Don’t let the distractions distract you from Josh Rosen’s talent

Game Film, NCAA Football, NFL, NFL Draft

Mansur Shaheen

The discussion surrounding UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen has been dominated by non-football events so far this draft season.  Whether it’s questioning his love of the game or outrage over some of his college dorm room antics, football has taken the back seat in his draft profile. Even his former college coach Jim Mora got in on the action at the start of April.

With the media circus in full force this spring, it’s easy to forget how great of a player Rosen is. The Bruins quarterback threw for over 3,700 yards, completing 63% of his passes for 26 touchdowns. UCLA football is in a dire state at the moment. The offensive talent surrounding the quarterback was severely underpowered compared to their competition within the Pac 12. This meant that despite the quarterback’s best efforts the Bruins posted a losing season in 2017.

Rosen ranked 17th in the nation with 8.3 yards per attempt. He did throw 10 interceptions last season, though many of them can be credited to poor play by his wide receivers. His four interceptions thrown in the red zone last season may raise concerns.

UCLA runs a pro-style offense. Rosen is forced to make pre-snap reads and he and his receivers must be on the same page. He takes snaps from under center and the offense forces him to have to go through progressions post snap as well to find the open man.

Rosen is very calm and collected in the pocket. He goes through his progressions and will even make it to his fourth or fifth read at times. The quarterback generally avoids forcing passes and is willing to stand in the pocket and keep his eyes downfield for as long as the defense will give him.

The Bruins receivers had a lot of trouble getting open last year and many other college quarterbacks would not let that stop them from just throwing the ball into coverage. Patience was key to any success Rosen had last season, and his ability to spot receivers just as they freed themselves from coverage and quickly get them the ball will translate extremely well to the next level.

While Rosen is great at keeping his eyes downfield and searching for open targets, he may be a little too great at it sometimes. His pocket presence isn’t very good, and he struggles when put under pressure.

He is often late reacting to pressure and takes sacks that he should be able to escape. Getting hit when off guard makes him extremely prone to fumbling. When he does feel the pressure, he panics. At least twice last season he randomly dropped the ball without even being hit after noticing the pass rush getting near him. Rosen backs way too far out of the pocket when the pass rush starts breathing down his neck. When he tries to climb into the pocket he gets himself sacked and his panicked reactions to pressure cause him to make matters worse. He throws errant passes into coverage, which also caused his high number of red zone turnovers in 2017. The Bruins offensive line was bad, but they cannot eat all of the blame. Developing a better feel for what’s happening immediately around him and reacting appropriately will be a much needed skill that he needs to develop at the next level.

Rosen is great at finding open receivers post-snap, but some of the work he does pre-snap helps get the Bruins moving as well. He excelled in the “pitch and catch” game and was able to spot which receivers would have space right off of the snap and hit them on quick outs, ins, and curls.

These quick passes are a simple way to stay ahead of the chains, pick up easy yardage and can occasionally break for huge gains. It also pulls the defense in and forces defenses to play closer to the line of scrimmage. This opens up space further downfield and gives his receivers a better chance at getting separation on their deeper routes.

A lot of what Rosen does well hinges on how smart of a player he is. The Bruin can read defense’s and rarely makes troubling decisions. That does not take away from his incredible arm talent.

Rosen can put passes on a rope. He clearly prefers high velocity bullet passes and his arm strength allows him to get balls quickly to his target before the defense can close in. His arm strength is not on the same level as the likes of Sam Darnold and Josh Allen but it is nothing to scoff at.

The quarterback is extremely comfortable hitting all of the intermediate throws with velocity. He has great command of his accuracy when he’s throwing mid-range passes and has a knack for always putting the ball right where it needs to be.

 

Rosen has the short and medium passing games down. He can find open receivers and perfectly place the ball to them. The Bruin rarely misses those throws and is smart enough reading the field to almost always spot the open man.

He loses some of this control while testing defenses downfield.

Much of the control that Rosen has throwing towards the intermediate levels seems to vanish throwing downfield. His accuracy struggles, as he often underthrows some of his longer passes. The throws are often errant and turnover worthy. The carefulness and precision that he has on shorter throws seem to disappear when testing defenses long. He will have to clean this up and be a little smarter with his passes going downfield when he begins to play at the NFL level.

Rosen is the best quarterback in the 2018 draft class. He is the most accurate, the smartest and has great arm talent. The UCLA product will definitely be selected in the top 5, and if I was in the Cleveland Browns war room on draft night there is no way I would not let him slip through our fingers. His floor is higher than anyone else in the class and he is more bust proof than the strong armed Allen and Darnold. Cleveland has been most closely linked to the other two quarterbacks and unless something changes within the next few weeks he will most likely be playing in New York. The Giants and Jets are two options for him, and the Buffalo Bills may possibly make a move into the top five to grab him as well.

 

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Lamar Jackson; the most dynamic QB in the NFL draft

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Lamar Jackson; the most dynamic QB in the NFL draft

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NCAA Football, NFL, NFL Draft

Lamar Jackson is the most exciting player in college football. The Louisville Cardinals quarterback and 2016 Heisman winner threw for 3660 yards, a career high, and 27 touchdowns in 2017. He added 1600 yards, also a career high, and 18 touchdowns on the ground in his third season. While the Cardinals struggles in 2017 caused Jackson to take a step out of the spotlight, the quarterback may have been even better last year than he was in 2016.

Before we continue I am dispelling any talk the Jackson should switch to wide receiver. No. He is a quarterback and a damn good one.

The most remarkable skill in Lamar Jackson’s toolbox is his incredible speed, agility, athleticism and overall ability as a runner. Read options were a significant part of the Cardinals offense and Jackson’s running prowess may have been the most important aspect of Louisville’s attack last season.


Related: Josh Allen might be the most interesting prospect in the draft


In last years meeting against the Clemson Tigers, arguably the biggest game of the team’s season, the Cardinals offense was entirely stagnant until Jackson gave them a jump start with his feet.

The second the Tigers defensive end took a step inside Jackson took off. Just that slight bit of space is all he needed, and his explosiveness helped him get to the second level before the defense could react.

Jackson mastered these plays. He rarely ran himself into trouble and did a good job handing the ball off when an opportunity for him to run didn’t open. He is a quick thinker and he is even faster on his feet. If the edge defender even bites a bit on the read, Jackson keeps the ball for himself. Give him even the slightest crease and he’s suddenly gone.

Even when the plays weren’t designed for Jackson to keep the ball for himself he still often made plays on his feet. The Cardinals poor offensive line, combined with Louisville’s receivers having trouble getting open, left the quarterback having to improvise on a regular basis.

Jackson has incredible pocket presence. He manages to avoid pressure with ease while still keeping his eyes downfield. The quarterback does not seem to get spooked by the slightest bit of pressure and goes through his progressions and still manages to make great decisions. Many athletic passers have the tendency to drop all focus on their receivers and bolt when they’re in hot water, Jackson does not. His speed allows him to avoid the rush and turn upfield to make huge gains out of plays that shouldn’t gain anything.

The quarterback doesn’t totally abandon the pass once he takes off, though. He can complete passes on the move and does not fully need to set his feet to deliver a great ball.

Being able to throw on the run keeps the defense honest, and even open more opportunity to take off on your feet. Defenses sprinting forward to contain Jackson when he bolts out of the pocket opens up receivers downfield. If the deeper defenders do not come forward, though, they are susceptible to giving up huge yardage.


