Ryan Swtizer was an undersized, but productive receiver and returner in college. At 5’8” and 181 pounds, he didn’t let his small, stocky stature hold him back. His quickness and athleticism had him improving in receptions and yards all four seasons at the University of North Carolina. He finished his senior season with 96 catches for 1,117 yards and six touchdowns.
Switzer is also a prolific returner with seven college punt returns for touchdowns, and added another TD on a punt return for the Dallas Cowboys. The Oakland Raiders liked him so much that they traded DT Jihad Ward to the Cowboys for Switzer. The Pittsburgh Steelers were in dire need for a slot receiver with return skills since Eli Rogers still hadn’t returned from his knee injury and looked like he needed a few more months to return. The competition in Oakland’s camp was too great as Coach Jon Gruden decided he liked Dwayne Harris’ overall position flexibility and special teams play to Switzer’s. This set up the opportunity for Switzer to become a Pittsburgh Steeler as they exchanged a 5th round draft pick for a 6th round draft pick in the following year’s draft to obtain his rights.
Coach Mike Tomlin reported that they evaluated him for the 2017 draft, and they liked what they saw then. Let’s take a look at his highlights from last year to see if we can find any trends to his receiving game:
0:24 Not sure where he lined up, but he ran a quick out. Has to reach up for the ball, since it’s thrown high. He turns his body in a strange way, so he’s not able to get his elbows in, or have his hands parallel to each other. Since his elbows are wide, the ball nearly squirts through, but Ryan does a nice job resecuring the ball in his gut for the touchdown.
0:33 Right Slot runs a seam. Does a nice job with his legs to get the DB turned around on an inside feign. On the replay, you can see his hands, and they are placed poorly. When catching a ball above your elbows, hands should be thumb to thumb with both palms facing the ball. Here we have his right hand in proper placement, but his trailing left hand is everted so the pinky is closest to his other hand, and as a result, can’t catch the ball with his hands. Instead he relies on his shoulder for a body catch. The ball isn’t secure, and he quickly puts his left hand on the ball to secure and he takes a big hit. I do love how he hangs on to the football after contact for a big gain.
0:44 Right Slot quick slant. Does a nice job finding the space behind the LB. I can’t see his hand placement, but it looks like a body catch from behind. Good wiggle around the safety to gain an extra couple yards at the tackle.
0:50 Punt return. Hesitates to set up the gunner after the catch and sprints left around him. Looks like he’s sprinting to the edge, but cuts back inside to get past the wing coverage. Then cuts it back outside and runs through an attempted shoe tackle. His momentum is carrying him out of bounds, but he does a good job of tiptoeing up the line to gain a few more yards before falling out of bounds. Nice return.
1:05 Trips left. I think he’s in the middle, and the play breaks down. Does a nice job of working back to Ben Roethlisberger, who is being pressured. Times his jump well to high-point and catch the ball away from the defender. Uses his body to catch the ball, but in traffic, this is sometimes the best way to make the catch.
1:14 Slot right, runs an out. Looks like he catches the ball away from his body with his hands facing the QB, then turns upfield quickly to gain some extra yardage before being forced out of bounds.
1:21 Stacked slot left runs a hitch in. Catches this ball in the gut as he’s being tackled by his legs, and absorbs a big hit in front. This is where body catches can work, because the ball is immediately tucked away at the catch, and then can absorb the impact of a big hit.
1:26 Slot left, supposed to block the LB. If you really watch this play, you notice a few things. Switzer isn’t running a pattern, he is looking to block the LB on what was supposed to be a TE screen to Vance McDonald. I can tell because the lineman are clearly downfield, but Swtizer notices something isn’t right and is looking back at Ben his entire route. He pushes off of the LB to create space on an out. It looks like he gets his hands out in front and secures the ball immediately as he turns upfield. Breaks a tackle and is taken down quickly by the safety.
1:44 Kickoff return. Takes the ball out of the end zone. Nice stutter step in the middle of the field to freeze the coverage before sprinting to the right edge. Nice return to the 30. I hope the flag wasn’t against the Steelers…
1:52 Exact same play as 1:21. The editor must have really liked this play…
1:58 Slot left runs a hitch. Can’t see his hands, but does a good job of securing the catch as he’s being hit at the catch point.
2:05 Left slot runs a fake out / middle screen. Foster gets down the field quickly and sets up a block. Switzer does a nice job of getting his hands up in front of the ball, and works up field. Gets gang tackled at the first down line, but falls forward to gain a first down.
2:11 Punt return. Sticks his foot in the ground to gain the edge and picks up good yardage along the sideline.
2:24 Kickoff return. Finds a seam up the middle for some good yardage on a short kick.
2:36 Slot right running a drag. Low throw, and dives to catch the ball just before it hits the ground. Rolls through the catch and is immediately back up and running! The defender is surprised, and Switzer isn’t taken down until he gains the first down. Love this play.
2:45 Right slot runs a soft in. This is a nice total play that is designed for Switzer. It’s a fake TE screen as Vance runs a sprint out to his left with two blockers in front. It brings the MLB off of his center responsibility, as he starts moving left toward the screen. Swtizer finds the zone behind where he just vacated, and Ben hits the window between three defenders. The ball is thrown behind Switzer, but he does a great job of reaching both hands behind himself to secure the ball and spin with it behind his body.
2:52 Punt Return. Does a good job of using his blockers to pick up some tough yardage.
I really like how fluid and confident Switzer is running with the ball in space and returning kicks. Doing a little research, he was a star high school running back. It really shows how he uses his vision, and wiggle to find seams and create space. Then his acceleration kicks into high gear as his speed keeps him in the clear.
Switzer runs nice, crisp routes. He’s a good receiver in traffic, and fights hard for the football in the air. He is surprisingly athletic, being able to catch the ball behind him or just off the ground, to turn incompletions into catches. I’m still a bit hard on his hand placement, as it makes catches tougher than they need to be. He did have two drops to go along with his 36 catches for 253 yards and a touchdown.
Ryan showed the Steelers they could rely on him in the slot, as a punt returner, and a kick returner. He also added 21 yards on 6 rushing attempts for a respectable 3.5 yard per carry average. The man is versatile, but he’s also durable. Playing in all 16 games last season, he endured a concussion at the end of November, and also played with an injured ankle the last 3 weeks of the season. I know it was injured, because he waited until after the season was over to set up his ankle surgery on January 4, 2019.
There is a lot of stiff competition at receiver this year with Eli Rogers returning, and new players like Diontae Johnson and Diontae Spencer that can also play the slot as well as handle kick return duties. This will be Swtizer’s toughest test, but he’s already shown me he is tough and dependable.
Will Ryan Switzer make the team? Leave your comments below.