can be then I’d consider pulling the trigger. However, Jones is likely a draft day bargain.Therefore, if my team needed a receiver that could play both the “x,” and the “z,” I’d take my chances with Jones later.
The reason is how each player harnesses his strength, speed, agility, and hand-eye coordination to manage physical play. The frequency and intensity of physical play is the greatest difference between the college and pro game for a wide receiver. Hill and Jones have the talent to thrive in the NFL, but at this point Jones’ game is closer to NFL-ready. I also think Jones will be a more versatile receiver. I’m going to give you a preview as why I think so. You’ll find the rest in the 2012 Rookie Scouting Portfolio available on April 1.
Greatness lies not in being speedy, but in the right use of speed.
- Any veteran NFL wide receiver
The first example I’ll show of Hill comes against Kansas in 2010. He’s had a year to improve since this game, but I’ve seen similar mistakes in 2011 where I feel confident that I have a reasonable bead on Hill’s development before the NFL Combine. Hill is targeted in the end zone on a 3rd and 9 pass from the KU 11 with 0:51 int the half from Georgia Tech’s base offensive set: a 30-personnel, double-wing, 1×1 receiver formation.
Hill is split to the far side of the field at the numbers with the CB playing seven yards off the line of scrimmage. He runs a crossing route to the letters of the end zone and the ball arrives at the lower part of the “A” in “Kansas.”
Hill adjusts to the low and away throw with the CB coming from trail to wrap him over top. This looks like a touchdown until the CB rips the ball loose from Hill before the NFL Combine stud can secure the target.
One reason Hill drops the ball is that he allows the pass into his body and tries to trap it to his stomach.
As the pass rebounds off Hill’s body, the CB is able to rip the ball loose.
However the root problem is not the trap to the body, but the route. Hill needs to learn to execute a better speed cut and take a flatter angle from his break. Just like the Kendall Wright-Terrance Williams examples from a couple of weeks ago, Hill’s angle away from his break lacks the sharpness to prevent a defensive back from undercutting the route.
If Hill takes a sharper path after the break that’s flat or angled back to the QB, the CB has to come through Hill to make the play. Instead, Hill gives up a back door path to make a play on the ball.
Jones uses his speed as a tool to generate production. Although Jones’ 40-time at the NFL Combine was a full 10th of a second slower (4.46) than Hill’s (I’m trying not to laugh at the seriousness of my own statement about the length of an eye blink), the Cal receiver is arguably faster in pads and running routes because he demonstrates far greater control over where he’s going and what he’s doing to get there.
A good example of a speed cut is a 10-yard gain against Nevada in 2010 on a 2nd and 4 pass with 14:24 in the third quarter.Jones is the outside receiver on the twins side of a 2×1 receiver, 11-personnel shotgun set. The Nevada CB is a yard off the line of scrimmage – Jones is the “z” receiver here and like Stephen Hill, he runs a crossing route. But as you’ll see, I might as well be saying me and Larry Fitzgerald both catch a football.
The similarities with the route end as soon as the offensive snaps the ball and Jones begins his release. The Cal receiver takes a jab step inside as he comes off the line and then dips to the sideline.
This route is half the length of Hill’s, but Jones has already used two moves to manipulate the defender within two yards whereas Hill did nothing. The CB now has his hips turned and begins to run down field, expecting a deeper perimeter route.
Jones takes three steps down field as the CB turns his hips to the outside with his back to the inside of the field. This is when Jones makes a speed cut inside.
Jones takes a flat angle from this release for a few steps and catches the ball with his hands five yards past the line of scrimmage.
Jones gains 10 yards on this play, working across the right hash until he feels the safety charging from the inside. He then cuts up the hash for a few more yards, taking a glancing shot to the leg from that safety and falls forward. By route standards, this is a far more suspenseful story of twists and turns than Hill’s, and in half the length.
For more analysis like this at every skill position, purchase the Rookie Scouting Portfolio. Pre-order the 2012 RSP and buy past RSPs (2006-2011) here.