April 24, 2009
By Donald Starver
This is part 4 in a series. If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below.
In the previous installments in this series, we’ve looked at all of the offensive line positions and the tight end. Now we’re going to take a look at the wide receiver position.
The wide receiver position is one of the glamour positions on the football team. When we think of wide receivers, we think of players like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Smith, and Chad Johnson. A game-breaking wide receiver can change the course of a game in one play. Think about Santonio Holmes’ game-winning catch in Super Bowl XLIII, or David Tyree’s catch in Super Bowl XLII.
Typically, teams will use two wide receivers. One is referred to as the X receiver or split end, and the other is called a Z receiver or flanker. The split end lines up on the weak side (the side opposite the tight end) of the offensive formation. He is usually lined up at least 10 yards away from the rest of his teammates on the line of scrimmage. Because he is split from his teammates, he is called a split end. The second receiver, the flanker, actually lines up behind the line of scrimmage. While the split end and tight end must line up on the line of scrimmage, the flanker will draw a penalty for lining up on the line of scrimmage.
Some teams will actually use 3 or even 4 wide receivers in some formations. However, since these formations are not typical, we will not look closely at them. The one thing that is worth noting is that the slot position used to be the stepchild wide receiver position, and was usually manned by a player who was smaller and slower than the flanker or split end. However, Wes Welker has done a lot to redefine the slot position. Welker makes more catches and gains more yards from the slot position than most split ends produce.
When looking for wide receivers, scouts look for a number of attributes. First and foremost, a wide receiver must have good hands. He must also have good speed, be strong enough to beat press coverage, and have the size and leaping ability to be a threat in the red zone. Few receivers have all of these attributes, but ideally, you’d like a receiver to have as many of them as possible. But even if a wide receiver were 6’6″, ran the 40 in 4.2 seconds, and had a 40 inch vertical leap, it would all be for naught if he didn’t have good hands.
We often see teams fall in love with a player at the combine because he has blazing speed in the 40. I believe that teams need to pay much more attention to his game speed, and his ability to get separation from his defenders. Hines Ward is a great example of this. Ward has very average speed. However, he has good game speed. He also runs precise routes and has great hands.
Another attribute that teams often over-value is height. Steve Smith was the most dominant receiver in the NFL for several seasons, and he is only 5’9″ tall. Meanwhile, the Steelers’ Dallas Baker is a 6’4″ practice squad player. So just how important is height?
The Steelers lost Nate Washington in free agency, so they are likely to select a wide receiver at some point during the draft. They selected Limas Sweed in the second round last year. Hopefully, he will step up and produce this year. But even if he does, the Steelers will still need to add another receiver for depth.
The class of 2009 has a number of talented wide receivers. While no wide receivers were drafted in the first round in 2007, there will probably be at least 3 taken in the first round this year. Lets take a look at a few of the wide receivers in this year’s draft class.
Michael Crabtree (6’3″, 208 lbs.), Texas Tech. Crabtree is not a speed burner, but he is a big, strong receiver who catches anything that comes his way. He is not afraid to make catches in traffic, and he holds onto the ball even after taking a hard hit.
Jeremy Maclin (6’1″, 200 lbs.), Missouri. Maclin was highly productive as both a receiver and a return man. He has speed to burn. He is a threat everytime he touches the ball.
Darrius Heyward-Bey (6’2″, 206 lbs.), Maryland. Heyward-Bey has great size. He was also the fastest player at the NFL combine. Heyward is so fast that he tends to rely purely on speed rather than developing good route running skills. That probably won’t work at the next level. He is going to have to work on his route running in the NFL.
Percy Harvin(5’11″, 195 lbs.), Florida. Harvin is one of the most elusive players in this draft. Anytime he played this year, he was the most electric player on the field. He also excels as a return man. Many scouts say that he is reminiscent of Steve Smith.
Kenny Britt (6’4″, 205 lbs.), Rutgers. Britt became the Big East’s all-time leading receiver despite leaving after his junior year. He has great height and runs good routes. He will have to work on eliminating dropped passes, but his height will be too much for teams to pass on.
Hakeem Nicks (6’1″, 210 lbs.), North Carolina. A very good athlete who had a very productive college career. He displays excellent body control and good hands. He has all of the tools to be productive at the next level. He didn’t run a great time at the combine, but just watch film of him. The guy can play.
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