Marvin Wilson: Marvelous Marvin

Florida State defensive tackle Marvin Wilson surprised many people by announcing his intent to return for his senior season in 2020 for the Seminoles. He was projected as a late first-round pick but felt like he had something to prove and enjoyed the responsibility as a leader on a Florida State team that was in the middle of a coaching transition. Unfortunately, he and his team struggled and he is now out for the season with a hand injury. However, I think he’s a top defensive tackle in a relatively weak positional group for this year’s draft.

Positives

Ability to control the middle

Wilson is a big man in the middle of the defensive line and he does a great job of occupying blocks and pushing the pocket. Not every defensive tackle is a pass rush wizard like Aaron Donald. Their job is to take up two blockers to create mismatches for linebackers and edge players. While Wilson does make a decent amount of plays in the run game, he makes a bigger impact in my opinion forcing runners to bounce outside or run right into the brick wall he has formed.

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Good athlete for size

Despite being listed at 6-5, 305 pounds, Wilson has the agility and body control of someone much smaller. He never gives up on a play and you can expect to see some impressive effort from Wilson down the field. With mobile quarterbacks almost becoming the norm, you need your linemen to be able to keep up with the pace of the offense. With Wilson, you don’t have to worry about this.

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Size and Power

Offensive linemen must be sore after trying to block Wilson for four quarters because he is powerful. What he might lack in refinement and technique, he makes up for in strength. When he gets his pad level low enough, he can toss 300+ pound men like a sack of potatoes. Especially in his sophomore and junior season, he just bullied opponents and willed his way past them. In addition, he knows how to use his larger frame, as evidenced with blocking two kicks this season. If you can’t get the penetration, good linemen get their hands up and try to swat the ball away.

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Negatives

Injury history

Wilson’s 2019 season ended due to a hand injury, which required surgery and he now is out for the 2020 season with a leg injury. Neither injury seems to be career-altering in any way, but back to back season-ending injuries is never good. His pre-draft medicals will be very important.

Play got worse the past few years

He was dominant in 2018, very good in 2019, and just okay in 2020. Will the real Marvin Wilson please stand up? If he’s healthy, I’m very high on him, but we just don’t know if he is at this point.

No counter pass rush moves

I’m a huge fan of his swim and pull move, but way too often he gets stood up too easily. Most defensive linemen in college don’t have a wide variety of pass rush moves, so this isn’t a huge issue. However, as the league is now so pass-happy, to be a three-down player you have to be able to rush the passer in some capacity with consistency. Players who project as a two-down players don’t get drafted highly. I think Wilson is a three-down guy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some teams didn’t.

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Conclusion

Like I said earlier, Wilson is one of the top interior defensive linemen in this class. He can play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense, which is something teams will appreciate. While I doubt he’ll ever have impressive sack totals, I can see him being an impact three-down player. His health will determine how far he goes, but I see no reason for him not being a very solid player for the next decade.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

Kylin Hill: King of the Hill

Kylin Hill will forever be an icon for Mississippi State fans. Besides the fact that he helped get the state of Mississippi to change their flag, he was a key clog in the Bulldogs offense for four years. He did decide to opt-out of the season due to the coronavirus pandemic but figures to be one of the top running backs in the 2021 draft class. It seems that at the moment Alabama’s Najee Harris and Clemson’s Travis Etienne are one and two, but the spots after that are up for grabs. If Hill can have a strong combine to go along with the progress he has shown the past few years, there’s a chance he becomes a day two selection.

Positives

North/South Runner

Hill is exactly what you want in terms of a North and South runner. While he can be patient behind the line of scrimmage, once he sees his opening, he’ll hit the hole hard. He’s not a guy that’s afraid of contact but also displays the quickness needed to accelerate past linebackers. If you look at most of the best running backs in the NFL, you’ll see they have similar running styles to Hill. They see an opening and don’t waste time dancing side to side. Players who run East to West are either gimmicky players or spend time bouncing from team to team. Downhill runners will always have a place in the league.

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Emerging Receiver

If there’s one thing where we saw a big improvement in Hill’s game in 2020, it was as a pass catcher. While there is some room for improvement, Mike Leach’s Air Raid system devalues the running back position so Hill had to make the most of his opportunities as a receiver in the few games he played this year. In fact, he had more receptions than carries this year. I don’t see him used as an Alvin Kamara or Christian McCaffrey type running back, but he is a true three-down back who will keep defenses honest at the next level.

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Physical Football Player

If you were to look up the term “football player” in the dictionary, you could put a picture of Kylin Hill right next to it. He’s tough as nails and will stick his nose into contact as frequently as he can. His contact balance is superb and rarely does he go down from arm tackles. Listed at 210 pounds, he plays a lot bigger than that due to the fact that he will take on anyone. Simply put, he’s a guy you want on your team to help build a culture of toughness.

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Negatives

Lacks Long Speed

If you look at some of his longer runs in the GIF’s above, you’ll notice how he’s always being tackled from behind. Players have been successful without long speed, but it diminishes their big-play potential. A guy like Frank Gore has been in the league since the Cold War, yet has never displayed good long speed. Hill is a guy who can gash defenses for 4-7 yards a play, which is what you will take every time but won’t be the guy you call upon to come up with a home run play.

Overly Aggressive

Sometimes he’s looking forward to running a guy over so much that he misses open lanes where he can gain more yards. The attitude and toughness are what you love to see, but in order to help his team out and maintain his health, he needs to change his approach a little bit.

