Wide Receivers have always fascinated me. We got a shiny new one in the 2012 NFL Draft, and I thought it'd be nice to take a closer look at him. The one, the only, Rueben Randle.
As always, lets take a look at what I look for when evaluating WRs.
Obviously, the first thing you want to look for when evaluating a WR, is exactly what type he is. There are three types, the X, Y, Z.
The "X" WR is also called the "Split-End" WR and is often times the team's best WR. He is the primary deep threat, usually the most athletic, and will play on the outside. He lines up basically on the LOS. Therefore, he can get jammed easily, so your bigger WRs will be the X. The Giants' split-end in 2011 was Hakeem Nicks.
The "Z" WR is also called the "Flanker." They are usually (but not always) the possession WRs that play on the outside. They line up a couple yards behind the LOS. That gives them an advantage for beating the jam, but as a result, their routes are shorter because it will take them longer to develop the deep routes. The Giants' flanker in 2011 was split between Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz.
The "Y" WR is what we call the "Slot" WR. They stay only a few yards away from the offensive line, and are on the inside of either the flanker or split end. They are quicker than fast, are usually security blankets and are usually the best route runners of the group. The Giants' slot receiver in 2011 was split between Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard.
AT THE SNAP
Once the ball is snapped, there are a couple of things that I look for. Acceleration is huge. If he can create instant separation at the point of the snap, its highly translatable. If the WR gets jammed, I want to see how long it takes to break off the jam. Upper body strength is crucial, and if the WR can stay on target with his route by beating an early jam, its very good. If not, you have to question whether he's strong enough to be an NFL caliber player. If the WR is running an extremely short route, like a slant, he might make his break right out of his initial stance. You look for that "suddenness." That's a term that scouts often use to describe players that have crisp cuts and can shake a defender based on their route running and acceleration.
DURING THE ROUTE
The biggest thing we look for is....speed. Speed kills. It's the easiest way to get separation. Speed is what allows the WR to take a 10 yard crossing route into a 50 yard touchdown. I look for acceleration at the beginning of the route, maintained speed throughout the rest of the route. Each route has a break or "stem." You'll see virtually no slowing down on post or corner routes by good WRs, and relatively minimal deceleration on digs or out routes.
We also often talk about WRs being able to run the full route tree. The route tree is different for both slot WRs and outside WRs. Since we anticipate Randle being an outside WR, here is a VERY rough picture of an outside WR route tree:
A WR that can run the full route tree needs to know how far he needs to go before going into his break. He needs to show that smooth acceleration through the beginning of the route, and if he's running the top half of the route, he needs a smooth transition. If he's running the bottom half, like a comeback or curl route, he needs to be precise and take minimal extra steps. Each extra step needed to retain balance is extra time given to the defender to catch up.
Receivers often add a little bit of spice along their routes, usually a double move or a subtle fake here and there. Seeing that out of a college prospect is nothing but a plus.
CATCHING THE BALL
The first thing I look for as the ball is coming towards the target is the separation. How much is there? If there's no defender in the area, all I look for is tracking of the ball through the air, and a simple hands catch. That basically means, can the receiver position his hands to receive the incoming ball in stride and catch with his hands instead of letting the ball fall into their bodies or arms.
If the catch is going to be contested, the name of the game is body control. Can the WR gain superior position versus the defensive back by either physically boxing him out, outjumping him, or outreaching him? That sort of blends in with the concept of catch radius. Basically, draw a circle around the entire area where a player can catch the ball. A great example of body control and catch radius can be shown here:
Larry Fitzgerald is the prototype for that. One of the greatest WRs I've ever seen.
AFTER THE CATCH
Just want to see big play potential here. Elusiveness. Speed. Power. YAC. That's basically it. You measure from point of possession to final yardage, and sort of grade on a curve based on how close the defense is. This is the least important of all of the other fundamentals, but having that big YAC ability can definitely be honed into a very productive specialist of sorts. One great example, as annoying as he may be, is Desean Jackson.
Alright, so that's basically the gist of what I look for when evaluating WRs. Let's check out a video of Rueben Randle from this past year in action.
Rueben Randle: Ht: 6'3 Wt: 215 40: 4.42 Vert: 31" Broad: 10-1'
Rueben Randle vs Auburn and Mississippi State (via JPDraftJedi)
0:00-0:12 - Randle lines up in a flex position. Runs a quick out to the flats, tries to make a few people miss. Short gain. Nothing really to gain from this play.
0:13-0:26 - Lines up as the X. Good break on the ball as he runs a short dig route. Opens up his hips towards the quarterback shielding the ball from defenders behind him and presenting himself as a big target. Minimal YAC after that.
