Scouting Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: Traits the NFL looks for

scouting wide receivers and running backs

In this NFL Scouting series, we will cover each position group. In the real report I used, there are pictures of the player in various movements, with comments about each. In order to keep anonymity for the Scout, I’m only using the words, no photos, or the handwritten notes used. Scouting wide receivers and tight ends gives you a glimpse into what happens in their world.

Unlike the QB report, this is one page, but there’s less to analyze with this position group than the guys under center. Even so, when scouting wide receivers and tight ends, not only do they put together these analyses, but visit games, watch film, analyze them at the combine, any bowls and often host them at their facilities.

While there was less to cover, they still went in-depth and beyond what the average fan would consider. Scouting Halfbacks and Fullbacks gives the reader a chance to see inside the minds of what NFL general managers are looking for. Hopefully, this will help you watch the game with more detail and talk with knowledge.

They break down film, have them do whiteboard work, talk to coaches, etc. The actual one below is based on, had photos showing:

  • route running
  • sticking defender
  • downfield avoidance
  • homerun ability
  • catch in stride
  • body shield DB at catch point
  • body control at top speed
  • fast twitch
  • threat red zone

When Scouting Wide Receivers and Tight Ends they look for

  • Catch outside the frame ⊃
  • Speed Cut 〉
  • Square Cut ⌈
  • Double Move ζ

Body

  • coverage recognition
  • ball reaction – see & adjust track ball
  • body unravels in stride/cuts
  • crowd catch
  • extend to pluck
  • ball vs body catcher
  • adjust body on the move
  • fluid athlete
  • separation from defender body position
  • release vs man press (body strength, hand strength)
  • hands (soft/hard)
  • excess movement in stride
  • natural ball catcher
  • burst in route stem
  • top end speed
  • burst in/out of cuts
  • jumping ability/timing
  • R.A.C. – burst/acceleration/elude/efficiency/toughness
  • extra gear to separate
  • initial quickness
  • build to speed
  • release vs zone/man
  • lateral elude/make you miss

Mentality

  • interest in run game
  • blocking tenacity
  • crack block
  • settle in voids/spaces underneath in pass game
  • scramble drill
  • make himself available to QB on run
  • work back to ball
  • find holes

Notes

Here are notes used when scouting wide receivers and tight ends. Notice that for most of the TE’s, he cared more about blocking than catching. That’s the #1 job in most scout’s eyes.

  • High points ball well. elusive in screen game. A little sloppy on his routes. Good feet. Question his game speed. Tough, but rough around the edges. Feel like game film would look different.
  • Long, good blocker. Facemask to chest type blocker. Finishes on his feet. Big frame and great bend. Put 30 pounds on him and he’s an athletic tackle. Really explodes through defender. Big legs.
  • Tough. Able to get to 2nd level. A little high on his drive blocks. Questionable hip bend. Hands like a WR. Queen TE. Does not look like he likes blocking.
  • Long legged strider. Runs with ease. Nice route runner. Comes back to ball well with ease. Good hands. Gets to you of his route with ease.
  • Runs through tackles. Elusive, fast and tough. Creative. Don’t know if he has a 4.4 speed, but would play well in the slot. Catches ball with hands. A little sloppy on his 3 cut. Goes and gets the ball. Good player.
  • Whoa tough as nails blocker. Refuses to be tackled solo. Uses body to box out smaller players. Football awareness high. Good bend and sink. Strong upper body. Could add 20 pounds. Good player.
  • Smooth route runner. High points ball. Basketball type player. Fluid movement, soft hands and hard to tackle. Climbs to 2nd level well on doubles Don’t know about brute strength. Skinny legs.

Hope this gives you insight into what the NFL looks for when scouting wide receivers and tight ends. Any questions, you can comment below.

Learn about Stem Routes and why running them well helps the quarterback: Football 101

Over the last two seasons, we’ve seen inconsistent quarterbacking, but the receivers (and tight ends) weren’t consistently performing at their top-level. Plus, the depth behind them was poor. A very good QB can overcome, but weak play from receivers only compounds poor quarterbacking.

Why bring this up with Stem Routes? Because the Stem of a route begins the moment the wide receiver (or TE) pushes off. The black line below is the stem. As mentioned in the option route piece, WRs need to sell every route as looking the same. Running a Stem sounds simple: run until you turn (make break). It’s not.

