By G. Stryker
Martavis Bryant is a freak, in every sense of the word. He’s 6’4” and now over 220lbs. What used to be a TE size is now a WR size running down the field with his blazing speed (4.34 40 yard dash). He was never the top receiver at Clemson, but he was always productive, with a huge yards per catch number to go with his ability to find the end zone. His size to speed ratio was too great to pass up and wasn’t held back by his limited productivity in college, and he was drafted in the 4th round by the Steelers.
Immediately, Bryant showed he could be a difference maker on the field as his first catch was a 35 yard touchdown against the Texans. He continued to make plays his rookie year, and it looked like he’s be a featured receiver his second season, until he was suspended for 4 games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. After missing 5 games he had another productive season showing how explosive he was as a receiver and runner. Just as Martavis was gaining notoriety as a dangerous receiver, he failed another test and was suspended for the entire 2016 season.
This last setback may have destroyed most receivers and derailed their careers. After some soul searching, Mr Bryant decided to commit himself to hard training. His new drug was now improving himself to become the best football player he can be. Now he is 228 pounds of chiseled muscle. Adding size didn’t kill his speed, as he continued to hone his quickness with sprinting and agility drills. It will be a welcome site when he can show Steelers fans how hard he’s been working to get back to the field.
We all know Martavis is explosive and talented. Let’s look at his highlights to see if we can find any tendencies to his receiving game.:
0:53 We are starting off with one of the most amazing catches I have ever witnessed. Running a fly/flag he correctly faces the football and jumps to catch this football at its highest point. The replay follows and shows his exact hand placement, and it looked like he squeezed the front of the football instead of letting the ball hit his palms. This causes the ball to squirt out of his grasp slightly. It also looks like the defender may have got a hand on the ball or his arm to cause him to pull it down quickly. He pulls the ball down at an odd angle. Usually receivers pull the far point of the football into their body to tuck it away. Here, he pulls the point straight down his body, which gives him no chance of tucking or securing it. Most receivers will let the ball slip through and hit the ground at this point, but Martavis does something unexpected. He has larger than average hands, and he can secure the ball with one hand, and here he starts to secure the ball with one hand by pinning it against the back of his leg. His mechanics are not good here, but what he does now is shockingly different and saves the catch. He knows he’s going to go out of bounds, and has to get 2 feet down. He does so, but now realizes, since his hand is pinning the ball, he will crash head first on the ground. Doing that would have been a jarring hit and would have probably knocked the ball loose. Instead he jumps and flips, creating a softer landing by rolling down his back, and keeps the ball pinned to his thigh for possession. Everything that could have gone wrong did, yet he still made one of the most incredible catches to salvage this memorable touchdown.
1:05 He’s running a deep post, and his speed has him going a little ahead of the ball placement. He keeps his speed and does a 3 point trap with both hands, palms on the ball and his chest. It was the best catch selection to keep running at full speed, though his elbows were out when he caught it. Odd because he brought his elbows in just before the ball got there then threw them wide when he caught it. He was right to keep his speed up here, as it carried him to the end zone for the uncontested touchdown.
1:16 Running a fly and makes a nice basket catch with his hands, pinkies together and palms on the ball. His elbows are away from his body, which I don’t like, but who can fault the result of a 90+ yard touchdown?
1:26 Running another fly. I really like the way he is using his hands here when he is hand checking the defender for space. His speed is clearly winning, and the defender reaches for his arm. Martavis parries and then extends his arm to create space, but he did not push off. It is perfect hand usage to give him room. The defender falls on his own when he is beaten. The ball is thrown behind him and he has to 3 point trap the ball with both hands against his trailing shoulder. These are not the highest percentage catches since both hands are facing away from the ball, while his body angle is toward it, but I don’t see how else he could have caught it, unless he stopped to face the ball and catch it with his hands, thumbs together, in front of his body. Doing it this way is a higher percentage catch, but his momentum would have been stopped and he wouldn’t have scored like he did on this play.
