Matt Waldman’s NFL Lens, Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins:

Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio uses the NFL as his lens for evaluating college talent. Sammy Watkins has a variety of techniques that set the standard. 

In a recent RSP Boiler Room episode, I profiled Stanley Morgan, Jr.’s hands technique. The rationale behind the technique isn’t something anyone specially taught me. It came from studying receivers in thousands of NFL and college games during the past 15 years.

The most technically-sound and creative NFL players set the standard. This collection of Twitter videos featuring Sammy Watkins showcases several techniques that evaluators should be using as a template for studying receiver prospects:

  • Hands position based on target location with fingertips-first catching: The fingers are a wonder of human engineering because, in the span of milliseconds, these 10 digits can react individually to an object flying towards them and bring it under control. This biomechanical precision and sensitivity are more effective at slowing the spin of a ball than the large, taut surface area of the palm.
  • Establishing leverage in tight quarters: The clips of Watkins vs. Philadelphia and Minnesota illustrate how Watkins sets up position to use his arms in conjunction with the weight-drop of his hips to earn separation on quick timing routes against physical cornerbacks.
  • Arm-over and lean-in to win late separation against physical coverage on a vertical route: In the video, I highlight Watkins using his fingertips with his outside hand to catch the point of the ball while the other arm is tied up and why that technique sets up a second- and third-chance opportunity for a reception. Aspiring evaluators should also note how Watkins wins position late against physical coverage with the arm-over — specifically where he strikes the arm of the defender — and a late lean-in to stack the defender as much as he can as the ball arrives. This late stack gives him the best position on the second- and third-chance opportunities.
  • Rocker-step, arm-over, and lean-in: Earlier in the same game, Watkins wins at the line of scrimmage with a rocker-step, and arm-over to earn initial separation and then sets up the outside defender by leaning into the cornerback’s space at the top of the route’s stem. This sets up the break into open space and a catch made in stride.
  • Selling the vertical (the 9-route) in the stem: A common part of every Watkins route is the initial sale of the potential 9 route. Watkins’ pads are over his knees, he’s driving upfield with strong arm motion during the initial stride, and his head is up with his eyes fixed downfield. These details and the intensity of his stem force Patrick Peterson and Xavier Rhodes to turn their hips downfield and respect the potential of a vertical route. It’s at that point that Watkins has won the route.
  • Manipulating defender with his stem: The route against the Chiefs zone is a good example of Watkins running an out but using the stem to tell a story to a triangle of defenders in the area. Zone routes involve the manipulation of multiple defenders to create space and Watkins does this well on a simple route.
  • Stacking defenders: When a receiver can cut off the defender’s path early in a vertical route, he can control his pace and the position of the defender.

Add it up, and Watkins’ game is a clinic: hands position, fingertips catching, release techniques, hand and arm strikes within the release technique, selling the vertical against man coverage, manipulating zone coverage with the stem, and stacking defenders.

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