Long-time college and NFL coach Dave Wannestedt told an ESPN crew that he awarded Dion Lewis a full ride to Pitt after watching just one play of the Browns running back’s high school tape. Sounds foolish, but I won’t lie: There are some plays impressive enough that you realize you’ve seen much of what you need to see. These are rare moments and other than Adrian Peterson, I can’t remember the last time I experienced that feeling about a player after witnessing one play.
While no magic pill, there is a type of play for wide receivers that is guaranteed to heighten my interest in a player. I call it the Money Catch. Give me a receiver who can make these consistently and I’m less concerned about his height, weight, 40-time, bench press, or stats. A receiver who demonstrates this skill may not become an NFL starter, but there are few quality NFL starters who lack this ability.
University of Miami wide receiver Allen Hurns flashes this skill. The 6’3″, 195-pound prospect also provides a good illustration of a technique flaw I’ve heard many pro receivers discuss: Leaving one’s feet to catch a target that doesn’t require it. I still have more to watch of Hurns’ game, but here are three clear examples of good technique and a habit that needs curbing.
This is a 3rd-and-16 pass from a 1×2 receiver, 11 personnel shotgun set from a 3-3-5 look. Quarterback Stephen Morris’ makes a fine throw for Hurns to have an opportunity to make the reception. Still, it’s the wide receiver on this pitch and catch who does the dirty work. Hurns finds the opening in the zone under one safety and inside another on this post route after getting an inside release on the corner in shallow zone.
One of the tougher aspects of a catch with impending contact is when a player gets “ping-ponged” or hit in succession in different directions so one hit ricochets him into another from the opposite direction. Hurns does a fine job of protecting the football on this target.
If I were to nitpick, the hand position to catch the football could be a little better. Ideal hand position would be for Hurns’ index fingers angled upward but point towards each other rather than at 12 o’clock. The hands should look a spider web. This technique reduces the likelihood of the ball sliding through the fingers.
Overall, a strong play.
Leaving Feet – Part I
This target is a 3rd-and-7 pass for a 10-yard gain from the UM 31 with 2:38 in the half. Hurns is the single receiver from a 11 personnel, 1×2 shotgun set. He is lined outside the numbers in the right flat with two safeties split towards the hashes.
The CB on Hurns is playing seven yards off and bails early, leaving a cushion for Hurns to break his route at the first down marker. He makes the catch with his hands, but if you look closely, just as his hands make contact with the ball he leaves his feet. He’s already trying to get into position to run.
The idea is a good one, but this is where the habit of leaping to catch a ball when not required can create a lapse of concentration. Hurns fails to secure the ball with the initial touch and fights the ball into his body during his turn. While not conclusive, I believe his adjustment disorients him just enough that he takes the wrong path down field towards three defenders rather than running up the sideline.
I like that Hurns gains three yards after the catch and bounces off contact with a good finish, but if he catches the ball with his feet on the ground, turns and takes an outside path towards the cornerback in a one-on-one situation, I think he gains a lot more than three yards.
Leaving Feet – Part II
This is a 2nd and goal from the six with 6:11 in the third quarter from another three-receiver, 11 personnel shotgun. Hurns runs the slant and drops the ball after an initial juggle of the target. Watch the two replays after the first airing and you’ll see where Hurns takes a long step to gather his body for a jump. Because the pass is a little late and to the back shoulder, Hurns cannot make a strong adjustment to the ball after this elongated step forces him to leave his feet.
The throw could have been better, but Hurns’ habit of going airborne – even if it’s not a jump with any height – not only diminishes Hurns’ ability to focus on looking the ball into his hands, but also creates situations where he commits to a direction before the target arrives.
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