Entering the offseason, it was clear that one of the Eagles' main objectives was to surround quarterback Carson Wentz with top-end talent. The additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith certainly bring that, but do those signings mean the Eagles will stay away from a receiver in the first round of the draft? Maybe, but maybe not, and if they do decide to go down that road there are certainly a couple of targets who would be great fits here in Philadelphia.
The "Big Three" in this draft at the wide receiver position include Corey Davis from Western Michigan, John Ross from Washington, and Mike Williams from Clemson. Williams and Davis are both bigger-bodied receivers (6-4 and 6-3, respectively), while Ross (5-10) has the explosive speed that puts him in the discussion in the top half of the first round.
Ross has that game-breaking ability, and speed is certainly something you can't teach, but I wanted to focus on both Williams and Davis in this piece, comparing the pros and cons of the two. To help me with that, I went to my favorite resource when it comes to the art of receiver play, Mike Quick, to help me study one game from both players. Quick had seen both prospects from afar, but had yet focus on either when we sat down earlier this offseason to study them.
Mike Williams Vs. Pittsburgh
It was a fun afternoon, and as always I learned a lot from Quick, and we started the session with a look at Williams against Pittsburgh, Clemson's lone loss of the season. In a high-scoring game, Williams had a career day, catching 15 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown. There were a lot of opportunities for us to evaluate Williams with the ball going his way, but it only took one snap, where he wasn't even targeted, for him to draw praise from the Eagles Hall of Famer.
"See this release? This is the first play and I like him already," Quick said. It was first-and-10, and quarterback Deshaun Watson goes to the other side of the field with this ball, but Williams is lined up on the left facing a press corner. He runs a fade and is able to get on top of the corner efficiently.
"There's no wasted motion. He's not bailing to the outside. He's going right at the corner's shoulder. He's not wasting any time getting upfield, I like that," Quick continued. "If this play comes to him he's in great position just off the ball to go up and make a play." It was Williams' release that caught Quick's eye again just four plays later.
"(Williams) wants to get outside here, but this corner is playing with outside technique and is trying to disrupt him, but Williams still gets outside anyway. See, what you don't want is a guy getting pushed too far outside to the sideline. He still gets to the outside shoulder here while going right at the corner," Quick said. This is where Williams' strength comes in handy, as he's able to pair that size (220 pounds) with proper technique to run through contact with relative ease at the line of scrimmage. Williams didn't get the ball on either of those plays, but on the very next snap we see his first big catch of the day.
It's first-and-10, and Williams is lined up all alone to the right, about halfway between the numbers and the hash marks. The alignment here is important because with so much room between his pre-snap position and the sideline there is a ton of space outside for Watson to throw this ball. Williams faces press coverage, attacks the corner outside and gets downfield for a fade route that he reels in for a 31-yard completion and a first down.
"This is really nice," Quick said, adding one coaching point for the young receiver. "Stay tighter to him. Once you get about 10 yards downfield, stay tighter to the corner so this ball can get to the outside shoulder. Williams has a lot of space to work with, so let that quarterback have all that room to the outside so you can fade to the ball rather than leading the corner to the catch point."
Shot 1 - Mike Williams does a great job here of staying close to the CB until the very last moment, giving Watson plenty of space outside pic.twitter.com/n0BEfvLUhV — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) March 31, 2017
This is a play from the following week against Wake Forest. It's almost as if Quick had coached Williams himself on the play because you can see the receiver put that point into practice. He's lined up at a very similar spot in the formation, and watch how tight he keeps the cornerback to him, allowing Watson to drop this ball in over the shoulder for a touchdown. This ball was a much more contested play from the cornerback the previous week, partly because Williams led the defender to the catch point. On this play, however, he keeps his intentions close to the vest, and then is able to use his length and natural ball skills to secure this throw for the score. Now let's go back to the Pitt game ...
On the following series, the Tigers faced third-and-8, and Williams lined up to the far left of the formation. Again, the All-America wideout caught Quick's attention with his release.
"Whew! I love that! This is great stuff here," Quick exclaimed.
Let's see what Quick is talking about, in a video straight from the ACC Digital Network’s YouTube Channel.
"This is another good release," Quick noted, "watch him keep the corner's hands off of him. I love that. Again, he's not getting too wide either, he holds the line and gets right upfield."
Williams then "stacks" the cornerback, meaning he runs by him then directly in front of him, putting the defender in a really rough position.
"See how Williams slows down here before he jumps? At the very least he's going to draw a penalty flag because this defender can't help but be directly on his back," Quick said. "Then you see him go up and high-point the football and come down with it? That's a tough catch. The release was good. He left room for the quarterback outside. This is all great stuff."
Quick is impressed so far. On the next series, he really liked the route Williams ran on an out-cut where he took a huge hit at the end for a 33-yard gain. He took a screen pass for 7 more yards three plays later.
