With all the buzz about Brian Hartline, and the potential usurping of the starting WR spot from either Bess or Camarillo, I thought it would be a good time to revisit some of the "hows and whys" of the receiver positions. I originally posted this in May, after the first OTAs, but what got me thinking about it again was this comment Sparano made about the receivers after the Tampa Bay preseason game:
On the possibilities of the wide receiver rotation "I think that there are a lot of different things that we can do, you can play four wide receivers if you have them, some people do that, spread the field a little bit and do some of that and help yourself in the run game. I think there are a bunch of possibilities, what happens is to have those possibilities you have to have players that have position flexibility. It's not as easy as, hey because you play on the right side you can go line up on the left side and play that really isn't that easy. Playing 'X' or playing 'Z' and what we see with an 'X' and those characteristics having to be and a 'Z' and so on little bit different, we have a couple players in that group that you just mentioned that can play all the positions. They can play 'X', they can play 'Z', they can play 'Y' in three wide, so they can play all the positions and that helps us to be able to put different combinations out there in a game."
In the primer below, I define the Flanker, Split End, and Slot positions as FL, SE, and SL for ease of understanding. However, in the standard Xs and Os of Sparanospeak, the Flanker is the "Z" position, Split End is "X", and Slot is "Y". So when Tony S is talking about players who can play all three positions, he is probably not talking about Ginn, who is not a "Y" guy, and may not have the upper body strength usually needed to effectively play the "X" position. Mr. Sparano probably IS referring to Hartline as one of those guys that can be effective from any of the three positions.
As I explained in the original post below, Camarillo, Bess, and Hartline fill similar roles, but Hartline has a few advantages over the other two, like quickness and size.
Some of the original questions that existed as of the original publication have been resolved, such as the fates of Wilford, Williams, and Lowber (remember him?). Some, like what happens with Patrick Turner, are still working themselves out. With Turner apparently dropping out of favor, London may end up being the only Red Zone option left. One thing I find very interesting is that Ginn is the only "speed guy" left.
And who is "James Robinson"? I mean, I can't find a picture of him anywhere, much less any stats on the guy, and he is the ONLY player I have ever come across that is NOT EVEN LISTED on Rotoworld! But he is still on the team after guys like Williams and Armstrong are cut?
So far, here is all I know:
He's 6-3, 200 lbs, and "WR James Robinson seems to take particular relish in whacking teammates with a pad as they run through the gantlet. More than once the lanky receiver delivered with such oomph that he left his feet."
The complete WR Primer is below the jump. If you want to view the original post with member comments, click on the title below.
Question: Do you think that Bess and Camarillo will be the starting WRs on the first day of the 2009 season? Ginn and Camarillo? Ginn and Bess? Or maybe "none of the above"?
I keep reading bits and pieces in different threads (some fact, *lots of opinions*) about our current 11 WRs... vets and prospects. Quite a few people seem to think that there are some roster spots already locked up at the receiver position, and while that may be true, I tend to think that there are very few "locks" at this point in time.
After all, if there is anything that I learned about our beloved "Triad" last season, it is that on the Miami Dolphins: 1) Competition is not just a buzzword, and 2) the best players play, regardless of the cost.
It's all part of *The Code*.
So I thought it might be time to take a little more of an organized look at who we currently have on the roster, and where each player fits as a receiving option.
First, let's see what we have to work with. This is the roster info from the team web site, with 40 yard dash times added:
Dolphins Wide Receiver Roster by Name
Let me state two disclaimers right off the bat...
First, there are always a number of discrepancies that come up when people start throwing out 40 times. Was it hand timed or electronically timed? Was it on grass or turf? Was it an official Combine time, or an individual's Pro Day? Where there was an official Combine time, I used that number. Where there wasn't, I used the next best thing... Pro Day, Scout.com, CBS Draft tracker, etc. Where there were multiple times, I used the best average. The one exception was for Brennan Marion. Prior to his ACL tear his time was a 4.3, but three months after his surgery his time was a 4.52. Since the Fins obviously did not bring him in for his size, let's assume he is a speed guy for now, and is now closer to the 4.3 mark than the 4.52.
Second, I know 40 times are only one indicator of ability, and there are other metrics that are important at the WR position. The Short Shuttle, or 20 Yd Shuttle, for instance, is a good indicator of whether the WR is going to be able to come out of his breaks quick enough to create separation from the DB. Wes Welker runs the 40 in the mid 4.6s, but his short shuttle was a blazing 4.01 seconds. As a comparison, the quickest WR short shuttle time from this year's Combine** was 4.08 by a kid named Kevin Ogletree.