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Conclusion

The running back position might not have the draft importance it once did, but that doesn’t mean it’s a meaningless position. For as much as the NFL is focused on the passing attack, great teams are able to run the ball effectively in key moments. Like I said earlier, I think Hill is a safe bet for a second or third-round selection and if he were to drop any further, he would be a steal. He’s a relatively scheme versatile player, so no exact team at the moment pops into my head as a good fit for him, but he is a good back who can come in right away and get some touches.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

NFL Film Breakdown: Allen Lazard’s Growth and Potential in Green Bay

The Green Bay Packers struggled to find a reliable target outside of Davante Adams all season. They had four different players between 400 and 500 yards receiving including the aging Jimmy Graham and running back Aaron Jones. That leaves just two receivers who managed to get to the 400 yard mark for the Packers outside of Adams: Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Valdes-Scantling clearly grew out of favor with the coaches and had a total of 5 catches on 19 targets and just 36 yards after week 7. Allen Lazard on the other hand, started to come on strong towards the end of the year. While he only had 477 yards and 3 touchdowns, he showed good growth and started to carve out a role for himself as a reliable second receiving option in Green Bay.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

While he isn’t the most explosive, his route technique and knowledge grew throughout the year. He started to look more polished, became a frequent target on RPOs, and was a really solid blocker. At 6’5″ and 227 lbs, he’s got to be a guy that can win with his frame, strength, and attack the ball in the air. He won’t win on pure athleticism so he has to match his physical tools with sound technique and smart play to have consistent success.

We’ll start with his blocking because if you’re going to play in Matt LaFleur’s system, the bigger body you are and the more willing and capable of a blocker you are, the more chances you’re going to have to be on the field and thus, the more opportunities you’re going to have to make an impact in the passing game. His upper body and core and hip strength are really impressive and allow him to stay square on defenders. He’s able to move his feet and despite his tall frame, he maintains good leverage. He can knock smaller corners off the ball and uses a wide and solid base that helps him maintain power and push while staying in front of defenders and avoiding holding calls.

If you’re an undrafted guy it always helps to show great effort. Lazard has committed to the blocking game, has been in the right place for Aaron Rodgers, and makes plays like these where he’s sprinting down the field to help make a block.

While his blocking is consistent and has gotten him more reps, he’s isn’t going to blow defenders away with his athleticism so he needs to use his large frame to win routes. As mentioned before, he has a size advantage on most DBs and he does a really good job of attacking the ball in the air and has started to use that frame to his advantage. He rarely lets the ball get into his body which allows him to win contested catches and enables him to maintain his stride for yards after the catch.

While he attacks the ball and has begun to use his frame, he can still struggle with jams and getting out of his breaks with physical defenders. He shows inconsistent hand usage when trying to defeat bumps and checks at the linebacker level and in press.

Instead of using his hands, he typically takes his shoulder away from the bump attempts. It can be subtle but it reduces the surface area the defender has to attack. With the smaller surface area, it’s harder for the defender to get a powerful jam and allows for more fluid releases when the defender is less aggressive at the line.

One area he’s started to excel at are his slants. Earlier in the year he could get a little too wide on his initial outside stem and once he had the defensive back beat, they’d be in his slant path which would then throw off the timing of the route. He gets the corners hips to turn here but because he got too vertical, he has to flatten his slant to get to open space and he isn’t open when Rodgers is looking which results in a throwaway.

Compared to the last few games of the year, he looks much more polished with his releases and initial stems and pushes to the outside on his slants. He’s more careful not to over-run his stem and leaves space so he can get underneath them once he’s pushed up onto their toes and forces them to turn their hips. Especially when you have a corner walked up in man coverage, it’s important to threaten them vertically on any route you run. The last thing they want is to get beat deep. To take advantage of that, you have to get up close to them and sell a vertical route which is what Lazard has started to do really well. His initial track and stem of his route is as if he’s running a fade down the sideline. Defenders have to respect that and once they turn their hips to the outside to run with him, it leaves space underneath for Lazard to attack. It can be quick or more elongated based on the coverage and timing of the play but he has begun to put the pieces together to be able to get himself open and manipulate defenders in man coverage.

He’s also begun to integrate other route techniques that aren’t quite as polished but it does show that he’s starting to translate technique to games. In zone coverage, if at all possible, you’ve got to attack defenders blind spot. When corners turn in towards the quarterback with their back to the sideline, there’s a window a yard or two away from them where they lose visibility if the receiver gets up on them. You can see him attempt that exact technique but he shorts it a little and is still visible by the defensive back. The issue is that he takes a poor initial track towards the rotating safety and enters the blind spot late. The Packers are running a play-action shot here and the run action is going to the left. While it happens, a late out-breaking route away from a run action is a really long throw and the defensive back has eyes on the quarterback in case that happens. So to the sell from an inside stem back to a deep out, comeback, or corner when Rodgers is on the opposite hash is a pretty tough throw and allows the DB to have more time to break on it. Because of this, he doesn’t need to immediately react to it. With Lazard entering into and staying inside the corners vision until the very top of the route, Lazard is closing the window for the throw by bringing himself closer to the safety while simultaneously keeping himself within vision of the defensive back that’s in cover 3. If he stems instead a little to the outside or runs on a line, he can widen the corner, stay away from the safety, and more feasibly enter the blind spot of the DB.

With Lazard’s lack of true deep-threat speed or explosive athleticism, he’s got to be super polished with his route technique and a disciplined player that uses his body and size to win contested catches. He’s started to do both of those things which is encouraging but he’s definitely not there yet.

