With receivers like WVU’s Kevin White, it’s often how you start and not how you finish — especially in the red zone.
A player whose stock is rising this year is West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White. At 6-3, 210 pounds, White has the muscular dimensions of a player like Michael Crabtree while wearing the hairstyle and jersey number of Larry Fitzgerald.
Does the look and jersey really matter with playing style? As dumb as it sounds, sometimes it does. We all emulate are influences when we’re young — especially performers.
White’s use of Fitzgerald’s jersey number is probably not a coincidence and there are elements to the Mountaineer’s game that resemble Late-Night Larry. However, I also ascribe more Crabtree to White’s stylistic mash-up of a comparison because the prospect isn’t as big as Fitzgerald. All three players have a physical, high-wire style of ball that is a successful NFL receiving archetype.
The Boiler Room series is designed to use a minimal number of plays to share something vital about a prospect’s game. Imagine if you were compiling highlights for a pre-draft presentation about a player to the general manager, director of scouting, and/or the coaches of an NFL team. What plays would you use to give your audience a strong idea of what that player is about and what makes him a good fit or bad fit for the team?
There are four plays that would make my presentation of White. I would be selling him as a Jordan Matthews-like, big slot receiver with greater potential to contribute on the perimeter if he times well at the NFL Combine.
Promising Technique at the Line of Scrimmage
A pervading theme with White’s game is the ability to use his hands to earn separation and every point of the route. This first play is foiled by the shallow zone coverage when the defender forces quarterback Clint Trickett to throw the ball wide of his target White on a slant. However, watch White’s use of technique to use a chop move with his inside arm while stacking the defender to earn his inside release.
Ideally, a receiver needs to display a variety of good release moves in his game in the same way a major league pitcher needs 2-3 pitches in his repertoire. The chop move — chopping downward on the elbow or forearm of the defender — is one of White’s.
The next play–a 2nd and 6 with 12:07 in the half from a 30 personnel, 1×1 receiver set–is a touchdown reception for White, who displays this chop move once again, but with the opposite arm on an outside release. It’s a sound display of versatility to use this move with inside and outside releases and either arm.
White earns a half-step on the defensive back tight to his chest, accelerating late in the route as he enters the end zone. What’s especially NFL caliber about this play is the way White makes a strong adjustment to the ball in mid-air. He times his leap well, but the ball arrives a little closer to White’s back shoulder and the receiver’s leap seems to be in anticipation of a target arriving to his front shoulder or his chest.
White extends his arms to high-point the ball and adjusts enough to catch the target that’s closer to his back shoulder. It’s a very small thing and if you look at the play, see that the ball arrives dead center, and don’t see what I’m talking about, don’t worry — it’s more about the subtle arc of the arms as he extends them to accommodate the arrival of the target and the arm of the defender glued to him. You can also see this a little better at the 2:12-2:13 mark of the video. It’s a minor adjustment, but one that can mess with receivers in this situation.
I love the late hands on the play — the ability to wait until the ball is almost directly over his head to extend for the target. At the same time, note how well White maintains his hands at chest level well before the ball arrives so his arms don’t have as long of a way to travel despite not tipping off his intentions to the defender reading his body throughout the break.
The best part of this play is White’s left arm that frames this tiny amount of separation with the defender and sets up his extension to the ball. Freeze the video at 1:58 and you’ll see White place his left hand on the left shoulder of the cornerback. This is the move that allows White to make an unimpeded extension to the football and the difference between a touchdown and an incomplete pass.
Seeing the Play as it Happened in College Football/Imagining the Play as it Could Happen in the NFL
Ray Guy invented hang-time, but when it comes to embodying that term Michael Jordan was the man. There’s a little hang-time to the way White operates on fade routes — not Jordan-esque by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s there. This 2nd and 12 with 10:33 in the third quarter is a strong example.
Once again White gains an outside release with a chop move. He doesn’t sell a vertical concept with his feet off the line. He angles his feet inside, takes a short false step to sell that inside possibility, and then releases outside with the chop move. White’s acceleration is good enough against this press defender to earn two steps up the sideline, but a huge factor in that separation is the way White uses his left arm to ward off the defender to frame that separation.
As the ball arrives, White begins his leap at the 30, making the reception at the 27 and falling to the 25 — earning just enough hang time to keep the ball over the trailing defender and away from the safety coming over top. The one thing White could have done a little better is turn his body away from the oncoming coverage.
It wasn’t necessary in this situation, but it’s always important to project a play to an NFL-caliber situation. I do this because I want to determine if the technique would have held up against a higher-caliber opponent and/or a more difficult scenario.
If the corner and safety were closer to White at the spot the receiver high-pointed the ball the Alabama defenders would have had a shot to dislodge the ball if White’s chest was facing as the receiver returned to earth. White will have to display skill at shielding the ball with a timely turn while airborne so he can have his back to the defenders during his descent.
It’s not to say he doesn’t do this when coverage is tighter, but I’ve seen two fades in tight coverage and neither time did he try to turn away and most big-time red zone receivers make this attempt to shield the defender whenever possible and these situations qualified.
Strong Finisher, but Must Improve his Starts
An easy way to misinterpret a receiver’s work on a play is to place too much emphasis on what happens at the catch point and not enough at the release point along the line of scrimmage. This 2nd and goal target with 14:31 left in the game is a great example why. White is the single-right receiver inside the numbers of the right flat at the Alabama 5 and his opponent is four yards over top with slight inside shade.
What I described in this previous sentence indicates the information White should use to win this route during his release. White will run a fade against this corner’s inside position. Because the defender is playing four yards off, White cannot simply take an immediate outside release or else the corner has the space and angle to close the gap — he has the high ground.
For White to win definitive separation he has to release from the line of scrimmage in a straight line and threaten the defender’s inside position with a more vertical stem and then fade to the outside. As you’ll see in the video, White patters his feet off the line and begins his release when he’s still two yards away from the corner.
To sell the vertical concept, White has to take three to four full strides into the defender and display confidence in gaining a release with his arms and feet when tight to the defender. This shyness getting into the defender’s body is a common flaw with the technique of young receivers.
Because White fails to earn enough separation on a fade route because of the three smaller steps with foot patter at the top of his stem before the break and it causes three things to happen:
- White’s break lacks depth and the ball arrives to the inside shoulder rather than the outside shoulder where White can shield the defender from the ball.
- White has to use his hands late in the break to frame separation and make the catch point more difficult.
- The defender has access to White’s torso and the trajectory of the ball throughout the break, knocking the ball loose.
White’s release ruins his opportunity to shield the target from the defender, but it would be easy for less experienced observers of the game at this close of a level to place the weight of their commentary and criticism on White’s concentration or the skill of the defender. White should have dominated this play from the moment the defender gave him four yards off the line of scrimmage with inside shade.
Overall, White is a nice prospect whose lessons ahead aren’t insurmountable at the NFL level. In fact, he could learn fast enough to make an immediate impact. He’s a player I’d seriously consider for any offense.
For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2014 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2014 RSPs 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.
The 2015 RSP will be available for pre-order in January.