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Everyone knows that Jackson can run, though. Majority of the highlights of his you see on the likes of SportsCenter and Twitter are plays the dynamic player makes with his feet. This leads many to believe that he is a run first quarterback.

That notion is false.

Jackson is an incredible pocket passer, and arguably one of the best pocket passers in all of college football.

Louisville runs a pro-style passing offense. Coach Bobby Petrino’s offense focused on quick passes and the receivers ran a variety of quick in, quick out and curl routes. This offense forced Jackson to quickly process the defense, spot the open receiver and make a quick and accurate pass as soon as the receiver breaks on their route. These passes need to be accurate not only to get to the receiver but also to hit his man in stride to maximize the yards run for after the catch.

The quarterback thrived in this offense. He was able to release the ball quickly and safely and rarely threw troublesome passes on these shorter routes.

Throws like these should have offensive coordinators around the league salivating. Quicker shorter passes keep the defenses on their toes and the offense on schedule. These plays punish a team in they drop too far into zone coverage and if the defense is caught off guard occasionally they can bust for a huge gain.

Jackson can do more than just throw these shallow routes, though. He has an amazing arm and is not scared to test defenses downfield. When given a clean pocket and room to step into throws the quarterback can absolutely torch teams downfield.

His arm talent his severely underrated, and occasionally overshadowed by all of the work he does with his legs. Even if Jackson was not an athletic freak of nature, he would still be a great quarterback prospect based on his arm alone.


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The biggest mark against Jackson, though, was his 60% accuracy in his final year at Louisville. Some of his poor accuracy can be attributed to the failures of the talent around him. His offensive line was atrocious last season and his receivers had trouble bringing in routine passes.

Not all of his struggles can be on his team, though. Jackson’s deep ball failed him on occasion and he missed a few throws really badly. Throws would float on him at times, and overthrowing receivers over the middle can be low hanging fruit for an interception to an attentive free safety. Majority of his interceptions last season came on balls that were overthrown.

These types of throws happen often when a quarterback tries to throw off of his backfoot without properly stepping through his passes. This is a coachable flaw, though, and one that many college QBs carry entering the NFL.

Jackson is one of the best quarterbacks in the draft and is definitely a first-round talent. The player he is today is a quality starter in the NFL. His combination of arm talent and his ability as a runner give him an extremely high ceiling. The quarterback is 6’3, but at 205 lbs he will definitely need to learn how to protect his body well when finishing runs, as he tends to fall into hits often when he could instead slide to protect his body, but that is also a coachable skill. He is not the biggest or strongest option at quarterback in the draft, but definitely the most dynamic of the bunch.

The New York Giants provide an ideal fit for Jackson at #2. They already run a similar offense to Louisville. Weapons like Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Sheppard could thrive with Jackson at QB and with Eli Manning’s career coming to a close this is probably their best chance to find an adequate long-term replacement.

Other good options for Jackson include the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills. No matter where he lands, the team that drafts Jackson may be getting a special talent that could take over the league.

 

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Josh Allen is the most interesting prospect in the 2018 draft

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NCAA Football, NFL, NFL Draft

Mansur Shaheen

Josh Allen is the most polarizing prospect in the 2018 NFL draft. The Wyoming quarterback is being mocked by ESPN’s Mel Kiper to be the #1 pick, while many others believe he shouldn’t even be selected in the top 10. He measured at 6’5, 233 lbs at the NFL combine and that combination of size and his athleticism make him a scouts dream. On the other hand, the quarterback was statistically awful last season in a weak Mountain West conference. Allen completed 56% of his passes and threw 16 touchdowns compared to six interceptions. His best games all came against lower level teams, such as Gardner Webb and Texas State. He only played against 2 power five teams in 2017 and combined for a 50% completion rate, a touchdown and three interceptions in his teams biggest games.

When looking at his game splits you can see how badly Allen struggled when playing against quality opponents. Outside of a great bowl game performance against Central Michigan, he was awful against winning teams. One thing to consider, though, is how bad the rest of the Wyoming roster is. Allen sat out the last game of the Cowboys regular season against a terrible San Jose St. team and a 7 win Wyoming team fell to their lesser foes.

Allen notably told reporters “stats are for losers” at a senior bowl press conference referring to his poor numbers not matching up to his draft stock. While I do not agree, stats can be misleading especially in college football where the talent discrepancy between teams is larger than ever.

And that’s why we are here.

Stats can lie to us, film can’t.


Related: Patrick Mahomes is ready to take over the Chiefs offense


Allen can do things that no other quarterback in this draft can. He has a cannon for an arm and the confidence that he can make every throw.

Even when he is off balance he can manage to draw enough power to let it rip for a huge gain. His form at times fails him and he does not properly step into passes, but he can still gather enough power to get the ball where he needs. Allen is coming out of college as a similar prospect to Patrick Mahomes out of Texas Tech last season. The Wyoming quarterback just happens to be bigger, faster, stronger and have an even bigger cannon for an arm.

Poor form and his over-willingness to throw off of his backfoot cost him at times. He doesn’t step into his throws as well as he should even when he has space too. This leads to passes often sailing on him or falling at the feet of his receivers.

As much as many would love to blame Allen’s teammates for his low completion percentage, the main reason he couldn’t complete passes in college was because of his own inaccuracy. Bad form leads to bad passes and it is legitimately concerning how often he overthrows receivers.

Beyond just incompletions, some of Allen’s completions are also passes that he could do much better on. Wyoming’s offensive scheme focuses mainly on their receivers running a lot of comeback and curl routes. Majority of passes that Allen threw last season were on those routes where his target would have their back facing the end zone. The proper way to throw these passes is to either place it towards the receiver’s stomach, so they can secure the pass while they potentially get hit from behind, or just in front of them, so they can step up into the catch and quickly whip around to run after the catch. Placing passes high and above a receiver’s chest area forces them to expose their body to a hit they can not see as they try to make the grab.

He also at times throws the pass to far in front of his target, forcing them to come to far forward for the catch. This can cause a 10 yard route to only gain 6 yards and put the receiver in a tricky spot after they make a catch.


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Allen’s confidence sometimes gets the best of him as well. He throws terrible passes at times when he really does not need to. The quarterback does not always go all the way through his progressions and can get in trouble passing to a blanketed receiver despite having no pressure in the pocket. He zeroes in on guys and stares them down at times. Occasionally he will just rip the ball towards a receivers feet for absolutely no reason.

Another knock on Allen comes before he even releases the ball. While he is mobile and can take a hit, his pocket awareness is lacking. Occasionally as rushers close in on him he will not even notice their presence until it is too late.

Allowing rushers to get with him so easily allows unnecessary sacks, and also leaves him more vulnerable to being strip-sacked as he is not tucking the ball away to brace for impact.

Allen often gets put into motion in the Wyoming offense. They run a variety of read option plays and bootleg’s that roll him out of the pocket. His awareness will fail him in some of these situations as well. The quarterback often runs himself into defenders, taking an unneeded sack when he can either throw the ball away or just run in a different direction.

The quarterback does not give himself up often either. He allows himself to take unnecessary hits instead of surrendering himself at the end of runs. While this does speak to his immense toughness and confidence, it leaves him extremely vulnerable to big hits and fumbles.

Wyoming did not have the greatest offensive line last season. Allen was under pressure often and had the terrible habit of trying to escape the pocket backward. This leaves him less of an escape route, costs him more yardage in case he gets sacked and leaves him more vulnerable to an intentional grounding call.

