The Philadelphia Eagles have a new quarterback in Carson Wentz to run a new coach’s offense. Sean Cottrell checks the film to evaluate how their new receiver, Dorial Green-Beckham, will fit in.
Since wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was traded to the Eagles from the Titans last Tuesday, there has been much debate among Philadelphia fans and media about the move. It is not just Green-Beckham’s character issues that have come into question, but his football talents and personal drive have also been major topics of debate. Regardless of these questions, however, if he truly does have the upside potential to be the elite WR he was touted as during the 2015 draft season, then the Eagles made a good buy-low deal in giving away their backup right tackle for his services. The fact is, despite an ongoing narrative that paints the Eagles offensive line as terrible, they improved the unit significantly over the offseason.
Several larger questions, though, still surround their young WR corps. So, the Eagles made the right move: Now what? How can Dorial Green-Beckham help Philadelphia now and in the future? I evaluated his play in his rookie season to find out.
Throughout the remainder of this article, I will walk you through the various skills and traits that Green-Beckham exhibits on a consistent basis. I will address some of his limitations, but I primarily want to focus on the positives. Every player has limitations, but, as Bill Belichick shows us every year with players such as Dion Lewis or Patrick Chung, a player and a team can both enjoy a lot of success if you can find and take advantage of the things he does well.
During my evaluation, I watched four of Green-Beckham’s games. To create as much context as possible, I watched games at the beginning of the season, end of the season, home games, away games, games with excellent and poor production, and games versus rivals or upper-echelon competition.
In 2015, Ethan Young developed an excellent system of analytic composites called Slaytics, which I highly recommend you take a look at. Within his Slaytics, Young combines a variety of a player’s physical measurables such as height, weight, arm length, and hand size with athletic measurables from the combine testing to create one composite score for the player which he calls their Size, Length & Athleticism (SLA) score.
Athletic ability has been a major point of discussion concerning Green-Beckham following the trade. Since he was drafted, Green-Beckham has carried a freak label with him, primarily based on him being 6’5” and running a 4.49 second 40-yard dash. If we look closer, though, the freak label may not be totally accurate. According to Young’s data, Green-Beckham’s SLA score ranked him only in the 63rd percentile of all WRs. In fact, Green-Beckham’s 40-yard dash was only about average for a WR. His agility and explosion scores were below average – and significantly so in some tests. Even when his elite height and weight are factored in, Green-Beckham’s composite score is only slightly above average.
Having said this, these scores are based off of tests that were performed on one random day in February 2015. With no other context to apply, it would be foolish to judge Green-Beckham solely off of his athleticism score. As we know, there is so much more that goes into success in the NFL, so let’s dive into that now and evaluate Green-Beckham’s on-field performance in his rookie NFL season.
A WR’s release off of the line of scrimmage is one of the more underrated facets of the position. In many situations, a player’s release plays a huge role in their overall utilization in an offense. Given his size, it is vital that Green-Beckham be able to beat press coverage and get into his routes.
That just happens to be one of his strong suits, as displayed in the clip below.
It’s late in an early season matchup with the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee has the ball at their own 35-yard line down 21-7. Green-Beckham splits wide to the boundary as the X receiver, facing press alignment from Browns cornerback Joe Haden (#23) and a Cover 2 shell from Cleveland. At the snap, Haden tries to jam him at the line of scrimmage. Green-Beckham does a good job getting his hands up immediately, engaging and overpowering Haden to drive him a few yards back before breaking inside on a quick slant.
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This was an example of him simply overpowering the CB, but throughout the season he also displayed surprisingly nimble footwork in his ability to beat press using a quick jab or stutter step before breaking in the opposite direction to get into his route. The ability to defeat press coverage will be huge for the Eagles, who currently lack a true X receiver that can consistently line up on the line of scrimmage by himself and win one-on-one battles.
One of Green-Beckham’s limitations is his ability to run precise routes and create separation out of his breaks, and defenders understand this. If he is too powerful to jam at the line of scrimmage and doesn’t create great separation out of his breaks, defenders will eventually stop trying to jam him and instead force him to beat them in space. As such, it is vital for Green-Beckham to get a good release versus off coverage as well, which he does in the next video.
In this play, time is winding down in a Week 15 matchup with the Patriots and the Titans have all but lost the game. Green-Beckham lines up on the line of scrimmage out wide in the 2×2 double slot formation with New England CB Logan Ryan (#26) playing off in a Cover 3 look. Green-Beckham runs a 10-yard out pattern when the play starts. He catches the ball, and gets his feet down before going out of bounds, but his release and mental processing is what really made the play work.
