Hands to the Sky, Feet on the Ground: A Lesson for WRs


Positional technique and film study became an interest of mine in the late 1990s and I can recall a magazine feature in ESPN where Sterling Sharpe critiqued an incoming class of wideouts. One of those players was Packers’ draft pick Derrick Mayes, a top prospect from Notre Dame.

Sharpe criticized Mayes’ tendency to leave his feet unnecessarily to make receptions. It’s a common issue among college receivers and there are multiple reasons. This reception by a Utah State receiver is one of them.

The wide out is the slot left man in this 2×2 alignment. He runs a simple route breaking to the left flat outside the zone defender who is trailing by a few yards. Watch the play for the outcome first, and then look at it again after reading my commentary below.

There are a few layers to the play. It’s a second-and-long catch for roughly an eight-yard gain. Not a bad result to set up a third-and-short. However, watch how the receiver tracks the ball.

As the ball arrives, the receiver’s eyes see the ball rising but he responds by leaving his feet while his arms remain near his chest. What you want to see is a receiver’s arms follow his eyes and attack the ball.

The receiver’s response to the ball rising is partially an issue of confidence in using his hands to catch the ball, but mostly a tracking-recognition issue with hand-eye coordination. I’ve seen this receiver make catches with full extension of his arms, so he can make plays with his hands.

However, the receiver needs to spend more time on a practice field learning when to keep his feet on the ground and when to raise his arms to meet the ball. If he can develop a better feel for where the ball has to be for him to leave his feet as a last-gasp scenario, he’ll be a more efficient option after the catch.

This play is a good example. If the receiver raises his arms to meet the ball while still keeping his feet on the ground, he makes the catch and has more room to turn up the sideline. Instead, his leap  for the ball takes away that control to turn the corner and run. The landing takes a lot of energy and body control away from the run and pins the receiver closer to the sideline. The leap also slows his pace, which gives the pursuit a better angle to push the ballcarrier out of bounds.

This play could have easily been a first down if the receivers arms and eyes were in sync instead of his eyes and legs.

I’ll come across these teachable moments as I pour through tape and continue sharing them as standalone posts.

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. 

You can begin placing orders for the 2015 RSP in January. 

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