While he does occasionally run himself into bad situations, Allen is still an exceptional runner. Wyoming relied on his ability as a runner a lot last season. He never looked scared to keep the ball himself, put his shoulder down and become a power runner similar to Cam Newton. He has decent speed and agility for his size as well and can beat teams running off the edge.

His ability to run combined with his size can also lead to some wild plays, like this (eventual) sack against Iowa.

It can also lead to some spectacular, hard to believe passes. This touchdown against Boise State shows how special of a player he truly is.


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So what can we expect from Allen at the next level?

Of the top five QB prospects, Allen possibly has the highest ceiling. He is the biggest, strongest and probably has the best arm of the group. At his peak, I could see him be a better Matthew Stafford.

Unfortunately, he also has the lowest floor. He is currently the least accurate of the group. His football instincts are lacking, and he seems to rely way too much on his physical gifts rather than proper football form. I could say that this works on a college level but won’t in the NFL, but it didn’t even work at the college level.

Allen did not play on a very good team but he did not seem like he was enough to tip the scales against mid-tier opposition. He was awful against both Oregon and Iowa, and Boise State managed to keep him uncomfortable all night when they met. It would be hard to argue that Wyoming had any quality wins last season. His floor is lower than any of the other prospects, and there is a very real chance that he just never picks up on some of the mental skills needed to play quarterback in the NFL.

I would grade him as a day two pick. Based on positional value alone, though, he will most likely be picked in the top 20. Whoever drafts him will have to be patient and realize that he may need a few years to really get up to speed. Within the top 20, I believe the Baltimore Ravens are the ideal landing spot. Baltimore is still stuck in an awful Joe Flacco contract for at least two more years. Their offense is in rebuilding mode and John Harbaugh can begin to groom the successor to Flacco.

Wherever he goes, the team that selects Allen might hit on a future hall of fame, but it also can prove to be a costly investment.

 

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Robby Anderson made his presence in the NFL known in 2017

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

Robby Anderson was a revelation for the New York Jets in 2017. New York was pegged to be the worst team in the leagues entering last season. Some even believed that they would end up 0-16. When Quincy Enunwa went down before the season started, many feared that the Jets had lost the only play maker on their roster. Enter Robby Anderson.

Anderson went undrafted out of Temple in 2016. He earned a roster spot after an impressive training camp for the Jets, and played in all 16 games his rookie year. He was surprisingly productive in his first season, topping 500 yards and 40 receptions.

He was still overlooked for the most part entering 2017, and was not on the national radar at all. Enunwa going down would end up opening the door for him, though. Anderson caught 63 passes on 114 targets for 941 yards, all career highs. He had 17 receptions that went for over 20 yards last season, and three catches for over 40 yards. Six of his seven touchdowns came from more than 20 yards out as well.


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Anderson is an incredible deep threat. He is most efficient on vertical routes, and as expected his incredible speed is his greatest asset.

Every time he is on the field Anderson brings the threat that he can scorch a defense for a huge gain. He has attracted the attention of some of the best CB’s in the league and even been able to leave them in his dust.

On this play Anderson is lined up against AJ Bouye, arguably the best cornerback in the NFL. Bouye is known for is incredible technique and footwork, but still gets caught flat footed by Anderson here. Anderson comes off of the snap and takes his first step inside. He stabs in after a few yards, then gets his hips low and quickly changes direction to break his route downfield. Bouye is quick to recover after falling behind for a moment but is still way behind is man. The ball is slightly underthrown, which allows the corner back into the play and keeps the receiver out of the end zone.


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Even when given a cushion defensive backs have trouble keeping up with Anderson when he takes off with his blazing speed.

The Dolphins give Anderson a 7 yard cushion on this play and drop into cover 3 zone. Anderson takes off on a hitch route off of the snap, and before the safety or the corner can even react he manages to split their zones and find himself wide open for a touchdown. This play was way to easy for the Jets but plays like these can happen when a defense falls asleep for a split second against a player with this kind of speed.

While a majority of his highlight plays are on deeper routes downfield, the Jets use Anderson in a variety of ways. One of the best ways to attack a team that is playing off coverage on your deep receiver is to run deep curls and comeback routes. These types of routes keep the opposing corner on their heels, as if they leave to much space for the receiver upfield then the other team can get a quick 10 yard gain. If you don’t leave a cushion, though, you are liable to getting torched downfield for even more.

New York took advantage of that concept on this play.

Anderson is split wide to the right on this play against the Cleveland Browns. It looks at first as though Anderson was just running a go route to keep the CB across from him out of the play. An extended play breaks out though, as Josh McCown is forced out of the pocket. The defensive back still left the cushion on Anderson intact, so he wouldn’t get lost in the commotion and beat them deep. The receiver instead runs a comeback and makes an easy wide-open catch with no one anywhere near him.


Related: All 24 of Jimmy Graham’s redzone targets in 2017


While majority of deep threats in the NFL mainly focus on longer routes, and the occasional comeback or curl to throw the defense off (notably Kenny Stills) the Jets used Anderson in a variety of ways in 2017.

Even when not running downfield Anderson’s ability as a route runner combined with the always existing threat of him beating teams deep allows him to throw defenses off of his trail with ease. On this play against the Falcons he slips through man coverage to get wide open.

Anderson is lined up in the slot here. The corner covering him has given him nearly 10 yards of cushion pre-snap. The receiver runs a slant route, while the other receivers run routes that divert the attention of the other defenders away from where Anderson will go. This leaves the corner on Anderson a lot of ground to cover in little time with absolutely no help. The receiver makes a simple catch in the flat and bursts up field into open space for a huge gain on the play. Plays like these are impossible if Anderson isn’t a threat for a deep touchdown on every play and will draw the defense in closer on subsequent plays opening more opportunities to beat them deep.

The Jets receiver thrives against one on one man coverage just as he does against zone. On this play against the Patriots, he embarrasses his opponent for a big gain.

Anderson is split wide to the right here. He takes off after the snap and angles his run inside. This pulls the corner, who gave him a huge cushion in man coverage, inside with him. He gets low and dips his hips inside, before flipping his body and breaking on his route outside. The defender gets lost on the play, and does a full spin to reorient himself and find Anderson again. It is too late, though, and the receiver gets wide open for a simple catch near the sideline for a big gain.

The Jets should be a better team in 2018. Enunwa should be back, they are one of the final teams in the race for Kirk Cousins and they have a top ten pick in the draft. There still are many holes on the roster, and they did slightly overperform in 2017, though.

Anderson should be a part of their long-term rebuild, and as the remainder of the AFC East begin to put together teams that will hopefully become contenders once the Tom Brady era comes to an end. The receiver does have some off the field issues, though. A bad run in with the police at the beginning of the offseason was the beginning of what has turned into a tumultuous offseason for him. It would be unwise for the Jets to release him, as the offenses were minor, but much of the fanbase and maybe even some in the front office have turned their back on the receiver.

Despite all of his talent, Anderson may not be a Jet in 2018. It would be a huge loss for New York, though, and if he can clean up his act Anderson has the potential to be a scary weapon for any team.

 

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Marlon Mack is legit

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Marlon Mack makes your Saquon Barkley to the Colts mock draft look bad

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL, NFL Draft

Mansur Shaheen

Turmoil, heavy roster turnover and front office malpractice have haunted the Indianapolis Colts in the post Peyton Manning era. With all these distractions around, many may be forgetting about one of the young gems on their roster, Marlon Mack.