For an undrafted free agent in only his second year, Allen Lazard has shown promise. His tenacity in the blocking game will get him on the field and allow him to grow into a more precise and advanced route runner. As he develops into the system and hones his skill set while developing chemistry with Aaron Rodgers, he can serve as a solid #2 or #3 receiver. If the Packers end up running more 12 or 22 personnel with running backs and tight ends, you only have 2 or 3 receivers on the field anyways. Green Bay’s need for receivers might be the hot topic of conversation, but Lazard is able to produce and has shown good chemistry with Aaron Rodgers. If he continues to develop alongside Devante Adams, the sky is the limit for a Packers offense that is otherwise full of top talent and is ready to push for a Super Bowl appearance.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

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NFL Film Breakdown: Miami’s Xavien Howard has All the Tools to be a Shutdown Corner

Xavien Howard, drafted in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft, cashed in on a 5 year, 72 million dollar contract in the summer of 2019. At the time, he was coming off of a pro-bowl year where he had a league high 7 interceptions, allowed a 52.4% completion percentage, and a 61.2 QB rating. Although plagued with injuries like fellow teammate DeVante Parker, when he’s healthy, he’s a huge contributor.  While not the most physical corner, Howard is one of the best at closing on routes and reading receivers. He shows efficient footwork, sound technique, and is really good when he can play off and close on routes with vision.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

The Baltimore Sun

            The problem is the Dolphins ran a ton of man coverage with single high looks to help with their porous run defense. Howard struggles with his jam punch and he can get caught peaking in the backfield in man coverage. His excellent closure grade and poor collision ability make him incredibly susceptible to double moves. That being said, he does a good job of keeping his cushion deep and almost never gets beat over the top in zone. He can play outside or in the slot if needed and when he’s on and in the right defense he can completely eliminate a receiver or one side of the field.

            Howard’s technique when turning and running with receivers is really impressive. He is able to stay in the pocket of receivers as they cut, close the throwing window on them, and is almost always in a position to make a play on the ball or an immediate tackle. Whether he’s in man or zone coverage, he does a good job keying their eyes and hips, playing tight to their routes, and contesting catches. You can see the efficiency and fluidity in his movements as he changes direction and plants to get out of his backpedal. He has truly elite change of direction which gives him good flexibility as both a man and a zone corner.

            Howard does a good job of stacking on top of receivers and widening and washing them towards the sideline. He closes the available window for the quarterback to throw to, has the quickness to break on backshoulders, and isn’t afraid of getting beat deep. You can see the receivers start on the numbers and get washed all the way to within a yard or two of the sideline.

In man coverage he plays tight with good hand usage, and can keep up with even the fastest of guys like Marquise Brown of the Ravens. He shows good discipline not to over-run routes and shows efficient footwork on his breaks. While he tracks the hips of receivers in zone, he plays off their eyes in man which helps him to locate the ball when his back is turned.

Because of his quick closing ability and keying of eyes, this sets him up for double moves and route stems from receivers and he can get caught peaking at the QB at times even without head fakes or the set ups for double moves.

One of the first plays that Dallas ran was a double move on Howard with Amari Cooper running a slant corner. Howard also struggled with getting hands on receivers in man and giving a top tier receiver a clean release in man is asking a lot of your physical abilities. He lets Cooper release and get on his toes before breaking to the Slant. As soon as he turns his head for the slant, Howard is already beat and is looking back at the QB for the ball. A few steps into the slant stem, Cooper rounds out and back to the corner and Howard is completely lost in coverage.

The Cowboys and Cooper didn’t stop there though. Almost every route caught on Howard during the game was some form of double move. Howard’s tendency to close on routes fast was used against him throughout the game and he didn’t have an answer for it.

Double moves obviously take a little more time to develop though and to help combat this, he needs to be more physical at the line of scrimmage when walked up in man or flat zone coverage. Either he gives no jam and re-routing attempt or has an incredibly weak punch which barely influences receivers. He’s athletic enough to get away with it most of the time but to take the next step he does need to be a little more physical.

Without a jam, this lets the receiver dictate the route, doesn’t put time pressure on them, and often can get Howard in tough situations. When he lets receivers get on his toes with no contact, he’s put in a really difficult position and it’s impossible for almost anyone to cover consistently when you allow that to happen.

He is entirely capable of being physical, he’s just incredibly inconsistent. He has all the tools in his bag and just needs to fine tune the technique. He doesn’t need to be a dominating force, but he does need to make receivers uncomfortable more consistently at the line of scrimmage.

Xavien Howard has the ability to be a dominant corner in the NFL. Team are going to have to decide between throwing at him or free agent pickup Byron Jones and they’re going to have a tough time. His closure ability, route recognition, and fluidity are all elite. I think he’s a better fit as a zone corner because of his lack of physicality but he can absolutely hold his own in man coverage. Even though Howard only played in 5 games last season, he did handle Marquise Brown, Antonio Brown, Josh Gordon, and Keenan Allen and held them all to just 237 yards total. As Dolphins fans can probably tell you, if he can stay healthy and fine-tune his press technique, he’s going to be worth every penny of that 72 million dollar contract and help the Dolphins ascend to the top of the AFC East.