*to note: this is Football 101, simple is used. Many sentences can use the words, usually or typically.

At the LOS, most plays will have a CB line up against them, either in soft press, hard press or off man (seven or so yards back from the LOS). That CB wants to mirror his guy, read his hips and respond. A good WR is able to keep his hips pointing one direction, sink them, plant his outside (or inside foot), and turn on a dime before the CB can react.

This creates separation.
It’s important to know that while the Stem starts at the line of scrimmage, mentally it begins much sooner: in the film room. Receivers need to know the CB’s who will be covering them. If he is an aggressive guy who likes to play hard press, then that first push at the LOS could be a step back. Why?

As covered in hard press, the CB wants to jam his guy, disrupt his timing so the route is shot. When the ball is snapped, the good WR takes a step back and lets his CB come at him, then pushes him aside and bam, he gone.

Remember in press, the hips don’t lie? The stem is all about the hips. If a receiver can get his hips inside, he’s open. That’s the size of an NFL window—the width of a pair of hips.

The dance between the WR and CB is all about who can get their hips to lie, read their opponents (and QB) and get the other to bite.

Rookie receivers tend to struggle with that part. They can run a route, catch the ball, but the ability to do what Diggs does in the below play, is tough to come by. Selling the stem and making the cut against the #1 CB.

Have a QB who can’t throw a rocket or on a dime, but still manages to make good plays? He has receivers who help him by creating space they can maneuver in. If the ball is a tad slow or off by a foot because there is separation, it lessens the chance of an interception. It also allows the receiver to adjust to the ball since there’s no defender draped over him.

Seasoned CB’s know which QBs struggle and they will try to jump a route, this makes selling the stem that more important. Get the CB to bite on a dig, but run a post, etc.

The below gif was against Aqib Talib in 2015 (who was tops), Stephon Diggs was a rookie in his first game against the top corner that season. Diggs keeps his head straight, his hips straight, plants his leg wide as if he’s going to go inside and instead runs an out route. Gets Talib to turn his hips out. Perfection.

Good Stem Routes should create separation.

My guess is Talib got over-confident. Didn’t expect this from some 21-year-old kid, so he got burned. That step sold it, look at all that space. The crappiest of crappy QBs can look like heroes if their WRs can give that barn door-sized window.

Jacksonville needs their young receiving corps of Marqise Lee, Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook and rookie DJ Chark to play at Diggs’ level who’s even better now. One step is all it takes to help or hurt Bortles.

Another trick WR’s can do on their Stems is a double (or triple) move. They can be used at any depth; it’s all about where the WR thinks he can shed his coverage. When he can get leverage off the hips, get the CB’s pointing away from where the route should end, he’s won. Even though he’s making more than one cut, it’s still the same stem because the route is about where the ball should be caught.

In summation, the stem is to trick the corner into going one way, while he goes another and to do that, he needs agility, speed, knowledge and a connection with his quarterback. Here’s to hoping our receiving corp can deliver.

Offensive Line: power vs zone – Football 101/201

Offensive Line: power vs zone. We’ve “talked” often about power gap and zone block offensive lines, but this article will go deeper.

Quick history lesson. The Denver Broncos introduced the ZBS to the NFL back in 1997 with Alex Gibbs. It’s all about the run, the quarterback is the ultimate game manager, hand the ball off and throw enough to keep defenses honest. Instead of the OL worrying about who to block, they just defend their zone. Tandems double team to create space for a back to run through.
This changed the type of offensive linemen teams wanted from big mammoths to smaller more agile guys. While most OL can play both, most teams draft/sign players to be one or the other.

This part will cover Offensive Line: power vs zone as Football 101

Power guys use their feet to plant and push power up and out is the simplest way to explain it. Sumo wrestlers whose motion is more north/south. 5 guys making a wall, worrying about protecting their gap and/or focusing on a particular player.They are made to protect the quarterback.

Whereas, Zone guys need quick feet because they often move laterally. They need to slide sideways while blocking, often hip to hip with their partner. Run-first teams want to push the DL in one direction while the RB goes the other OR the RB runs laterally behind the line and then cuts through a gap.