The Colts enter the NFL draft with the third overall pick after a tumultuous 2016. Quarterback Andrew Luck ended up missing the entire season after a long drawn out injury saga. Their offensive line remains one of the worst in the league and despite flashes from back up Jacoby Brisset, who they acquired from New England right before the season, their offense was still lackluster.

The public still doesn’t really know the status of Luck’s shoulder, and whether he will start week 1 in 2018. Luck is still a special talent at QB when he is on the field, and despite a deep QB draft class, the Colts will be looking elsewhere at #3.

Veteran Frank Gore has been a small bright spot for the Colts, but he is a free agent this offseason and the oldest running back in the league is not expected to return. Saquon Barkley, a human highlight reel out of Penn State, has been a hot name in mock drafts for Indianapolis. With so many needs for the Colts on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the front seven, picking Barkley may be a waste.

Especially when they have a player like Mack already on the roster.

Mack was drafted by the Colts in the fourth round of the 2017 draft coming from South Florida. He was drafted to be a perfect compliment to Gore. While Gore does much of his running grinding his way between the tackles, Mack excels bouncing runs to the outside.

The rookie running back had a career day week 5 against the San Francisco 49ers. He accrued 91 yards on 9 carries and scored a touchdown. When he was given adequate room to operate off the edge he can torch a defense for huge plays downfield. He had a few big runs this game off the edge, and they accounted for the bulk of his yardage.

His lone touchdown on the day is a good example of the danger he brings running horizontally.

Mack takes the hand off out of the backfield and initially angles towards his left. A defender comes flying through the gap, and he quickly switches to the right where there is another gap. Once he gets into open space the race is on. He has great vision, and sees another defender coming towards him around midfield. The running back swings his run out wide, around a blocker on the edge. Two defenders end up crashing into each other as he perfectly uses the block to his advantage and finds the sideline and then the end zone for a touchdown.

While that run is the one that shows up on the scoreboard, his preceding rush may be even more impressive.

Mack takes the hand off and instantly runs horizontally towards the right side. The blocking in front of him helps seal the edge and allow him to stretch outside, but the 49ers still have a corner back playing run contain that he must beat. He head fakes as if he is going to turn upfield, but instead swings the run outside, impressively beating a man in space. Mack gets to the second level before being run out of bounds for an 11 yard gain.

The South Florida product works extremely well in open space. He has great open field vision and anticipation, and the agility and burst to take advantage of the opportunities he sees.

While his open field running his great, he is a liability running between the tackles.

On this play Mack had a hole open in front of him and failed to take advantage. He takes the hand off and should have tried to run through the play side A gap that was opening in front of him. Instead, he dances around in the backfield for a second hesitating and most likely looking for an opportunity to bounce the run outside. The hole is quickly closed, and he is swallowed up in the back field for a loss on the play.

Mack seems almost scared of contact at times. Even in the open field, he does not finish runs well and instead is content with getting shoved easily out of bounds or shoved over rather than powering through hits. He measures in at 5’11, 213 lbs, similar to between the tackles back Frank Gore. He is a little slimmer, but he is not small enough to be so hesitant to take hits.

Patrick Mahomes is ready to lead the Chiefs

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

The Kansas City Chiefs may have made the biggest move of the 2018 offseason before it even began. In the days leading up to the Super Bowl they traded quarterback Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins for a 3rd round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller.

Smith had been the quarterback for the Chiefs for the past five years since he arrived from San Francisco via trade. He turned the Chiefs into a routine playoff contender and won at least 11 games in three of his seasons as a starter. The writing was on the was on the wall for Smith, though. Kansas City were set to enter the offseason with -$8 million in cap space and needed to clear out space if they wanted to be active at all in free agency and the draft.

Kansas City traded up in the first round of the 2017 draft to take Patrick Mahomes 10th overall out of Texas Tech. He sat behind Smith for the 2017 season, as his senior quarterback was named to a pro bowl and even was in the MVP discussion early in the year. With the AFC West having been wrapped up already he was given the nod to start the Chiefs final game of the season against the Denver Broncos in week 17.

The week 17 match up was the first game action Mahomes had seen since preseason, and he showed some development after spending a year on the bench. Kansas City was not scared to give him the reigns of the offense, letting him throw 35 times. He completed 22 of his attempts (completed 62.9% of his passes) for 284 yards and threw an interception.

Coming out of Texas Tech, Mahomes was most well known for his arm strength. He has a cannon attached to his right shoulder, and can fire off bullet passes even when while draped with defenders.

On this play against the Broncos he used his great core strength to swing off a defender coming in for a sack. As he attempts to regain his balance and step up in the pocket he see’s a receiver break open up field, and fires a bullet pass towards him.

Mahomes was never able to reset his feet, so all of the power that was put into this pass was from his arm. Throwing a pass that hard, that fast and that accurately off of your arm is not something that many quarterbacks can do.

Arm strength alone is not the only important part of these incredible off balance passes Mahomes let fly with ease. His footwork and navigational skill from within the pocket is better than you would expect from a rookie.

On this play, the Denver pass rush gets through the initial pass protection with a stunt. As the defenders burst into the backfield Mahomes remains calm. He quickly sidesteps the first rusher and treads towards his left. As the second rusher comes for him on that side he deke’s back towards the middle and gets off a pass before the rushers can converge on him.

The most impressive part about this play is what Mahomes does with his eyes. His eyes stay down field the entire time. He still goes through his progressions and manages to spot the open man. The Texas Tech product manages to extend the play without having to leave the pocket, and still delivers a great bullet pass, perfectly placed for his receiver.

His arm strength and ability to throw off balance combined with his great navigation in the pocket allows him to make high level throws.

Kansas City runs a play action on this play. The two edge rushers come flying around the sides of the pocket, and both have a step and a path to Mahomes. The quarterback senses the pressure coming from both sides and slides up into the pocket. He again keeps his eyes down field while doing so and spots an open receiver. Mahomes puts an off balance pass on a rope, and hits his receiver throwing off of one foot.

One issue that does arise in his game, though, is his ball placement when he does get the ball to his receiver. Mahomes does not lead receivers well and usually aims his passes in a straight line between him and the receiver. Every single one of the above passes forced the receiver to turn their back fully towards the end zone to make a catch, and when they caught it their momentum was carrying them backwards. This play near the end zone is another great example.

This pass was supposed to be a quick out to the receiver, where he could potentially follow a blocker into the end zone and dive towards the pylon for a touchdown. Instead, Mahomes throws the ball behind the receiver. He is forced to turn around in order to catch the ball, and the defensive back on that side is able to get behind the blocker and take him down for minimal gain.

Mahomes should have thrown this pass towards the sideline and slightly in front of the receiver. This would allow him to make a catch on the run and still have a chance to align himself behind his lead blocker. The poor throw might as well have been an incompletion.

Mahomes has potential to a be special talent for the Kansas City Chiefs, though. He made this throw early in the game which should have every fan excited.

This ball is perfectly placed between the defenders and his receiver comes down with a great catch. Mahomes made a few of these tight window throws against Denver, and his accuracy has already shown great improvements from his college days as a Red Raider.

It is time for a new era in Kansas City football. Trading Smith was not the only tough decision they will have to make this offseason, and many of their older veterans on the defensive side of the ball may find themselves looking for a new home this spring as well. The Chiefs became one of the pioneers of the new age, college style offense last season and have a wealth of young budding talent including Tyreek Hill and rookie rushing champion Kareem Hunt. Mahomes will now be the new leader of what has potential to be a revolutionary offense in the KC.