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Having identified the coverage as Cover 3, and thus knowing that Ryan has responsibility for the deep third of the field, Green-Beckham pushes upfield really hard trying to sell a vertical route. He does a great job and Ryan bites, turning his hips to begin his retreat three steps into Green-Beckham’s release. Green-Beckham plants his inside foot and breaks open to the sideline and picks up a 1st down.
If you’ve ever questioned the importance of a WR’s release, look no further than here for your answer; the result of this play was determined within Green-Beckham’s first three steps off the line of scrimmage.
As I mentioned above, Green-Beckham has been criticized over the past several days for his inability to gain separation and make precise cuts in his routes. Separation and route-running precision are two different traits, however, as there are many more ways to create separation than simply by making sharp cuts. Odell Beckham Jr. and Anquan Boldin both create excellent separation on a consistent basis, but do so in completely different ways.
In studying Green-Beckham’s film, there were a few things I thought he did really well to create separation.
The first thing I noticed was Green-Beckham’s quick feet and ability to use them effectively on shorter routes to manipulate defensive backs. The next play comes from Tennessee’s Week 9 matchup versus the Saints in front of a hostile crowd in New Orleans. The game is tied at 28 in overtime and the Titans are in the red zone trying to put the Saints on ice. Green-Beckham is lined up as the single WR to the boundary with the Saints showing Cover 1 and CB Brandon Browner in press alignment over top of him. Browner reaches in with one arm to try to impede Green-Beckham’s release at the snap, but the receiver shows good use of his hands to swipe Browner’s arm and keep his body clean as he releases outside.
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Green-Beckham will be running a quick in route on this play and needs to get inside leverage on Browner. He could’ve released inside, running straight to his landmark, but Browner had inside leverage and almost certainly would’ve impeded his route. Instead, by initially working outside, he gets Browner to turn his hips outside, then plants his outside foot and breaks back inside. The ball is on him as soon as he comes out of his break and Browner has no chance to impact the catch. Green-Beckham shows good mental acuity on this play by taking the outside leverage that was given to him and then making it work against the defender in the end.
Another way Green-Beckham creates separation is through winning the physical battle with the defender within the route, which we can see in this next play. The Titans are in a late season matchup with their division-rival Jaguars in a high scoring game that went back and forth all afternoon. Green-Beckham again lines up as the X receiver to the boundary and Jacksonville shows a Cover 1 look with a single-high safety over the top and CB Davon House (#31) in press alignment over Green-Beckham.
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Green-Beckham takes a jab step outside at the snap, then releases inside to defeat the press and pushes vertically upfield while fighting pressure on the outside from House. Green-Beckham will run a 15-yard dig route – but notice the subtle nuance in his route before he breaks inside. He angles very slightly towards the sideline just before his break, riding House further outside, and then plants and cuts inside to gain separation before bringing the ball in and bracing for contact.
Like many WRs his size, Green-Beckham will struggle to create separation on sharp 45 or 90 degree cuts at full speed. But, with his foot quickness in the short game and play strength to win the physical battles in tight man coverage, Green-Beckham shows the ability to separate in his own way.
Given Green-Beckham’s physical stature and other abilities or limitations, body control and the ability to adjust to the ball in the air may be the most vital trait to his success in the NFL. He must not only be able to adjust to the ball, but he must be able to do it while running at full speed and fending off a defender. Unlike great route-runners such as Amari Cooper or Odell Beckham Jr., Green-Beckham must find a way to win without relying on great separation because he will not always have it. Luckily for him, though, body control may be his best trait. Unlike some taller, longer receivers, Green-Beckham uses his height and length extremely effectively to make up for any deficiencies in his route-running ability.
For the first example, we will look back at the early season matchup in Cleveland. The Titans have the ball in the red zone and Green-Beckham is aligned as the X receiver out wide to the boundary, where he faces off-man coverage from Haden with a Cover 1 shell over the top. This is also another great example of winning with physicality and nuance in his routes.
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At the snap, Green-Beckham pushes vertical and runs a dig route just inside the goal line. As he reaches the goal line, he does a great job getting right on top of Haden’s toes as the cornerback waits for him to break on his route. This allows him to be physical with Haden at the top of his route while also ensuring that Haden can’t break on the dig with him. After his break, he deepens his path in the end zone ever so slightly to cut Haden off from the ball. His QB then has a nice window to throw to where Haden cannot impact the catch.
