RSP Boiler Room No.16: WR William “Flash” Fuller, Notre Dame

A well-appointed nickname can tell you a lot about a player’s game.

 William “Flash” Fuller is a good example. He can turn the field upside down with the ball in his hands or he can cut through traffic with the precision of a scalpel.

 “Flash” is also a good descriptor for his NFL potential. When the game demands isolated moments of NFL-caliber technique, Fuller can rise to the challenge.

These high-point scenarios illustrate that Fuller knows how to attack with his hands, angle his body to win the target, and protect the ball from the defender’s reach.  Seeing Fuller display these skills is important, because as a general rule, the Notre Dame wideout is a passive receiver of the football.

I’m Matt Waldman of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio. The Boiler Room is a series devoted to examining a handful of plays that reveal something vital about a player. Today’s RSP Boiler Room reveals how Fuller’s passive receiving technique could slow his development or even limit his upside. These plays also illustrate why it’s vital to project NFL scenarios onto college tape when evaluating prospects.

The first play is a quick slant. Fuller makes the catch between two defender on this 2nd and 11 for a gain of 29 yards. Fuller’s release is quick and he sets up his break with a move that baits the defender outside. This type of route-reception-and run will often work for Fuller in the NFL, but not as frequently as it has at Notre Dame.

Note Fuller’s hands and how they are positioned. To make this catch he has to clap his hands onto the sides of the ball while trapping it to his body. The clapping motion on its own is technically an active technique, but its poor hand position that increases the likelihood of the ball rebounding off his palms and limiting the effectiveness of the fingers to slow the spin of the ball.

Most of all, the success of the catch is more dependent on Fuller trapping the ball–a passive reception technique because he waits for the ball to come to him.  An active catch has a receiver attacking the ball at its farthest point from his body and pulling it to his frame.

Fuller’s technique did not hurt the outcome of this play and he’ll have some success with this method in the NFL.  But pro football is more demanding on a receiver’s technique. Tighter coverage requires more effort to get open and often demands a throw with higher velocity. A route like this slant that was a simpler play in the college game often becomes more difficult in the NFL.

The next play is a sideline grab. While it counts against the Texas Longhorns, Fuller only gets one foot inbounds and this won’t do in the NFL. Take your focus off the footwork and note how Fuller waits for the target to reach his hands that are positioned near his chest. By the time the ball arrives at the point where Fuller can trap the ball, he has no more room to stay inbounds.

If Fuller extends his arms towards the ball he earns an extra 2-3 feet to make the catch. This is where Fuller could have made the catch and still have both feet inbounds. A passive technique doesn’t hurt Fuller’s productivity on this play, but it will in the NFL.

Here is a well-earned catch against defensive contact. But a different angle reveals a shakier outcome than it first appears. Because Fuller waits on the ball and traps it to his chest he lacks optimal control of the target as the defender approaches.

In fact, much of the ball is exposed to the opponent.  The root issue is again passive technique. Trapping the target bucket-style increased the likelihood of it bouncing off Fuller’s chest.

The receiver is forced to hug the fattest part of the ball with his forearm, making the catch an act of desperation as a defender seeks an opening to punch it loose.

Now imagine this catch against an NFL defensive back trained in the Peanut Tillman School of Forced Fumbles.  In this projected scenario Fuller either loses the ball during the act of the catch or this lackluster ball security created by bad catching technique makes this a play ripe for a turnover.

Keep in mind that active catching technique establishes control earlier and gives the receiver a chance to tuck the ball with the proper security.

Fuller’s out against off coverage is another positive play. It’s also a trap of the target and Fuller is forced to double-catch the rebound off his chest, slowing his turn up the sideline.

It’s a positive play against the Seminoles, but imagine a more likely NFL scenario where Fuller is trying to catch the pass rebounding off his chest while a defensive back is wrapped around the receiver or pulling Fuller’s arms away from the ball.

None of these examples are a severe indictment of Fuller’s ability to make plays in the NFL, especially when he can high-point the ball.

Early Doucet, Kenny Stills, and Golden Tate all displayed a tendency to make passive catches unless forced to high-point. All three have had some success in the NFL. But none of them have been primary options and only Tate has been a long-term starter.

If Fuller wants to do more than contribute then he’ll have to apply an active catching technique to most of his targets, because it’s vital for beating tight man coverage, making plays at the boundary, and winning in the red zone.

Active versus passive catch technique may seem like nitpicking if you watch the tape as is, but it’s these small details that are the difference between a talented prospected and a productive NFL starter.  It’s why you should always be layering NFL scenarios onto the tape you’re viewing.

For more Boiler Room episodes check out my YouTube Channel the RSP Film Room. You can also find my RSP videos and articles at Catch you next time.

For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2016 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – early-bird purchase for April 1 download available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2015 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

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