 

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More from Bird Breakdowns:

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It’s Pat Mahomes season in Kansas City, and he is up to the challenge

 

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Aaron Donald vs the world; how the defensive tackle terrorized the Falcons

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

The Los Angeles Rams saw their wonderful run this season came to an abrupt end when they fell to the Atlanta Falcons in the opening game of the NFC playoffs. Their offense was inefficient and could not get by a stiff Falcons defense. Despite troubles on offense they managed to stay in the game until the end due to an incredible job by the Rams defense.

Los Angeles was able to hold the Falcons to field goals for a majority of the game, not allowing Atlanta to fully pull away from a struggling Rams team. Quarterback Matt Ryan was forced to operate under pressure almost all game, and they had trouble running between guards.

Much of this was the doing of defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

If you care enough about football to be reading a film breakdown in the first place you have heard of Aaron Donald and know his reputation around the league. Donald is arguably the best defensive player in the NFL, and was recently named a near unanimous first team all pro. Saturday night was his first shot at putting his skills to test in the postseason, and he showed why he is regarded so highly around the NFL.

Pro Football Focus credits Donald with 10 hurries and a sack during the game, 9 of the hurries coming during the first half. He was consistently in Ryan’s face and the interior pressure he created helped his edge rushers create pressure of their own.

It did not take the Rams star interior lineman long to get going. He registered pressures on the first two defensive snaps of the game and kept Ryan on his heels near his own goal line.

Donald showed his versatility on those plays. While he usually lines up on the interior of the defensive line, where his brute force and strength allow him to bully the quarterback and push him out of the pocket. Despite his incredible size and strength, Donald still manages the speed necessary to become a dangerous edge rusher, where he can close around the pocket fast to land hits on the quarterback. He can line up anywhere on the defensive front and be an absolute terror for an opposing offense.

The Falcons offense was seemingly stuck in the mud for the early stages of the game. They only managed 16 yards on their first three possessions, as they could not get by Donald and Los Angeles’s defense.

On this play later in the first quarter of the Rams wild-card matchup, Donald gets the defense off the field on third down.

fycat.com/IcySpryAustralianfurseal

Donald is lined up as a defensive tackle as a part of Los Angeles five-man front on the play. His first punch deflects the hands of the guard in front of him. He catches a slap to the head, but is virtually unbothered as he blows by his opponent. Falcons center Alex Mack (No. 51), who was named first-team All-Pro by Bird Breakdowns last week, can not react in time switching on to Donald. Mack is late because he was distracted by the feigned blitz from one of the linebackers. Donald gets through the Falcons ranks with ease and barrels towards Ryan. The quarterback see’s him and attempts to slide away. With the defensive tackle breathing down his neck he is forced to throw an off balanced pass to his running back, which falls incomplete.

The ability to dispatch of blocks like they are nothing more than just speed bumps on the way to the quarterback make Donald a terror. He has incredible technique and can hand fight in the trenches better than anyone. He is a smart pass rusher and knows how to counter the first move of an offensive lineman as well as anyone, as he did on this second quarter play.

On this play, Donald is lined up in a similar spot in the same five-man front. Wes Schweitzer (No. 71) is the guard across from Donald here. The offensive lineman takes a few steps back off of the snap and eventually makes his first move to the defender. He leans in for the initial punch, and Donald embarrasses him. Donald uses a great swim move on Schweitzer’s shoulder and flings him to side with ease. Mack comes around to help, but the defensive tackle brute forces through him en route to the quarterback. Donald meets a teammate in the backfield as they join together to take down Ryan for a sack.

While Donald has a knack to stuff the box score himself, his pressure on the interior also creates plays for his teammates.

On this play, Donald is again lined up on the interior. He paths wide of his pass rush, helping the defensive end of the side overload the left side of the line of scrimmage, and open up space for a stunt on the inside. The overload from Donald, combined with the edge rusher from the other side, helps push Ryan into the pocket. With the pass rush behind him, the quarterback tries to make a play with his feet, and end up getting chased down from behind by the pass rushers.

While a majority of the plays that Donald makes are in pass rush, he is also an amazing run stuffer.

Tevin Coleman (No. 26) takes the handoff from Ryan on this second quarter play. He heads into the right side a gap. The Falcons pull a guard to help block on the play, and Coleman uses his agility to dodge the first potential tackler. Schweitzer is yet again on Donald and does a decent job creating space for Coleman. As the running back reaches his gap, Donald manages to shed his block and wrap his arms around the running back from behind and just tear him to the ground.

Donald’s run stuffing ability does not fill up the stat sheet the same way his pass rushing does, but he may be better against the run than he is when rushing the passer. His great instinct allows him always shed blockers and leverage himself to be in position to attack the runner.

While he had a great game, all of these plays by Donald were made during the first half. He was still an active pass rusher in the second half but was not as fearsome. He only registered one pressure after half time and had trouble getting to the quarterback. He was facing double teams pretty much all night, and while he managed to tear through them early on in the game he wore down. Just the pure gravity of having him stuffing up the middle allows his teammates more opportunity, but after Michael Brockers left the game with an injury the entire Rams defense began to slowly falter.

Donald is only 26 and should only get better over the next few years. He has a year left on his rookie contract with the Rams, and there are questions as to whether he will return in 2019. He held out of the early stages of training camp last summer, and if he does not receive an extension this year one of the most attractive free agents in the league may hit the market Spring 2019.

If Los Angeles does retain him, though, then they have found a centerpiece of what is a young, budding and exciting defense that can terrorize the NFL for years to come.

 

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Jared Goff was a new man in 2017

Adrian Clayborn had a career day against the Cowboys

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2017 NFL Awards

NFL, NFL Awards

As we close the book on yet another NFL season, here at Bird Breakdowns I have decided to hand out a few awards to some of the best players I watched this season. Listed below are the official Bird Breakdowns end of season awards and NFL All Pro lists.

Because I am a Lions fan and absolutely love including them in things, I have also put together an All-NFC North team.

 

Most Valuable Player:

Todd Gurley (RB-Rams)

Runners Up:

Tom Brady (QB-Patriots)

Carson Wentz (QB-Eagles)

Russel Wilson (QB-Seahawks)

 

Defensive Player of the Year:

Aaron Donald (DT-Rams)

Runners Up:

Cameron Jordan (DE-Saints)

Bobby Wagner (LB-Seahawks)

Calais Campbell (DE-Jaguars)

 

Rookie of the Year:

Alvin Kamara (RB-Saints)

Runners Up:

Kareem Hunt (RB-Chiefs)

Deshaun Watson (QB- Texans)

Leonard Fournette (RB-Jaguars)

 

Defensive Rookie of the Years

Marshon Lattimore (CB-Saints)

Runners Up:

Tre’Davious White (CB-Bills)

Myles Garret (DE-Browns)

T.J. Watt (LB-Steelers)

 

Coach of the Year

Sean McVay (Rams)

Runners Up:

Doug Pederson (Eagles)

Mike Zimmer (Vikings)

Sean Payton (Saints)

 

Most Improved Player

Jared Goff (QB-Rams)

Runners Up:

Carson Wentz (QB-Eagles)

Nelson Agholor (WR-Eagles)

Kevin Byard (FS-Titans)

 

Underrated Player of the Year (Player who I believed received the least amount of national attention for how great they were this season)

Micah Hyde (SS-Bills)

Runners Up:

Glover Quin (FS-Lions)

Nelson Agholor (WR-Eagles)

Jimmy Smith (CB-Ravens)

 

 

NFL All Pro

Offense

Defense

 

All NFC List

Offense

Defense

I covered the NFL all year on Bird Breakdowns, you can find all of the film breakdowns here! I am always on twitter discussing NFL news and opinions, follow me here!