This changes the responsibility of the guards. He isn’t pulling for the RB because everyone is. While the line is moving in one direction, they can ignore blocking the guy farthest away from the play. This gives them the ability to also use tight ends efficiently. Does he block or catch?

Zone block scheme is dependent on a running back having great vision

When a lineman changes the torque on how he uses his body, some players will obviously be better than others at certain movements. Also, in zone, OL team up in duos, so communication is vital, they’re two guys taking on two.

Play action works great with this because a team doesn’t know if the QB is dropping back to hand off or throw. Also, ZBS lines don’t need to block long. The QB takes the snap, hands it off or often throws on the move behind the sliding line.
If the line makes a pocket for a pass, it’s more than likely going to break down quickly because they’re not made to block for 3-5 seconds. Hence quick passes are the name of the game.

Teams who throw 70% get their runs because teams back up to cover the pass and the back should have easy yards. No loaded box, it’s the element of surprise. Since these teams are built for passing, the pocket needs to hold so WRs can get depth and/or shake their defender.

The above is Football 101, it’s a simple explanation. Most sentences can have “usually” or “typically” slipped in it because there are all kinds of variances, but this is about teaching the basics.

This part is more Football 201 on Offensive Line: power vs zone

Below is more in-depth, but to understand it, you need to know the above. The reason we’re going into this is because I’m interested to see if the Jags use more or less ZBS based on how Blake Bortles and Fournette do.

Center or guard in a zone scheme
The center must be one of the smartest players on the field.  The point of using an inside zone run or an outside zone run is to get 4 hands on the defensive lineman, and 4 eyes on the linebacker. If the play is coming to his right, and the C has nobody on him (4-3 scheme), he knows he needs to work with the Right Guard.

This tandem will take the defensive lineman who’s lined up over the guard and the inside linebacker.  Neither knows which one is going to block yet, so at the snap they drive block the defensive lineman. If the ILB shows up in the A Gap, the Center should disengage from the defensive lineman and block that ILB.

If the ILB shows up in the B Gap, the guard will now disengage and block the ILB, while the Center stays on the DL. For this block to be effective, it is IMPERATIVE they 4 hands on the defensive lineman and 4 eyes on the ILB.  If they lose track of the ILB he will make the play.

Tackle in a zone scheme

A Backside Tackle (Left Tackle when the play is scheduled to go right) in a zone scheme, needs to be able to move his feet.  If he can’t help the backside Guard and climb up to the WLB, the line is in trouble. He must protect that B Gap while climbing the ladder to the WLB.

If done correctly, the RB has the ability to press the hole to his right, and if he sees a line, bend it back to the left.  It’s not a cutback as much as the defense is overloaded the right side. If he can get that backside blocked up well, there will be a natural lane to the left for the RB to use if he so chooses.

The Playside Tackle, depending on the front (in this instance, lets put a 5 Technique over him), has to work with the TE to block the DE and SLB.  Many times the TE Will end up climbing the ladder to the SLB, but this still needs to be a 4 hands on the DL, 4 eyes on the SLB.

This position requires toughness and the athletic ability to block strong and fast 5 techniques (read here about DL techniques) and not get pushed back.  It may be the hardest lineman to find, athletic enough to move your feet, and strong enough to take on a strong bull rush.

The whole genesis of the zone run scheme was to block 3 Defensive Lineman and 3 Linebackers with 5 Offensive Lineman and Tight End. Refuse to block the backside Defensive End, because he has contain and spill responsibilities. If he’s making the tackle, he needs to be running naked boots to his side as he’s getting way too nosy in the run game.

By putting 4 hands on the Defensive Lineman, they’ve given themselves the ability to not need 5 guys who weigh in at 315 pounds and can bench press a cow. Substitute some brute strength for a little more athletic ability.  6’6’’ 315 pound lineman who can bend and move and strike like a Pro Bowl caliber player are rare.

With the influx of collegiate talent coming in that are used to running more and more zone schemes, the NFL has diversified and put a lot of zone schemes right next to their G schemes. They’re running both which is one more thing for defensive coordinators stay up late at night to figure out what’s coming at them and when it’s gonna come. Good ones figure it out.
Offensive Line: power vs zone
Offensive Line: power vs zone

Hard Press Coverage is an art form: Football 101

There are two forms of press coverages: hard and soft. In a second article, I’ll address soft coverage.