**Not all prospects ran, but of the ones that did, Heyward-Bey (the 1st WR drafted) was the 6th quickest with a time of 4.18, and our own Brian Hartline was 4th, with a time of 4.12 seconds. Not bad huh? Hartline was also the 2nd quickest of the WRs that ran the 3-Cone drill, with a time of 6.65. Wes Welker? He ran the Cone Drill in 7.09.
What does this all mean? And if there are other metrics, why am I only using the 40 Yd times for comparisons? Well, I'm glad you asked.
It doesn't mean a whole lot at this point. There are so many other factors that will determine whether a WR will be successful that it is practically impossible to rely on timed drills to predict future NFL performance. While both the Shuttle and Cone drills are good indicators of a WR being able to get separation from DBs, other factors like a quick first step, good route running, and being able to sell a DB on a good shoulder fake - all these play in to the total effectiveness of a receiver.
But aside from the fact that a 40 time is available for all our players and some of the other metrics are not, the 40 is a good indicator of overall straight line speed, and we can at least use it to compare that aspect of our players' games. Of all positions, the 40 yd time is probably most applicable to the WR position, since he is the most likely to actually run 40 yds in a straight line during a game.
We can use this metric to try and answer the question, "Who can outrun the DBs and who, most likely, can't?" In other words, a WR with a slower 40 time better be able to run over DBs and break tackles, or he will end up as a slot/possession type guy, and he isn't generally a home run hitter.
But what is "fast"?
In today's NFL, most DBs are running in the sub-4.55 range. So can a WR who runs a 4.58 going against a CB who can run a 4.54 still beat him on a deep route? Sure, since there are so many other factors to consider.
For one thing, 40 times are not run in pads, so when you get everyone geared up for a game, generally the stronger guys will carry the extra weight better and suffer less of a hit to their speed. A 6'4"-210lb WR who runs a 4.58 without pads may still run a 4.6 with pads, whereas the 5'10" 185lb CB running about a 4.54 may end up being even slower than the WR with the pads on.
Another advantage for the WR is the fact that he knows where he is going, while the DB has to react. This means a slower WR with an explosive release, along with good agility and footwork, can create separation almost every time.
Jerry Rice ran an average time of 4.6 in the 40, but he was also known as the NFL's greatest route runner. It's said that every route he ran looked exactly the same for the first 5-7 yards. A DB could not tell where he was going until his break.
However, most often when a WR's overall top end speed is slow, he will usually get tackled immediately after making the catch. A receiver who is good at creating separation, but not fast enough to run away from a DB is most often referred to as a "possession receiver". And a possession receiver who is not big enough, or strong enough, to out muscle or out jump a DB, is often relegated to playing in the slot.
In today's NFL, an acceptable 40 time for a WR is generally below 4.6 seconds, with elite receivers clocking in at under 4.42. But if you are a WR running up around the 4.6 mark, you sure better bring some other assets to the table, like size, vertical leap, or extremely good route running.
Flanker vs. Split End
There are two primary positions for a WR; the Split End (SE), who must line up on the line of scrimmage (LoS); and the Flanker (FL) who can line up a few feet behind the LoS.
Because the SE is right up on the line, it is easier for the CB to get his hands on him as he releases. For this reason, the SE has to be able to consistently beat the jam. This means that the SE is usually a bigger, stronger guy, who can engage the CB without being thrown off his route. While speed is always important, strength and size are almost a requirement to play SE.
(I think this may be part of Ginn's problems when they line him up at SE. I don't think he can effectively negate a jam and stay on his route.)
Because the FL receiver lines up behind the LoS, the DB can't play press coverage as easily. The receiver can get a nice little running start, and if he is fast enough, can probably just run around the DB. While any one of our WRs could technically man the FL position, you probably want a fast guy there because of the need to stretch the field at the outside receiver spots.
The Slot Receiver
Any receiver can play in the slot, as long as they have two qualities... they must be able to create separation in a short area, and they must have reliable hands. They can be practically any size or speed, but usually have a quick first step, very good balance, and good agility.
SO, for the sake of our WR discussion, let's assume "Fast is Good", but not an absolute.
