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Anatomy of a WR: Eli Rogers

Eli Rogers was picked up as an undrafted free agent rookie from Louisville. He had good numbers, running a sub 4.4 40 yard dash to go with his 34 ½” vertical, which is great for a 5’10” receiver. Eli never put up great receiving numbers in college, but he was consistent. As a freshman he had 41 catches for 454 yards and a TD. His last 3 years Eli averaged 45 catches, 525 yards, and just under 4 TDs per year.

Eli was injured in training camp his rookie season and spent the year on IR with a foot injury. He returned in 2016 to training camp as a more polished, dedicated receiver, and earned a spot on the roster. Incredibly, playing in 13 games (the same amount he played each year in college), Eli had 48 catches for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns. It is rare when a new receiver can set career highs for catches and yards as a professional, in the same amount of games that he played in college.

Eli has enjoyed success early in his first season as a receiver. Let’s take a look at his highlights to see what makes him so successful. To best follow along, open up a separate window for your video viewing:

(I apologize for the language they chose for these highlights. Best to put it on mute)

0:30 This is a body trap with his gut and his left hand. He kept his elbows in, so there was no room for the ball to squirt out, even though it was thrown slightly behind his direction of motion. Tough to get your hands out ahead of a pass this low and behind. Replay at 38sec from the traditional viewing angle shows the same. It looked like he ran a post from the right slot.

0:42 Runs a post from the left slot. Elbows in, in traffic, puts both palms on the ball by having both pinkies together. A tough catch made easier with great hand placement. The reverse angle replay shows how great his hand placement was on this catch. He did put his hand down to break his fall after the catch, when he didn’t have to.

0:55 This one is tough to see, and you have to slow it down, but this is an excellent hands catch. Both hands in front of his body, pinkies together, and both palms on the ball. Very fluid and immediate control with a 2 handed tuck. He looked like he either extended his post pattern or ran a deep cross from the slot.

1:00 Runs a post from the right slot. I love his hand work and footwork on the DB here. His body posturing has the DB thinking he’s running an out, and defender’s whole body is turned toward that sideline, then a quick cut with a hand check leaves him wide open in the center of the field. It looks like he body caught this with both hands trapping it with his gut. He still used his hands well on the trap and had a nice stiff arm at the end of the run. This catch is a great example how route running can get you open.

1:12 Eli’s first TD of the year in 2017, and he wasn’t even the intended receiver… It looks like he’s triple covered on the slant, and Sammie Coates has single coverage on the outside where it looks like he’s trying to run a hitch and slant at the same time but isn’t sure what to run. The ball is thrown hard, but just ahead of Sammie, where the DB makes a nice play on the ball, only to knock it right to Eli. There is a technique that I haven’t touched on yet for receivers, and it’s called ‘hands ready’. It means having your hands at a chest-level receiving position, when you come out of a break, so even if you don’t know the ball is in the air, your hands are ready for the catch before you pick it up with your eyes. Here, Eli has his hands ready, breaking through the defenders and the ball pops right to him. Since his hands were up, he makes this deflected catch look like a called play. On the replay, even though the ball surprises Eli and hits his chest first, he catches the ball off his chest because his hands were up in the ready position.

1:28 This was my favorite catch of the year from Eli, and one of my favorite Steeler catches for the season. On the final drive of the game on Christmas Day, Eli is running a deep cross. Ben gets pressured and breaks the pocket to extend the play (like only Ben does). Ben throws the ball high, and he knows it, but Eli shows he has a vertical to go with his great hands. Stop the video at 1:34. You see a maximum extension at maximum vertical jump with his hands all the way outstretched, thumbs together and both palms on the ball for a fantastic catch. On the replay he squeezed his left hand a little early on the ball and had to control it by repositioning his left hand. Still just a brilliant catch

1:37 running a post from the left slot. He beats the DB badly. It looks like the defender is looking at the QB, and Eli blows by him (this may be because the defender is playing the short middle zone). It looked like he got both hands up to have his thumbs together and use both palms on a hands catch, but I can’t be certain without another angle. Great pattern and a nice run after the catch, once he has a lead on his defender.

1:43 Lined up on the outside, Eli comes underneath and runs a short drag across the field. The ball is poorly thrown behind him. He reaches behind himself to catch this ball one handed with his trailing left hand. There are a couple things that make a 1 handed catch easier on the receiver. The first is a perfect spiral. When the ball is in a tight spiral, there is little wobble than can interfere with controlling the ball. The second has to be perfect hand placement. On this replay, Eli reaches back and perfectly places his index finger and thumb on opposite sides of the nose of the football. This stops the spin as it comes to a rest against his palm. He actually deadens the ball and re-catches it as it falls. AB is the only other receiver who I think can make this catch on our team. Very high degree of difficulty.

1:54 In the left slot, he runs an out and in. His pattern leaves the DB trailing badly. The ball was thrown low (as I think Ben was trying to avoid the 3 defenders in the area). Eli gets his hand under the ball and secures the catch for another high degree of difficulty catch.

2:07 Right slot, runs a WR screen, with Decastro and Gilbert getting down field in front of him. Ball is a little low, and Eli leans toward the ball with his hands low, pinkies in, palms on the ball and traps it against his belly. This is different than using his body to trap the ball, he used his hands to trap the ball against his body. Nice first down on 3rd and long.