Adrian Clayborn dominated the Dallas Cowboys

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

“I only have one move and it worked,” Atlanta Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after six sacks during the Falcons huge 27-7 victory against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

Clayborn became the first player in Falcons history to record six sacks in a single game. Nearly all of his sacks all came in similar fashion, just as he admitted after the game.

On every one of those four sacks, he did the same thing. He used a bull rush while also using his hands to counter the punch of the tackle in front of him. The offensive linemen gave him little trouble, and he might as well had not even been there on a few of these plays.

Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith missed the game with a groin injury and an offensive line that is known to be among the elite in the league were forced to start Chaz Green.

Green was entirely outmatched by the Falcons defensive end and got worked all day. He was eventually benched for Byron Bell in what Troy Aikman referred to as one of the worst performances he had ever seen from an NFL player. Even against the worst of opposition, netting six sacks is still a near impossible feat, though, especially when the quarterback is as mobile as Dak Prescott.

While his sacks did show up on the stat sheet, some of his contributions Sunday won’t show up in the box score. Clayborn easily could have had three or four more sacks if he had just been a second faster or Prescott a second slower.

He consistently got to Prescott and managed to disrupt his passes. On one of those plays Clayborn even forced Prescott into an interception (it was called back because Vic Beasley was offsides on the other side of the play).

Two of his sacks really stood out, though, and did not come as easy as the rest of them. This second quarter sack saw him come out of coverage to take down Prescott.

Clayborn is lined up as a nickel corner almost on this play. He drops back into zone coverage as the tight end in front of him runs a crossing route. He stays back as a QB spy as the play develops. Beasley (No. 44) beats the Cowboys right tackle and forces Prescott to bail out of the pocket. The quarterback steps up into the pocket and tries to scramble. Clayborn stays disciplined and does not fall for his pump fake and takes down Prescott at the line of scrimmage for a sack.

His first of his two strip sacks of the day was the only one of his sacks where he showed a move other than “counter bull rush around the edge.”

Clayborn comes from his wide position and builds up speed to crash into the tackle hard on the edge. He begins a bull rush to get through him and eventually gets inside leverage. He uses a spin move to break free of the block and get inside. Clayborn gets to the quarterback and snatches the ball away from him.

Prescott was tormented all day by the Falcons pass rush, but he was able to counter punch a few times. He is great on his feet and would occasionally take advantage of how quickly the rush would get into the backfield. Similar to how screen passes work against a team that blitzes heavily when your edge rushers are able to burst into the backfield with ease it leaves the edge without any sort of contain.

On this play, both Beasley and Clayborn quickly and easily beat the tackle they are taking on and sandwich Prescott in the pocket. The quarterback manages to escape them for a moment though. Since nobody is near the line of scrimmage anymore, and there is not QB spy Prescott has a wide-open running lane to take off.

Prescott had six rushing attempts on the day, one of the highest totals of his career. Five of the six of his rushes were not designed and were just passing plays where he bailed out of the pocket. He seemed gassed at one point, and there was one play towards the end of the first half where he practically walked the ball out of bounds.

Clayborn’ssix-sackk day was incredible, especially so when you realize that he has been a below average pass rusher at best the past few seasons. His big day was more of a failure of the Cowboys than his amazing play, though.

Dallas must figure out how to fix this issue, though. They take on the Philadelphia Eagles and their powerful front seven next week. Smith will most likely miss another game, and neither Green nor Bell looked good enough to handle the duties at left tackle last Sunday. They need to change their pass protection scheme to better protect Dak and give more help. Whether it is lining up tight ends on that side and keeping them back for protection, or just leaving your running backs in the backfield to block they need to provide more help for their left tackle.

 

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Buffalo’s defense can lead them to the postseason

 

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Nelson Agholor; the fall and rise of the NFL’s next star

Features, Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

It was a cloudy day in Seattle when the Philadelphia Eagles visited Century Link Field in November of 2016. The Eagles had their offensive struggles early in the game and trailed by 9 in the later stages of the first half. Quarterback Carson Wentz led his offense back onto the field with just under four minutes to play with a chance to slice into the deficit before the half.

Wentz wanted to take a shot downfield on the first play of the drive and spotted wide receiver Nelson Agholor open over the middle on a hitch route. Agholor gained separation from his corner Richard Sherman with a crisp route and was in perfect position to make a huge catch and run that would get the Eagles into field goal range in just one play. Wentz rifled the ball over the middle right into the hands of his receiver. The ball bounced right off of both of Agholor’s hands and harmlessly fell to the ground behind him.

Agholor slammed both of his heads on his head in anguish and looked down towards his own feet for a moment. Sherman picked up the ball behind him and approached him after his drop, while safety Kam Chancellor got in his face and mockingly gave him a round of applause as he jogged back to the huddle.

A familiar scene replayed itself for Eagles fans. Their first round selection from only two years before had still not amounted to much. His agility and route running left him wide open on a lot of plays, but it did not matter if he could not bring down simple catches.

The young receiver’s confidence had eroded and he was the target of much of the fans frustration as the season went on. Agholor would end the game in Seattle with 0 receptions on 3 targets as the Eagles lost an ugly game on the west coast. They fell to 5-5 on the season and while still in the thick of the NFC playoff race their season felt all but over. After a surprise 3-0 start they had lost three of their last four. This game would be the first of what would eventually become a five game losing streak.

Philadelphia had one of the worst receiving corps in the league and Agholor made an easy scapegoat for the Eagles struggles. He was yet to have sort of success at the pro level and was in the midst of what was yet again an extremely disappointing season. Drops still plagued his game and it looked like he would never reach his true potential. Fans wanted to run him out of town. Despite everything though, the Eagles coaching staff still showed confidence in Agholor hoping that one day their investment in him would finally be returned.


When the Eagles drafted Agholor in the first round of the 2015 draft they were in the middle of what was a total overhaul of their offense. Chip Kelly had taken full reigns of the franchise a few years earlier and shocked the NFL by trading away LeSean McCoy and allowing Jeremy Maclin to walk in free agency.

The moves were unsettling and disrupted the path of what was one of the rising teams in the league. Nick Foles had grown into the starting quarterback role after replacing Mike Vick and had potential to lead the franchise. He then took an enormous step back in 2014 and could barely stay on the field. They had consecutive 10 win seasons, and even won their division in 2013 before narrowly missing the postseason in 2014.

Philadelphia tried to rebuild fast. They dealt Foles to St. Louis for former top overall pick Sam Bradford. Agholor joined young, budding receiver, Jordan Matthews alongside Riley Cooper. They also added veteran Miles Austin to hopefully provide Bradford a steady, reliable, target. DeMarco Murray, the 2014 NFL rushing champion, was signed from the Cowboys to replace McCoy.

Despite having lost some of their most talented skill position players, the Eagles had built what was, on paper, a great offense.

Unfortunately, their strength on paper did not translate on to the field.

Matthews was impressive, and tight end Zach Ertz was, as always, one of the team’s top receivers. The DeMarco Murray experiment was a remarkable failure andd he did not even break 400 yards on the season. Cooper’s production had entirely fallen off and Austin had lost a step after years in the NFL. Bradford was inconsistent, and the Eagles struggled to a 7-9 record as they watched the Washington Redskins come from beneath them to win the worst division in the NFL.

