Matt Waldman shares sample scouting reports from wide receivers Marvin Jones and T.Y. Hilton—two vastly underrated players from the 2012 NFL Draft class where the difference in Waldman’s rankings came down to sample size of exposures.
One of the difficulties of being an emerging independent scout is access to game film. Although the task of acquiring game film has gotten easier for me—especially during the recent YouTube era of individual player cutups and condensed games—there was a time where I had to make determinations with a less-than-optimal sample size of games.
Although we’re in a rich era for film access, I still try to run my business as if this bounty will dry up tomorrow. Wringing every ounce of value from the available tape is one of the contributing factors behind developing one of the things celebrated about the RSP—detailed evaluation criteria.
Even so, evaluations can be hit-or-miss based on the sample size of games one can evaluate. Although it’s not as much of a problem as it was in the early years, sample size issues can still be an issue—especially small-school options.
These scouting reports on Marvin Jones and T.Y. Hilton are prime examples.
I saw a lot of tape on Jones, who the mainstream draft media labeled a possession receiver, but was a productive and dynamic vertical threat as a sophomore. The media continued to reinforce the possession threat label despite Jones repeatedly going deep on what was considered a strong class of cornerbacks at the Senior Bowl.
It’s now clear that I studied a greater breadth of games on Jones than most. As for Hilton, I liked what I saw and saw a hint of potential that he had more to offer an offense than a big-play slot option and return specialist. However, I didn’t see enough to come close to answer the necessary questions to truly project it.
You’ll see the difference as you read these two scouting reports. Although only seven years old, when I re-read these reports it feels like I did these a lifetime ago.
When you continuously improve your process, the growth becomes as notable as seeing a video clip of a seven-year-old and then seeing that same person at fifteen. That’s how these feels looking back.
4. Marvin Jones, California (6-1, 199)
Jones is the most technically sound receiver in this class and he has enough athleticism to play the X (split end) or the Z (flanker). His draft spot might not be commensurate with where I rank him, but his stock is definitely on the rise because teams are beginning to recognize just how good Jones is.
His route running has more polish than any receiver in this class. He can really tell a story as a route runner. The Cal receiver will set up his breaks with a good move to turn the hips of the opposing defender and then break back to the ball. His breaks need to be consistently sharper. He doesn’t plant his front foot hard enough to turn. However, he’s good at driving defenders downfield with good body control and speed to set up breaks or vary his speed early or late to win passes in single coverage.
Although Jones needs to refine his hands’ technique so he can become more efficient, he frequently uses his hands well enough to work against press coverage. In fact, his hands’ technique is good for a rookie, but he will need to continue to develop and strengthen his array of tools to separate from the jam. Sometimes he tries to make too many moves at the line of scrimmage, but he consistently sets up a defender with his release.
Jones sets up breaks with good moves and he can adjust to the football high, low, or outside his body with a strong awareness of the sideline. There are some players where Jones had lapses extending his arms away from his body to catch the football and this is one of the reasons he drops passes that are catchable. Jones also has lapses of concentration on routes where he thinks he has a chance to turn upfield after breaking back hard to the football. He needs to make sure he looks the ball into his hands and secures the pass before running. When he drops the ball, he tends to drop the ball because he doesn’t execute this technique consistently. This is easily correctable.
What Jones does that is harder to teach is making successful adjustments to the football and doing it against physical play. Most of his receptions in games I watched went for first downs in situations where he bailed out his quarterback. He can high point or dig out a low throw. He has a good awareness of the sideline but he also will go across the middle. He seems comfortable working against physical contact downfield on vertical routes and he has enough speed to get downfield or take a short pass a longer distance.
In the vertical game versus tight coverage, there were instances where Jones did not buy back real estate along the sideline and he straddled too close to the boundary. This forced his quarterback to throw the ball out of bounds. Yet, I have also seen Jones do a terrific job buying back real estate along the boundary and run perfect vertical routes in tight coverage.
After the catch, Jones is a tough player to bring down in the open field because he runs with patience, quickness, and agility. His ability to make defenders miss or bounce off hits will make him an asset for an NFL team that uses a west coast offense similar to the one Cal has installed. Jones needs to carry the ball under his sideline arm more often and use greater security to protect it.
His run blocking technique is inconsistent. He sometimes delivers a punch and gets his hands into the chest of the defender, but not consistently enough to award him credit. However, he is consistent with his effort to block a player and he’ll often come across the field to make a block on a defender.
He can also return kicks and if he doesn’t start his career as a productive part of a receiving corps he could work his way into a role while earning a job on special teams.
Jones reminds me of Donald Driver – a versatile flanker for most of his career capable of playing every receiver position on the field. He may never be one of the top producers in the NFL as he grows into a starting role, but he has the skills to have a long career with several seasons of 900-1200 yards.
20. T.Y. Hilton (5-9, 183)
Hilton has great speed and acceleration. He beats pursuit angles in the open field that a lot of receivers cannot. He also has the acceleration to get on top of coverage faster than opponents expect and he frequently splits zones for big plays as a result.
He is generally a decisive downhill runner and shows confidence hitting tight creases because he knows he plays faster than most. He shows some skill at setting up breaks with a jab step or a head fake and he can catch the football with his hands as well as with his hands while running with his back to the pass. In one-on-one situations in the open field with a defender over top, Hilton will lower his pads and finish with a collision if necessary.
I think Hilton will win a job as a return specialist and he has the promise to develop into a big-play threat on the outside but I also believe he might have enough physical skill and savvy to develop into a high-target, slot receiver. Hilton is easy to bring to the ground once he’s wrapped. The hard part is wrapping him.
He has to do a better job of carrying the ball under his sideline arm. He occasionally makes that choice, but he forgets consistently enough to point it out.
I didn’t see a lot of routes where he demonstrated that he could tell a story to set up a defender. He also didn’t face press coverage in this contest. Most of his routes were screens, slants, and deep verticals.
I also didn’t see him run block. The biggest question is how well he can handle physical play. Can he make catches after contact? Can he beat the jam? Can he run block?
If he can do these things, he has the potential to develop into a dynamic starter in an offense that employs three receivers in its base formation. If not, he’ll become a contributor with big-play ability, but not a consistent presence in a starting lineup.
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