Is Darius Slay the next elite corner in the NFL?

Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

Darius Slay filled a decade long need for the Detroit Lions when he had a breakout sophomore season in 2014. Stability at cornerback. Many players had come and gone, but none had made a lasting impact on the franchise. He has had his highs a lows since then, but he has emerged as one of the better corners in the league, and as a franchise player in the Lions secondary.

Slay was rewarded last offseason for his performance with a huge deal worth almost $50 million over four years. He is a key piece of the Lions long term plans, and they will hope to retain him for as long as possible.

“Big Play Slay”, a self-given nickname from Slay’s twitter, earns his money by not showing up on the box score. He has only intercepted six passes in his four year career, but his presence in man coverage can make a team’s best receiver a non-factor. He has the ability to smother his opponent and stay on them all over the field. Quarterbacks have to think twice before throwing in his direction, and when they dare test him his skills playing the ball usually end up leading to him swatting it away.

The most important play Slay made last season, and may be the most important of his career, came late during the Lions Thanksgiving match up against the Vikings.

Slay is lined up wide against a Vikings receiver. He initially turns his back towards the play to face the sideline, as corners generally do when playing in man coverage. When he turns around, though, he reads Sam Bradford and sees him throwing towards a shallower route. He breaks off his man and undercuts Bradfords pass for an interception to set up a game winning field goal.

His knowledge of the game and ability to read what receivers and quarterbacks are going to do allow him to stick with his man in man coverage, and break off of routes when he needs to. It does not always lead to a flashy game winning interception, but it usually removes an important weapon from the play.

Slay was an issue for the Titans all day during their week two matchup with the Lions.

On this play, Slay is lined up across Harry Douglas. Tennessee has overloaded their slot on the right side of the formation, causing Slay to line up just outside of his man. Douglas runs a shallow crossing route over the middle of the field. Slay follows him, and quarterback Marcus Mariota goes through his progressions. He looks towards Douglas first, who is being smothered by the Lions corner. The play breaks down and Mariota is forced to scramble to his left. Douglas, and Slay, follow the play towards the left sideline. A Lions safety picks up the receiver alongside Slay and Mariota takes a sack as he has nowhere to go with the ball since his primary receiver has been neutralized.

The ability to keep up with a receiver after his initial route is generally overlooked when evaluating a cornerback. When a play breaks down the receivers begin to improvise into less predictable routes. They scramble back and forth along with their quarterback to give them an option as the play extends itself. A defensive back is responsible with keeping up with them, and many of the busts in coverage we see on these plays are due to a defensive back either selling out for the quarterback of just getting entirely lost in the chaos.

Not letting your assignment escape you in a play breakdown is even more important when you face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers twice a year.

On this play during the Lions week 17 game against their division rivals, Slay is lined up across Jordy Nelson. Rodgers initially turns towards his trusted wide receiver on a comeback route, but Slay is in the area so he pulls back. As the pressure reaches him he enters a scramble drill. Nelson tries to loop back around to shake Slay off of him, but he can’t escape his opponent to get free. Rodgers ends up turning the other way and scrambling for a short gain.

Slay is one of the fastest players on the Lions roster and can keep up with nearly anyone. He avoids tangling his feet and catching himself flat footed, and has the ability to read the receiver to keep up with them on their route.

The lions defensive back does a good job keeping his hips facing his man to avoid getting turned around and lost. The sideline is a corners best friend in man coverage and he uses it to his full advantage to limit the room a receiver has to make a play. He blankets them, and does not leave much a window for a quarterback to work with when throwing in his direction.

If a quarterback does test him, Slay knows how to play the ball and more often than not sends it harmlessly into the ground.

He excels at getting around a receiver’s body to make a play without committing a penalty. Timing is key for him. When a ball his thrown his way, he has to be fast enough to close down on his man, strong enough to knock the ball away, and have the timing to make contact at the perfect time to avoid a penalty. Slay has defended 44 passes over the past three seasons, an impressive feat, and they have come against all types of receivers, routes and quarterbacks.

With great coverage skills and elite talent playing passes, Slay has all the makings to become a shutdown corner in the NFL. There are a few issues with his game, though.

As fast as he is, Slay struggles on certain routes. He is a liability when he is forced to line up in the slot, and often gets beaten on flare routes. The corner gets beaten by quick twitches at the line of scrimmage all too often. Smaller, faster, receivers can easily pick up a short five yard gain with Slay across from them, and the problem was exacerbated by the Lions awful linebackers in 2016.

On this play against the Redskins last season, Slay gets absolutely embarrassed by receiver Jamison Crowder.

Slay is lined up off of the line of scrimmage as there is a receiver and corner between him and Crowder. The Redskins receiver slowly jogs for a few steps then quickly turns his body right before breaking to his left. He sends Slay stumbling and gets wide open for a huge gain.

Short flare routes over the middle proved to be Slay’s kryptonite last season. He would often get caught over committing to the outside, and get left in the dust when the receiver quickly changed direction.

He is fast enough to keep up with many of the receivers he is facing on the inside, and has the physical tools necessary to deal with them for the most part. It is most likely a mental issue, and one that he should be working hard on this offseason.

Like many other corners, Slay also gets caught leaving to big of a cushion at times. This leads to receiver’s exploitating the gap he leaves for a quick gain on comeback routes. None of the gaps he leaves open are as obscene as the ones covered in the Kenny Stills breakdown, but it allows a team to quickly and easily move the chains to get a drive rolling. Continuously allowing these shorter gains also force safety’s and linebackers out of there natural position for more support near the shallow sideline, making it easier to beat the Lions deep.

A huge concern in Slays game has to be his inability to chase down a receiver once he is beaten. If he falls for a double move or gets caught flat footed early in a route, he then spends the rest of the route chasing. When chasing from behind he seems to throw away his fundamentals, and instead just focuses on catching up to his man. Receivers that excel at route running easily shake him off once he falls behind them, leaving them open.

Slay did not play for much of the Lions week 15 game against the New York Giants. Odell Beckham Jr. gave him a lot of trouble when he was on the field, though.

On this play, Beckham gets ahead of Slay early. Beckham is a little faster, but Slay stays in range to cover him for majority of the play. The Giants receiver deke’s towards the inside before breaking outside, and Slay falls for it. Slay gets turned around while Beckham runs wide open towards the sideline. Luckily, Eli Manning had already gotten rid of the ball. If he had waited another second, though, he would have had a wide open man on the side line.

