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Speed isn't everything

Posted Feb 27, 2016

There is more to being an NFL wide receiver than just speed.

The wide receivers being critiqued on Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis for the most part lacked “beep-beep speed,” a term Chuck Noll once used in comparing running back/wide receiver Dwight Stone to the Roadrunner.

“This is the slowest class I can remember,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock observed during a series of mostly underwhelming 40-yard dashes. “A lot of them better be very good route runners.”

The NFL Network reported the average 40-time for wide receivers this year was 4.56, the slowest at a combine since the 2011 group checked in at 4.57.

Speed is often a significant element of what’s required, which explains the emphasis on the 40 times every February.

But speed isn’t everything, nor is a relative lack of speed necessarily a deal-breaker.

Antonio Brown, who is destroying the league on a weekly basis, ran a 4.57,” NFL Network host Rich Eisen noted.

Mayock had a pretty good idea as to why Brown, a No. 6b pick by the Steelers out of Central Michigan in 2010, has developed into one of the “prototype” wide receivers in the NFL.

“I look at Antonio Brown as one of them, along with Dez Bryant,” Mayock said. “(Brown) is one of the toughest wideouts, a lot like Hines Ward toughness-wise, as good a route runner as we have in the National Football League.

“So there are different ways to separate. It’s not always about speed. It can be about size or, in his case, it’s about route running.”

It’s also ultimately about catching the football, the discussion of which inspired an interesting exchange between Mayock and NFL Network analyst Michael Irvin on the importance of being a “hand-snatcher” as opposed to a “body-catcher.”

Irvin: “It’s just a matter of getting the confidence from the technique of putting your hands in the right position to make those (“hand-snatcher”) plays. You can teach anything and everything.”

Mayock: “I’m a huge believer that about 90 percent of it was developed because you have naturally good hands and you caught a zillion balls when you were a kid, not just footballs, basketball, baseball, whatever sport. You’re used to being around a football and you catch it naturally.”

Irvin: “In certain situations I want you catching that ball in your body. When you’re running a slant route on third-and-8 and people are going to hit you I want you catching it with your body.”

Carolina’s Ted Ginn, Jr., was referenced in the “hand-snatcher” vs. “body-catcher” debate.

Mayock:  “He’s fast enough and exciting enough that he’s made a ton of big plays. He’s left a bunch on the carpet, also. I look at a guy like that and say he is what he is. He’s not going to develop any better hands.”

Irvin: “But he had a much better season this season. He built his confidence up. He had the best season he ever had (in 2015). Everybody in the NFL has dropped balls.”

Mayock: “Some dropped more than others.”

Irvin: “T.O. (Terrell Owens) dropped a lot of balls. T.O. is about to be a hall-of-famer. Dropping balls is part of the process. T.O. dropped a lot of ‘under’ routes because he couldn’t catch the ball with his body. Catching the football is the primary thing.”

Mayock referenced a critique he received from an NFL head coach who had suggested Mayock had gotten a little too complex in his analysis of the wide receiver position.

“He said, ‘Listen, it comes down to two things,’” Mayock relayed. “‘You have to be able to separate somehow, size, speed, routes, you gotta separate. And you have to catch the football.”