On the Monday Morning NFL Podcast, Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling discuss the state of wide receivers across the NFL, what it takes to be a great receiver, and why speed often doesn’t matter. Plus, they unveil their ranking of the top 10 WRs in the NFL heading into the 2019 season. Listen and subscribe to The MMQB Monday Morning NFL Podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.
GARY: You have been doing a series of different teams, the all-small team, all-over-30, etc. And the all-slow team. The all-slow team was based on pre-draft 40 times. And the wide receiver options for that team are absurd. Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Devante Adams, Michael Thomas, Keenan Allen, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Tyler Boyd, Jarvis Landry, Jamison Crowder. Those guys all tested poorly in the 40-yard dash. So my question to you, Andy, is: We can look at that and say speed is overrated for wide receivers, but what does matter?
ANDY: Remember—we've talked about this before—the defense has to play at your speed as a receiver. They have to cover you, so you don't need to be the fastest guy in the world. If you understand how to get open on routes—and a lot of that gets into the way you stem your routes coming off the line of scrimmage, your splits (by which we mean how far from the quarterback you are lining up), and how diverse your playbook is.
What happens when corners scout wide receivers, they often break it down by the split. So they'll watch every time Antonio Brown lines up outside the numbers, then they'll watch every time he's outside the numbers with a slot guy inside of them, then they'll watch every time Brown is inside the numbers, and when they study him that way what they discover is a lot of patterns in the routes that those guys run. So your offense has to help you a little bit as a receiver, diversify your splits, because if they know what you're going to run based on your split you've got a real problem. That happens a lot more than you would guess.
The really good receivers put deception into all of this, and their systems help them out. They understand how to get open and separate at the top of the route when the ball is in the air, and that gets into some of those little nuanced movements that we've talked about, that Antonio Brown is so great at, DeAndre Hopkins is great at. Basically, the ability to get away with misdemeanor, small-time offensive pass interference.
GARY: And we’ll be talking about that more when we get to Antonio Brown in our ranking of the top 10 receivers in football.
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GARY: And I just want to ask you real quick, Andy, because the other day you put something good on a bad media platform. You had a neat little video on Cooper Kupp and what he does, his efficient movements, as a as a receiver in the screen game.
ANDY: We broke down what Cooper Kupp does when he catches a screen. I had this explained to me by Zac Taylor the other day when I was at the Bengals—I spent three days there with Zac Taylor—and Taylor had learned this from Sean McVay. I think McVay invented it, although no coach has ever invented anything. They'll always tell you a high school from 20 years ago came up with the idea first.
But the idea is that, when you catch a receiver screen, you don't want to be moving your feet. A lot of times, if I'm the guy outside catching the screen, my tendency is to take a step back and, as I wait for the ball I'm chopping my feet up and down, kind of like what Peyton Manning used to do in the pocket. That's just the innate tendency for someone, especially if you're trying to be a shifty, quick, run-after-catch guy, which you always are on a wide receiver screen. But what McVay teaches those Rams players to do is to keep their feet still, planted in the ground. The quarterback then throws to your upfield shoulder and you let the throw take you into your run. So the Rams receivers don't drift back or take a couple steps back. They pivot back to catch a receiver screen and then they get straight downhill from there, and Cooper Kupp is perfect at it.
THE MMQB PODCAST TOP 10 WIDE RECEIVERS FOR 2019
“Others receiving votes” is included if you listen to the show, along with more wide receiver discussions including why so many receivers now move between outside and the slot, breakout receivers of 2019, and what Tyreek Hill’s absence would mean for the Chiefs. Position ranking voting is AP Poll-style among three panelists, with Andy’s votes counting double:
1. Julio Jones, Atlanta, 79 points (2 first-place votes)
2. Antonio Brown, Oakland, 73
3. Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland, 72
4. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston, 70 (1)
5. Michael Thomas, New Orleans, 62
6. Adam Thielen, Minnesota, 56
7. Keenan Allen, L.A. Chargers, 52
8. A.J. Green, Cincinnati, 49
9. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay, 48
10. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh, 45
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