There are a lot of factors that go into a film evaluation of a skill position player. For me, as a former quarterback, I take a very hard look at a variety of tools I believe an “elite” quarterback should possess. As a former wide receivers coach, I look at a young man’s film and think about what, if anything, in his game I would try to tweak for my taste in mechanics. It can get quite complicated, if I let it, but it is just a process I prefer to employ.
I thought about combining what I look for in both quarterbacks and wide receivers, then realized it would be 10-bazillion words long, so I decided to split them up. Consider this “Part 1”.
When I was coaching, we did what I called “EDD” or “Every Day Drills”. I was a stickler for blocking at the wide receiver position. I constantly preached “you don’t want to block, then you don’t want to play”. I took great pride in the fact that you could watch film of my guys from a Friday night game and you knew we were going to get after you. With our EDDs, we worked two main blocking drills. We were not allowed to cut block in Arkansas, so I focused on face-to-face/stalk blocking. One involved taking proper angles at a moving defender, while the other involved more of the process of getting the best leverage possible.
In both of these drills, you could hear me barking the same commands:
1. “Get his feet in between yours” – Meaning, your feet better be wider than his.
2. “Eyes at his chin” – I wanted them to get compact, not stand straight up, and have a great base.
3. “Let him come to you” – Often times, receivers try to take the action to a defender in space and that leads to “whiffs” or just total misses.
4. “Don’t dance with him” – Once engaged, sometimes guys want to just move around with no real direction. I wanted my guys to block with a purpose and actually take the defender away from the play.
5. “Stop on the whistle” – Nothing I hate worse than a dirty player. Make his life miserable from snap to whistle, help him up, and come back and do it again.
Why is this pertinent to how I evaluate film? While I know most coaches use different terminology, it is still easy to know if a guy is both coached up and if he wants to put the effort in to do the non-glamorous job of blocking from the receiver position. Sadly, I have only seen one highlight film of a receiver blocking and, if memory serves me correctly, it was Ceedee Lamb. Show me a guy who is a “dawg” blocking for his teammates and I will show you a guy who will dive for footballs, go across the middle in traffic for a big third down catch, and jump up high and fight for a reception. I wish more young receivers would understand the value of putting at least a half dozen examples of them blocking on their highlight films.
If there are not blocking examples on film, the next thing I look for is explosion off the line of scrimmage (LOS). I hate wasted movement, and a lot of guys teach a foot fire technique that probably has its place on the field, but I never taught it (unless we played a team that played man press, which was hardly ever). I would rather a guy be moving to where he is supposed to be in his route, not dancing in one spot while the quarterback is taking his drop. If a guy is into foot fire technique, that is fine, but I immediately look to see how long he is staying in one spot. If a guy is still standing on the LOS about a half second after the quarterback has the ball from the snap, there is an issue. Foot fire should take place as soon as the ball moves in the center’s hand.
So, the first thing I look for: Wasted Movement
Another critical piece for me in my evaluations is aggressiveness. Does the receiver pussy foot off the LOS with no sense of purpose? If so, then I take it to mean that he isn’t a very aggressive player. What that means to me is he won’t fight for a ball that is thrown up for grabs, or the corner end zone fade that hangs a bit too long. He will “alligator arm” a ball that is thrown a little high across the middle and, most likely, won’t put too much effort into “mano y mano” blocking. Speaking of that, if there are a few examples of blocking on a receiver’s film and they are all peel backs on an unaware defender, I raise my eyebrows. To me, this is sometimes a gutless block. Sure, some of my best receivers did this type of thing every now and then, but I also knew they would run up and battle anyone and get to where they could smell the defender’s breath. Real warrior type stuff. Don’t come at me with your only blocks being peel backs or blindsides; I will take it to mean that you are not all that aggressive and maybe even a bit soft.
