- Part II: Running Backs
Wide receivers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The prototypes these days, are the big guys. Everyone wants a Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones or Larry Fitzgerald. That said, in the more wide open game of today, we've seen Wes Welker become one of the NFL's best weapons, the same for Antonio Brown, and we've seen smaller receivers like Tavon Austin and Percy Harvin go in the 1st Round.
When it comes to recruiting, like the other positions, highlight tapes can be tough to evaluate off of because certain attributes may not be apparent, and receivers can only be as good as their quarterback or the system they play in. And like other positions, some kids may just develop later than others.
So off the bat, what may catch the eye of a college coach or staff when they are watching wide receiver film?:
|“Even before watching tape, I try to find out as much about the player through the internet as possible: height, weight, season stats, other sports, etc. The first thing I look for is an “elite trait.” That could be a variety of things; excellent hands and ball tracking, great routes, speed, height, competitiveness, productivity. I want to see big plays…touchdowns, long plays, great catches. Obviously, we want to see a player that goes and gets the ball with his hands and does not body catch. Catching the ball above his head is a major plus. Their speed all depends on their size. Taller receivers don’t need to be running by everyone, but they must be able to go up and catch the ball above their head and keep body control doing so. I do not like to see guys going up to catch balls and land on their back when no one is around. Shorter receivers should have more speed, and be able to get open or catch the ball in traffic.”|
|“Off the film, everybody probably says the same, but speed is the one thing. You can’t really see if they’re 4.4 or 4.5 or 4.6 sometimes on film, but you can see, do they run by everybody they’re playing against? How easy is it for them to run? Do they have to take a lot of steps to cover ground or is it pretty easy, simple strides? You also notice competitive situations: when the ball is in the air, contested catches, what’s their catch radius? If they’re a short guy, shorter receiver, can they still get catches outside the framework of their body? Are they pretty good at adjusting, opening their hips against press? So I’d say speed and catch radius off film. You’re looking for how they open their hips, get out of breaks. I’m not concerned exactly with how great they’re routes are, but can they get in and out of routes easy and are they loose in their hips?|
|“The thing is, with highlight tapes, you’d always watch game film. Nowadays, you’re really watching highlight film and you can sometimes get in trouble with that. As long as you’re comparing apples to apples, not comparing one kid’s highlight to another kid’s game film, you might be alright, but especially if it’s a new area you don’t recruit and you don’t know the competition, it’s hard to tell how fast a kid is. You can usually see some height measurements based on who they’re playing against, standing next to an official or coach, but I always think speed is one of the harder things to determine, so then you go to track times and stuff like that.”|
The running back coaches I talked to lamented how much they could really tell about a kid in camp. Wide receiver coaches have a little easier job in that setting:
|“I would agree that receiver evaluations at camp are probably more valuable than running back evaluations. But I also believe that you can tell a ton at a camp, working individually with a player, doing things that are relevant to your offense, and not necessarily their high school, with both positions. We do a ton in our offense with our running backs in our passing game, so running backs basically become wide receivers midway through a skill camp.
At camp, the most important thing I look for is competitiveness. I would rather see a kid run a 40 or pro agility with a slightly sprained ankle and run a bad time, than have him sit out worried about losing a tenth of a second. I want to see him fight through adversity. The kid who drops a ball and steps back to the front of the line because he is upset at himself to redeem himself. I want to coach the guy who wants every rep, no matter what the drill is; position drills, 1 on 1’s, etc.
Camp also allows us to validate ball skills. Sometimes on film, you can find the WR that makes a ton of big plays, but has a great QB that puts the ball in the right spot every time and never has to go get it. We do a ton of drills requiring WR’s to catch the ball above their head. Hoping that they don’t let it fall on their chest and jump to high point. That allows us to evaluate not only their hands, but their ball tracking as well. Again, guys that can high point a ball, and land on their feet and run 30 more yards is hard to find. It requires a ton of body control.
I also want to see speed, quickness, and burst. Some of that can be evaluated through testing, but most through position drills and competitions. I believe camps can be the final evaluation on a prospect or the initial evaluation. If I have not seen a prospect on film, and he comes to camp and separates himself, I still want to watch film. It is very different catching balls with no pads on, than it is fully padded within the competition of a game. ”
|“A lot of times, the difference from film to camps, especially at receiver is, they may have been in an offense that didn’t throw the ball very often or their quarterback can’t throw, so those are the kids who really shock you in person because they haven’t had the opportunity to show what they can do. A lot of times, a kid’s offense can make them look better than they really are, so at the camp, the kid who doesn’t have the great quarterback or great offensive system or he has to play quarterback or running back in high school and comes to camp as a receiver, that’s a pretty big difference than what you see on film. But I’d say 85-90% of the time, you know what you’re getting with a kid. I’d say the biggest thing is their makeup, their mentality. Their coachability and that’s the deal. You don’t get to spend as much time as you like to in recruiting with a kid. When you go over 10-15 states, and you can’t have a private jet like you could at a Tennessee or Alabama, you don’t get time to spend and find out what they’re like. That’s one thing that, if there are kids that are pretty close and a kid is faster maybe by a little bit, then a kid’s makeup is going to be a deciding factor – what you like and what you don’t like.”|
The variance in size and style of receivers comes into play at the different positions: splits, slots, flankers, etc., but one coach told me that's not a concern of theirs when evaluating potential recruits:
|“Evaluating prospects, I try not to peg them into a specific receiver position. Within our offense, we can move guys around all the time. Instead of recruiting players for a position, we try to separate them by size. That has been very valuable for us. The 6’4 receiver may not always run as fast as the 5’8 receiver, but there is value for both in our offense if other elite traits are there. The 5’8 receiver may never line up in one certain position on the field within our offense, but he may align in every other.”|
I have seen very talented receivers not be able to get on the field as much because they aren't up to par when it comes to blocking. But that said, how can you really evaluate that at the high school level?
|“Evaluating blocking on film is extremely difficult. There are some high school teams that spend a lot of time practicing blocking in open space. But I assume, it is way less than the time they spend on catching balls and running routes. When evaluating blocking, I look mostly for “want to.” I want to see the guy that is sticking his face mask on the defense and at least trying to get in his way. I don’t want to see the receiver that sits back and waits for the defense to engage them. Also, I want to see their effort blocking when they don’t have the ball. Watching a receiver run 40 yards downfield chasing the running back that just broke through the line of scrimmage is very pleasing. ”
|“You’ll see if a kid’s tough or not on film, how he goes after the football, what he does after the catch, just how aggressive he is, how strong he is, how explosive he is. Blocking really is two things: your mentality and technique. The technical stuff is our job to help develop and the mentality, I think a lot of that shows up after the catch and how they play. The kid shows one clip of him blocking, that’s good, but you really cannot identify that with just the highlight tape. It's more in the mentality: is he kind of a punk or does he go across he middle? If you don’t have that physical mentality, we don’t want him unless he is just off the charts fast or athletic or something.”
As it is with any position, character and taking care of things off the field and in the classroom are very important as well.
|“One of the most important things in evaluating any prospect, in my mind, is trying to figure out who that prospect is as a person. Getting to know him on a personal level through phone conversations, email, his twitter feed, etc. There are also way to find out who he is outside of talking to him. It is important to talk to his parents, high school coach, the school’s athletic director, talk to the hall monitor at the high school…anyone that can cross that player on a daily basis. Things I ask are about his competitiveness, his confidence, what’s important to him, what his goals are, or how hard he works (in the weight room, classroom, homework, etc).”|