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NFL Film Breakdown: Why Calvin Ridley Could Have a Better Year Than Julio Jones

Before going down in week 14 with an abdominal injury, Calvin Ridley was averaging 13.7 yards per reception, had 7 targets a game, and was torching corners left and right. While often overshadowed by receiving mate Julio Jones, Ridley is quietly developing into a premier talent at receiver. He has incredibly polished routes, good burst and open field speed, long strides that help him eat up ground, and when defenses focus on Julio Jones he can make them pay. He can struggle with physical corners and press man at times but if you give him space or a clean release he is insanely tough to guard in the open field. He has great speed cuts, can snap off routes, and attacks the ball in the air. The Falcons feel like the forgotten team in the NFC South with the arrival of Tom Brady in Tampa Bay but if you sleep on Calvin Ridley, you’re going to get burned.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

https://rolltidewire.usatoday.com/2020/02/05/will-2020-be-calvin-ridley-breakout-season/

Ridley’s speed allows everything to work. He looks incredibly fast on film. His speed allows him to threaten deep and then snap routes off, speed cut, and create separation to set up comebacks, curls, and digs. Speed is the greatest fear of every defense. The threat of the big play is powerful in any offense and the Falcons have two guys in Julio and Ridley that can take the top off the defense.

Ridley’s speed cuts are out of this world. As we saw, he has the speed to threaten defensive backs deep and make them turn their hips. He can then combine that with rolling into his cuts on deep digs or outs. The speed cut allows him to maintain speed and get to his landmark while the defensive back has to plant and change direction. It creates a ton of separation and opens big windows for Matt Ryan to throw into.

The physical tools pop out on film but what’s really impressive is his route technique. He shows excellent understanding of how to manipulate defenders, get them to turn their hips, and create separation for himself using not only his athleticism, but his mind and game-sense as well.

His most effective technique is to stem defenders the opposite way of his intended route. They have to respect his speed and turn their hips to run with him. As soon as they do, Ridley plants and shows great burst and explosion back the other way. It sounds simple but takes good athleticism, an understanding of the coverage, and shows he has a plan of attack every time he steps up to the line of scrimmage.

Attacking the leverage of the defender is a powerful tool. The shade of the corner indicates the area that they don’t want you to be able to access. So if they’re shading with inside leverage or they’re lined up directly in front of the receiver, they likely want to protect their inside space. So as a receiver, if you threaten that inside space and give them a move to the inside, they’re going to jump to protect it. When a defender is in man coverage, they want to widen the receiver to the sideline so that they minimize the space you have to work with. Ridley consistently does this and with impressive effectiveness. He stems inside like he’s running a slant forcing the corner to attack. He then releases back outside and is wide open down the sideline.

Here he stems to the outside to make the corner turn his hips to the sideline before breaking back inside on the slant.

These kind of examples are everywhere. Whether the defensive back is in press or not. He threatens their leverage and then attacks the space they vacate.

Here again he does a really good job of widening his stem outside away from where he will break. He uses good eye discipline and locks in like he’s running a seam or a deep corner to the side of the rollout. The safety reads that, sees the rollout, and when he starts to move over, Ridley plants to go to a post in the area the safety vacated.

From the slot he’ll push his stem away from his route-side space and create separation for himself as you can see here. The defender moves in with him before Ridley releases back outside and works to stack on top of the defender. If you can stack directly on top of the defender with the DB in a trail position, you have a ton of power as a receiver. The corner doesn’t know which way you’re going, can’t get hands on you, and you have leverage for any ball over the top.

Here’s another example of Ridley working a side hop to widen the DB and create space for an inside release. Once he takes that inside release, though, he knows he has to stack back on top of the corner. If he stays inside, the safety is going to be there to make the play so he widens, works inside, and then fights hard with his speed to get back on top of the defender and create space for the throw.

If there’s one thing Ridley can struggle with, it’s physical corners or his hand usage when defenders get their hands on him. He can get re-routed at times or struggle to remove the hands of defenders – especially later into routes.

Instead of using his hands, he tries to create body lean to get leverage to separate at the top of his route. As a result, he gets washed into the linebacker and thrown off his route.  By using this technique, he doesn’t use his physical tools to their full potential. In this scenario he’s in a strength fight with a DB rather than a race. This slows down the timing of his route and while he may get separation eventually, often it’s too late in the timeline of the play.

Calvin Ridley has the route knowledge and physical tools to be a #1 receiver on almost any other team. His understanding of how to manipulate defenders is impressive for only a 2nd year player going into his third season. He has lethal speed that can threaten teams deep, has speed cuts that create separation, and has the mental game to exploit the position of defenders. With Julio on the field Ridley can dominate CB2s and easily creates consistent separation for himself on all route types. He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands, attacks the ball in the air, and shows everything you’d hope for in a first round receiver talent. You can buy into the hype of the Saints and the Bucs all you want, but there’s a snake creeping along in the NFC South and if you don’t pay attention to the Falcons, they’re entirely capable of stealing the division crown. The Falcons are far from a rebuild or reload. They’re ready right now and Calvin Ridley can put them over the top.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on YouTube for video breakdowns and Instagram@weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

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NFL Film Breakdown: The Hidden Star in Miami

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After a slow first four years in the NFL where his highest yardage total in a season was 744 with only 4 touchdowns, DeVante Parker blew the doors off his 2019 campaign. The 27 year old out of Louisville racked up 1,202, 9 touchdowns, and averaged 16.7 yards a reception – good for 10th best in the league. His combination of route running ability, size, speed, and physicality at the point of the catch made it difficult for defensive backs to win contested catches and stay with him. He’s fearless across the middle, will attack the ball in the air, shows really good understanding of route running technique, and consistently turns defenders around and creates space for himself.

