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.
2:17 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.