WRs Stephen Hill and Marvin Jones: Managing Physical Play (Short)

Marvin Jones can tell a story that keeps cornerbacks guessing because he has harnessed his physical talents. Photo by John Martinez Pavliga.

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

Formulaic Plot

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 matched with the CB on the far side of the field in single coverage from Tech’s base offensive set. This is the basic crossing route, but not the one he actually runs. See below.

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.”

This play looks like a certain touchdown. The pass is placed in a good spot and Hill as the ball in his hands.

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.

A sure touchdown dropped. The forensics of the drop is below.

One reason Hill drops the ball is that he allows the pass into his body and tries to trap it to his stomach.

Although Hill had his hands out to catch the ball, the receiver actually traps the ball to his stomach and in the video you can see the ball bounce off his frame as he secures it with both arms. Note the arm of the Kansas CB coming from the back door to rip at the ball.

As the pass rebounds off Hill’s body, the CB is able to rip the ball loose.

Note the football between Hill’s thighs after the CB’s arm rips at the receiver’s midsection.

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.

Hill’s route lacks a sharp angle from his break. As you can see he’s beginning his turn at the three and giving his opponent the chance to turn is hips early to anticipate the path from the break. The orange line is where Hill should have begun his break.

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.

True Suspense

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.

Jones also runs a crossing route from the same side of the field as Hill, but his coverage is only a yard off the line of scrimmage. Jones automatically has more work to do than Hill.

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.

Jones’ plant step inside freezes the corner just a faction of a second, but these small moments add up.
As Jones begins his break outside, the corner’s hips are opened to reinforce a path to the outside. CB’s in single coverage on the perimeter generally shade inside to use the sideline as an ally. Jones knows this and initially reinforces that strategy to the CB to set up the long con.

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.

Although Jones’ back is perpendicular with the ground and he’s no longer in drive phase, the initial release was good enough to force the CB to run down field and that’s enough to for Charlie Sheen to say Jones is winning.

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.

The yellow arrow illustrates the angle of Jones’ plant leg and hips during his speed cut and the orange arrow is the path he takes after the break. Note the CB has his back to the path in the direction Jones is heading thanks to masterful storytelling by the WR.

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.

The orange line shows the path of Jones’ route. Notice where Jones veers down field after his break? In this case it’s a good thing because he knows he has enough separation to begin down hill as the ball arrives. A very “west coast” concept for receivers to execute.

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.

Next: Deep routes from Hill and Jones, plus two good plays from each just for kicks.

Wednesday:Why ECU WR Lance Lewis’ perimeter game is the spitting image of Brandon Lloyd.

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.

11 responses to “WRs Stephen Hill and Marvin Jones: Managing Physical Play (Short)”

  1. I heard he has spent a lot of time with Terrance Mathis working on routes. Was this noticeable at the combine?

    • Chris, I heard the same. I did hear from folks that he was much better at “framing the ball” but until we see him actually facing a human being covering on routes we’ll have to wait and see. Route running is rarely something a college receiver is really strong at so its not a major concern. In 2007, Robert Meachem was a first-round darling that had a nice combine, but he was kind of raw. My thoughts back then where that Meachem was trying to learn how to catch the football with proper technique as a senior so I was concerned about him. Hill catches the ball naturally with his hands. Some techniques need to get better, but overall he’s good enough there that I’m not nearly as concerned about him being a first-round disappointment as I was Meachem.

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