Beckham managed to turn around Slay because he sold out on the fake. Once Slay realized he was slightly behind, he did everything he could to catch up. Beckham is one of the best receivers in the league, and Slay seemed unprepared to deal with a player of his caliber. Odell dominated the match up before Slay left with a second quarter injury.

The Giants were not the only team Slay had trouble against, though. Jordy Nelson was his primary foe for both of the Lions match ups against the Packers. As we saw earlier, Slay fared a lot better against his division rival. Nelson did get the better of him a few times, though.

Nelson initially fakes a comeback route, then instead turns up field. Slay covers him well on the first part of his route. The receiver then hesitates before continuing his route, catching Slay flat footed and forcing him to play catch up. After running a few yards up field, Nelson then breaks hard towards the side line. At this point Slay is still in good position. He is still in the passing lane between Rodgers and Nelson, and if the ball comes his way he can make a good play on it. Instead of instantly breaking towards the sideline with Nelson, Slay mimics his route. He runs upfield himself leaving the receiver wide open heading towards the side line.

(At this point neither Slay nor Nelson are aware Rodgers has rolled out of the pocket the other way. They are both turned around the entire play, and Nelson even calls for the ball when he realizes Slay is lost.)

One would expect Slay to instantly turn as Nelson did, limiting the potential window of opportunity. He is generally a good decision maker but he seems to enter panic mode when finds himself slightly behind his man.

Whether it’s at the sideline or on a double move down field, Slay, like all corners occasionally falls behind. He does not recover well, though. Usually he gets away with it, but occasionally it leads to him getting beaten downfield for a huge gain.

The final criticism on Slay is one often overlooked in the secondary. Slay is an awful tackler. He generally just dives towards the ball carriers’ feet while swinging an arm out in an attempt to trip them. This leads to a lot of missed tackles, and often when he does make the tackle he ends up allowing an extra three or four yards on the play. He is accustomed to being able to just throw someone out of bounds or just tripping them from behind, but he is terrible in the open field.

Darius Slay has all the tools needed to one day become an elite corner back. He is not there yet, but the Lions are betting on him. His has good instincts and play making ability, and all the physical tools needed to deal with majority of NFL receivers. He needs to polish up his game to take the next step though.

2017 should be an exciting year for Slay, and for the Lions secondary. He will return healthy after missing time last season with a hamstring injury, and the additions of DJ Hayden and Teez Tabor provide the Lions with desperately needed depth at corner back. Glover Quinn returns as a veteran voice in the Lions defensive backfield, and there are high expectations riding on sophomore safety Miles Killebrew.

With Matthew Stafford entering his prime, the Lions window for playoff success may be wide open this year. They made the playoffs despite injuries all over the roster, but they still have many question marks entering this season. Their defense was obscenely bad last season, and Slay will be one of the key pieces needed to turn that around heading into 2017.

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Mansur Shaheen

Miami Dolphins Wide Receiver Kenny Stills had a breakout year in 2016. He started for a full season for the first time in his four-year career and was a crucial part of the Miami Dolphins team that made the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade. He had his best season since leaving New Orleans in 2014, and scored a career high 9 touchdowns.

Fellow wide receiver Jarvis Landry gets much of the attention from fans and the media, but Stills role in the offense is irreplaceable. The Dolphins realized this as well, giving him a $32 million contract to hold on to him in free agency.

Stills is most well know around the league for his deep threat potential. He makes highlight plays beating the defense deep for long touchdowns. He brings a lot more to a team than just that, though.

Still excels against zone coverage. His speed and agility forces defenses to give him more room than usual as he sprints down field. He crosses through one quickly, meaning that during one play his assignment will be passes across multiple defenders. Even the slightest miscommunication means letting Stills get behind you.

Week one against the Seattle Seahawks he caught their usually well communicated secondary off guard for a play and nearly burned them for a deep touchdown

Seattle runs cover 3 against the Dolphins. Still starts lined up across the corner back, and runs a vertical route down the left sideline. The Dolphins tight end runs into the left zone, drawing three defenders. The man initially on Stills switched to the tight end, who now has three defenders on him. Stills gets by his man, and safety Earl Thomas is caught looking at the other side of the field. Stills has beaten the entire defense and Ryan Tannehill throws a perfect pass, only for him to drop what was a sure touchdown.

In the end the down is wasted and the Seahawks are spared, but it shows what even the slightest defensive breakdown can allow when a receiver as dangerous as Stills is lining up on the other side of the field.

A few weeks later against Cincinnati, stills managed to slip through another zone defense to get wide open deep.

Stills is lined up as the inside receiver of the left side in a four wide look for the Dolphins. The Bengals drop 6 into zone coverage, including a deep safety. The corner lined up directly across Stills shadows for the beginning of the play, but then leaves him to cover another receiver streaking over the middle. The safety is late to picking up Stills, and out of position. He gets beat deep and Stills makes no mistake catching a well thrown ball by Tannehill for a touchdown.

What Stills does even better than beating zone coverage deep, though, is finding space underneath to get open. His speed and the fear that he will punish you for not being able to keep up with him deep forces corners to play off coverage against him.

It may not create many highlight plays, but can earn chunks of 15-20 yards to help the team drive down field quickly.

Here against the Rams, he picks up an easy 17 yards due the defensive backs giving him way to much room.

Stills is split wide of the right side of the formation. He has a corner lined up in front of him, and off of the snap the Rams drop into cover 3. The opposing defensive back gives him a ten yard cushion at the beginning of the play, and maintains that cushion as he drops back into his zone. None of the linebackers take any of the shallower zones underneath either.

After running 17 yards up field, he comes to a complete stop and quickly turns to catch a wide-open pass. No one can close in on time and he just falls to the ground to avoid taking a hit. The Rams would obviously rather prefer this then letting him slip through the cracks to get open deep, but it is still a harsh price to pay.

Stills does this often. It does not lead to many yards after catch, but it had much to do with the 17 yards per reception he averaged in 2016. His ability to find room underneath coverage, and quickly turn to secure a catch is an extremely underrated skill that could be game changing for any offense in the league. It was the main stay of his game this year, and changed how teams played against the Dolphins.