Let's also stipulate, for the sake of this discussion, that "Bigger is Better". If all other things are equal (speed, hands, routes, etc.) between two WRs, the bigger guy will generally win out.
Now, let's take a look at the roster again, but this time let's do it by speed. This should give us an idea of who might stand out as more of a down field threat:
Dolphins Wide Receiver Roster by Speed
A couple of things stand right out here: There is an obvious delineation between the speedsters and the mid-tier guys (for lack of a better term... what should I call them, "the slow guys"?). And there is a correlation between overall size and speed. The bigger guys are noticeably slower. We jump from a 4.38 time from Teddy, to a 4.52 from Mr. Brandwagon himself. What we are missing is a clear "elite" class receiver, who has London's size but runs closer to a 4.4 in the 40 (I'll talk about Todd Lowber in a second). But maybe this isn't really a problem! Larry Fitzgerald is 6'3" 220lbs, and ran a 4.63 at his combine. However, in additional to good size and outstanding strength, he runs nice routes and has great body control (think Turner....?).
The two exceptions related to the general size/speed curve are Bess and Lowber. Bess, one of the smaller guys, is also the slowest; and Lowber, one of the bigger guys, is also the FLAT OUT FASTEST. One of his times reported from Vikings camp two years ago had him timed at 4.1 (yes, that is not a mistake) in the 40 yd dash.
Now, it should be said that Bess had several 40 times that average out to closer towards 4.67 than the official 4.7 time (the fastest time I found was 4.6 flat at his Pro Day), his short shuttle was 4.28, and his Cone Drill was 7.15. Not great numbers, but it certainly can't be said that Bess isn't productive. He was very productive all through college, and was productive for the Fins last year. As for Lowber, he looks great on paper, but the knock on him is lack of experience. Lowber was a track star, and never, EVER, played organized football until two years ago at the Vikings rookie minicamp. So it is not all about the stats.
Let's just go ahead and say that these "small, fast group of guys" are all capable of being the deep threat "take it to the house" type of WRs, regardless of size (a la Steve Smith). These receivers will probably play outside at the Flanker position (FL) to help avoid the DBs attempts to jam them at the line. If they are also quick and crisp in their route running, they could potentially move inside to the slot.
London and Hartline could also possibly be a deep threat, and could certainly be outside receivers, although London's size makes him a better prospect at the Split End (SE) position, and Hartline's quickness makes him a better slot prospect. Todd Lowber is pretty interesting, because if you could put 5 or 6 pounds on him, and teach him to run good routes and beat the jam, he is the one guy that would be the perfect WR to play at the SE position. He is almost the exact same size as T.O. or Randy Moss, and is actually faster!
But when you look at the bottom three guys on the speed chart, clearly Wilford, Camarillo, and Bess are never going to be the deep men. Camarillo and Bess make up for their lack of speed and size with great football saavy and reliability, but they aren't big bodies, and will never be anything more than slot type receivers. This does not mean they won't play at the SE or FL spots. It just means they will probably be limited to quick short routes (slants, outs, comebacks, etc.) and will have trouble running deep routes. And all Wilford has is size, which would make him a red zone target or outside possession guy - IF he could ever get on the field.
So what happens when a guy like Hartline comes in, who is bigger, and quicker, and faster than either Camarillo or Bess? If he can show the same saavy and reliability, wouldn't he be an upgrade in the slot?
And when you look at the WRs by size, London, Wilford, and Turner are the obvious three guys who could play the SE position inside the red zone and muscle past the DBs to make the catch:
Dolphins Wide Receiver Roster by Size
But of the three, London has the best speed and Turner has the best size and body control, based on what we know so far (also, please see Dave.Phuller's excellent write up on Turner). . I would say that this leaves Wilford as the odd man out, because seriously, how many of these kind of WRs do you need?
Something else that is interesting to me, is that while Ted Ginn is clearly the front runner of the "fast guys" due to his experience, he is no longer the fastest guy. As a matter of fact, if you kept the four fastest guys, Ginn wouldn't even make the cut! Ginn also does not possess the strength to play the SE spot effectively, and does not appear to have the ability to create separation required to play in the slot. Ginn looks like he is more of a FL receiver only.
So, as much as I like Camarillo and Bess for their heart, and as much as I have hoped to see Ginn realize his potential as a true deep threat, it looks to me as if they will some serious competition for their jobs, and a realistic chance of losing them. And Wilford? With the addition of Turner and the development of London, I honestly think he will not make it through the first roster cut down.