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Parker does an amazing job of attacking the ball in the air. He high points, has strong hands, and is truly exceptional at winning 50/50 balls downfield. He elevates, uses his hands, and shows incredible eye discipline. Tracking the ball all the way through the catch separates the elite pass catchers in the NFL. If their helmet and eyes follow the ball all the way through, they catch it almost 100% of the time. Take a look below at how Parker elevates and tracks the ball with his eyes all the way through the catch, and immediately protects the ball and pulls it away from defenders in the clips below.

He has elite body control which allows him to win those jump balls, back shoulders, and contested catches. Now throw in his route running abilities which jump off the screen and you’ve got a guy that almost doubled his career yardage total in his 5th year. His ability to manipulate even the best corners by attacking their blind spot, forcing them to turn their hips with route stems, and setting up corners to guess incorrectly is elite. My favorite play of his from last year is a simple deep out on defensive player of the year Stephon Gilmore. The Dolphins put Parker in motion which gives him momentum to take an outside release and forces Gilmore to play a little further off than normal. With his goal to get to the sideline 10 yards downfield, Parker has leverage on Gilmore which immediately makes him opens up his hips to run with Parker. Parker then works back inside indicating he’s going to the post or dig which again forces Gilmore to turn his hips and run with him to the inside. As soon as Gilmore turns his back to flip his hips, Parker attacks his blind-spot and cuts flat outside with Gilmore totally lost in coverage.

Parker shows great understanding of getting onto the defenders toes to close space and minimize the time that the corner has to react to his cuts. Below, he does some front foot skip that eats up a yard and closes the cushion while freezing the defender. Since his inside foot stays up on the skip, he’s primed and ready to explode up and out on a fade release to the outside and quickly wins his route.

Whether he slow plays it or does a hard stem outside, he will routinely sell fade and come back to slants. When defenders are up close, it makes it incredibly hard to defend – especially with his frame and the way he attacks the ball in the air. The foot fire and initial fade steps close the distance and gets the corners out of position.

A principle of attacking man coverage as a receiver is to push their leverage. Whatever way the defender is shading you is the way they generally don’t want you to go. By attacking that leverage, you are threatening the space they most want to protect. Parker uses this to his advantage on Gilmore below and sells a slant with Gilmore shading inside. He takes two steps in before turning it up to a fade on the outside. Parker wins on the route but if he has one weakness, it’s that he can lack physicality when running his routes and can struggle with jams. Gilmore gets a punch on him and slows him down but he still is able to create separation and you can see the impact of the initial slant stem and how it opens up space for him to the outside.

While he’s incredibly aggressive to the ball in the air, he can struggle to use his hands when releasing against press or against physical defenders. You’d like to see more active hand fighting to help create separation and prevent corners from slowing him down. He has the strength and frame to out-reach most corners and while he’s gotten better, he still isn’t quite all the way there yet.

DeVante Parker has finally started to put all the physical tools together. He’s using his frame to attack the ball in the air, demonstrates great route technique and understanding, and has translated it all into production on the field. It’s rare to find guys that take 4 whole years to develop into true number one receivers, but Parker has all the makings of one. Maybe not as dominant as Michael Thomas, but if he continues to improve and polish and develop a connection with new Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa, Parker can become an absolutely dominant force in the AFC East.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

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NFL Film Breakdown: The Best Tight End in Philly Isn’t Who You Think

The combination of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert was the lifeblood of the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2019-2020 NFL season. Together they combined for 146 receptions, 1,523 yards, 11 touchdowns, and averaged 10.5 yards per reception. Defensive backs aren’t physical enough to get off their blocks or stay with them in coverage, they present a mismatch in the run game, and both are deadly on play-action. A lot of the time, the Eagles put them both next to each other on the same side of the formation which forced defenses to declare how they’d cover them. If you want to put two DB types over there, they’ll run strong at their tight ends. If you want to stack up defensive ends and linebackers on them, they’ll just run weak. Numerous times Dallas Goedert was able to handle the likes of Jadaveon Clowney and Demarcus Lawrence one-on-one in both the run game and in pass protection. The Eagles have something special in Goedert and while both tight ends can struggle to create separation at times, their physicality, strong hands, and ability to block make the Eagles offense go.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

It all starts in the run game. Both Ertz’s and Goedert’s ability to block set up big plays in play-action and screens. They are legitimate threats blocking and defenses have to respect their ability to do so. While Goedert is the better and more consistent blocker, Ertz is no slouch either. Here Goedert is one-on-one in pass pro against Demarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys best pass-rusher. He washes him down into the interior, moves his feet, and stays engaged.

Goedert also washed down on Jadaveon Clowney multiple times and took him completely out of plays.

Now if you put a safety over him like the Seahawks did in the run game. He’ll just drive him to the sideline. He churns his feet, maintains leverage, and uses his arm length to wash #30 Bradley McDougal all the way to the sideline and open up a hole for Boston Scott.

When the Eagles run a wing set with both tight ends on the same side, it can be tough for defenses to match up. Ertz drives out #30 the strong safety and Goedert climbs to #50 KJ Wright. Both create drive and are able to wall off their defenders, opening up lanes in the run game.