His agility also helps him create separation when defensive backs decide to play closer to him in coverage. It’s hard enough to match his speed while running backwards. It is even harder to not get caught flat footed when he quickly and fluidly spins around anticipating the ball.

Occasionally a defensive back will try to jump the route when he does whip around, which the Patriots learned can be a bad idea.

On this play, Stills gets picked up early by a corner as he runs a vertical route. After about ten yards, Stills turns to his left slightly making it look like he is about to break towards the sideline. The corner jumps trying to undercut the route. Stills immediately turns right back up field, leaving the defensive back in the dust as he catches a pass and strolls into the end zone for a touchdown.

Although he thrives in against zone coverage, Stills incredible route running ability makes him a threat against man coverage as well.

He beat the Cardinals man coverage twice during their week 13 match up, eventually winning the game for the Dolphins.

On this play he is given a ten yard cushion by the opposing defensive back. He runs a vertical, but he weaves back and forth as he heads down field. He quick changes of direction while maintaining his speed keeps the defensive back from gaining any sort of leverage on him without totally selling out on the play.

Without any safety help over the middle and with a step on his man, Stills is essentially wide open for an easy 20-yard touchdown.

Another well run route in one on one coverage against the Cardinal set up the game winning field goal late in the game.

Stills comes out of the slot and initially shows his route going towards the inside. Once he see the man covering shifting that way, he quickly dekes outside and breaks on his route. This gives him a step or two on his man heading towards the end zone. Again, there is no safety help. A well thrown ball by Tannehill, one further towards the sideline or at least in front of Stills, leads a to a touchdown. Stills still makes an incredible grab despite being wacked in the face as the ball gets to him, and the Dolphins win a few plays later on a short field goal.

Throughout the season, Stills was not as successful against man coverage as he could have been, though. He had issues against press coverage, and his small size made it hard for him to bring down the ball or even get open against more physical corners.

He dealt with press coverage all day against the 49ers in the Dolphins week 11 matchup. He still had a great game, coming down with 3 receptions for a whopping 72 yards, but at times had trouble finding any sort of space against one of the NFL’s worst secondary’s.

On this play he tries his usual comeback route, but hand fighting throughout the route kept the defensive back nearby. He doesn’t get a good break on his route and can not make the catch through contact.

The corner back does a great job keeping Stills in front of him. Although he may have pushed the rules a bit with the amount of contact, no flag was thrown so in the end it was a win for him. He never took his eyes off of Stills, and stayed within throwing lane between Tannehill and Stills the whole way. This leaves him at risk of being beat deep but it isn’t something he had to worry about that close to the end zone.

Here against the Bills, he again can not break his route away from a corner playing press coverage.

Stills gets a step on his man with a nice jab step right at the snap, but the corner quickly recovers. They lock arms as they head down field, and Stills never properly can break off of his route.

Kenny Stills had 100 yards that game though, showing how hard it really is to shut him down.

The Tennessee Titans managed to keep Stills in check in week 5. It was easily his worst game of the season as he was only targeted once and did not catch a single pass. He dealt with press coverage the entire game, and majority of the routes he ran looked something like this.

Just like the play against San Francisco, the corner never turns away from Stills and keeps his back to the ball. He face guards him, making it hard for Tannehill to find any room to squeeze the ball to his man. It also neutralizes his quick turn, as it does not require the Titans defensive back to turn with him to make a play. There is still heavy risk involved, as you still have to be fast enough to keep up with Stills, and if he breaks free deep it’s probably a touchdown. There is not much contact, but the man bearing over Stills the whole way makes him a non-factor.

Tight man coverage removed him from plays all season. He struggles in short yardage situations and was often off the field in the red zone. Managing to fight through contact and make plays when he isn’t giving a large cushion is something Stills will need to work on this offseason.

Stills is a known playmaker when he is running routes, but what about when the ball is not going to go to him. The Dolphins run a lot of screens, usually to either Landry or receiver Devante Parker. Stills is usually not the recipient of a screen pass, but still has the duty to block on majority of these plays.

For a player who is not the best at fighting against contact, Stills is a surprisingly talented blocker. He quickly meets his blocking assignment, and locks their arms. He keeps his hips moving to stay horizontal and push them back for long enough to allow the play to develop.

Sometimes, though, he has issues approaching his assignment. If he miss-anticipates their angle of approach, or if they just don’t approach at all he gets caught in no man’s land. Stills will sometimes through a shoulder at someone as they go by after missing, or at times just fall down.

It is a very minor part of his game, but still very relevant for a team where short passes and screens are so critical.

Kenny Stills is a wide receiver that complements Jarvis Landry perfectly. While Landry draws majority of the attention over the middle with shorter flare routes, Stills can run deeper routes and make plays everywhere. He’s fast and agile, forcing defenses to change their game plan around him at times, which is usual for a WR2. He has carved out a niche in the Dolphins offense, and is one of the key pieces on a team that will be the front runners in the AFC east once Tom Brady FINALLY retires.

 

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Watch out for Joey Bosa

Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

Defensive end Joey Bosa had one of the most impressive rookie year campaigns in recent history. He sacked opposing quarterbacks 10.5 times in the 12 games he played, and had a total of 41 tackles. Bosa became a menace for opposing offences and was a threat on nearly every snap.

Bosa missed the opening four games of 2016 after he missed much of the off-season due to a post draft contract dispute between him and the Chargers. When he did arrive, though, he instantly made an impact. He had two sacks in his first game against the Oakland Raiders, and built off that performance throughout the year.

His best attributes as a pass rusher are his burst off of line and ability to pursue the quarterback. A week after an impressive NFL debut against the Raiders he showed off his skills again against the Denver Broncos.

On this second quarter play, Bosa shows off his burst, speed and agility to make a huge play.

Bosa lined up across Broncos tackle Donald Stephonson (#71). He instantly breaks towards the outside, causing Stephonson to turn his hips outwards to block him. Bosa swipes away his opponent’s hands and jukes back towards the inside. He spins back towards the outside, and manages to push Stephonson almost 5 years back with just his movement alone.

His ease in getting into the backfield puts pressure on quarterback Trevor Siemian, who can not find any open receiver downfield. He steps towards the gap that Bosa left behind him, attempting to scramble upfield. Bosa dispatches of Stephonson with ease and quickly dives at the quarterback’s feet to hold him to one yard.

