Reed demonstrates both facets of executing a hard break.
I once watched Michael Irvin teach the mechanics of a hard break on an NFL.com pre-draft special. His two pupils: A.J. Green and Greg Little.
Irvin explained that the two most important components of the hard break—the style of break often used on outs, curls, and comebacks—were the plant step and sitting down into the change of direction.
The plant step is a long step designed to serve as the brakes for the stem. Irvin said most young receivers don’t trust the strength of their legs to execute a single plant step.
He encourages them not to succumb to that fear. Not only is leg is strong enough to make it, but it’s also vital to learn how to come to an immediate stop with one step. Otherwise, multiple steps into a break give the opponent time to recover.
The drop of the hips is the second half of the braking process and sets up the acceleration into the change of direction. The plant and hip drop is the act of braking into the break.
It’s like the Road Runner coming to a sudden stop and Wily Coyote overrunning the bird (and usually off the ledge of a cliff, a wall, or an oncoming vehicle). It’s not much better for opposing defensive backs forced to cover a receiver with this skill.
Few receivers in the college game execute a hard break with a single plant step and dropping the hips. Many top prospects often bend the hips, but lack the practice or confidence to execute one hard plant.
It’s only fitting that one of the better examples of a one-step plant and hard break that I’ve seen in recent weeks comes from a tight end.
Jordan Reed’s pivot route for a touchdown against Dallas on Thanksgiving is a clinic-worthy display of these two components of a hard break.
If a receiver or tight end can’t execute a hard break it’s not a deal-breaker for their pro potential. There are many productive starters that cannot execute this technique.
But most receivers in timing offenses that run intermediate timing routes like deep outs, curls, and comebacks will want a receiver capable of learning the hard break. If receiver lacks the potential to do so, he won’t be a good fit.
The value of Reed’s hard break on this pivot route is the setting of the red zone. It’s a compressed area and receivers must break open faster than routes between the twenties.
Spot a college receiver capable of coming to a stop with a single step or dropping his hips like he’s sitting in an invisible chair and there’s promise he can learn to run every route. Many receivers can execute both skills, but haven’t refined their route running to do both within the same route.
Some execute the drop of the hips when making cuts as a runner but don’t think to apply this technique in routes. These are all positive signs even if the display isn’t a conscious application.
Remember, scouting entails a lot of projection. If the physical tools are there to execute the technique in question, the rest is about work ethic.
Reed could do both at Florida, but couldn’t integrate these skills into a single break. Now he’s beating defensive backs with the quickness of a slot receiver in the body of a tight end.
One day I’ll dig up the coaching tape featuring a 4.6-40 receiver and a 4.3-40 receiver and why hard breaks helps the 4.6 guy play a lot faster than the 4.3 guy who can’t execute these techniques.
It’s somewhere on my blog if it’s still available on YouTube. The point is that it’s more important to stop fast than to run fast