The Elusiveness Factor: Patterson-Austin-Woods By Nick Whalen


Who is more elusive, Cordarrelle Patterson or Tavon Austin? Photo by Nashville Corps.

Who is more elusive, Cordarrelle Patterson or Tavon Austin? Photo by Nashville Corps.

If you’re an NFL Draft junkie, this time of year feels like the weeks of anticipation leading to Christmas Day.  When I was a kid, recordings of previous NFL Drafts were my “cartoons before bedtime,” before this blessed event that always brought a sense of euphoria when it finally arrived.

I’m not normal.

But I seek solace in the fact that many of you know what I mean.  The 2013 NFL Draft has two bright, shiny toys in Cordarrelle Patterson and Tavon Austin. Yet like some of the most popular toys kids want for Christmas, they present some risks that are polarizing.

I’m not the Consumer Reports of college prospects. If you want a safety assessment regarding the risk of investing in them, go somewhere else. I want to explore what they do best: making collegiate defenders look silly trying to corral them in when they had the ball.

So for the past few weeks, I dove into film study that took more time than I feel comfortable divulging.  My fiancé literally thinks I’m nuts, but this is her first NFL Draft with me – so better she know now what she’s getting into. This piece has enough data collection on the back end that it could blow Mel Kiper so far back that he’d have no more product left in his hair.

Since Patterson and Austin are so good at making defenders miss, I wanted a third prospect to study that is considered an elusive receiver in the normal sense of the word. I chose Robert Woods. Here are the number of games and plays I watched of each player.*

  • Cordarrelle Patterson: 12 games/67 plays
  • Tavon Austin: 12 games/172 plays
  • Robert Woods: 15 games/138 plays

*Patterson and Austin’s games are from the 2012 season. Woods’ games were from 2011 and 2012 to match Austin’s sample size.

Plays like this one, where Woods has to make a diving effort and drops to the ground were among those discounted in Whalen's analysis. Photo by Neon Tommy.

Plays like this one, where Woods has to make a diving effort and drops to the ground were among those discounted in Whalen’s analysis. Photo by Neon Tommy.

In order to get as accurate of an assessment as I could, I opted to dismiss plays from my sample that put the player in a situation where he had no chance to make a defender miss.  These six types of plays didn’t count in my study (abbreviations in parenthesis for tables below):

  • Catching a touchdown in the end zone (TD-End).
  • Untouched/easy path to the end zone (TD-Easy).
  • Tackled by the defender upon making a reception (T/Rec).
  • Falling catch (F/Rec)
  • Falling out of bounds, slipping, or diving to the ground while making the catch near sideline (Side).
  • Exiting the boundary to preserve the clock in the appropriate game situation (Exit).
  • Designed runs from the backfield between the tackles (Int).

I also opted to dismiss Tavon Austin’s interior running plays when used from the backfield.  This way I could focus on all three players as ball carriers from the receiver position (jet sweeps, end-arounds, and reverses). “Total D” in the table is the number of plays dismissed from the analysis, which is subtracted from the “Watched” column to generate the Adjusted Total.

Name

TD-End

TD-Easy

T/Rec

F/Rec

Side

Exit

Int.

Total D

Watched

Adj. Total

Patterson

6

1

5

1

11

1

0

25

67

42

Austin

4

1

18

5

1

0

38

67

172

105

Woods

20

1

31

13

7

0

0

72

138

66

Woods has a very high number of catches where he was tackled during the catch reception or he fell upon making the catch.  This has to do with his combination of athleticism, the type of targets thrown his way and his lack of separation from defenders in some of these situations.

I counted players that were within a three-yard radius with a legitimate chance of making a tackle.

Clearly there is some subjectivity to how I did this, but I was as uniform with my process as I could:

  • If the defender was three yards behind the ball carrier, he’s not counted as a tackle attempt.
  • If the defender was three yards ahead and with no blocker in his way, I counted it as an attempt.
  • If a defender is being blocked, it had to be a distance of less than half a man and he had to have a true shot to attempt an arm on the ball carrier.

I used this data to calculate elusiveness on pass plays, run plays, punt returns, kick returns, and total plays.

Pass Plays

Name

Eluded

Receptions

Pct.

Patterson

27

16

169%

Austin

25

44

57%

Woods

24

66

36%

I didn’t expect Woods to be on par with Patterson or Austin, but for Patterson to have eluded more defenders on a fraction of the receptions that either Austin or Woods had is a fascinating number to see. It leaves one to wonder how much these numbers reflect the style or location of the play or if Patterson’s style of running after the catch is that much more efficient at making defenders miss.

Run Plays

Name

Eluded

Runs

Pct.