0:27-0:34 - Randle lines up as the X again. Engages a defender about 6 yards deep on his comeback route. Probably should be a penalty on him for pushing off. That probably doesn't fly in the NFL.
0:35-1:06 - Randle, for some reason, gets an iso coverage on the outside as the X. The opposing corner attempts a jam, but without losing much speed at all, Randle fights through it with a nifty sidestep and runs a 9 route, and shows great speed to score an easy touchdown. One minor quibble is that he let the ball carry into his body, but that was probably more nonchalance rather than a deficiency in the ability to "hands" catch.
1:07-1:42 - Too easy. The defense decides not to jam him, and instead bring Neiko Thorpe, the safety, over to help bracket the coverage. No chance, as he's a bit late coming over to help, and Randle turns another go-route into 6 points.
1:43-1:51 - Randle lines up a few yards behind the LOS, almost like a flanker. He attempts to run a shallow corner route, but slips. Unfortunately, he runs out of the line of sight, so I can't tell what exactly happened. Dangerous play though.
1:52-1:59 - Shallow post as the split end. Seemed almost surprised that the ball got there, which tells me that he probably was a little too early on his break. Extends out and plucks it from the air. Has no chance to pick up any YAC, because he did not make the first man miss.
2:00-2:17 - Runs a deep post. Keeps acceleration up and smooth all the way through. His cut was not sharp at all, somewhat curved, but that's OK because he was on an iso versus just one DB. He once again shielded the DB from the ball and reached up and plucked the ball without letting the defender interfere. Big time play here.
2:18-2:24 - Simple, quick slant. Great acceleration off the snap and shows off some underrated power by getting a three or four more yards after the catch and dragging two defenders that distance.
2:25-2:37 - Randle fails to get separation on an out route, and the resultant play is broken up. I'm not sure if I can fault Rueben too much, because he had the QB staring him down the entire way, and also had to wait for the ball to get there. I'd like to see him be just a tad bit more aggressive, however.
2:38-3:02 - Ran a simple go route, but atrocious throw went about 6-7 yards behind him. Gets a nice little cheapshot right at the end.
3:03-3:10 - Great play by Randle here. He has a nice crisp cut inside and climbs the ladder to grab the pass. He does well to get above everybody else, and makes it a successful play. Underrated part of his game is the strength to hold on to the catch after a big hit.
3:11-3:20 - First really poor play I've seen. Dig route inside, about 6 yards deep. Makes a nice cut, and the ball hits him in stride, and right on his mitts, and he misses it.
3:21-3:37 - Zone buster. Looks really smooth out of the snap. Runs a nice intermediate comeback where he really doesn't do a full stop, but just sits in the zone between the corner and the safety. The QB recognizes him, and they both hit their spot at the same time. Beautiful play. Nice YAC as well.
3:38-4:07 - Beautiful play by Rueben, who runs who what seems like a deep 9 route. He sells a great, great fake to the inside, and then transitions smoothly to an outside angle, and grabs the pass over his shoulder with ease. Probably the best play of this video by far, and its the little things like this, good technique, selling fakes, over the shoulder catches, that have prompted Reese to call Randle "NFL ready."
4:08-4:25 - Miscommunication here. Randle was running a medium out route, but either the QB thought his angle was going to be more shallow, or just overthrew it. Whatever it was, it was a bad play and resulted in a turnover.
Rueben Randle has all the tools. That much is obvious. He's a big bodied WR that knows how to use his size to shield WRs. He has good enough speed to create separation, and he has that "suddenness" that allows him to shake off jams and use his change-of-direction skills in subtle ways to create even more separation.
Randle, in this video, ran about 6 of the 9 routes shown, and ran them well. He did show times of disconnect with his QB, and a few of his routes were either curtailed or he overran. Also had a drop, but liked his concentration otherwise. On deep passes, he lets the ball flow into his body, that's a very dangerous techniques.
This particular video didn't really show his catch radius, except in a few small cases, but I've felt like its not as big as it "could" be. He needs to learn to extend his arms, climb the ladder a bit more, and make more adjustments to the ball as it is in the air. Fortunately, these things can be coached, and he's got the willingness and physical tools to be successful.
In LSU's scheme, he was primarily the "x" WR, which makes sense given his skillset, size, and athletic ability. In the Giants' scheme, Nicks won't give that spot up, so Randle will be the "Z," a position where he can definitely exploit matchup problems versus smaller corners that don't like to press. I don't think he's a good slot option because he doesn't show terrific lateral agility, and, as we saw...though he can run the full route tree, he still has some problems with rounding off his cuts.
All in all, I'm very impressed with the young man, and based on what he's been able to do, grabbing him at the end of the 2nd round was a steal, and in my opinion, the best value of our draft.