No-Huddle Series: RB Chris Polk, Washington

Chris Polk may need to keeping working to attain that Photo Shop build most current NFL runners have, but he has a good Football IQ.

I lied to you.

The RSP No-Huddle Series was something I initially created to write about prospects likely to get drafted in the late rounds, if at all. I’m still going to do more of those players, but sometimes there are plays you remember that you want to share with people.

One of these plays is a pass involving Chris Polk that reveals more to his game than usually meets the eye and continues an observation I had about the play I profiled yesterday of NIU’s Chandler Harnish.

If you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest, then you probably don’t realize that Chris Polk was a wide receiver in high school. It’s not common to see a player switch from wide receiver to running back when he transitions from high school to college. Usually it’s the other way around: Hines Ward, Jeremy Ross, and Marvin Jones are all good examples. The last time I saw a college receiver transitioned running back it was when Lou Holtz did it with Ricky Watters, who I though was one of the best short-yardage running backs in the league because of fantastic footwork in tight spaces.

This play below is what separates the 5’10”, 215-pound Polk from many of his peers. It begins on 1st and 10 with 9:43 in the half from a 12 personnel, strong side twins receiver set.

This is a double-throw where the QB drops from center, throws to the flanker motioning behind the split end, and the flanker throws the wheel route to Polk exiting the backfield up the right flat.

Some quick strategy points about this play:

  • The twin receivers place the defensive secondary’s focus on what we see as the bottom of the screen, which keeps the one safety deep to that side of the field.
  • The beauty of Washington’s play design is how they use the tight end running a vertical route crossing the right hash to run a little interference for any back side defender catching Polk sneak from the backfield.
  • The presence of the wing back off left tackle baits Arizona’s defense into at least considering it as a numbers advantage off the edge that will require some help from the Washington left guard or running back to address. What they don’t realize is this pass rush is getting drawn towards the quarterback when the actual (down field) thrower will be to the flanker.

Although his play is what I consider a gimmick with some risk, it’s a well-designed play because of the misdirection involved and the common theme from last night’s play: convincing the defense it has some sort of advantage that doesn’t really exist.

At the snap, note how the wing back is focused on his assignment although the pass protection isn’t really going to be designed for the quarterback under center.

Once the quarterback throws the ball to the flanker, 90 percent of the defense is flowing to the twin receiver side of the formation.

The wide receiver does a good job of getting in position to throw the football as soon as he makes the reception. The safety playing in the box near the right hash now has to chase Polk to the flat and make up ground.

A perfect throw probably results in a touchdown, but the flanker isn’t that great of a passer. Fortunately, the running back is a good receiver who just happened to be a better runner.

The safety takes a good angle on this route to get above Polk as soon as the flanker releases the football, but Polk knows how to adjust to the football. See below.

As mentioned, the flanker’s pass isn’t perfect – he under throws it. Polk cant get to full speed and run under it. Instead he has to maintain a steady gait to keep the ball in rage and then turn back to the football as the safety closes.

Polk turns to track the ball and can already tell the pass is under thrown.

One of the first things I like about Polk’s receiving skills on this play is that he displays “late hands” on this play. The Huskies runner doesn’t extend his arms to the football until the pass is over the head of the safety and just feet from arrival.

With the safety playing the man and not the ball, Polk does a good job of playing the ball in a difficult situation.

Polk catches the ball with his hands and begins to pull the ball into his body.

You don’t see many running backs make this type of play in tight coverage in any league.

As Polk begins to retract his arms, the safety does an excellent job of getting his hands on the ball and jarring it loose from the runner’s grip.The next two frames illustrate how it happens.

Good job of getting both hands above and below the ball – where Polk isn’t gripping it.
The safety pulls the bottom tip of the ball and the rest comes free as Polk is falling to the turf.

You may wonder at this point why I’m touting the receiving skills of Chris Polk when he clearly loses possession of the football on this deep pass. However, here’s where I believe good evaluation is a balance of individual skill sets and overall perspective. Polk initially loses this pass, but you’ll see below that he has the awareness to get the ball back.It’s not every day that you see a running back make this kind of initial catch and it’s less common to see one fight for it with the second and third effort of a top-notch vertical receiver.

The pass is in the safety’s lap as Polk is on the ground, the defender lacks control of the football.

Polk makes sure to reach for the ball and hang onto it as they skid across the turf. This is excellent awareness that the tie goes to the receiver. Some of you may think,so what? He’s supposed to know that! You’re right, he is supposed to know this rule, but if you think about how often a running back has to execute awareness of this rule in this situation and the answer will be almost never.

The tie goes to the receiver.

Good evaluation is also about spotting on-field awareness, what many former NFL personnel men like Pat Kirwan call FBI – or Football Intelligence. I think of it as Football I.Q. I already know Polk can catch the football, he scores a touchdown on a swing pass later in this drive and later in the game he turns a 15-yard pass into a 50-yard gain. While the skill to make the initial catch impresses me, it’s really this final act that Polk makes at the end of this play that shows a little extra. When a team can field players that do those little extras, they’re on to something.

Download the 2012 Rookie Scouting Portfolio for analysis of over 151 prospects at QB, RB, WR, and TE.

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