1:35 Ball is thrown high and outside, like a fade, Bryant jumps to face the ball, catches it at its highest point (with his thumbs together and palms on the ball), then quickly pulls it down to secure it with a defender on him. Excellent catch.
1:44 Running a deep drag, he adjusts his route nicely to an underthrown ball. He 3 point traps it again with both palms and his chest, but since he slid low on this catch, both palms were facing the ball. Nice catch for someone so tall to get down and make. His elbows are about as wide as they can get on this catch.
1:47 Makes a running body catch on a drag pattern. I like how he comes back to the ball a bit, and probably would have been a difficult hands catch with the ball being waist high. His run after the catch was superb. Nice stiff-arm to start it, then uses his speed to get down field. Right before he’s surrounded by defenders, he cuts back through a seam to get to the end zone. I did not like the flip at the goal line though, don’t want him to accidently knock the ball out showboating before a score, or hurt yourself landing incorrectly.
2:07 I like his body catch selection here on the deep drag pattern. He is in traffic, and used a chest trap with his hands to secure for the score. A hands catch could have been defended here.
2:14 Looks like Bryant found space on this broken play running a hitch. He comes back to Ben for the ball and the ball is thrown low by Ben. Most receivers of this height would go to the ground to secure the catch. Bryant got low by bending, and got his elbows in to catch the ball, with his palms, while his pinkies were together. The mechanics were perfect here, and since he was on his feet, he was able to gain another 40 yards. This isn’t a play most receivers can make.
2:24 End Around. He’s a runner taking the handoff. Makes a nice first cut to get upfield, then another great cut against the grain, to maximize the distance of his run.
2:41 This play looks like a fly. I do not like this catch selection at all. I do like how he high points the ball by jumping, but he had the time to get his hands up in front of him to secure the football correctly. Instead the ball hits his left shoulder hard, and he brings his hands up facing toward his own body, to catch the ball off of his chest. Catch selections on throws like this are drops as often as they are catches.
2:49 Fly pattern and makes a perfect basket catch. Pinkies together, and palms stick to the ball over his shoulder.
2:54 Bubble screen. His left hand is up with the thumb in, his right hand is at a bad angle, with the base of his palm matched with his left thumb. The size of his hands helped him get away with a clean catch, but you don’t want to have one hand working against you when securing a catch. This could lead to drops. Excellent blocking and he shows his explosive speed as he bursts into the end zone.
3:04 Another end around taking the handoff. Great blocking and great run.
3:13 Runs a hitch and go. The reverse angle shows his hands perfectly. He has the correct hand positioning with pinkies together giving 2 big palms as a landing pad for the football, but he catches the back half of the ball and it nearly squirts free. As the ball is about the leave his hands he uses his finger strength to knock the ball back to himself. Martavis then secures the ball and gets both feet in bounds. When making a basket catch, you have to catch the front half of the football with the point of the football usually stopping between the receiver’s pinkies and ring fingers. A clean catch would not have made it as hard to get both feet in after securing the football.
His size to speed ratio is only seen in freak athletes like Randy Moss and Megatron. He’s got it all, and he has the explosive potential to take any play to the end zone. What he doesn’t have yet, is the soft hands of either of those players. By relying on body catches, and odd hand positioning, it creates a tendency to drop the football.
I looked back at his statistics to see how his hand placement translated to on the field drops. In 2014 he had an incredible 21 yards per catch with 8 touchdowns on 26 catches, but he also had 3 drops. This equates to one drop every 8 ⅔ catches. In 2015 he had 50 catches with 5 touchdowns but was 5th in the league with 9 drops. That is a ratio of one drop every 5 ½ catches. These drop numbers are poor when it comes to a typical NFL receiver. With Martavis, you have another boom or bust receiver whose boom potential dwarfs just about every receiver in the league. I’m hoping he took the year off to work on his hands as much as he used it to increase his size. It will be interesting to see how his work off the field translates to his productivity this season. Which should be anytime now…