Matt Waldman’s RSP Boiler Room examines a play from 2020 NFL Draft prospect Kendall Hinton of Wake Forest that underscores the wide receiver’s story-telling prowess as a route runner and toughness as a pass-catcher.
The fascinating thing about the wide receiver position is that, more than most positions in the NFL, a limited talent can deliver strong production. The difficulty of explaining how this works begins with the term “limited talent.”
Most fans think of talent as physical—runs fast, jumps high, displays coordination, and changes direction fast. Man-to-man route running, zone route running, reading defender leverage, press-release maneuvers, catching are all things that can be taught.
“They’ll get coached-up in the NFL.”
If you’ve been a regular RSP reader, you know by now that “he’ll get coached-up,” is an immediate display of ignorance about the realities of the NFL. The vast majority of coaching is scheme-related. Practice drills give players exposure to ideal techniques but it is incumbent on the players to do the true work necessary (before and after practice) to acquire the technical and conceptual acumen of their position.
Tony Gonzalez underscores this point during his appearance on the NFL Films program unveiling the league’s All-Time Team. During this segment, Cris Collinsworth asks Gonzalez about his technique as a pass-catcher and sets up the question based on the presumption that it was a natural offshoot of Gonzalez’s basketball background. Gonzalez explains that it wasn’t and, in fact, he shared that only after leading the NFL in drops at the end of his second season in the league that he figured out the work that was necessary to fulfill his potential.
Gonzalez was the case of a physical talent developing his technical talents after he entered the league. However, there is a wide spectrum of receivers who become productive and aren’t complete players. DeVante Parker has had an excellent 2019 campaign. From what I’ve seen thus far, his skills haven’t advanced that far from his early years in Miami as much as the offense leaned on him more in scenarios that he does well and demanded less of him in areas that have been difficult for him to succeed.
Parker is the case of great physical talent with limited technical skills. D.K. Metcalf doesn’t run the entire route tree, but what he does well is difficult to stop and the Seahawks have exploited it. Ted Ginn has had a long career as a deep threat despite possessing limited route skills and consistent lapses with properly framing his hands to the football at the catch point.
For the final 3-4 years of his career, Anquan Boldin had lost the speed and quickness he had when he entered the league but he still produced due to his technical and conceptual development as a receiver. Hines Ward was always slow and he didn’t run the entire route tree at the level of most receivers who share the esteem he earned as a player. However, the Steelers exploited what he did best and Ward had a great career.
This combination of talents and the range of possibilities where they can fit and produce within an offense can render “limited talents” more valuable than players who possess a greater amount of “receiver skills.” There’s no magic formula for how quality, quantity, and environment fit together.
Even so, there are baseline skills at the receiver position that warrant a higher value than others. Wake Forest’s Kendall Hinton is not a top prospect but he possesses these two skills that the best NFL receivers possess: The ability to run routes with a succinct and suspenseful succinct storyline and the toughness to win the ball against hard contact—even when the player sees it heading for him while addressing the target.
Plays like the one below are scattered throughout Hinton’s film. It’s why I’ll be looking forward to his Pro Day if he’s not invited to the NFL Combine.
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