Is the small dynamic player becoming a luxury or a must have in the NFL game? Having been around DeSean Jackson for years in Philadelphia, I could make the argument they are a must have. Jackson has really set the stage for smaller players with special skill sets and raised their draft stock come April. Tavon Austin, while different from Jackson, directly benefited from his success in the NFL. These two players should help open the door for two phenomenal talents currently in college: Oklahoma’s Jalen Saunders and Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas.
The NFL is copycat league, and don’t think for a second teams aren’t noticing what is happening. With the rise of the hurry up offense – these type players are becoming a MAJOR part of football, because they are borderline uncoverable. As a scout you look for these players to stand out in several area’s – below I have touched on what to look for within each.
ON THE OUTSIDE
Despite the size of these players, they are a major mismatch for corners on the outside. Scouts love to see the ability to make something out of nothing, to win against perfect coverage, and be able to turn a quick out into a touchdown.
Scouts salivate when simple WR screens can turn into an explosive play. You can either make guys miss or you can’t. Players must be able to make defenders looks silly in space:
But the scariest thing with these players on the outside is their ability to go deep. Can you stretch the field running the circle post or go-route? I don’t care about your 40 time if you prove to me you have “PLAY” speed. You can’t teach or coach this:
IN THE SLOT
In the scouting world, the term versatility is valued very highly. Can you do multiple things at a high level? When WR’s can play on the outside and then bump inside it only increases their value in a draft room. We like complete players:
Tell me what 3rd corner or FS in the NFL, let alone college is covering this guy?? The combo of speed, hands, and ability to get open in short areas is major trouble for defenders. And this is what I would sell my GM or HC when push comes to shove.
IN THE BACKFIELD:
When you can combine the words toughness and versatility in a draft room to describe a player you are off to a very good start. When you can add home run hitting to speed in that description you may have yourself a winner.
His combination of speed, vision, and willingness to hit the hole is something that will have scouts salivating. He can get from zero to sixty like he is racing Vin Diesel in Fast and the furious. Again you can’t teach that “play” speed. I don’t ever need to see a 40 time on him, he shows me everything I need to know right here on film.
IN THE RETURN GAME
Special teams are an area which all scouts watch after evaluating the player on offense or defense. When it comes to punt returning we need to know if he is just a functional player asked to catch the ball or is a threat to score? Does he scare the opponent when he is back there?
Does he have make-you miss stuff in the open field? Can he win even when the coverage is perfect? Does he have the top-end speed to beat defenders once he is in open space?
As a kickoff return man he needs to be willing to “hit it” between defenders. This is the most violent play in football; players who are not only willing, but have the speed and vision behind blockers are a rare breed in this day and age. The Black Mamba shows he can do this in last year’s Fiesta Bowl:
Scouting staff’s have been forced to take notice on smaller players with unique skill sets. No longer are these guys skipped over in draft meetings or discounted on a team’s big board. The 2013 NFL draft was the perfect example. When you prove you can do one of the things above, teams take notice. When you can do them all, they become fascinated. When you can do them all in one game- you become a top 10 pick, regardless of your size.