Player to Watch: Olamide Zaccheaus

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Mike Tomlin likes to call them splash plays. Big plays that can change the momentum of game or lead to scores. On offensive, that means getting the ball into the hands of playmakers. The Virginia Cavaliers give the ball to Olamide Zaccheaus.

Below are my early thoughts on Zaccheaus’s ability and where he succeeds on the field. Then, we’ll look at a few plays that show what type of player he’s been to this point for the Cavaliers.

Breakout Year

Olamide Zaccheaus (pronounced Oh-llama-day Zah-key-us) is listed at 5’8”, 190 pounds and as a halfback on the Cavaliers like to move him around the offense. You can see him lined up alongside the QB in shotgun or in an H-back position. Most often he gets lined up as receiver in the slot or occasionally on the outside.

After getting 54 offensive touches in each of his first two seasons, he had a breakout year in 2017, gathering 112 touches (including 85 receptions) to break the record for a season for a UVA player and is the only player in school history with two receptions of over 80 yards. He racked up 895 yards, including two 100 yard games, and had at least 4 catches in every game with a career high 12 versus Indiana. His 5 receiving touchdowns tied for second on the team.

As a Runner

As a runner, the Cavaliers capitalize on Zaccheaus’s speed, using him on jet sweeps and outside runs from the backfield. He shows good patience to allow his blockers to engage, reads his blocks well, and uses good acceleration to get up field quickly. He displays good quickness, change of direction, and agility to make defenders miss in space. Despite his size he shows solid play strength to run through arm tackles to gain extra yards. He had only 27 carries last year and 63 for his career with 2 touchdowns. He didn’t run inside often in the games I watched, but was used occasionally on inside draw plays.

As a Receiver

As a receiver, Zaccheaus works quite a bit in the short area of the field on slants, hitches, flat routes and screens. The key with Zaccheaus is to get the ball into his hands quickly and let him read his blocks and maximize the yards after the catch. He’s a natural pass catcher catching away from his body and is able to adjust all around his frame. After the catch he gets his head around quickly and displays good acceleration up field as you’ll see in the plays below. Virginia also like to use him on deeper go routes and wheels to capitalize on mismatches with bigger defensive backs. He shows the speed to get behind defenders and tracks the ball well over his shoulder.

There are definitely some areas where he can improve, though. He will take a false step at the line of scrimmage, crossing his back foot across his body. I’d also like to see him clean up his route running. He’ll round off his routes coming out of the stem and he doesn’t explode out of the break either, which would be a big advantage for him given his quickness. Adding play strength would also benefit him to avoid being moved off of his routes by more physical defensive backs. He ran some dig routes but adding more intermediate level routes to his repertoire would only make him more dangerous.

As reported by, the coaches agree there is room to improve. “He’s great at kick returns and he’s great when he gets the ball with some space in front of him,” says (Head Coach Bronco) Mendenhall. “He hasn’t yet proven that at the receiver spot, but we’d like to find out.”

“He’s just got to be more consistent,” says wide receivers coach Marques Hagans. “There’s some plays we talked about that he left on the field. Some yards that he left on the field, so he’s motivated. He didn’t have the year that he wanted and ultimately, we didn’t have the year that we wanted, so there’s plenty of work to be done.”

There will be some adjustment as well since his quarterback from last year, Kurt Benkert, has moved on to the NFL. With some small improvements he can be someone who will catch the eye of NFL scouts and creative offensive coordinators.

Olamide is Nigerian for “the blessing has come” and I think Cavalier Hoo Crew would agree he’s been a blessing on the field.

Plays that Caught my Eye

Against North Carolina, a simple flat route from the slot on a roll out from the QB. Hands catch away from his body. Gets his head around quick able to avoid the first would be tackler, swiping at his arms. Gets up to speed quickly. Able to get 30 yards before shaking off another defender along the sideline for an 81 yard touchdown in the 3rd quarter to put them ahead for good.

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Lined up to the top vs Connecticut, Zaccheaus makes a catch on a WR screen. He accelerates to the outside and shows his change of direction pulling a Maverick, “I’ll hit the brakes, he’ll fly right by.” He reads the blocks and gets a solid gain.

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Again against Connecticut, on 3rd and 18, he’s lined up in the slot left. You see the DB step up to tighten his coverage and QB Benkert seems to adjust by signaling to Zaccheaus by waving his hand over his head three times. Zaccheaus uses a slight hesitation move and accelerates to the outside to easily beat the defender and tracks the ball well over his shoulder for an easy touchdown.

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At Miami, this is similar to the first play above. Another simple flat route from the right slot. On this route you can see the false step, by his back foot, across his body. Good adjust to the ball up and outside, but this time he takes it back inside, showing a nice burst to split through 6 defenders to get in the end zone.

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Zaccheaus is definitely an intriguing player to watch for Virginia this upcoming college football season, especially as the Cavaliers look to replace two-year starter Kurt Benkert at QB. Relying on Zaccheaus’s athleticism and ability in space as a receiver is a solid offensive recipe for a young Virginia offense.

Follow Tom on Twitter @THMead3. Check out his other work here, such as his look at Washington RB Myles Gaskin, his recap of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2018 NFL Draft or his look at how paying a high salary veteran QB may hurt your chances of winning.

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