RSP NFL Lens: J. Moyer on Evaluating NFL Practice Highlights

Matt Waldman’s RSP contributor J. Moyer delivers video examples of what to value from practice highlights during NFL training camp. Hint: It is not a play like this from Cardinals WR Hakeem Butler. 

August is an exciting month for NFL observers. Teams gather for training camp with rosters full of free-agent acquisitions and exciting draft picks. New head coaches establish their scheme identity.

News media, team marketing media, and fans patrol the sidelines, armed with cameras ready to capture and disseminate highlights. The sheer volume of flash and buzz can overwhelm analysts, fans and fantasy players panning for gold.

At the RSP, we are here to help.

Matt Waldman recently scribed a detailed primer on how to understand practice and the preseason. Here, I take a deep dive into how to watch practice clips, using two circulating practice highlights from Arizona rookie wide receiver Hakeem Butler.

Both plays are touchdown catches on fade routes during 1-on-1 drills. One is more noteworthy than the other.

The first play belongs to perhaps the most ubiquitous genre of preseason WOW plays— the miraculous one-handed catch. Nothing gets the hype-wagon rolling faster than an Odell Beckham-ish leaping stab.

I caution you to categorically IGNORE these plays. While impressive in their beauty, such plays make up an insignificant proportion of wide receiver play.

More importantly, many of these catches arise during wide receiver-defensive back one-on-ones, after the receiver has failed to separate or has gotten out of position. In 11-man football, these passes usually aren’t thrown.

The second clip is what you should be seeking: sound fundamental play that runs counter to critical narrative. ‘Fundamental Play’ is really the key here.

NFL coaches crave consistency and assignment reliability from young players. Most will gladly trade in freakish athletic talent for dull certainty.

Addressing the ‘Critical Narrative’ helps you decide if popularly cited shortcomings were inherent to the player, or byproducts of limited college schemes. In Butler’s case, he was panned in some circles for being a poor-to-inconsistent route-runner. So finding examples of refined route technique and earned separation is valuable.

You can follow J. Moyer on Twitter @JMoyerFB.

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