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Why Zay Flowers and Wan’Dale Robinson are not the same player

They might be the same body type, but they are not the same type of receiver

NFL Combine
Zay Flowers
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Whenever the idea of the New York Giants drafting Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers at No. 25 comes up, some raise the argument that Flowers might be too similar to last year’s second-round pick, Wan’Dale Robinson, in size and play style.

They are roughly the same size and weight. Robinson is 5-foot-8, 185 pounds. Flowers is 5-9¼, 182 pounds. Both have short arms and tiny wing spans, though Flowers has at least somewhat of an advantage in those areas.

Physically, the biggest difference is in the athletic testing numbers. The 40-yard dash times (4.44 for Robinson, 4.42 for Flowers) are comparable. Flowers, though, is superior in the short-area and explosion numbers. Look at the charts below:

Perhaps last year’s drafting of Robinson tells us that GM Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll don’t prioritize height and wing span. The Giants did draft Robinson when they could have selected George Pickens, whose measurables look like this:

Remember what Schoen said at the Combine about what Daboll wants at wide receiver:

“Dabs is great about that. Again, he wants guys who can separate. If you can separate, no matter how tall, short, wide, if you can separate, we’ll find a way to use them within the offense whether it’s outside, inside or slot. That’s one of the unique skills that Daboll has is taking the players and the skill set that he has and developing the offense around their skill set.”

Let’s move beyond the measurables and talk about the types of players Flowers and Robinson are.

During a recent discussion for the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast, I asked Football Gameplan/CBS Sports draft analyst Emory Hunt if Flowers and Robinson were too similar to succeed if paired together.

“They are not the same guy,” Hunt said. “In fact, Wan’Dale Robinson I have as a slot, Zay Flowers I have as a ‘Z’. So, technically they don’t even play the same position.

“They are dynamic, they are explosive in all directions and nothing is wrong with that.”

Hunt said pairing smaller receivers is “nothing new” throughout football — current or in years past.

Hunt pointed to the current Miami Dolphins with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, a past Dolphins team with Mark Clayton and Mark Duper, the ‘Smurfs’ in Washington, the ‘Three Amigos’ with the Denver Broncos and others.

“You can pair similar body types — there’s nothing wrong with that,” Hunt said. “Are they doing the same thing? Are they bringing a different skill set to the table? They can be the same level of athlete. But, football-wise Zay Flowers I think does things a little differently than Wan’Dale, and I think he’s a better overall football player from a receiver perspective.”

No wide receiver aligns in the same spot play after play. There will always be some type of split between slot and wide, and between ‘X’ and ‘Z’ when aligned wide. Both Flowers and Robinson have some position flexibility, but it is clear that Robinson is almost entirely a slot receiver, while Flowers — despite his size — presents as more of an outside receiver who can move into the slot.

Robinson played 229 snaps as a rookie, 162 (70.7%) of those from the slot. Going further, Robinson played 140 snaps on passing plays in 2022 and was aligned on 133 (80.7%) of those.

In his 2022 draft guide, Matt Waldman of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio listed Robinson in the ‘small slot’ and ‘gadget RB-WR hybrid’ categories. In his 2023 guide, Waldman also lists Flowers as a ‘small slot,’ but on the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast recently Waldman indicated that Flowers can be much more than that.

“You get a player who can play all three positions (slot, X, Z),” Waldman said of Flowers. “I love Jaxon Smith-Njigba, but when you look at what that [Giants’] offense is about you want a player who is going to be able to play inside and outside and while I think Smith-Njigba can do that to an extent he’s not going to be able to do it with the level of explosion and vertical stretch ability that Zay Flowers can.”

On the podcast, Waldman also went so far as to say that Flowers “can fit that Stefon Diggs role.” Listen to the entire show with Waldman below. The Flowers discussion starts around the 18-minute mark.

In his recently-released draft guide, Waldman wrote this of Flowers:

If Flowers didn’t have technical lapses as a pass catcher, he’d not only earn the highest grade of any player in this draft class of skill players regardless of position, but he’d also have a grade on par with Jaylen Waddle’s RSP score, which was a franchise-caliber grade. And if Flowers works at his craft, which it appears he does based on the details of his route running, it won’t be long before Flowers is a slightly slower player in the neighborhood of Waddle’s skill and style of play.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba is the best wide receiver prospect right now. In two years, Flowers could be the one because he has more upside to play all three receiver positions at a high level.

According to Sports Info Solutions, Flowers ran 17 unique types of routes during the 2022 season. That might not sound like much, but SIS lists that as third in the country among college receivers behind Josh Downs (23) and Tank Dell (19).

SIS says:

“Flowers is a dynamic playmaker at the receiver position. He lines up all over the formation and can make plays at every level of the field ... Flowers projects as a No. 2 receiver at the next level who can play inside or out. Even with his release and quickness off the line, he’d likely be a better fit as the Z to allow him some more space to work before the defender is able to get contact. Additionally, he’ll likely be able to do more damage in the slot on 3rd downs. From curls and outs to verticals and double moves, Flowers has the ability to be a dynamic playmaker in the NFL.”

ESPN says “there’s nothing a pro team can ask him [Flowers] to do that he hasn’t already done,” and provides the two charts below to back that up:

Flowers’ snap distribution, aka where he lined up in relation to the ball.

Flowers’ 2022 routes distribution.

The addition of the 6-foot-6 Darren Waller means the Giants perhaps aren’t as hungry for size at receiver as they might have been. Parris Campbell is 6-foot, 208. Isaiah Hodgins is 6-3. Collin Johnson, returning from his torn Achilles, is 6-6, 220.

Maybe Flowers will be long gone by the time the Giants select at No. 25. Maybe he will be available and they will go in another direction. I think, though, there is plenty of evidence to support the idea that Flowers and Robinson could be a fine combination. I think we also know that head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka are smart enough to understand how to use both players.

Hunt summed it up this way:

“Yeah they may both be short, but my goodness give me those two explosive guys out there on the field at the same time and go play ball.”