*To note, this is Football 101, so it’s a simple explanation and everything comes with a usually or typicallyso insert it in most things written.

The hard press starts at the line of scrimmage. The wide receiver (or tight end) and cornerback face each other with little space between. Once the ball is snapped, the CB has five yards past the LOS to push, slap, and bump the WR/TE, after that it can be called defensive pass interference in the NFL.

CB’s will watch the WR’s hips and keep his feet constantly moving, while shading towards the inside (if needed) because the goal (usually) is to keep the WR from making a break towards the center of the field. If he’s got the inside edge, he’s using his hands to prod, slap, and jam the WR while keeping his inside leverage.

The CB wants to jam his guy towards the outside so it gives his safeties more time to assess the play, makes it a harder throw for the QB, and is easier to push the WR out of bounds if the ball is caught. This is why he’ll often line up on the WR’s inside hip, this helps keep the WR from turning in.

This type of hard press is an absolute route killer, which results in one less open guy. It’s most effective on short routes and why having a good slot cover is imperative. Jax needs D.J. Hayden and Tyler Patmon to step up because they play a lot of nickel and the slot is key.

Smaller CB’s can struggle against big TE’s if their form isn’t perfect. A CB with long limbs can keep his hands on the WR while maintaining enough space to move and make plays on the ball.

The key to winning this match-up is: the hips don’t lie. CB’s should follow the hips, not the eyes or shoulders of the WR. Only the very best WR/TE can have their hips pointing in one direction and then break off in a another suddenly.

Chad Johnson was one of the best at these agile moves. Julio Jones is among the best at using his strength to break the jam and streak down the field. They are few and far between. This is why WR’s (especially the raw) struggle running routes against seasoned CB’s. Their hips don’t lie.

If this dance lasts past five yards, the CB is no longer jamming his guy anyway he can, he’s now running hip to hip (with some bumps and sneaky slaps) with the receiver. Good press guys will slap the hand as the WR is catching the ball. As long as contact is at the same time, it’s not a flag. This ritual between the two isn’t for the weak, it’s all mind games, athleticism and focus.

CB’s who can back-pedal, shove, bump, herd his guy at the same time and keep an arm free to intercept passes, are ones who often ones who make All-Pro and Pro-Bowls.
The next type of coverage is soft press, which will be covered in a separate article.

This film clip shows Jalen Ramsey as the guy who does it all.

Off man/standard coverage simply explained: Football 101

“Off man” coverage begins seven yards back. Why is off man in quotes? Because there really isn’t such a thing as off man coverage. Corners standardly line up this way. When they’re up on the line, that’s press. I’m guessing people started saying off man because the corner isn’t on his man and wanted to give it name besides standard.

As explained in the hard and soft press coverage articles, both begin close to the line of scrimmage. Hard is all about jamming the WR with the hands and body, while soft press is more about using body positioning to disrupt the route. Touch them after five yards and you get a flag. Both are used in man coverage.

*to note: this is Football 101, so things are explained simply and in basic terms. The words, usually and typically can apply to most sentences. Also to *note, WR or TE applies. Finally, there is a whole series of Football 101, if you have questions about formations, terms used, etc., we most likely have it in an article. Use search to find it or go through the Football 101 page.

Standard coverage is seen more in zone defense. He needs space because while he may be tasked to mirror one guy, he has to cover anyone who enters his zone. At any point in time during the play, another receiver (WR, TE, or RB) can come into the zone and it is the CB’s responsibility to pick it up.

In some ways, playing press is easier than zone because you only have one guy to cover. This should mean you’ve watched countless hours of tape on him and know how he runs, his and his quarterback’s tendencies. The downside is it’s tiring. The CB’s are running, backpedaling, and shuffling every single play.

Playing zone and “off” coverage allows CB’s to cover less ground. If they’re seven yards back, they’re watching the play develop in front of them. If they have a deeper zone then there’s usually not as much back pedaling at the snap.

The goal is to keep the play in front of them. If the WR gets within his cushion, the CB will break from his back pedal and begin running into his deep zone while covering that man. If the play is on the other side of the field, then his job is to begin pursuit.

This means, give up the short hops, but stop the intermediate to deep passes. If a team has really good inside linebackers who can cover, the CB’s job becomes easier.