Second thing: Aggressiveness
You have already seen me say it a few times, but I always wanted my position guys to play with a purpose. On an outside zone play to their side, they had better know that if they were the inside receiver, or the #2, they were supposed to seal the outside linebacker. That was their purpose. The outside receiver, or the #1, had a purpose to either run his guy off deep, or lock him up and keep his butt from getting to the ball carrier before he had a chance to make a “football move”. Purpose. We practiced it. I preached it. The kids played with it. I look for that quality in a player when I evaluate film. You can usually tell quickly if he possesses it or not. He still might be a very good receiver without it, but it is what separates the “good” from the “great”, in my opinion.
Knowing your role, or purpose, on each and every play is key, and something that I like to have some sort of idea about when watching a young man on film.
Third thing: Purpose
So far, I have really only told you about one thing that would be considered mechanical, and that was wasted movement. Here is where I really begin to look for the skills I consider to fall in that category. The first piece of that is route running.
Of course, a wide receiver needs to be adept at running the entire route tree. They need to take all the proper steps, the right angles, and have their hands ready to catch the ball (more on this next). Some coaches teach different techniques for various routes, but you can tell pretty easily if a young man is running good clean routes. I used to tell my guys to “look cool” when they ran routes. This, while meant to be somewhat humorous, was full of truth. If you continuously get your feet tangled when trying to come out of your breaks, then you are probably not someone who the coach can trust to play on Friday nights. Now, the guys we watch who are athletes considering the University of Oklahoma are not guys who are going to get tripped up by their own two feet. I do, however, see guys run sloppy routes quite often, and sometimes I believe it is because they are used to always being such a superior athlete to the players attempting to defend them. At the elite FBS level, that won’t cut the mustard. If a player is deliberate in his approach to his route, then he should be WHERE he is supposed to be WHEN he is supposed to be there.
Being precise in route running is an art. It is not always easy, and some routes are not natural movements. My favorite route to coach my guys was always a 15-yard comeback. In our offense, the quarterback would roll play side and the outside receiver would push hard downfield toward the defender’s outside shoulder, making the defender believe he was attempting to blaze past. For some reason, guys tend to want to be rigid when they know they are going to break a route off short. Getting them to be precise, take the correct steps, and use body language to fool the defender was something they all enjoyed, but it was a process. They would run to that 15-yard “spot” after having their head down like they were running a 100-yard sprint, then using the correct steps to slow down, plant, and come out of the break to catch the ball at 12-yards – it was truly a thing of beauty. We executed this play over and over again in third down and long yardage situations.
Number Four: Precision
I mentioned above the importance of receivers having their hands ready to catch the ball. Think back to how many times you have seen a high school receiver run a great route, get open, only to have the football bounce off their facemask, chest, or worse…getting their hands up late and tipping it up in the air for an interception? You probably have witnessed that more times than you can count.
Because of this, I taught my guys to never drop their hands below their waists when they were running their routes. I called this the “Charlie Brown Dance”. If you have ever watched the Charlie Brown Christmas special, you can probably remember the dancing some of the kids performed circled around the piano. Arms straight down, hands out to the side, herky jerky, and rigid (coincidentally, that’s the only dance move I have).
Instead, I taught the “pound the drum” method. When guys were coming into their breaks, I wanted to see their hands fire just at their waist as if they were pounding a drum. I preferred they kept their hands open, not closed fisted, so that they already had their fingers spread a bit in a “catching position”. While this is not necessary to having your hands ready, you can bet I look to see where a guy’s hands are when he is entering his break and coming out of it. If his hands are consistently low, I tend to think, and maybe harshly so, that he is lazy. This is a pretty easy fix for most receivers, but I would rather my elite level guys come onto campus already knowing this small, but important, mechanical aspect of the position.
Five: Ready hands
That pretty much wraps up “Part 1,” and I will end this piece here because those are really the first five “first takes” I look for when evaluating wide receiver film. Some may sound silly, but I believe they are very important; if two guys are very similar in style and I could only offer one, I would find the one who does these top five better.
In Part 2 for wide receivers, I’ll discuss the next tier of skills I look for and how I believe you can predict those skills will translate to the next level of football.