Zach Pascal has had quite the NFL career for a former undrafted free agent. He bounced around a few teams before finding a home on the rebuilding Indianapolis Colts back in 2018. In the years that followed, he has gone from roster hopeful to the most consistent receiver on the team.
Pascal has posted nearly identical stat lines for the Colts over the past two years, and only trails T.Y Hilton in receiving yards in that span. In 2020, he appeared in all 17 games and totaled 47 receptions for 666 yards and six touchdowns (including playoffs).
With another year around the corner for the consistent producer, I decided to chart all of his targets and receptions from last year by route run. So, today I will look at the four routes that he was most successful with last year and his strengths and weaknesses as a player.
Charting Pascal's Receptions
For a little bit of background into this project, I went back and watched every single target that Pascal had in 2020. I charted each target by route run and with each route run, I charted how many catches, yards, and catchable passes (passes that hit both of his hands to keep all things fair) he received.
Based off of this research, his four most productive and efficient routes on the year were a drag, crosser, quick screen, and go/fade. On these four routes alone, Pascal had 19 catches on 23 targets for 306 yards and a touchdown. On just four routes, Pascal had 45.9% of his season receiving yardage. Let's go one by one with each of these routes now.
The drag route was by far Pascal's most efficient route in 2020. Pascal caught seven passes on seven targets for 81 yards and a touchdown on this route last season. That is good for a passer rating of 154.5 when targeted on drag routes.
This route was easy money for the Colts' offense in 2020, as Michael Pittman Jr saw similar success on the design. Head Coach and playcaller Frank Reich is a master at scheming this fairly simply route with space to allow his play-makers create with the ball in their hands. Pascal may not be an elite player after the catch but he is a sturdy and athletic receiver who can barrel downhill.
Similar to Pittman Jr yet again, Pascal's most productive route in 2020 was the deep crossing route. On eight targets (eight catchable passes), Pascal had five receptions for 108 yards with a yards per catch of 21.6 on this route.
Just like with the drag route, this is a design that Reich is top tier at scheming open. He does an excellent job of scheming these plays up and attacking defenses in man coverage off of play-action. Where Pascal is great with this route is his overall technique, as he has excellent footwork and uses his body well to stair-step to create space.
While it may not be an overly flashy play, Pascal was fairly efficient on quick screens in 2020. He caught all five of his targets for five receptions for 48 yards on this route.
This route came mostly off of audibles by Philip Rivers in 2020, as the veteran quarterback was elite at identifying the blitzes and quickly throwing at the vacated spot on the defense. Since a majority of Pascal's snaps last year came from the slot, he received a lot of these quick screens. Like I mentioned above, Pascal is a sturdy receiver who gets downhill quickly, so these plays were more often successful when throw to him.
The most surprising stat in this research was how efficient Pascal was on vertical shot plays. He didn't receive a ton of targets down the field, but he made the most of the few targets he did receive. He caught three of his four vertical targets for 69 yards.
Pascal isn't the type to typical win down the field but his chemistry with Rivers was evident early last season. Pascal didn't blow by his man on any of these plays but he was able to go up and attack the ball in the air, and ultimately come down with the catch.
Strengths and Weaknesses in His Game
Pascal is the epitome of solid, as he is a well rounded player who isn't exceptional in many areas. He is the type of player that coaches and quarterbacks absolutely love to have while fans bemoan his lack of flash. Here are the notable strengths in his game from my extensive tape study:
- Overall Route Running: Pascal is a good athlete but he doesn't have the athleticism to win without being a technician. He has continually improved in this area throughout his career, and is now at a point where he is a technical and nuanced route runner at all three levels.
- Route Tree Knowledge: Pascal was difficult to chart this year. He did it all for the Colts' offense, as I charted nearly 30 different routes on the year across all three levels of the defense. He also did that while taking snaps at all three receiver positions, and a few while lined up in the backfield and in line as a tight end.
- The Little Things: The reason why Pascal stuck back in 2018 was his ability to do the little things. From special teams to blocking to making tough catches over the middle, Pascal does every little thing right for a team.
Now let's take a look at some weaknesses or areas that need improvement going forward.
- Consistency with his Hands: Pascal doesn't make sense to me at times. He will catch a dangerous pass over the middle in traffic on one play then let an easy one bounce off his hands the next. He needs to clean that up to truly be a reliable receiver long term.
- Overall limitations: There are obvious limitations in his game that will prevent him from ever becoming a true number one or two receiver in the league. He is a good but not great athlete with a decent catch radius. These things will just always hold him back (and that's okay for who he is).
Overall, every team needs a receiver like Pascal. He is a versatile player who can play any receiver role on an offense. He gets markedly better every year while continually doing the little things right. Quarterbacks, even veterans like Rivers, seem to gravitate to him and develop chemistry with him quickly.
Pascal will never be anything more than a WR3 in this league but that is okay. Every player can't be a star and there is always a need for role players. Pascal is a high level role player who understands what he has to do for the team. I think we will see him in Indy for quite a long time, as long as he wants to be here.
Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachHicks2.