Mentally, zone is more exhausting because the CB is watching several players at once. If you’ve got a team who likes the spread (using four or even five receivers), the CB could have three men to watch (plus the QB’s eyes).

In those cases, it’s impossible to have both (or three) CB’s play man press because someone(s) is free to roam. Guess the wrong guy and you better have great safeties to mop up (we do). However, generally once safeties are needed, you’ve got a big chunk play.

Sometimes, one section of the field plays man while one or two play zone. This can occur if a team has only one top talent like the Bengals with A.J. Green. They can put their best CB on the star WR and the remainder of the defense can cover the rest with either zone, man, or a combination of both.

If they’re running a combo scheme, then as the WR runs his route with the CB on his tail, he’ll end up double or tripled covered as he runs through other defender’s zones. This can be an effective way to shut a star player down. Just look at how Jalen Ramsey took care of A.J. Green in 2017.

If a team’s best CB can’t hang with a wily and speedy devil like Julio Jones, then the CB1 may decide to play standard man because he wants the space to turn quickly. Jones could knock a man down and blow the doors off before he realizes what’s happened if he plays him on the line. Not to mention, Matt Ryan isn’t a schlub in fitting a ball in.

Which brings us to another reason a CB may want to play back: the quarterback. Some QB’s love their dink and dunk or have a tendency to stare the receivers down. This means, why play press man when you can just watch the QB and jump any route? Squat like a toad, dare him to throw to the open guy in front and break up every pass he telegraphs.

http://www.nfl.com/m/share?p=%2Fvideos%2Flondon-games%2F0ap3000000849709%2FJalen-Ramsey-snags-diving-interception

Bad quarterbacks can make throws look good because of the space; however, once a defense gets a read on the QB, it’s often curtains. Routes get jumped, balls get batted, intercepted and a bad day ensues.

On the flip side, really good quarterbacks love zone coverage if they’re playing average defenses. They use their eyes to sell everything, but where they’re going, and good Offensive Coordinators will use that like a dream. Not to mention, that space gives them room to lead their receiver…right into the end zone. Even good defenses can get lost on occasion (see the SF game). Which leads us to why every team does use trickery.

Often, corners will line up as if they’re in zone in a standard formation, but actually they’re playing man press or the reverse. They’ll use this based on the QB, receivers and who they’re playing. It’s always about the art of illusion. We have a few articles on the different formations that can be used that apply to where the DB’s play, just search in Defense Formations.

In summation, playing in a standard “Off man” coverage (seven or more yards back from the LOS), gives the cornerback more choices and more room to make them. When to do so is based on the defensive play, trickery of the defensive coordinator, the skill level of the quarterback and receiver.

Soft press coverage, the art of the cornerback: Football 101

While hard press coverage starts at the line of scrimmage with physical play, soft press coverage begins at the line, too, but the CB is more shadowing them. Back pedaling, shuffling, but not jamming with the hands.

*to note: this is Football 101. Things are simply explained and typically or usually could apply to most sentences. In addition, while I may write WR/receiver, it applies to any player who catches the ball past the LOS. Once the ball is caught, press is out the window and it’s now about tackling.

Press coverage is all about getting in your opponents’ heads, disrupting routes, removing a receiver from the play, and batting or intercepting the ball.

Two items hard and press share, is the CB is still watching the receiver’s hips, cueing off them and wanting to be inside the target. In soft, it’s important the feet are lined up square against your opponent at the LOS because the back-pedal won’t be worth much if you’re crabbing sideways, plus it affects balance.

Soft is used because it gives the CB more space to be reactionary. A slippery, quick WR can burn hard press with a double move, etc., but in soft, the CB is backing up while watching the receiver to decide where he’s going.

Having that little space between them gives him room to turn quickly if he’s burned and get inside his man, or jump a route if he sees where the QB is going.

As in hard press, the same rule applies, you can only slap, poke, jam within 5 yards of the LOS without drawing a flag. You can however, use your hips, shoulders to bump them and slap their hands right as they catch the ball.

Here is a clip of AJ Bouye before he joined the Jaguars, you can see him play soft press against the Chiefs and Travis Kelce. Watch how he lets him get in front and uses his arm to reach around and bat the ball down.

This took guts and confidence from Bouye and shows why he’s among the best to do it, although woefully under-appreciated.