Bosa is only able to make the play because of the Chargers pass coverage doing their job down field. He had enough time to make a few moves on Stephonson, who did a great job staying in front of him, but his ability to work his way around defenders and sniff out a quarterback scramble his impressive for a player in only his second game.

When the teams met again in week 8, Bosa got the better of Stephonson on a 1st quarter play.

Bosa again comes off of the line fast. He slaps away Stephonson’s hand with ease, and takes a free run at Siemian. He lands a hit on the quarterback and caused an errant pass.

His quickness and agility is what truly makes him such a feared pass rusher. He came off of the line, then managed to make a move inside before the opposing tackle could even lay a hand on him. His body control, agility and speed can give him a free run at the quarterback if the tackle gets caught flat footed for even a second.

The best way to combat his speed and skill is to either double team him, or have someone bump him off-balance at the line of scrimmage. Falcons tight end Austin Hooper (#81) had the chance to do such on this play, but let Bosa go by him as he ran his route.

Hooper rushed out on his route, leaving tackle Ryan Schraeder (#71) alone against Bosa. Bosa uses a quick rip move to get by him and give himself a free run at quarterback Matt Ryan. He crosses the entire formation to drag down Ryan for a sack.

The Falcons biggest mistake on this play was Hooper not throwing a chip block onto Bosa at the line. Tight ends often allow pass rushers by them to both avoid contact, and to quickly run into their route. Hooper was running an out route and it did not look like he was Matt Ryan’s first option on the play. If he was not expecting to get the ball anyways, and it was not a timing route, then there is no reason he did not at least make contact with Bosa. This is most likely a coaching issue and not an issue with this particular player, and it is not uncommon for tight ends to just avoid edge rushers while going out on routes.

His speed and agility can also make Bosa a menace when lined up as an interior defender.

On this play against the Houston Texans Bosa lines up as a defensive tackle. The Chargers Damion Square (#71) draws a double team and pulls the center towards the right. Bosa swiftly gets by guard Jeff Allen (#79) and has a free run at quarterback Brock Osweiler. He chases Osweiler towards the sideline and forces a bad pass that is intercepted.

Bosa benefited heavily from a communication breakdown between the Texans. Allen initially wanted to step out to get outside leverage on Bosa, probably expecting Greg Mancz (#65) to help him on the interior. Mancz turns his attention towards Square and opens a huge hole up for Bosa to bull run the quarterback.

Meanwhile on the edge, Melvin Ingram (#54) embarrasses of Chris Clark (#74) and ducks by him to also get a run at Osweiler. The Texans offensive line got beaten so badly on this play the two pass rushers who blew by them nearly collided with each other in the backfield. As Osweiler attempts to escape Bosa, instead of throwing the ball away or allowing himself to be chased out of bounds he throws an interception.

This team made the playoffs in 2016.

Joey Bosa’s speed is not the only asset he has. Even when offensive linemen position themselves properly to stay in front of Bosa, he uses his strength and leverage to push linemen deep into the backfield.

Bosa lines up across Eric Fisher (#72). Fisher does a good job with his feet, and manages to stay in front of Bosa, not allowing him to speed by him. The Chiefs lineman gets pushed deep into the backfield, and once he is far enough back, Bosa spins off of him. He ends up right behind Alex Smith after breaking free from Fisher, and smothers him for an easy sack.

The rookies strength can help collapse the pocket and sandwich to quarterback to create a sack. Joey Bosa used his strength to its full potential last season on this play.

The Charges defense immediately shifts to the left off of the snap, and Bosa is relatively alone on the right edge. He lines up across Jake Matthews. He shoves Matthews off of the edge quickly, fast enough that Falcons guard Andy Levitre (#67). With the Chargers overloading the left, it is Bosa’s responsibility alone to collapse the right side of the pocket. If Bosa gets shut down at the line or put on the ground, Matt Ryan would have room to scramble towards his right and buy more time to decide what he wants to do on the play.

His strength becomes even more useful in the running game. He has the ability to hold his position at the line and stuff runners on contact. He made this huge stuff at the goal line against the Houston Texans.

Bosa is lined up across tackle Kendall Lamm (#63) and tight end CJ Fiedorowicz (#87) also joins Lamm to double team him on the line. Bosa holds his ground despite the two blockers, and does not take a single step back. He meets running back Lamar Miller at the goal line and keep him out of the end zone.

He combines his speed and strength while defending the run just as he does while serving as a pass rusher, as we saw later on during the Chargers game against the Texans.

Bosa is lines up on the edge across from the Texans Duane Brown (#76). He swipes away Brown’s hand to dispatch his block. He now has a free run into the backfield. Brown takes another chance at stopping Bosa, and tries to wrap his arm around him. Bosa powers through him and takes down Lamar Miller in the backfield for a huge loss.

Despite entering only his second NFL season, Joey Bosa is already one of the NFL’s elite pass rushers. He only played 12 games last season, yet found himself in the top 10 of the leagues sack leaders last season. He is more than just a pass rusher, though, and his skills translate well into run defense.

Bosa, alongside recently franchised Melvin Ingram, combine to form a fearsome front seven duo for a Chargers squad trying to rebuild itself to contend again during the career of Philip Rivers. The Los Angeles Chargers are moving to a new city next season, and their new star on defense makes them a dark horse in the AFC West.

 

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Was Jared Goff’s Rookie Season a Failure?

Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

The Los Angeles Rams were scheduled to have an exciting 2017. It was their first year back in Los Angeles after decades in St. Louis, running back Tod Gurley was set to have a breakout year, and they traded up for the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft. They selected Jared Goff out of California first overall, and Goff, alongside Gurley, were set up to be the faces of the franchise for the next decade.

Goff had troubles out the gate, though. Then coach Jeff Fisher chose Case Keenum as the teams starter for majority of the season, citing Goff’s inexperience and inability to call audibles at the line of scrimmage for the top pick being benched. Keenum was terrible, though, and the Rams needed a change to get back on track. Goff would take over as the full-time starter week 11, and Fisher was eventually fired.

The drafts first overall pick had a rough time once he did take over, though. This was his first career pass against the Miami Dolphins.