Now that we’ve established their impact in the run game, let’s look at how the Eagles use them off of that in play-action and screens. You can see how below in the play-action out of a two tight end set against the Cowboys, who are running cover 3, the middle linebacker #54 flies to the run game and vacates space over the middle for Goedert who ends up being wide open. Ertz, operating on the backside of the play blocks to a delayed release which keeps the safety down low in the flats to cover him and opens up even more space behind for Goedert. The corner is run off by a deep curl on the outside, the strong safety flat defender comes up on Ertz, and there’s a window open for Goedert as he comes across on a deep drag.

Here’s another example of play-action with Ertz and Goedert, this time when they’re both on the same side. The Eagles had been gashing them out of this formation in the run game all day and here, the defenders fly up to stop it. Ertz sifts right through and is open deep on a corner route while Goedert ends up getting the check-down in the flats. Ertz does a great job of releasing inside like he’s trying to pin a linebacker or get an angle on a block which sells to the defense that it is a run.

Since the Eagles often leave Goedert in on pass protection and even let him go one-on-one against elite pass rushers, now they can also screen to him out of those situations. Below, Goedert pass sets like he’s staying in to block and then “whiffs” and turns around for the screen. While Goedert isn’t thought of as being particularly athletic or a run after catch guy, he looks pretty agile in the screen game.

So they block, play-action, and screen well. Let’s take a look at their actual route running. Goedert may be viewed as more of a generalist and is easily the better blocker, but his route running technique and ball skills are quickly catching up to that of Ertz. Ertz is more polished at this point with good hand fighting through his routes, physical running, and the creation of separation at the top with leaning and creating a chicken wing motion with his arm instead of full extension that would result in OPI. Below, Ertz does a good job of all three. He constantly removes the hand of the defender, gets in close, leans, and extends to create some separation at the top. He’s not going to run away from anyone so he has to be technical in his route technique.

Below he again does a great job with his hands and eating up space until he’s stepping on the defenders toes before snapping his route. Without being able to get hands on him and allowing cushion to be closed, the defender has no chance in sticking with him and preventing the reception.

While, he does sometimes seek out contact unnecessarily which slows down his routes and can cause him to be unable to create separation against stronger defenders, sometimes he can just absolutely bully guys and run right into them and they bounce off.

Whether it’s a linebacker, safety, or corner, Ertz presents a matchup problem. Below he’s one on one with a corner and easily beats him on a slant without even using his physicality.

As mentioned before, Goedert might not be quite as polished of a route runner, but his hands are just as good if not better than Ertz’s.

He’ll high point the ball, isn’t scared of contact, and has great eye discipline.

As the season progressed, his routes became more nuanced with more leaning and exploding off of cuts which helped him create separation.

However, like Ertz, he also creates unnecessary contact at times and doesn’t take advantage of his frame and leverage to create separation and instead just tries to overpower the defender.

That being said, sometimes his length is so much greater than that of the defender that it doesn’t even matter and he can sttill make the catch.

Together, Ertz and Goedert create issues for defenses. Both have the ability to attack the ball in the air, have surprising athleticism, and are capable blockers. The Eagles love to use 12 personnel and attack defenses with their two tight end sets. They mirror Ertz and Goedert off each other with high / low concepts, use them with effectiveness in the run game, scheme them open in play-action, and kill teams with screens that really stretch defenses and their ability to match up. While they have been specializing in different ways – Ertz in the passing game and Goedert as a blocker — Goedert has begun to encroach on the targets and snaps that Ertz typically gets. Goedert adds a little more flexibility in the formations, packages, and plays that the Eagles can call. If you’re looking for a future super star, hop on the Dallas Goedert train right now. If the Eagles get a weapon or two outside at receiver, this tight end pair and offense could be unstoppable with a rising star in Miles Sanders and a franchise QB in Carson Wentz.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

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NFL Film Breakdown: Is Dak Prescott Worth the Money?

While the Cowboys may have underachieved this past season, Dak Prescott threw for highs in yards (4,902), yards per attempt (8.2), and touchdowns (30) in his contract year. He didn’t get the long-term contract that he wanted, but he did get a one year, $33 million franchise tag while the Cowboys try to figure out a deal for the quarterback. His legs make him dynamic and he thrives in clean pockets with the ability to make all the throws you could ask for. He can throw deep outs from the opposite hash, has a solid deep ball, and when he throws in rhythm he can dice up defenses. While he has all the physical tools, at times he can lock onto receivers, take extra hitches that make him late on throws, and can struggle with over-striding in his throwing mechanics which causes some inaccuracy. Is he worth a big contract from Dallas? Let’s check out the film and find out.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

Dak’s legs definitely add an element to his game that not every quarterback has. He’s a surprisingly powerful runner and can absolutely make defenses pay – especially in man coverage when they turn their backs to him.

Although rare, the Cowboys even call zone reads and trust him to get chunks of yardage off of it. Here he’s reading the defensive end. If he comess straight down the line of scrimmage, Dak will pull it and run around him to the outside. If #90 goes vertical and sits on the edge, Dak will hand the ball off to the running back. The left tackle does a great job of taking his zone steps and getting a piece of the linebacker #55 and Dak is able to take advantage of the space and get an explosive play on the ground.

Combine his ability to run with his arm talent and you’ve got a pretty dynamic quarterback. Whether he’s getting tackled or driving the ball in a clean pocket, he’s capable of making some really impressive plays. He can create both in the passing game and in the run game by using his legs.

Below he shows anticipation and arm strength by throwing the deep out route to the sideline from the opposite hash.