And then there was Agholor. The 20th overall pick started as a wide receiver #2 in his rookie season. His production was underwhelming, though. He only caught 23 of his 44 targets and finished short of 300 yards. He only found the end zone once. Drops haunted him and many were calling for his head already only a year into his short career.

Judging a player by their rookie year is unfair, but Agholor was shockingly bad. The USC product was one of the best receivers in the history of the storied college program. He became only the sixth Trojan in school history to eclipse 1,300 receiving yards in a single season and ranked 12th all-time in career receiving yards.

The former Trojan was an exciting prospect at Southern Cal. He is an athletic freak with a high football IQ. The receiver is shifty and agile, and he is great at beating defenders on his first step. Agholor is a precise route runner but lacks speed. His skill set pigeonholes him as a slot receiver. Matthews, who the Eagles drafted a year before Agholor in the second round, already occupied the slot for Philadelphia.

Matthews had already solidified his role in the offense and was not going to move aside for Agholor. He was the team’s most productive receiver in his first two seasons. Just like Agholor, he had struggles dropping passes, but he was still the team’s number one guy.

2016 was a rebuilding year for the Eagles. Kelly was fired and replaced by Doug Pederson. They made a huge trade up to second overall in the draft to select Carson Wentz out of North Dakota and dealt Bradford over to Minnesota. Linebacker Kiko Alonso and corner Byron Maxwell were sent to Miami as well. The Eagles third trade of that Summer may have put Agholor’s job in danger. Titans receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who was drafted in the second round in 2015, was acquired by Philadelphia. Beckham had a standout rookie year but lack of effort had him in danger of being released during the Titans training camp. The Eagles were betting on a change of scenery inspiring him to build on his rookie year.

Unlike Agholor, Beckham is naturally a split receiver. Matthews was not going anywhere soon and Beckham fills the same role out wide that Agholor does. With a new man under center, Philadelphia was also looking at a few new options for Wentz to throw to. Despite only being in his second season Agholor was already a man on the hot seat.

The Eagles got off to a hot 3-0 start and Carson Wentz looked like a revelation in Philadelphia. They ended up faltering down the stretch, though, and Wentz only got worse and worse as the season went on. They finished 2017 at 7-9 yet again and fans were ready to run half of the roster out of town. Ertz was as good as ever still and Matthews, while still plagued by drops, was still far and away the most productive receiver on the roster.

Agholor was benched by the Eagles for their game against the Green Bay Packers and the writing was seemingly on the wall for him.

“Seeing the game…seeing it differently” is the reason head coach Doug Pederson gave reporters for the receivers benching. Pederson was always a vocal supporter of the receiver, but benching Agholor made many believe that the second-year player had already lost the faith of his most important believer.

Agholor disappointed again. He finished below 400 yards despite starting for the majority of the season. He only scored two touchdowns and only caught 36 of his 69 targets. Drops still haunted him and after only two years he was already being labeled a bust by many. One respite for him was that Green-Beckham was also absolutely awful.

“I just have to get out of my own head. I’m pressing so much and worried about so many things,” Agholor told reporters after the game in Seattle. “I’m thinking too much and so worried and it’s such a selfish thing that I need to stop. I need to give my energy to my teammates and this organization and not myself and feeling so pressured to make every single thing. Just have fun.”

All of the talent in the world can mean nothing for a player who has seemingly lost all confidence in himself. Pederson continued to prop up the youngster, but when the 2016 season came to a close the future seemed bleak.

“I’m just going to grind and come back better than I left. That’s my mindset. Whatever happens, happens. What I know is that I’m coming in ready to compete. Nothing is mine. Nothing in this world is yours. I’m going to come in here and compete, work for it and you have to compete for it. That’s my mindset.” Those were Agholor’s final words to reporters after leaving the Eagles locker room at the conclusion of the 2016 season. He was fully aware of the position he was in on Philadelphia’s roster.


Wide receiver was the biggest need on the Eagles roster entering the 2017 offseason. They were linked with nearly every free agent wideout as they were in dire need of reliable targets to help Wentz’s development.

They first signed Torrey Smith. Smith was a member of the 2013 Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens and had made his name as the primary deep threat for the big arm of Joe Flacco. Injuries had slowed him down a bit and he was coming off a down year in San Francisco. He was a cut by the 49ers to clear cap space for their potential rebuild but found a home in Philly. The move was just as big as it was for Smith as it was for the Eagles. It allowed the receiver a chance to get his career back on track with one of the NFL’s budding stars at quarterback. Wentz for the first time in his career would have an established veteran wide receiver to throw too.

Hours later the Eagles inked a deal with their prized signing of the 2017 offseason, bringing in Alshon Jeffery from the Chicago Bears. Jeffery would instantly step in as the team’s top receiver.

The two signings shifted the Eagles receiving corps from the bottom of the league to among the elite. Jeffery would be the WR1, Smith would serve as a deep threat. Matthews would be allowed to stay in the slot where he feels most comfortable. Fourth round pick Mack Hollins would be able to develop behind the talented group of veterans in front of him.

Agholor was seemingly the odd man out.

He knew his road to the final roster was not going to be as simple as it was in the past, and even if he made the roster his role was set to be significantly reduced. Drops were still his biggest issues and he went to work during OTA’s. The receiver began to chart his own drops in practice and caught hundreds of extra passes out of the JUG machine to work on his hands.

“It’s one thing to catch off the JUGS all the time, but then that’s not the same as coming out of an out route, or coming back on a curl or catching contested balls,” Agholor told reporters when asked about a personal JUG machine he had bought for home use. “So you catch from quarterback some, you can from the JUGS some, and you just train game-like situations, because that’s the most important thing.”

“When you’re throwing the football, I try to pluck ’em. If it happens, don’t worry about it in practice, catch the next one and keep working. When you come home, you watch the film, you remind yourself … you figure out what happened there and you get better from there.”


On an August morning in northwest New York the Buffalo Bills were putting together a few moves that could alter their franchise. General Manager Brandon Beane had just been hired a few months earlier from the Carolina Panthers. He was brought in after both the NFL draft and free agency meaning the roster he was working with was not at all his creation.

The Bills have been the league’s worst franchises for over a decade now. They have not played in the postseason since 1999 and Beane was put in charge of building the roster to get them there. Former first round receiver Sammy Watkins was heading into a contract season after the Bills did not pick up his rookie option. He clearly was not in the team’s future plans but still carried trade value. Cornerback Ronald Darby stepped back in 2016, but still had talent that another team could put to use.

Buffalo was desperate to put together a balanced offense around quarterback Tyrod Taylor. They still had McCoy from the trade with the Eagles a few years back and he was still the only reliable skill player surrounding Taylor.

Beane made two huge moves in quick succession. He first dealt Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams. In order to replace the team’s top receiver, he reached out to Eagles GM Howie Roseman. The Eagles were in desperate need of a talented defensive back and had a surplus of receivers on their hands. Roseman has never shied away from being active in the trade market and shocked the league when he chose to deal Jordan Matthews to the Bills for a package that brought Darby to Philly.

The move came out of nowhere and took the entire locker room by surprise. Matthews was a favorite among teammates and fans, and suddenly weeks before the beginning of a new season, his presence was lost.

Ertz compared the loss of Matthew to equivalent of “[losing] a brother” and Wentz seemed to take it especially hard.

“This is my first time experiencing this with someone that’s one of my best friends. Seeing him yesterday, it’s tough on him, too. It’s kind of out of the blue” said Wentz while walking off the field the at the next practice.