Right slot running the post (again). Ball again thrown a little behind him, and he uses his body to trap the ball with his hands working together. A good move since he was hit hard after the catch. Here I like the body catch as the best option in physical traffic.

2:26 Eli is in the left slot running a slant off a fake WR screen to the outside on the same side of the field. Pouncey is downfield like he’s shot out of a cannon here. Eli runs and shows a little wiggle while breaking 2 tackles.

2:35 Nice block on a catch by Ayres. If I remember correctly, this play was initially ruled a penalty, but correctly picked up, since Eli did get his head in front of the defender. It wasn’t a crack back, it was a shoulder block. Close, but correctly called, and a block that would make Hines Ward smile.

2:42 Left slot, Eli fakes a flag and runs a post. Got both hands up in front of him, thumbs together and both palms on the ball for immediate control.

2:50 Running a post from the left slot, gets free past the LBs in zone defense underneath. I can’t be certain on this catch, but it looks to me like he caught it with his body and left arm when he jumped into the pass. I’m not sure he needed to leave his feet here, and effectively tackles himself by going to the ground.

2:58 Runs a shallow drag from the left slot. Body caught a low ball using both hands to trap it against his gut. His pattern was nice, as he made the LB think he was running upfield before he cut across the field. Then puts on the breaks and lets the LB fly by like he’s on ice skates (the snow helps with the visual). Even though he doesn’t get the first down, I do like how he puts his shoulder down into the defenders to try and get it.

3:10 Runs a post from the right slot. Gets down low on a ball thrown a bit low and in front of him. Gets his hands down and both palms on the ball to draw it back into his body. Another difficult catch helped by his hands.

3:17 Runs a drag underneath Jessie James (who looks to be engaged and interfering with the defender) from the right slot. It is definitely a moving pick by JJ, but wasn’t called. Another ball thrown behind him, but does a nice job of getting both hands down, palms facing the ball, to secure the catch on his left leg.

Watching these plays, Eli is most effective running post patterns out of the slot. His hand usage is really good, and he’s making difficult catches consistently because of his excellent hand placement. I checked his drop totals from last year to see how well his hand placement translated to drops. Eli had 1 drop on 48 catches for a 2% drop to catch ratio, which is excellent, and he has the best drop ratio on the team so far (not having done AB’s analysis yet).

Not only are Eli’s hands excellent, but his route running is also great. He is correctly using his legs to help him gain space and win the advantage against defenders man to man. Being an open option in tight coverage, only helps out the rest of the receiving squad if they are double covered or bracketed on the outside.

Eli is a great receiving threat and should make the team, provided he stays healthy and keeps working hard at his craft. With one year on the books, he is already productive and should only get better this season. I for one will be rooting for him to keep playing at a high level.

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Anyalsis: Talent Depth Chart at WR

This is what I see for depth currently, before training camp starts (Rostered players in bold):

LWR (X) Brown, Antonio, – Hamilton, Cobi – Heyward-Bey, Darrius – Ayers, Demarcus – Tucker, Marcus

SWR (Y) Rogers, Eli – Smith-Schuster, JuJu
– Ayers, Demarcus – Tucker, Marcus

RWR (Z) Bryant, Martavis – Hunter, Justin – Coates, Sammie – Heyward-Bey, Darrius

Out/Cut: Canaan Severin was released on Tuesday.

I’ve placed the receivers with size on the Right (Z), and the quicker smaller receivers on the Left (X). Our slot guys are set (Y). I think the Steelers keep 6 WRs this year with a proposed emphasis on 4WR sets.

For the x receiver position, Antonio Brown is a lock, being arguably the top receiver in the league. Behind him, Cobi Hamilton just made a play to make the team. His consistent work in practice translated to the 2 best plays in this past week’s preseason game. The deep ball catch Cobi made, was the play of the game. Fully outstretched, using all of his size to pull in that pass. He still body catches a bit much for my taste, as evidenced by his TD catch, but he is effective and healthy. Right now he has the nod

The slot is starting to solidify. Eli Rogers shows he can still run routes and get open. JuJu also showed that he’s willing to do what he can to help this team. Whether it’s running routes, blocking, playing special teams, or making tackles on interceptions, he is a football player who was well worth the pick. He’s not making the team because he’s a second round pick. He’s making the team because he’s a special athlete, who will give his all, whenever he is on the field. Ayres being injured has knocked him way down in the pecking order. He needs to get back to show he is worth a roster spot. Tucker is not separating himself and will get lost in the shuffle if he doesn’t.

On the other side of the field, Bryant just returned to practice. I’m looking forward to his first game action this week. We all know what he is capable of, though it will be interesting to see how much rust he gained from his year off. Good thing is, he has 3 preseason games to work back into game shape. Justin Hunter has been making plays all over camp. With Coates hurt and Bryant out, he shows he can carry the load. He may be a more consistent receiver than Coates, though he lacks Sammie’s top end speed and explosiveness. One last receiver Canaan Severin, who was initially the last backup at this spot, was already cut and is now out of the picture

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Anatomy of a WR – Martavis Bryant

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.

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…