His offensive line falls apart in front of him and the ball is deflected by a defender.

It was an overall rough introduction to the NFL for Goff, only completing 54% of his passes for 134 yards. He also showed many of the flaws that would hold him back throughout the season, including inaccuracy and misplacing his passes.

On this pass to open up the second quarter, he attempts to throw to a receiver in tight coverage.

Goff attempts a back shoulder throw, a pass which works best throwing in to tight man coverage. Instead of throwing it just behind the receiver, Goff throws it over his head. The receiver can’t make a play on the ball and the down is wasted. Throws like this also potentially expose the receiver to brutal hit while going for the ball, and down the line can hurt his receivers as they have no way to protect themselves going up for the ball.

Overthrowing receivers was a problem throughout the season for Goff, and put his team in dangerous situations.

Against the Saints, with the Rams backed up to their own end zone Goff overthrew Tight End Lance Kendricks who had enough space to come down with the ball for a solid gain.

Goff again misses high, and dangerously lofts a ball into the Saints secondary. If the Saints Safety was hovering behind the play/ then the ball would have been intercepted and taken the other way.

While Goff escaped an interception there, he would not get out of the game cleanly. He threw this interception during the third quarter.

The pass was accurate, but it was a terrible pass to throw to a receiver with two defenders surrounding him. Another flaw is Goff’s play this season is also glaringly obvious in this play, he has a knack for ridding of the ball as fast as possible, almost always to his first receiving option, no matter what.

He may have picked up this trait due to the terrible offensive line he has in front of him, that we will touch on later, but on the previous play he had time to potentially look somewhere else and go through his progressions. He instead chooses to unload it into coverage and cost his team.

Goff had a decent game against the Saints, throwing for his first three NFL touchdowns, and his 214 yards are his highest total outside of a game against the Falcons where his stats were padded during a garbage time blowout (Saints blew them out too).

The second touchdown of the day is another example of some of the issues he has with quick passes.

The Rams ran a designed slant to Kenny Britt for a touchdown, and got the result they wanted. Goff’s pass was inaccurate though. When throwing a slant on a short yardage situation, you want to place your pass slightly in front of the receiver, so they can catch it with their momentum leaning forward. The pass was to towards the center and Britt had to jump horizontally to make the catch. If the Saints had better linebackers, Britt would have taken a hard hit upon catching it, if he could even hold on, and would not reach the end zone. Britt managed to make the catch and bounce off a man as he scored, but the play is still alarming as we see Goff miss throw a short routine pass.

Failure to properly read coverage and inaccurate passes haunted Goff throughout the season. He made a few crucial errors during the Rams surprising week 16 loss to the 49ers.

Early on during the game he threw an interception by trying to force a pass over two defenders.

He floated the ball over the first level, allowing the pass to be jumped in the secondary and returned for good field position for the 49ers.

Goff had his first chance to orchestrate a game winning drive late in the game, and with his team trailing by only one with less than a minute left, the pressure was on.

He failed to deliver. His last two passes of the game were awful, and sealed the defeat for his team.

On this play, he has decent protection in front of him, and his first option is open after breaking off of his route. Goff sees him open and throws into the ground in front of him.

Yet another interception ends the game for the Rams, and it is yet again and example of Goff not looking past his first option, and throwing a bad pass.

Goff takes the snap and is looking an Brian Quick (#83) the whole way. He throws a wobbling pass towards the sideline, where the defensive back has leverage and positioning. The pass was both a terrible decision and it was terribly executed. The ball is intercepted and the 49ers seal a season sweep over the Rams (they were 0-14 against everyone else).

Despite his errors, Goff still isn’t a terrible quarterback. He has shown flashes of the talent that earned him his spot as the top draft choice. He is only a rookie, and the Rams knew from the beginning of the season that he was a raw talent that needed work.

Many of the bad plays Goff was credited for this season may not even be his fault. Goff had little to no help around him this season, and the Rams may overall have one of the worst rosters in football.

Goff’s teammates gave him all sorts of trouble this season, like letting balls bounce off of their hands for interceptions

And an offensive line that lets defenders practically run over them all game, leading to easy sacks and errant throws

(I went further in depth into the 49ers pass rush during this game in the breakdown for DeForest Buckner)

The Rams need help all around the roster. With one of the league’s worst offensive lines, a non existent defense outside of Aaron Donald and awful receivers, the Rams have time to wait for Goff to find his way in the NFL. Rebuilding their receiving corps and offensive line will be huge priorities for the Rams this summer, whether through the draft or free agency, the Rams roster needs help. Once they finally put the pieces together, Goff may finally emerge as the talent they hoped they were drafting last spring.

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With a Worlds Worth of Expectations on Him, Jalen Ramsey Delivered in his Rookie Year

Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

Jalen Ramsey was the highest rated player in the 2016 draft class. Some draft boards had him as high as the top pick in the draft during the weeks preceding the draft. He was chosen fifth overall by the Jaguars, and was the third non-quarterback selected behind the Ohio State duo Ezekiel Elliot and Joey Bosa.

A good shut down corner can be a game changer in the NFL. The ability to shut down an entire side of the field, or island a team’s top receiver, can render a passing attack near useless. Recent contracts given to the likes of Josh Norman and Darius Slay last offseason prove that teams around the league are valuing the position even more.

So on a struggling Jaguars team, Ramsey smashing through the “rookie wall” in his first year can prove to be huge for the team’s future.

Ramsey was the Jaguars CB1 this year, and saw a lot of time matched up against some of the better receivers in the league. Despite his inexperience, he matched up well with the likes of Emanuel Sanders, Steve Smith and Deandre Hopkins.

What made Ramsey so good? His raw strength and athleticism.

The rookie first caught the attention of the league during a chippy game against the Baltimore Ravens, the team he would most likely have been drafted by if the Jaguars did not take him. He and Ravens receiver Steve Smith had heated words for each other during post game interviews, but his on field play also deserves attention.

Late in the game Jalen Ramsey created a huge interception for a teammate.

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Ramsey drops back into zone coverage initially, then trails Dennis Pitta (#88) as he passes through his zone. Flacco throws an awful pass way behind Pitta. Ramsey quickly closes down and makes a huge leap to tip the ball towards Tashaun Gipson for a pick.