He also does a generally good job of diagnosing coverages and changing the velocity of his balls to fit them into windows. Below he reads Cover 2 and fits the ball into the honey hole down the sideline between the corner in the flats and the Cover 2 safety over the top.

He also does a great job when throwing on rhythm with only one or two hitches. He becomes more accurate, is able to read defenses quickly, and find open areas in zone.

Dak has shown the ability to be a top tier quarterback. The issue is he can struggle with consistency. While in the previous gif of hitting the honey hole, he saw the rotating safety and threw an appropriate ball, in this next gif he does the opposite. He misses the safety rotation into Cover 2 from the Rams (top of the screen) and throws a ball that has too much air under it and really should be intercepted along the sideline.

He also has a huge issue with over-striding on his throws. Over-striding creates a base that is too wide and happens when his lead foot extends out too far when he begins his throwing motion. This really limits his ability to rotate his hips, generate power, and throw accurately. You can try it at home yourself and over extend your non-dominant leg and try to get your hips to point forwards over your toes. You can’t. Now if you tighten your base to just outside shoulder distance, you can get full rotation of your hips and get them pointed forwards. You can see below just how wide his base is on his throw, causing him to be unable to rotate his hips fully and leave his back foot as he throws which causes the ball to die on him and go into ground in front of the receiver.

You can see from behind now what it looks like for him to be unable to get his hips fully into the throw. He can’t bring his back leg all the way through on the follow through and is off balance and falling back onto his right foot after completing his throwing motion. All this causes the ball to be low and behind the receiver.

He can also have a tendency to stick on his first read a lot. I’m all for taking the shot below when you see man coverage on one of your best receivers in Amari Cooper, but the corner plays it well off the line and is in his hip pocket. Then Dak throws the ball out of bounds anyways. If he instead came off that read after Cooper didn’t win the route immediately to find Randall Cobb #18 sitting right over the ball it’s obviously a much more productive play.

You can see it again below. The Eagles ran a ton of man coverage against the Cowboys in this game and Dallas had the perfect play dialed up for it out of a tight bunch formation. It works exactly as it was drawn up. Randall Cobb from the slot has his defender rubbed and he’s open for a huge play down the sideline on a wheel route. That should be the primary read on the play. You’re trying to create that natural rub and force defenders to navigate traffic and stay with their man. Instead, Dak stays on Amari Cooper the whole play on the intermediate crosser and misses both Cobb and Jason Witten wide open to the top of the screen and in the middle of the field.

Dak has all the tools and has shown he can perform at a high level. He can put different velocity on the ball with touch and power, can make reads, has incredible athleticism and power for a QB and can really excel in a clean pocket. While issues pop up with his mechanics and missed reads, it’d be hard to find a free agent quarterback that would be better or even come close to offering the Cowboys what Dak can. With a new offensive system and a coach that helped shape Aaron Rodgers in Mike McCarthy, Dak may end up taking that next step and go from very good quarterback to one of the top tier quarterbacks in the league. Only time will tell but Dak is certainly not the issue in Dallas and has the tools to put the team on his back and push them into contention year after year.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

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NFL Film Breakdown: The Power of Devin Singletary

Devin Singletary, taken with the 74th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, one behind fellow running back David Montgomery averaged an impressive 5.1 yards per carry and 969 total yards. While his 4.3 yards per carry from shotgun were nothing to laugh at, his 5.8 yard average from under center really helped him steal away more carries as the year went on and edge out Frank Gore for more touches. Absolutely deadly in a power run game system and an incredibly tough and physical runner, Singletary did most of his damage between the tackles despite being only 5’7” and 203 lbs. Where he really struggled though, was in zone concepts and setting up and reading blocks. When he could follow a puller through the hole or get up on a linebacker, he could hit defenses for big chunks. However, when that didn’t happen he’d dance in the hole, had trouble reading open space blocks, and continually struggled to read zone scheme blocking.

Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary (26) Buffalo Bills vs Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on November 17, 2019. Photo by Craig Melvin

Singletary is one of the most abrupt and explosive slashing-style runners there is in the league and his ability to cut and accelerate is special. He almost never goes down on first contact and can accelerate away from defenders.

His ability to get north and south in a hurry and follow blocks allows him to punish linebackers and second level defenders with his physicality. Singletary’s power on smaller defenders is a recipe for success for both him and the Bills who run a ton of power schemes to take advantage of exactly that skill set. The Bills love to run this center and tackle pull out of 12 personnel as the two tight ends down-block and the tackle kicks out while the center pulls and wraps through the hole. This allows for their athletic center to get through the hole and lead block for Singletary.

They’ll also do a similar pin and pull wrap concept with the playside guard and center allowing for the same type of hole and concept to open up for Singletary.

When Singletary encounters zone blocking, though, he has a really tough time. He tends cut too soon or read the holes incorrectly, dance in the hole, and show a lack of patience and understanding of the flow of the defense. You can see below an outside zone concept where if Singletary pushes outside and stays with his fullback, he has a clear lane down the sideline, instead, he stops his feet and tries to cutback right into flowing defenders. On the second gif, it’s 3rd and 1 and he has a clear lane following the double team to the right and he tries to cut back, getting tackled and resulting in a 4th down.

When he does sift through the traffic, he can often dance and do too much in the open field when he has the physical tools to run over or run away from defenders. He’ll often try to make one more slashing cut or step back which gives defenders time to recover and make a play on him – which coincidentally lead to a number of his fumbles where defenders are tackling him from unexpected angles. Below he makes a great initial read and then immediately makes another cut which allows defenders to recover and make the tackle.