Patterson

23

17

135%

Austin

20

29

69%

Woods

3

2

150%

The number of Patterson’s defenders who missed him equals the total of Austin and Woods combined. Not much of a sample for Woods. For those of you interested in the outcome of Austin’s interior running plays, the Mountaineer made 24 defenders miss on 38 runs between the tackles that qualified.

Punt Returns

Name

Eluded

Returns

Pct.

Patterson

7

2

350%

Austin

27

8

338%

Woods

8

7

114%

Punt returns have been regarded as one of the easiest situations where a ball carrier can make a defender miss and the numbers across the board appear to reflect this notion.

Kick Returns

Name

Eluded

Returns

Pct.

Patterson

15

7

214%

Austin

17

24

71%

Woods

3

2

150%

 The sample size for Woods is too small to draw any reasonable conclusions. It is fascinating how much higher Patterson scores compared to Austin.

Total Plays

Name

Eluded

Eluded/Play

Pct.

Patterson

72

42

171%

Austin

89

105

85%

Woods

38

77

45%

The difference in how efficient these three players are with making defenders miss is startling. It’s hard to believe Austin and Woods combined still made fewer defenders miss than Patterson on a percentage-per-play basis.

Next let’s examine how these receivers made defenders miss.

  • Pressure cut: Fake one way and goes another while maintaining forward momentum.
  • Jump cut: Jumps to a side to avoid defender, but no forward momentum.
  • Speed:  Runs by a defender, outruns pursuit angle, or runs around defender.
  • Power: Runs through a contact tackle attempt by moving forward through defender.
  • Spin: Runs through contact or no-contact tackle attempt by spinning around defender.
  • Hurdle: Jumps over a defenders tackle attempt

On many plays I watched, these receivers used multiple methods in combination to make a defender miss them.  I selected the one method each used that was the biggest factor.

“Power,” may seem like it shouldn’t belong on this list, but I think it’s important to note plays where the ball carrier diminished a defender’s position to reduce the contact to a glancing blow, an arm tackle, or the runner attacked first and made contact with an off-balance defender.

Here are the types of moves this trio of receivers used to make defenders miss tackles.

Pass

Name

Pressure

Jump

Speed

Spin

Hurdle

Power

Total

Patterson

6

5

3

2

1

10

27

Austin

6

5

7

3

0

4

25

Woods

4

4

7

2

0

7

24

The number of plays where Patterson and Woods bounced off a glancing blow from a defender matches what one might expect from their size compared to Austin. However, Patterson’s repertoire and frequency of other moves is as prolific in every way with the exception of the speed route.

This just speculation, but from what I have seen, Patterson was often targeted in tighter coverage than the likes of Austin. The slot receiver was a frequent target on crossing routes where the speed component of elusiveness would come into play. In contrast, Patterson played in a system where he ran slants, fades, and other perimeter routes breaking back to the quarterback, which forced him to run through glancing shots. Woods, a receiver in a west coast offense, ran a lot of crosses, fades, and slants and the variety of moves falls between Austin and Patterson.

Run

Name

Pressure

Jump

Speed

Spin

Hurdle

Power

Total

Patterson

7

9

4

0

0

3

23

Austin

3

7

6

0

0

4

20

Woods

3

0

0

0

0

0

3

The use of power in the run game was slightly in favor of Austin. This might be explained by the frequency the West Virginia used Austin as a runner, making the plays a common part of every series so defenses were in better position to force contact.

Punt

Name

Pressure

Jump

Speed

Spin

Hurdle

Power

Total

Patterson

2

5

0

0

0

0

7

Austin

5

3

15

3

0

1

27

Woods

0

4

3

1

0

0

8

Kick

Name

Pressure

Jump

Speed

Spin

Hurdle

Power

Total

Patterson

9

2

3

0

0

1

15

Austin

5

1

8

0

0

3

17

Woods

1

0

1

0

1

0

3

It’s no surprise that the nature of a punt return would allow for more jump cuts and spin moves than a kick off.

Total Touches

Name

Pressure

Jump

Speed

Spin

Hurdle

Power

Total

Patterson

24

16

10

2

1

19

72

Austin

19

16

36

6

0

12

89

Woods

8

8

11

3

1

7

38

Considering what I speculated about the type of moves these players use, I also examined the depth of the zone where these players made receptions:

  • Short: Anything caught from behind the line of scrimmage to 7 yards.
  • Intermediate: Receptions greater than 7 yards but less than 20 yards.
  • Deep: 20 yards or more.

For example, if a player advances a reception from the 5 yard line to the 40 yard line, it will still be counted as a short reception.

Range of Field Where Plays Began

Name

Short

Int.