From this angle you can see just how amazing of a play Ramsey makes to tip that ball. He shows off his speed and athleticism just by chasing down the pass to make a play, but even more important is his field vision and ability to be in the right place at the right time. He realized he was in a dead zone, and followed Pitta deeper down the field, and was fortunate enough to have the chance to take advantage of a bad pass.

He showed off his closing speed early on during the second quarter against the Denver Broncos.

Receiver Emanuel Sanders (#10) manages to slip through the Jaguars cover 3 zone coverage, and manages to get behind the defense when Jags Safety Johnathon Cyprien (#37) begins to tread forward towards Demarius Thomas (#88).

Ramsey comes from the same zone he occupied on the play against the Ravens, and crosses the field to catch up to Sanders. Broncos QB Paxton Lynch underthrows his target, allowing Ramsey nearly force an interception, but again Ramsey shows off his closing speed, play making ability and awareness of what is happening all over the field.

His speed and awareness give him the ability to cover multiple zones if needed, which is crucial for a team like the Jaguars who love playing in cover three.

During the first quarter against the Titans he nearly intercepts a pass meant for fellow rookie Tajae Sharp (#19).

Sharp starts the play lined up across Ramsey, but runs a crossing route out of his zone. Ramsey falls away for a second, but as the play breaks down and Titans QB Marcus Mariota escapes the pocket, Jaguars linebackers abandon their assignments to chase and cover shallower targets. Ramsey realizes this and sprints across the field. Mariota throws to Sharp, who was open for a few seconds, and Ramsey nearly comes up with an interception.

The overhead angle shows just how much ground Ramsey covered while the ball was in the air, and how close he came to taking it the other way.

Ramsey’s ability to read the field and overall closing speed also make him an asset on shallower passes as well.

On this play earlier during the Ravens game, Ramsey initially drops back into coverage before quickly making a play up field.

He instantly reads the out route coming out of the backfield, and sees Joe Flacco going that way. He breaks off his man and lays a mean hit on the Ravens back stopping the play for minimal gain.

Ramsey made a similar play against the Titans as well.

On this play, Ramsey begins to drop back into his regular zone for a cover three play, but see’s Kendall Wright (#13) run an out route into the flat. Ramsey rushes forward and manages to land a hard hit on Wright to knock the ball free for an incompletion.

Jalen Ramsey does not only make plays in zone coverage, though.

Week 15 saw Ramsey line up across the Texans Deandre Hopkins for much of the game. Hopkins is one of the NFLs better receivers, and this game proved to be one of Ramseys biggest tests.

Hopkins had a good day, catching 8 passes for 87 yards, but was targeted 17 times. That leads to total of only 5.12 yards per target for Hopkins, one of his lower totals on the year. Hopkins was shadowed by Ramsey for much of the game, and both were tested.

Ramsey gives Hopkins a big cushion to work with on this play, but again shows his closing speed and manages to force an incompletion on a shallow pass.

Before the snap Hopkins shifts from wide out into the slot. Ramsey shifts behind his fellow defender, and steps a few yards back. If not for an inaccurate pass from Brock Osweiler, Hopkins may have made the catch. Ramsey, though, managed to close in and lay a hit on him to send him flying out of bounds for an incompletion.

On a fourth and goal play earlier in the same game, Ramsey lined up right at the line of scrimmage across Hopkins.

They both begin to shove each other off the snap, and Hopkins runs a corner route into the end zone. The ball is not perfectly delivered, and Ramsey makes an athletic play to deflect the ball away, giving the ball back to the Jaguars.

Ramsey is still not a the perfect corner, he sometimes can get lost in between zones and many of the big plays that he does make happen to be against some of the NFL’s worst quarterbacks (Osweiler, Flacco, Lynch). He struggles sometimes in man coverage, but he can be trusted to secure his side of the field in a cover three look. When the Jaguars met the Cheifs this year he had quarterback Nick Foles (who belongs on the same list as the others) scared to even look his way, and was only targeted twice all game. He has the speed and athleticism to make plays on the ball, the strength to land hard hits on receivers to dislodge the ball and he has the ability to not only cover his own zone but to shift across field if he see’s a man about to run free.

After the combine we knew how athletic Ramsey was. He was among the top ranked prospects in every physical category which led to him flying up draft boards. His raw talent has translated well into the league so far, and as he get more used to the faster and more complex play in the NFL, he should only get better.

The Jaguars, despite consistently finding themselves towards the bottom of the NFL standings, have a very talented roster. They have a lot of young pieces who have showed individual flashes of talent but have been unable to find the consistency to put it all together. 2016 was supposed to be their break out season, and they ended up having one of the NFL’s worst records. They still show promise, though, and entering 2017 they yet again will find themselves as a dark horse to steal the AFC South. As players like Ramsey, Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson and many others gain more experience as a group, the entire team should only get better.

 

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Jordan Howard is Next Up for the Chicago Bears

Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

With all the hype around Rookie of the Year front runner Ezekiel Elliot, the accomplishments of Bears rookie back Jordan Howard were widely overlooked. After taking over as the full time starter, the Bears 5th round draftee carried a struggling offense on his own. Howard rushed for just over 1,300 yards, second to only Elliot in the NFL, and ranked in the top five among NFL running backs in both rushing yards per attempt (4th), and rushing yards per game (3rd).

After losing Matt Forte last off-season, the Bears looked for younger options at running back to help rebuild what has been a struggling offense for years now. Jeremy Langford, who the Bears drafted in 2015, was the projected RB1 coming into the year, but after struggling with injuries the door opened for Howard and he made the job his own.

Howard’s break out game came in week four against division rival Detroit. With Langford out, Howard took majority of carries for the team, and made the most of it rushing for 111 yards on 23 carries as the Bears won their first game of the season.

The Lions had the worst defense in 2016, as ranked by FootballOutsiders, and many of Howards rushed looked a little something like this:

He still was impressive, though, and showed some skills that rookies may at first lack while adjusting to the NFL. On this second quarter play, Howard shows his vision and patience, and slips through a small gap before turning up field for a decent gain.

Although a hole opens up down the middle, Howard sees the Lions defenders closing in, and instead of trying to power his way for minimal gain, cuts to his left. Howard balances himself and almost comes to a complete stop and waits for space to open up in front of him. He shoves himself through the initial defensive wall then turns up field. This play could have easily resulted in a 2 or 3 yard gain, but Howard’s vision and ability to read the play in front of him gained a few extra yards.