Often he’ll go outside of blocks when he should be going inside and vise-versa.

Singletary’s style is a juxtaposition. On one hand, he’s incredibly physical and can explode through the hole while searching for contact on the sidelines. On the other, he dances, reads blocks poorly, and looks to cut to avoid any contact in the open field. His burst, lateral cuts, and ability to run in a power-based offense saves him from his current struggles when running zone. Excessive cutting and indecisiveness is common in first year backs so it’s not the end of the world. If he can master zone scheme reads, he has the tools to be a really really good back in the league. If he can’t he may end up being a utility piece and a guy that is relatively limited in the scheme his team runs and the amount of touches he subsequently gets. Despite all this, he as the tools and still produced at an impressive clip while sharing the backfield in his rookie season. With more weapons for the Bills outside in Stefon Diggs, the box may get lighter for Singletary and he could begin to feast on smaller linebackers and defenders in the Bills’ power run game.

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NFL Film Breakdown: Tom to Tampa: Does the Film Match the Hype?

To the relief of all the teams in the AFC East, Tom Brady is no longer a Patriot. While his stats aren’t the flashiest with a 60.8% completion rate (3rd lowest of career), 6.6 yards per attempt (2nd lowest of his career), 4,057 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions on the year, Brady has been the model of consistency in New England. At 42 years old, though, let’s strip away the accolades, accomplishments, and stats and look at what the film says that Tom Brady is at this point in his career.

https://www.abc6.com/tom-brady-officially-signs-with-the-tampa-bay-buccaneers/

While the stats indicate that Brady has begun to struggle with the deep ball, film shows he has all the strength. The issue is more an increasing desire to get the ball out of his hands fast and avoid hits, perhaps an area that Tampa should be worried about given the penchant for Arians’ offense to push the ball down the field. Jameis Winston’s average depth of throw last year was at 10.9 yards. Brady’s? Just 8.0 yards per throw. In addition, he only threw deep 10.1% of the time compared to Jameis’ 15.7% (Murray, 2020). While quarterback play isn’t in a vacuum – New England had one of the worst skill position groups in the league last year – Brady is going to be asked to attempt and complete deep balls at a rate he hasn’t ever done before in his career.

https://ftw.usatoday.com/2020/03/tampa-bay-buccaneers-tom-brady-offensive-scheme-bruce-arians

As stated before, though, film shows that he’s still got the arm strength. He’s more than capable of continuing to make all the throws an NFL quarterback needs to make and the deep ball is going to be critical in Bruce Arians’ aggressive offense. If there’s a shot to take, he’s going to tell Brady to take it and all signs point to Brady being capable.

Whether it’s under duress, off platform, or on the move, Brady absolutely still has enough zip on the ball to deliver into tight windows and make defenses pay.

Of now surprise to anyone that’s watched him before, Brady also loves the intermediate throws like deep crossers and digs. He goes through his reads incredibly quickly and efficiently and can routinely hit explosive plays with the intermediate passing game.

Perhaps of concern, though, is that he repeatedly turned down shots at deep balls and would sometimes throw a beat late when he did take those shots, allowing defenders to close or making the throw more difficult. While the strength is certainly there, the accuracy and willingness to stand in the pocket and wait for things to develop has started to become an issue.

Below you can see the Patriots run a two-man route off of play-action and it’s set up perfectly for a deep ball and huge completion on the post. The strong safety flies up on the run fake and doesn’t get enough depth under the post to influence the throw. Brady looks right at it and decides not to throw it while ultimately dumping the ball into the dirt.

Again below, the Titans are showing cover 2 and if you’re going to throw the fade down the sideline, you’ve got to put it on a line and fit it between the corner and the free safety looming over the top. Instead, Brady holds onto the ball and throws it late which almost results in an interception and could have resulted instead in his receiver getting absolutely demolished. The ball needed to be out at the top of his drop when the receiver was even with the cornerback and instead Brady hitches twice before letting it go.

As mentioned before, you can also see some deep ball accuracy issues pop up more than you might have in the past. I don’t think it should be a huge concern but he’s throwing them less and it’s consistently now a play or two a game where he misfires on deeper routes along the sideline. In the first play below he gets uncharacteristically hoppy in the pocket and is bouncing on his toes which causes him to airmail the ball on what should be a relatively easy completion on a deep hook.

Concerns about his dwindling accuracy may be there but he still has all the strength needed and still has incredible pocket presence. Tampa Bay’s offensive line is a downgrade from what the Patriots had and while Brady can make guys miss to buy extra time, he would also rather just check the ball down to avoid the hit. That being said, his mechanics are typically incredibly consistent. He keeps a solid base and is able to deliver accurate balls on the move.

All things considered, Brady is still Brady and has (almost) all the physical tools he’s always had. His arm strength, pocket movement, and decision making are all still there. The most important changes are number one, being asked to push the ball downfield at a rate he previously has never attempted in Bruce Arians’ offense and number two, growing accuracy issues on what used to be routine plays for him. Historically, quarterbacks throw a lot of interceptions in the first year of Arians’ system (Palmer had 22 and Winston had 30) but if Brady can learn quickly and execute like he still has the ability to, the sky is the limit for a Bucs offense that is loaded with talent at the skill positions.

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References

Murray, M. (2020, March 23). Fan Sided. Retrieved from NFL Mocks: https://nflmocks.com/2020/03/23/tampa-bay-buccaneers-right-choice-tom-brady/