Deep

Total

Patterson

10

6

0

16

Austin

42

3

1

46

Woods

58

3

2

63

Nothing unexpected thus far, the most opportunity to elude a defender after the catch occurs in the zones of the field with the highest concentration of defenders.

Types of Moves by Range of Field – Short Zone

Name

Pressure

Jump

Speed

Spin

Hurdle

Power

Total

Patterson

3

4

1

0

0

4

12

Austin

6

5

5

3

0

3

22

Woods

4

4

6

1

0

7

22

The sample for Patterson is roughly half that of his peers, but it appears he leans more on power and jump cuts than Austin in the short range of the field. Again, is this due to style or play? A screen pass or slant would call for more jump cuts than a crossing route. It would also include more power moves.

Types of Moves by Range of Field – Intermediate Zone

Name

Pressure

Jump

Speed

Spin

Hurdle

Power

Total

Patterson

3

1

2

2

1

6

15

Austin

0

0

2

0

0

0

2

Woods

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

One of the reasons for the difference in elusiveness appears to be use. Austin’s opportunity to make plays in the open field on intermediate routes was limited in this 12-game sample. Woods’ was non-existent. Based on observation, Woods’ intermediate plays tend to be outs, comebacks, corner routes, or fades with either tight coverage or the catch hugging the sideline.

Still, Patterson has had some of these style routes and demonstrated a level of athleticism above and beyond Woods to generate additional yards –not enough to make this a definitive explanation for the difference in this sample, but something to think about.

Types of Moves by Range of Field – Deep Zone

Name

Pressure

Jump

Speed

Spin

Hurdle

Power

Total

Patterson

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Austin

0

0

0

0

0

1

1

Woods

0

0

1

1

0

0

2

When successful, deep zone plays offer fewer defenders to beat. At the same time deep plays often require adjustments that either result in an unchallenged run to the end zone or the play is down after the catch due to the adjustment or tight coverage.

Woods may lack the elusiveness factor of Patterson and Austin, but his game translates best to the widest range of NFL teams. Photo by Neon Tommy.

Woods may lack the elusiveness factor of Patterson and Austin, but his game translates best to the widest range of NFL teams. Photo by Neon Tommy.

Takeaway

Patterson has made more defenders miss on fewer plays than Austin and Woods. To the naked eye, the Tennessee wide receiver’s open field skills are at a level above the rest of the wide receiver class. It also appears this way when looking at it from this perspective. However, tracking these players in this fashion has also revealed that the type of plays used have a significant influence on the types of moves these players employ and likely the success.

It also raises questions about the type of moves that will or won’t work against NFL defenses. Patterson’s is neither as polished as Woods nor as versatile as Austin. It means that one of two things will have to happen for Patterson to enjoy similar success in the NFL:

  1. Patterson will need to sharpen his route running.
  2. His seemingly other-worldly, open-field skills at the college level will have to translate to the NFL.

All three receivers are fine NFL prospects. This breakdown goes to show that each player has a stylistic fingerprint. Some of these styles may or may not work in the NFL. Others may work best in a specific scheme. Then there are some that have a chance to work regardless of the offense.

Woods may not make as many players miss as Austin or Patterson, but his skill as a route runner and pass catcher should make him a fit in any NFL system. Woods’ big plays come from the catch itself more often than after it.

Austin might show us a facet of his game that wasn’t used much at West Virginia, but it’s more likely that he’ll be a short-to-intermediate threat whose big plays come after the catch. It means he’ll have to become a high-volume receiver in the NFL with the versatility to contribute as a runner is packages that include screens, draws, toss plays and jet sweeps.

Patterson has the physical dimensions, budding skills, and experience to earn a living like Woods, but his special skill for creating after the catch at a higher level could make him a Pro-Bowl player, but if his skill at making defenders miss diminishes versus the enhanced athleticism of the NFL and he doesn’t compensate by learning the techniques that Woods displays to get open, the Tennessee wunderkind could flop. For Patterson it might come down to how special his elusiveness is and this sample reveals it might be good enough.

You can follow Nick Whalen on Twitter @_NickWhalen

For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2013 Rookie Scouting Portfolio available April 1. Prepayment is available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2013 RSP at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.

Categories: Analysis, Players, Wide ReceiverTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 comments

  1. I find it interesting that you don’t discuss how 36 (40%) of Austin’s missed tackles are due to speed, and how in the NFL, especially compared to the Big 12, all defenders will be faster and he will need to adjust to the raised speed level in the NFL.

    It seems that speed, while important, would have maybe a tougher time translating to a league with faster players, than more agility based moves considering the continued de-emphasis on wrap-up tackling in the league.

  2. After reading this long essay, I’m left with one thought: Didn’t anybody at Tennessee block?

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