It wasn’t a game breaking play, but small plays like this help keep the Bears ahead of the chains, and helps keep a struggling offense moving.

His ability to find holes and hit them for big gains can lead to big plays when a huge opening does open up on the first level.

A week after the Lions game the Bears met the Indianapolis Colts, another awful defense, and took full advantage of the space his offensive line gave him.

On this second quarter play, Howard takes a hand off out of the backfield and has two options. He can either slip through the middle and turn up field, or break towards the sideline and turn the corner. Colts Cornerback Patrick Robinson (#25) makes a crucial mistake on the play, and begins to cheat up towards the line after the hand off. Robinson covers the edge, and Howard reads this then turns up field. With no one on the second level, Howard rumbles down field for 57 yards.

This play, though, does show Howards lack of speed. Some of the faster NFL backs may have been able to break this play for a touchdown, but the Colts deep safety catches up to him and drags him down inside the 15.

What Howard may lack in speed, though, he does somewhat make up with some of his other open field skills.

On this play, earlier in the same game, Howard uses his open field vision and agility combined with his strength in staying on his feet, for a decent pick up.

Howard catches a screen out of the backfield, then quickly cuts around a block. By getting around the block, it allows him to get towards the sideline faster and gives him more open space. He cuts it very close though, and gets within tackle range of a Colts linebacker who spins off of a block. He manages to shake off an arm tackle, the breaks another on his way towards the sideline before being pushed out of bounds for an 18 yard gain. If Howard had been able to beat the safety who eventually tackled him, he had two good blocks up field and could have turned this play for a huge gain.

What Howard does lack in speed, though, he makes up for in power.

His best opportunity to show off his strength came in week 13 during a snowy game against the San Francisco 49ers. He scored three of his six touchdowns on the year during this game, and all of them from within the 5 yard line.

He scored his first touchdown right at the end of the second half, powering his way for the final yard on a touchdown drive. He’s met just after crossing the line of scrimmage by three 49ers, then pushes himself forward to fall into the end zone for a touchdown.

His third touchdown was themost impressive of the day. He takes the hand off out of the backfield, then forces his way through the pile for a five yard touchdown. He miraculously stays on his feet the entire way, even confusing the camera man for the score.

Jordan Howard is strong. He’s a gritty runner who forces his way forward, and can sometimes just push his way through multiple defenders turning minimal gain into much more. On almost every play covered during this breakdown he manages to either push his way through someone, either outright shake off a tackle or gains a few extra yards at the end of a play before being dragged down. Weighing in at 225 pounds, he is hard to stop once he gets going, and is a little too much to handle for your average defender.

His vision combined with his strength in breaking tackles and just being able to fall forward always can pile on yards and can wear down a defense over the course of a game.

Howard displayed this early in the Colts game, as he combined these skills for a decent gain.

The rookie takes a pitch out of the backfield, the treads towards his right. No space opens for him on the edge, so he cuts back towards the inside and turns up field. As two defenders close down on him, he manages to find space to stretch the play for a bit more, and even propels himself further forward as he is gang tackled.

During the Bears upset victory over the Vikings in week 8, Howard broke the game open on one of these runs.

He takes a hand off out of the pistol, and slips through a small hole in the first level of the Vikings defense. Howard splits two defenders caught flat footed on the second level, then rumbles down field for a huge 69 yard gain, his longest of the season. His lack of speed leads catches up to him as he gets chased down by a defensive back from the opposite side of the field.

Jordan Howard will not win rookie of the year, but an impressive rookie campaign definitely has caught some attention around the league. His stats, even compared to Ezekiel Elliot, are impressive.

2016 Season Stats

Player Games Yards TDs Yards/Carry Yards/Game
Howard 13 1246 6 5.2 95.8
Elliot 12 1357 13 5.4 113.1

Over the course of the season, Elliot is clearly the better runner, but since week 4, when Howard took over as full time RB1, Howard did close the gap:

2016 Stats (Since week 4)

Player Games Yards TDs Yards/Carry Yards/Game
Howard 13 1246 6 5.2 95.8
Elliot 12 1357 13 5.4 113.1

 

Elliot and Howard both saw their numbers go up as they adjusted to the speed and overall change of play style in the NFL. There is a notable disparity in touchdown count, which can be attributed to Howard’s lack of down field running ability in the open field, compared to Elliot.

Howard, though, is playing on a significantly worse team then Elliot, and with a worse offensive line. The Cowboys are better than the Bears at pretty much every position group which opens up the running game even more for the Cowboys rookie. Elliot is still the better back, clearly, but Howard also has potential to be an elite back in the future.

The Bears are rebuilding pretty much everywhere this season, and after drafting a running back two straight years and letting go of Matt Forte last off season, it is obvious the direction Bears are going on offense. With much speculation around potentially drafting a new quarterback in the first round this year, and a young, but struggling, receiving corps, Howard emerging as a potential franchise piece allows the Bears to focus on many of the other positions they need help at.

 

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Why DeForest Buckner may be the future of the 49ers defense

Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

After a slow start to the season, DeForest Buckner, along with the rest of the San Francisco 49ers roster, looked disappointing. The rookie had growing pains initially as he got used to the NFL, but towards the end of the season he finally found is form and took off as one of the leagues feared pass rushers.

Buckner has finally learned to utilize some of the raw talent we saw during his college football career in Oregon. He has shown great strength in coming off of blocks and has great closing speed when chasing down a scrambling quarterback.

During the Cardinals week 10 match up he showed both of these skills on this 3rd quarter play.

Buckner comes off of the snap fast and pushes off the first blocker to break towards the outside, this allows the edge rusher pull a stunt towards the inside. He then shoves off of the Cardinals left tackle, Jon Wetzel, and gets a free run at Carson Palmer who is rolling out of the pocket. Palmer is forced to throw it into coverage and is nearly intercepted.

Although Buckner ultimately made the hit on Palmer that forced a bad pass out of Palmer, the play was created by the interior rushers. Buckner, though, has the ability to create plays by himself using his speed and strength, as demonstrated on this week 14 play against the New York Jets.