The trade that came seemingly out of nowhere proved the faith the Pederson and the rest of the Eagles coaching staff had in Agholor all along. With Matthews out of the way, Agholor was thrust in as the team’s new slot receiver, a position he always favored. A player struggling with confidence had just received the ultimate show of support from his organization, and the Eagles were betting on him to finally have his break out season.


“Going back to the offseason, I just saw a more confident player”

That’s what Wentz said of Agholor when asked about the receiver after the Eagles season opener against the Washington Redskins.

Agholor played his first game as Philadelphia’s full time slot receiver and it was the best game of his career to that point. He posted a career high 86 yards on six receptions. He did not drop any of his eight targets and was beaming with confidence.

Now wearing 13 after giving up number 17 to Jeffery, Agholor looked like a new man. He and Wentz hooked up for what might be the most impressive touchdown on the NFL season in the first quarter.

Agholor comes out of the slot and runs a deep route over the middle. He grabs the attention of three separate defensive backs at one point. Wentz turns into the offspring of Houdini and Michael Vick for a split moment as he deke’s and dodges potential sacks in the backfield. He rolls out of the pocket and scans the field in front of him. Agholor does an amazing job improvising on the play. The defensive backs get caught staring into the backfield, watching Wentz’s impressive feat as if they are deer caught in headlights. The receiver slips away and gets wide open near the sideline. Wentz rifles the ball his way, he makes the catch on a slightly off-target ball, breaks a tackle and waltzes into the end zone.

This was the perfect start to a new NFL season and a sign of what was to come from both Wentz and Agholor.

Wentz has put together an MVP caliber season to this point and Agholor has been a huge part of his success. Philadelphia enters their week 10 bye at an NFL best 8-1 and just hung 50 points on the Denver Broncos top ranked defense.

Through nine games so far this season Agholor has 29 receptions for 428 yards and five touchdowns. All of those are career highs.

Not on pace for career highs but literally his career high only nine games into the season.

Jeffery and Smith demanded most of the headlines heading into the season. Ertz is still just as good as ever. Adding an impressive Agholor to the fray makes the Eagles an impossible offense to shut down. There is no other team with a group as receivers as good and consistent as the Philadelphia Eagles and suddenly Wentz is the MVP frontrunner and the Eagles are Super Bowl favorites heading into the second half of the season.

Agholor has been more targeted than Smith so far and is the most efficient receiver on the roster to this point. His 2017 season has actually been the most efficient of any receiver the Eagles have had in the past three years.

Player Games Targets Receptions Yards Yards/G
Agholor (’15-’16) 28 113 59 648 23.14
Agholor (’17) 9 42 29 428 47.56
Matthews (’15-’16) 30 243 158 1801 60.33
Jeffery (’17) 9 73 34 500 55.56
Smith (’17) 9 29 15 221 24.55
Ertz (’15-’17) 37 282 196 2197 59.38
Player Tgt/G Rec/G Yds/Tgt Yds/Rec Catch %
Agholor (’15-’16) 4.04 2.11 5.73 10.98 52
Agholor (’17) 4.67 3.22 10.19 14.76 69
Matthews (’15-’16) 8.11 5.27 7.41 11.4 65
Jeffery (’17) 8.11 3.78 6.84 14.71 47
Smith (’17) 3.22 1.67 7.62 14.73 52
Ertz (’15-’17) 7.62 5.3 7.79 11.21 70

He is averaging more yards per target than any of the other receivers by far, and his catch percentage in 2017 is also among the best. He is nearly averaging the same number of targets he was receiving in the past, but he is doing much more with them. Matthews was still a larger part of the offense the past two years that Agholor is now, but Matthews was the team’s primary target and was not lining up alongside Jeffery and Smith.

His efficiency in 2017 looks even more impressive when you compare him to some of the top slot receivers around the NFL.

Player Tgt/G Rec/G Yds/Tgt Yds/Rec Catch %
Agholor 4.67 3.22 10.19 14.76 69
Cole Beasley 4.63 2.75 4.46 7.5 59
Jarvis Landry 10.88 7.38 4.94 7.68 64
Doug Baldwin 8.78 6 8.01 11.72 68
Larry Fitzgerald 9.78 6.67 7.69 11.28 68
Matthews 4 3 8.54 11.38 75

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All numbers recorded prior to week 10

While Landry, Baldwin and Fitzgerald serve as their team’s primary receiver, meaning their efficiency numbers will falter based off of pure volume. Cole Beasley, who plays second fiddle to Dez Bryant in Dallas, is the closest comparison to Agholor. They average the same amount of targets per game yet Agholor doubles him in both yards per target and yards per reception.

The reason for this disparity is because of the interesting skill set Agholor brings out of the slot. While the likes of Beasley, Landry and Fitzgerald focus more on shorter slant routes, drag routes and other routes right around the line of scrimmage, Agholor does this:

The receiver is a threat to beat you deep on every play. This forces slot corners and linebackers that may be covering him in man coverage to have to deal with a  player with a skill set they may not usually be accustomed too. His crisp route running and agility allow him to quickly get separation, and Wentz’s great field awareness and accuracy get the ball in his hands the split second he gets open.

His elegant route running and ability to seemingly always get open is why Pederson and the rest of the Eagles staff were willing to deal with his struggles the past few seasons. Everyone along the line knew that Agholor would be a star if only he could catch the ball. Now that he is actually catching the ball, he has developed into possibly the best slot receiver in the league.

One way to cover up potential deficiencies in man coverage is to play zone coverage instead. When you drop back into zone you assign your linebackers to smother Agholor in case he goes shallow while the safeties will be able to pick him up when he runs deep instead.

Agholor is an incredible zone buster, though. He knows how to read zone coverage and exploit the gaps between them. He is a high IQ player, and sometimes will even stay in place and just allow the zones to shift around him. The receiver often seems a second ahead of the rest of the field and has a knack to always be in the one place where a defender isn’t when faced with a zone scheme.

He does still have off days, though. If the receiver can not gain separation then he disappears from games. Agholor has finally nailed down how to catch passes when wide open, but still struggles at the point of attack when covered.

The Kansas City Chiefs did a great job smothering him in man coverage when they met the Eagles in week 2. Agholor only had 3 targets on the day, and his one catch (for a touchdown) came on the Eagles final offensive play when the game was already out of reach. The Chiefs did a great job holding him in check and he just could not get going.

Agholor is not the biggest or strongest receiver and probably never will be. His hands have always been the thing that held him back most over the years and he may never develop into an Odell Beckham, Dez Bryant or Marvin Jones type player that can seemingly always snag the ball out of the air.

His improvements between 2016 and 2017 are drastic though. He has gotten faster and looks more confident in himself attacking defenses. Drops that plagued him in the past are now few and far between.

“This offseason, I just worked on my conditioning and worked on my speed, which is one of my strengths. I used using that to help the rest of my game,” Agholor said when asked about reducing the amount of passes he has dropped after the Eagles game against the Arizona Cardinals. “Speed is something to put people off balance, and when you match that with technique, it gives more separation so you can frame the ball better and it is easier on you.”

Agholor will continue working hard and should only get better as the year, and the seasons down the line, pass. He knows better than anyone how quickly a fan base can turn on you after a few bad games. His meteoritic rise has made him into one of the NFL’s stars and one of the underappreciated pieces of an Eagles team with Super Bowl aspirations.

 

 

 

 

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Header and all photos via GettyImages; Quotes taken directly from press conference and reporter scrum transcripts