In advance of NFL training camps, we asked Christopher Harris to write an overview of film-watching. He and Field Yates recorded a Fantasy Underground podcast on the topic, and we think it bears elaboration here. Chris and Field are at the vanguard of advocating film-watching as an essential tool of fantasy evaluation, and in this series of articles, Chris will offer an overview of what he looks for on film.
Part 3 of 5: How to tell if size/speed WR freaks will be great
General managers now spend time and money trying to find big, fast wideouts around which their passing offenses can revolve. Often this means drafting incredible raw specimens and hoping they develop into football players.
But it doesn't always work out. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Robert Meachem, Devin Thomas, Louis Murphy, Leonard Hankerson and Jon Baldwin are all 6-foot-2 or taller and run 4.5 or faster, but they have disappointed. Meanwhile, Cordarrelle Patterson, Michael Floyd, Justin Hunter and Stephen Hill are recent early size/speed draft picks on whom the jury is still out.
What are the signs on tape that a big guy is on the verge of figuring it out? Let's list them:
1. Catching the football outside his frame: Not every throw drops directly into a WR's bucket, especially on the outside, and the best test of a receiver's hands comes when he's on the move. The more a WR can cover for a quarterback's inaccuracies, the better.
So when you watch film on wideouts, keep track of how often they reach up, down or to the side on the dead run, and are still able to make catches. I asked Field to go back and pinpoint a time from Josh Gordon's rookie year when we could've seen his massive 2013 stats coming, and he pointed to Week 7 against the Indianapolis Colts; Gordon scored a touchdown on an in-breaking route thrown too far to the outside, which he snatched via great hands and body control.
Larry Fitzgerald should be every WR's role model in this regard: His ability to stretch and make catches while on the move is legendary. DeAndre Hopkins is a player who impressed me in this regard in '13.
2. Making athletic moves without losing speed: We often hear about WRs who run with "fluid hips," and how they're better than WRs who run with "tight hips." That helps determine how easy or difficult it is for a player to get open.
We want receivers who can break -- steeply or shallowly, at a route's stem or in post-throw adjustment -- without losing speed. For me, Victor Cruz is the poster boy for this attribute. He's got a deadly ability to sink his hips on just about any step he takes, which allows him to bend and "cut on a dime." For a big receiver, Brandon Marshall also shares this quality. When you scout on film, watch a WR changing direction, coming out of breaks and adjusting to the ball to see if he slows down. Cruz and Marshall don't.
3. Where does he run his routes? In '13, only three rookie wideouts saw more than 40 targets that traveled 10-plus yards in the air, and none exceeded 54 such targets. (By contrast, Calvin Johnson saw 94!) Why? Because most young players -- especially bigger, less-polished prospects -- aren't ready to run precise routes at an NFL level.
When you watch film on a wide receiver prospect, gauge how far down the field he's making his moves, and whether his QB considers him open on such routes. Keenan Allen, who led all rookies in 10-plus-yard targets, earned Philip Rivers' trust almost immediately. The polish on his route tree became more and more obvious the more film I watched, because it seemed he was open all the time. By contrast, Cordarrelle Patterson made some catch-and-run plays, but 48 of his 75 targets (and 35 of his 45 catches) were shorties. Usually, long passes equals big fantasy points.
4. Field awareness: This is a big one, particularly for WR prospects who arrive with reputations for great raw tools but imperfect football ability. When I'm reviewing game tape play-by-play, I sometimes find myself running a play back to see if I can trust my eyes. Some of these kids frankly don't display the best sense.
Darrius Heyward-Bey is a sterling example of this. At 6-foot-2 and 219 pounds with 4.30 speed, DHB should have become a star. But he stumbles out of breaks and causes his hands to jar against the football, he sometimes doesn't finish plays, and there have been a few notable occasions when he simply ran himself out of bounds. Mental mistakes like that are tough to overcome for any young player.