DeForest Buckner is matched up one on one against Jets tackle Ben Ijalana on the edge. He makes a move towards the inside, then uses his agility and speed to beat Ijalana on the outside after pushing off of him. This gives him a free run at quarterback Bryce Petty for an easy sack.

He can make the same type of plays on the interior as well as he showed a few weeks later against the Los Angeles Rams. On this third quarter play, he throws off Rams Guard Jamon Brown, then quickly closes down on Jared Goff for a sack.

Jamon Brown had trouble blocking Buckner on the interior all day, and was again totally beaten allowing Buckner to reach the quarterback at the same time as his opposite edge rusher to force a bad throw from Jared Goff.

Even when he is properly blocked, Buckner’s closing speed can be an issue to offenses when a quarterback extends a play within the pocket.

On this second quarter play, Goff is forced to scramble from the pocket after his offensive line breaks down. Rams Center Tim Barnes does a good job keeping Buckner at bay initially, but as the play breaks down, Goff scrambles towards his right (away from Buckner). Buckner releases himself from his opponent, then manages to run across the entire play to hit Goff from behind as he throws. Goff still completes the pass, but his throw his short and behind the receiver leading to minimal gain. Buckners speed in getting across the formation helps hold the Rams to a minimal gain despite Goff escaping the first wave of rushers.

DeForest Buckner is obviously still not one of the NFL’s elite pass rushers yet, and may not be as good as his rookie counterpart Joey Bosa of the Chargers. He has had good games against some of the leagues weaker offensive lines, but has a tendency to fall into the background when facing harder opponents.   His late season form shows a lot of promise, though,  and he may have the potential to be one of the NFL’s elite pass rushers in the future. He has a lot of raw talent, great speed and as he becomes more accustomed to the NFL he should only get better over the next few years.

Not much from the 49ers 2016 showed promise for the future. Their defense is nothing like the unit they had put together just a few years ago that was key in a 2012 Super Bowl run. San Francisco will need to rebuild almost every part of their roster over the next few years, and Buckner may become a key piece to on their defensive line.

 

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After a Switch to Receiver, Terrelle Pryor is Only Beginning

Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

Despite a treacherous 1-15 season, which started on a 14-game losing streak, Browns receiver Terrelle Pryor shined this season. After transitioning from quarterback to wide receiver, Pryor became a dynamic play maker. Pryor caught 77 passes for just over 1,000 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2016, leading the team in every major receiving category. He even reached the end zone on his feet once.

Pryor’s main attribute is his athleticism. His speed and agility makes him a great route runner, allowing him to find space within the opposing secondary, and then having the ability to turn up field and add yards after the catch.

On this play, early during the Browns week 8 match up against the Jets, Pryor takes advantage of a large cushion given to him by Darrelle Revis.

After sprinting 15 yards down field, he quickly turns and breaks towards the sideline. This catches Revis flat footed as he comes back on his route, and makes an easy catch in space. Revis, doing everything he can to catch up, misses a tackle as Pryor turns up field and gains another 13 yards after the catch to get the Browns into the red zone.

During the Steelers week 11 matchup against the Steelers, Pryor made one his longest catches of the year.

Given a smaller cushion this time, Pryor used his agility to get open. After running 7 yards down field, Pryor slightly pushed off to gain space, then faked a curl back towards the sideline. The defender stepped towards the sideline, then was caught flat footed when Pryor quickly turned up field.

He makes an adjustment to catch a poorly thrown ball, and avoids another tackle before going down.

His athleticism also makes him a threat on the occasional wildcat play.

On his longest run of the season, which came during the Browns week 3 game against the Dolphins, his best of the season, Pryor took a direct snap and used his speed to turn the corner.

After faking to Isiah Crowell, Pryor sprints towards his left, and after receiving a nice block to seal the edge, he still had one man to beat to turn up field. He makes a quick juke then cuts towards the sideline leaving a man in front of him on the ground. Pryor makes it to the sideline then turns up field for a 15 yard gain.

Even when he is not given much space to work with in front of him, Pryor can use his agility alone to find space for a quick catch.

Again against Revis, but given less room this time, Pryor makes a move towards the outside right off of the snap, then immediately breaks towards the middle and making an easy grab for an 18 yards.

Pryor is dangerous in single coverage, as he can take on any corner one on one. His is a great route runner, and somehow always manages to find himself space. The best way to cover him is to either double team him, or play a tight zone coverage to suppress him.

But even when he is picked up in a double team, Pryor still somehow miraculously makes plays.

On this play during the Browns week six game against the Titans, Pryor scored one of his two touchdowns on the day by making an impressive catch in the end zone.

The Browns receiver runs a fade route into the corner of the end zone, and picks up the attention of the deep safety as he turns towards the corner. Quarterback Cody Kessler for some reason ignores a shallower wide open receiver and tunnels in on Pryor despite being smothered by the defense. The ball is well thrown, though, and Pryor manages to jump higher than anyone else to make a touchdown catch.

His strength and ability make a better play on the ball came into play later in the same game, making a nice 14 yard grab with a defender draped over his back.

When his speed, agility and route running ability combine, Pryor can make incredible plays on poorly thrown balls, a skill especially useful on a team with quarterbacks as bad as the Browns.

Later on during the Steelers game, Pryor made this catch at the one yard line.

He ran a wheel route down the sideline, then slightly pushes off and comes to a quick stop to give himself space. The defender turns back towards Pryor, and Pryor jumps over him to catch an off-target pass. He comes down with it and fights two defenders to hold on before getting shoved out of bounds.

In his first year at wide out, Pryor impressed many and took off to break 1,000 yards on the season. The Browns had a lot of hype last off-season due to Pryor’s transition to wide out and the addition of Robert Griffin III. The hype was short lived, but there are a few bright spots on the roster.

There is still more for Pryor to work on this offseason, though. He is inconsistent and occasionally can disappear during games. Despite being the team’s leading receiver, Pryor failed to break 50 yards in 9 games this season, and only reached the end zone four times. Some of this may be a result of the Browns incompetence on offense in general, but it is still something to worry about down the line.

He had an impressive first year at wide out, though. And Terrelle Pryor has managed to emerge as the Browns full time WR1 in 2016, and his athleticism gives him potential to become one of the more feared receivers in the NFL in thee future, despite what Janoris Jenkins might think.

 

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