This is an excellent example of the nuance within his route running, but that is not even the best part of the play:
In the next example from late in the game versus the Patriots, the Titans line up in a 3×1 formation with trips to the wide side of the field. Green-Beckham is aligned as the inner-most slot receiver on the line of scrimmage. The Patriots are blitzing the right side of their defense and are in Cover 1 with Ryan in press alignment over Green-Beckham.
This play is great example of how Green-Beckham wins even when he doesn’t get much separation. At the snap, he takes an inside release and runs a deep corner route as part of a sail concept to to the wide side of the field.
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Ryan actually does a good job in coverage, staying in Green-Beckham’s hip pocket throughout the play, but that was not enough. After the safety came downhill to match the tight end crossing the field, QB Zach Mettenberger sees the middle of the field open and makes a nice throw to the receiver’s back shoulder. As Green-Beckham is running full speed to his corner landmark, he tracks the ball out of the quarterback’s hands and makes a great adjustment back to the ball for a big play.
Plays like the ones above show how vital it is to have a WR that has such good ability to contort his body in awkward positions to make plays on the ball and win one-on-one battles with defenders. When you combine his elite size and strength with his ability to adjust to the ball, it makes Green-Beckham a viable target in the passing game regardless of how much separation he is able to get.
The ability to block for a receiver is a complementary trait from a pure evaluation standpoint. Some coaches may place a higher value on it based on their offensive philosophy but generally when evaluating a receiver’s blocking, you don’t expect greatness. His ability to block tells you more about his overall effort than anything else and as long as he shows a willingness to mix it up with defenders and keep them away from the play, that is often sufficient. A receiver who excels at blocking, though, can be one of the primary drivers behind transforming a nice play into an explosive play for an offense.
After the trade, lack of effort and laziness were being thrown around as reasons to why Tennessee was so willing to part with Green-Beckham. While I cannot speak to his off-field habits, I can point to several plays in which I absolutely did not doubt his effort. On each of the plays below, Green-Beckham showed great effort or made a major impact in the result of a play where he doesn’t get the ball.
The first two plays were in Week 9 versus the Saints. Watch the first play as Green-Beckham gets between CB Brandon Browner (quite a physical player himself) and the ball carrier to make a dominant block and drive him 15 yards off the ball.
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On the next play, Green-Beckham shows excellent effort making two key blocks that help spring RB Antonio Andrews for a huge gain. Here, he lines up tight to the formation and executes a crack block on Saints outside linebacker Michael Mauti, forcing him to retreat three yards deeper. He then peels off Mauti and lays a devastating block into middle linebacker Stephone Anthony, who was flowing outside to the ball, allowing Andrews to get down the sideline for a huge gain.
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Great blocking receivers are hard to come by in the NFL, let alone ones that can mix it up with linebackers and win. Green-Beckham’s effort here was the key factor in creating this explosive play.
On the final play I want to highlight, Green-Beckham again shows excellent effort from snap to whistle and is one of the primary factors in the result of the play. It’s late in the 4th quarter of Tennessee’s game with the Jaguars and the Titans are trailing by four points in need of a touchdown. At the snap, Green-Beckham runs a 15-yard dig route, again getting decent separation out of his break versus tight man coverage. But QB Marcus Mariota gets in trouble and has to escape the pocket. Green-Beckham sees this, reverses field and sprints to the sideline, getting there just in time to make the key block that turns a 25-yard gain into an 87-yard touchdown for Mariota and gives the Titans the lead late in the game.
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Given the circumstances surrounding his troubled career, it is fair to question Green-Beckham’s effort and commitment off the field. On the field, however, his effort is not a question for me.
Green-Beckham’s game and style of play reminds me of Dez Bryant. I am certainly not comparing Green-Beckham’s potential to Bryant’s accomplishments, but rather comparing their similar style of play. Bryant is a much more precise route runner than Green-Beckham and the two have very different body types, requiring them to be different in how they play. Their physicality in attacking defenders and winning one-on-one battles, however, is what makes them similar. Bryant is one of a few WRs in the NFL who can make a conscious decision to take over and dominate a game – and follow through on it. Green-Beckham is certainly not there, but I think if he ever pulls it together off the field and realizes how physically dominating he can be, he too is the type of player capable of taking over games while rendering defenses helpless in trying to stop him. That alone, to me, makes him worth betting on.
Follow Sean on Twitter @PhllyDraft. Check out Sean’s work on how coach Bronco Mendenhall gets to the quarterback, how Carson Wentz did in his first preseason game, what Justin Fuente brings to the Virginia Tech Hokies offense, and on Mark Richt and the triangle offense in Miami.
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