The importance of relationships that quarterbacks develop with their receivers cannot be understated. Without them, whole offenses can stall. Mark Schofield explores one relationship in particular, and how the bond between Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson allows both players to shine.
The relationship between quarterback and wide receiver is one built upon trust, harmony, and timing. Similar to the interaction between synchronized swimmers, or pairs of figure skaters, both athletes rely upon trust and precision to achieve excellence. However, the external factors that the QB and WR face are more imposing than water, be it frozen or liquid. When an offensive pair can remain in sync despite cornerbacks trying to re-route receivers and disrupt the timing of the play and blitzing linebackers trying to separate the quarterback from his cleats, it is a thing of beauty. Similar to the relationship being forged in Oakland between Derek Carr and Amari Cooper, over the past few seasons quarterback Trevone Boykin and wide receiver Josh Doctson illustrated their symbiotic relationship play after play in Fort Worth.
One route where this relationship is perfectly illustrated is the out pattern. Doctson and Boykin have this pattern down to the point that on many plays Boykin’s release coincides with the receiver’s plant step, so as Doctson begins his cut to the outside, Boykin is torquing his upper body through the throwing motion. Against Texas Tech in 2014, the two connected on this route for a first down early in the contest. Facing 2nd and 11, Boykin (#2) stands in the shotgun with Doctson (#9) split to the right as a single receiver. The Red Raiders show zone coverage in the secondary with two high safeties, and the cornerback is in press alignment over Doctson:
At the snap, the cornerback bails into zone coverage, as Texas Tech rolls into a Cover 3 matching scheme. Boykin reads this as he drops to throw, and looks at Doctson’s out pattern. Watch as the timing of the QB’s release syncs up with the plant step from the receiver:
[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/DoctsonBoykinVideo1.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/DoctsonBoykinStill1.jpg”]
Here is the release in gif form. Boykin begins his throwing motion just as Doctson drives his foot into the turf, and as the quarterback twists his upper body through the throwing motion, the receiver twists his upper body and turns to the sideline:
The cornerback recovers as best as he can, but the timing of the route and throw leave the defender helpless to prevent the 12-yard gain, which gives TCU a first down.
Precision and timing play a critical role in the short and intermediate passing game. This is apparent on out routes, such as the previous play, but these are also crucial elements on routes breaking inside, such as slants or skinny posts. When the receiver is working over the middle and the throwing lanes are narrow, both passer and receiver must be on the same page. Against Oklahoma in 2014, the Horned Frogs face a 2nd and 10 in their own territory. They line up with Boykin in the shotgun and Doctson, again, split to the right, as a single receiver. Similar to the previous play, the Sooners show a combination coverage in the secondary, with the strongside showing zone while a press cornerback aligns across from Doctson:
This time, the receiver runs a skinny post pattern, while the defense uses another Cover 3 matching design:
Once more, passer and receiver are in complete synchronization. As Doctson hits the final step on his vertical stem and starts to peel his head to the middle of the field, Boykin’s throwing motion is in full swing:
[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/DoctsonBoykinVideo2.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/DoctsonBoykinStill3.jpg”]
Boykin has finished drawing the football back in his motion, and is about to explode forward, torquing his upper body through the release point. Doctson is 13 yards away, with his left foot planted at a 45-degree angle away from the vertical stem, starting his cut toward the post. Boykin’s strong, accurate throw hits Doctson in stride, allowing the receiver to maintain the separation between himself and the cornerback created with the cut. In addition, the timing between these two players and the placement of the throw allows Doctson not only to pick up yardage after the catch, but puts him in position to evade the free safety looming in the middle of the field.
Turning to the 2015 season, we see the precision on the out route on this play against West Virginia. Late in the third quarter the Horned Frogs face a 1st and 10 on their own 44-yard line, and the football on the left hashmark. Doctson is once more aligned wide to the right, standing halfway between the hashmark and the numbers. (As a matter of reference, thanks to the great Reception Perception work by Matt Harmon of NFL.com, we know that Doctson lined up on the right side on 94.3% of his snaps, third-highest among the 21 prospects charted by Harmon). The Mountaineers 3-3-5 nickel defense shows Cover 3 in the secondary, with the free safety lined up right in the middle of the field, and the outside CBs using inside leverage over the outside receivers:
Doctson again runs the deep out pattern:
[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/DoctsonBoykinVideo3.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/DoctsonBoykinStill5.jpg”]
Two additional elements make the timing of this play even more impressive. First, Boykin is lined up in the pistol formation, and at the snap he executes a mesh with the running back on an inside zone run design. The structure of the play has the quarterback carrying out this mesh after pivoting to his right, so he is able to read the defense and see Doctson’s coverage as he carries out the play. Boykin sees the off-coverage over his favorite target, so he quickly decides where he is going with the football. Yet again, as the receiver hits his plant step at the top of his stem, Boykin’s throwing motion has begun:
The other element that makes this play impressive is the distance between passer and receiver. This throw comes from the left hashmark to the opposite numbers, and even though Doctson gets in and out of his break quickly, the cornerback is able to recover quickly and break on the pass. But because of the timing, the placement of the throw and the velocity of the pass, Doctson secures the football right at the first down marker and is able to start his turn upfield just as the defender arrives. Because of the precision between the quarterback and the receiver, when the cornerback tries to execute his tackle, Doctson is able to start upfield and break away from the attempt, picking up additional yardage after the reception.
Finally, a few thoughts on the other topic of this piece: Trust. The trust between receiver and quarterback is apparent on nearly every throw: From the QB trusting that his receiver will run the correct route and be where the quarterback expects him, to the WR trusting that his teammate will put the football in the best position for the him to make a catch and avoid defenders after the reception.
But there is another element to this. When the scheme and the route design ask the QB to make an anticipation throw and lead his receiver open, the WR is often completely covered. Here is an example of the trust Boykin places in Doctson in these scenarios. The Horned Frogs face a 1st and 10 in the red zone, with 11 personnel on the field and Boykin in the pistol formation. Doctson is the outside receiver in the slot formation to the right. The Mountaineers line up with their base 3-4 defense and show Cover 1, using press coverage over both receivers on the right of the offense:
At the snap, the QB and RB mesh on inside zone action, with Boykin pivoting to his right as with the previous example. This again allows him to see Doctson, who is releasing on a fade route. The CB gets a good jam on the receiver off the snap, but the quarterback trusts that Doctson will beat the defender to the football, and begins to throw:
[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/DoctsonBoykinVideo4.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/DoctsonBoykinStill7.jpg”]
Boykin releases the football while Doctson is engaged with the defender near the 10-yard line. Despite the tight, physical coverage the receiver is able to free himself from the cornerback, and Doctson strides under the perfectly-placed touch pass for the touchdown.
Terrell Chestnut (#16) is in perfect position, with inside leverage on the receiver and both arms on Doctson, including his right hand placed directly on the receiver’s left shoulder. But this matters not to the quarterback. Trusting in his receiver, Boykin lets the ball fly, and Doctson works around the CB and glides under the throw for the touchdown:
[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/DoctsonBoykinVideo5.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/DoctsonBoykinStill9.jpg”]
These plays, particularly the fade route, illustrate some of the reasons that Josh Doctson is considered a top-flight talent in the 2016 receiver class. But NFL teams would be wise not to sleep on Boykin. The passer displays a nice mix of timing and aggression in the passing game, does an excellent job of keeping his eyes downfield when the pocket collapses, and is generally accurate with his throws. Whether both players succeed in the NFL is up for future debate, but for now, what they were able to accomplish is a testament to what can be done when QB and WR are on the same page.