Analysis: Will Seahawks Feature Jet/Fly Sweeps Under Shane Waldron?

Matty F. Brown looks at offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and whether the 2021 Seahawks can use jet/fly sweeps. Are there free agent or draft receivers who can help Seattle in this area? And do they have the tools to make the play work from Week 1 onward?
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When Shane Waldron was hired by the  Seahawks, what did you immediately think the new offensive coordinator would bring to the Pacific Northwest? There was enthusiasm from fans who craved a similar offensive approach to Rams head coach Sean McVay. The effectiveness of McVay’s scheme has been proven by his attack often being ahead of Pete Carroll’s defensive gameplans.

When imagining a specific McVay play, what instantly pops into my mind is a receiver running across the field on a jet or fly sweep. At this point, the quarterback starts from under center; the running back is executing an outside zone track, aiming for the tight end’s butt; and the other receivers are bursting across the field. It’s the jet/fly action that is most evocative, though.

At the Rams’ offensive peak in 2018, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp could all threaten as ball-carriers on the jet/fly sweep. This was when McVay’s attack was at its most frightening—so potent that it managed to get a quarterback like Jared Goff absolutely paid.

In that season, the Rams handed off on 46 fly sweeps which constituted 9.8% of their run plays (Numbers courtesy of Taylor Kolste’s excellent Breaking Down the 2018 LA Rams Offense, page 28). Yet the significance of the jet/fly sweep action was far greater.

“While the fly sweep was far from their most commonly used run, much of their run and play-action game worked off this play,” explained Kolste of the 2018 Rams. “In 2018, the Rams used 222 plays with fly motion good for a 6.78 yards per play average.”

Seattle’s 2021 roster currently has a few candidates for running the jet/fly sweep: DK Metcalf has straight line speed and size that would make him a physical threat; Tyler Lockett has often been the go-to option when it comes to jet/fly sweeps, with his returner background helping; and Freddie Swain, currently the projected number three receiver, was a gadget for Florida in college and often the east-west player.

At the time of this writing, the Seahawks’ receiver room is looking light following the departures of David Moore, Josh Gordon, and Philllip Dorsett. They are sure to address the position in order to add better competition behind the standout duo of Metcalf and Lockett. The starting point will be Seattle taking advantage of the reasonable value in the current free agent market. The front office could skew their focus to players who have the experience and/or skill-set to threaten on jet/fly sweeps. Doesn't that sound fun?

Our own Corbin Smith profiled five free agent receivers who the Seahawks should show interest in. Some of these players are now off the market. Here’s a list of some unsigned names that are jet/fly sweep threats: T.Y. Hilton, Antonio Brown, Cordarrelle Patterson, Golden Tate, Dede Westbrook, Isaiah McKenzie, Mohamed Sanu, Taywan Taylor, Marquise Goodwin, and Tavon Austin.

The other area of the offseason that teams can easily add to their roster is the NFL Draft. After trading for Gabe Jackson, the Seahawks currently hold just three draft picks. There are various ways in which John Schneider can increase that low tally. I expect a combination of trading down, offering future picks, and moving a current player.

Schneider likes to approach the draft with every roster hole filled to an at-least satisfactory standard. So yes, Schneider will add a free agent wide receiver #3 and it could well be one of the men listed in this article. While the draft provides an additional opportunity to get another wide receiver, it also gives Seattle the chance to take a jet/fly sweep guy if they opt for a different type in Free Agency—say they opt for a bigger body.

I spoke to The Draft Network’s Benjamin Solak and asked him for his top jet/fly sweep guys in the upcoming 2021 class. Solak produces excellent draft content year-round and is therefore ahead of the game. Here’s the list he kindly provided:

  • Kadarius Toney, Florida (First round talent, likely out of Seattle’s range but great run-after-catch guy)
  • Rondale Moore, Purdue (Looked like another first-rounder but has injury concerns, RB built and Purdue utilized him heavily as a RAC weapon)
  • Amari Rodgers, Clemson (Deebo Samuel type build)
  • Demetric Felton, UCLA (RB/WR hybrid guy)
  • Tutu Atwell, Louisville (tiny speedster)
  • D'Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan (tiny speedster)

Toney, Rodgers, Felton, and Eskridge all showcased their talents at the 2021 Senior Bowl. In Mobile, it was serious line of scrimmage work for Rodgers. Felton’s release plans were effective yet took a while, benefitting from the offense-skewed nature of one-on-ones. There are raw aspects to the receiving part of his game that come from spending his senior year as a running back. Eskridge was twitchy, bursty, and then cut far better than the opposing defenders. He lost such a small amount of speed when changing direction. All of these guys established themselves as top 100 picks.

Thinking about personnel and who could run jet/fly sweeps in Seattle is massively exciting. Yet none of this matters unless it’s done right. The Seahawks’ 2013 addition of Percy Harvin demonstrates this point. Yes, Harvin’s struggles in Seattle were about more than just plays and execution. And we will always have that Super Bowl kickoff return touchdown or those jet/fly sweeps versus the Green Bay Packers in 2014. However, the Harvin usage became predictable and the Seahawks never quite got the jet/fly sweep-stuff working.

The key to jet/fly sweep consistent success is series offense, where the “if; then” principles guide the play-calling into manipulating the defense. The Rams showed this three years ago. “In 2018, their increased use of the fly sweep allowed them to apply the same concept of misdirection and series-based plays to the run game itself,” stated Kolste. The author charted the Rams as attaching jet/fly motion to 222 of their 2018 plays.

Here are some examples of the processing jet/fly motion stresses defenders with: Does the fly man have the ball, meaning that I need to start pursuing fast outside? Is the fly man going to arc block the end man on the line of scrimmage, meaning that I need to fall back in my run fit as though it’s two-back? Is the fly man a lead blocker, meaning that I need to flow to turn him back? Is the fly man going to return and run the ball the other way? Is the fly man a check-down option in a passing play, essentially a fast three or fast four?

All of this lateral action happens fast and therefore tests keys and decisions to the extreme. It’s most effective from under center, where the action hits faster than the shotgun. The jet/fly demands that certain defenders pay attention to it, meaning that, on a mid zone run heading in the other direction, the defense is unable to get extra guys to the ball-carrier as the backside pursuit is removed, occupied by the jet/fly.

As I wondered in my look at Shane Waldron’s 2021 offense, I’m unsure of Seattle's direction when it comes to employing a series approach. They could major in duo action and minor in mid zone. Duo is a gap-blocked, north-south stressor—not lateral. On the subject of evolution and adaptation, McVay moved to utilizing more 12 personnel sets (1 running back, 2 tight ends). The TEs became ball carriers on additional lateral, sweep running concepts that looked wing t-style. 

So, whoever the Seahawks decide will be on their 53 and running sweeps, the mechanisms of scheme and sequencing are vital for accomplishing jet/fly success. And it was the arrival of jet/fly sweeps that seemed so inevitable when the hire of Waldron was announced. 

References

Taylor Kolste: Breaking Down The 2018 LA Rams Offense ISBN: 9781794188204