Matt Waldman’s RSP Boiler Room examines Boise State’s quick-footed receiver Kahlil Shakir, a 2021 NFL Draft prospect who has the athletic ability to contribute to an offense but has a common technical flaw that many young pass catchers share.
A 6’0″, 190-pound receiver hoping to become an NFL contributor better have unimpeachable technique as a pass catcher. What does a player’s size have to do technical prowess?
If you’re evaluating players solely on talent, nothing. There are dozens of receivers leaving college with the hope of making the NFL who lack refined use of their hands at the catch point — big slots who are a meal away from H-Back, short waterbug types with the lower halves of 230-pound running backs, and all body types and styles in between.
Here’s the deal: If you’re of average size for a wide receiver and you’re not in the highest percentiles of specific athletic traits that guarantees you can become a physical mismatch in the NFL, then you’ll have to become a conceptually-advanced football player who rarely makes mistakes with coverage adjustments and is flawless with every move.
The reason why is draft capital. Teams invest big dollars in their early picks and err on the side of giving them the most reps in camp.
Early picks are products of risk management practices that eliminate the “You Idiots Factor.” This is what the public says when an NFL organization selects players in the first and second rounds of the draft that lack a lot of these resume points:
- Elite physical measurements.
- Elite workout metrics.
- Winning division one program.
- Excellent production statistics for multiple seasons.
- Clean behavior off the field.
For every factor that’s missing from this equation, teams seek factors that compensate. For instance, a short receiver won’t drop has far down boards if he has great contested catch skill along with superior quickness and vertical leap numbers.
But for an average-sized receiver like Shakir, who is quick enough to make plays as a route runner and ballcarrier in the NFL, he lacks that standout skill that will elevate his grade to an early-round selection that guarantees him reps. He’ll have to steadily earn trust because even when he makes a big play, coaches will be more apt to criticize the opponent than praise the playmaker if he doesn’t standout in some way, physically.
It’s one of the biases that occurs in every workplace setting. The employee with the sterling resume bullet points gets credited for their skills more often than the employee lacking that resume but performing just as well, if not better.
For Shakir to overcome this bias, he’ll need to develop his hands. He catches the ball well for a college receiver but that’s not enough. He must tighten up the position of his hands so he reduces the rate of error that’s possible with his current technique.
This is the type of context that most production metrics fail to capture when the player catches the ball at a high rate of success in the college game. Ideally, they would track the type of technique used with every catch, compare the same data in the NFL, and it would help them have data that shows what happens when a player transitions to a higher level of football with specific holes in their games.
No individual has the time to be that granular with their evaluation process for mutiple positions on the field and generate a reasonable sample size. Still, I track whether the player uses these techniques in each game even if I’m not tracking the rate of consistency. I also watch and note what players are doing as the move onto the NFL.
It’s why I can tell you that NFL receivers — even those with strong draft capital — fail to become consistent and impactful starters if they don’t perfect their hand positions at the catch point. It’s easier to produce with sloppier technique in college. Not so in the league.
I like what I’ve seen from Shakir but after 17 years of watching receivers transition to the pros, he’ll need to become automatic if he wants a long-term career as a starter. It can happen with daily work. And if it does, he has enough to work with to make plays.
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