Yesterday, I posted a RSP Boiler Room episode on Notre Dame WR William Fuller. An athletic prospect with deep speed and skill after the catch, much of the five-minute video is devoted to highlighting where Fuller’s technique for catching the ball experiences breakdowns that could slow his transition to the NFL or limit his usefulness on specific routes and targets.
There were things I wanted to mention in the video that would provide more context to how I evaluate pass catching, but I didn’t want to take that tangent. But one of my avid film room views Binklez90 asked this question after viewing:
What is the benefit of catching the ball this way? It seems to me having an aggressive catching style from the get go allows one to make more plays along the sideline and against tight coverage in the first place. Is passive catching easier? Does Fuller get away with it based on his pure athleticism being greater than the college competition?
My thoughts? Passive catching–in most cases–is the end-product of a player who either has continued to ignore instruction on how to catch the ball properly or he’s focused so much on the release, the route, and getting position on a defender that he hasn’t tracked the ball early enough to attack the incoming target with the correct technique.
Passive catching is easier in the sense that you don’t have to spend as much effort tracking the ball to your hands. Having your chest and stomach serving as a backstop makes it easier to catch at the early stages of most players’ development, which happens in middle school and high school. If you’re a Pop Warner, middle school, or high school receiver who can catch the ball consistently and you’re fast enough to get wide open on your routes, be where you’re supposed to be, and beat defenders with the ball in your hands, then catching technique isn’t going to be the coaching staff’s top priority of emphasis to a young player who is catching balls, scoring touchdowns, and winning games.
Better coaches or forward-thinking coaches will broach the topic and provide instruction but if the player continues to experience wild success at the lower levels of football, it’s not going to be a priority when there are other things to address. In high school, the passes arrive slower, the coverage is generally looser, and the demand for top-flight precision of routes and position is lower.
As a player reaches the higher levels of the game, the way he has to execute requires more precision to avoid breakdowns/errors because of this increased speed, intensity, and complexity of the sport. College football and the NFL tends to be the transition point where passive catching gets more exposed.
A player like William Fuller is making plays with passive catch technique in situations where it may not occur with the same rate of success in the NFL. My video series is designed to highlight areas of a prospect’s game that a team must consider when projecting that player’s transition to the league so they can project the time it will take to develop him into the player they ultimately want while also figuring out if they can use him in specific situations short-term.
Fuller displays good enough hands and occasionally strong technique to attack the ball. Right now, he’s not exhibiting this technique on certain timing routes that arrive at helmet-level and below. Based on studying hundreds of players (and really, seeing thousands over a lifetime) who fail on certain routes due to technique break downs, it’s best to project that Fuller has to shore up some of these skills to become a more complete receiver.
Although I just explained the “why” behind what amounts to a rule, my overall take on catching the football is this: If you don’t drop the ball and your technique still works in a variety of route/target scenarios that make you useful in a scheme, then it ultimately doesn’t matter if you catch the ball with good technique or not.
This is true of any technique associated with a position. If you can get the job done without making your teammates’ lives harder or constricting the playbook then it doesn’t matter if your technically sound.
But you have to prove you’re the exception with a strong portfolio of tape and these exceptions are rare.
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