"He's not special after the catch," Quick noted.
On that play, he ran directly into the teeth of the defense, and overall I agree with that statement. He's not especially dynamic with the ball in his hands.
On the very next play, we both can't help but laugh, as he breaks a couple of tackles and requires four Pitt defenders to bring him to the ground. He's a big body and he can be tough to bring down when he hits his stride in the open field. His size and strength come in handy on this 16-yard catch. As we fast forward to the second quarter, we get another example of Williams' size coming into play as he scores on a 15-yard touchdown.
"Yeah, he's great at this," Quick said. "It's a good release. He gets on top of him and stays vertical. Again, he doesn't flow too far to the sideline. He can play that high ball, we know he's good at that."
The Eagles Hall of Famer continued "most receivers in college would run a little farther and let the ball come down a bit closer to the ground, but he slows down a bit so he can go up and high-point the ball, and that's the best way to play it because the defender has no chance. If you slow down and you jump when you're already 6-3? Dude ... that's a big advantage for a wide receiver."
On the next drive, Williams quickly dealt with a Cover 2 corner right up in his face.
"When you're 225 pounds, you can usually handle yourself at the line of scrimmage," Quick said, "and since he got through that jam so quickly, he pulled the safety closer to the sideline as well. So if you've got other receivers running down the middle of the field, it would be wide open because of how well he defeated that corner at the line."
It's clear that Quick loves Williams' ability to defeat press coverage, but it's his route running that has come under scrutiny from analysts. Late in the second quarter, we see why.
It's first-and-10 at Clemson's own 25-yard line. Williams is lined up to the far right of the formation, and he breaks inside toward the middle of the field before rolling back to the sideline on a corner route. Watson hits him for a 17-yard gain and a first down, but Quick commented that the route should've looked a bit different.
"I just think a corner route should be a little more crisp," Quick said. "I think that (last cut) should be hard off that left foot. Early in the route, where he breaks inside, that was fine. But when he gets to about the 30 or 31, this should be a solid left foot plant on the corner move. That angle at the top shouldn't be rounded so much. This should be military style. It should be more vertical too, he flattens this too much."
I ask Quick if he minds Williams jumping up to catch the ball and then looking at the safety on the way down with it before getting tackled. He responded, "I actually like him taking a peek at the safety bearing down as long as he catches the ball. I'm OK with that. The nice thing is that he understands it's a two-deep zone and there's a man coming down that he has to beat for the ball, but he didn't need to jump for it."
As we transition to the middle stages of the third quarter, I ask Quick about all of the different releases we had seen from Williams thus far in the game. He'd won with a swim move, a hand swipe, and a speed release. Is it better to have multiple moves as a receiver when you're getting off the line of scrimmage, or just be really good at one?
"No, you want multiple releases," Quick says. "It's clear that a coach has worked with him on his releases and he's been groomed properly. We've seen multiple routes that need to be much more defined, because that helps your quarterback out when you're a crisp route runner. It helps with the timing of the quarterback and it helps disguise your intentions with the defender, but his releases? He does a good job with those."
Right on cue. Quick just mentioned how crisper routes can help out his quarterback, and the Tigers leave a play on the field that could've gone for big yardage. It's second-and-5 early in the fourth quarter, and Clemson is running a post-wheel concept with Williams running a post route and the wheel route coming from the running back in the backfield. This ball is intended to go to the running back, as long as Williams can take the cornerback on his side into the middle of the field with him on the post. Williams rounds out his route, and the cornerback is able to read post quickly, allowing him to get his eyes up to his surroundings. The defender sees the wheel route coming and is able to break on the throw to force an incomplete pass. If Williams had run the route sharper and with more urgency, he may have held that cornerback a tick longer and given Watson enough room to fit the ball in for a first down.
Later in the game, the Tigers are driving with the ball at the Pitt 27-yard line already up by eight points. A score here could put this game out of reach. It's third-and-3, and the Tigers need a first down to prevent a long field goal attempt. Watson drops back and hits Williams on a quick slant for a first down on one of the best routes we saw the receiver run all day long.
"See how that right foot hits and it's a defined angle, that's how you want it," Quick noted. "It wasn't there on some of those earlier routes, but now that I see this, I know it's there. You have to show him on tape how those defined angles at the top of his routes affect defenders and how they help the quarterback. It's there, you just got to get it out of him. He can do it."
Earlier in the season, Williams scored on a slant route against Louisville that looked very similar to the play above. If and when he's crisp with his routes, he's a hard player to defend because of his size. Smaller corners can't play through his frame to get to the football, and he's able to outmuscle defenders at the catch point. On the next drive in the Pitt game, we saw the exact same play again, but this time the ball was thrown slightly behind Williams.
"One of the toughest catches you can make as a receiver is a slant route with the ball behind you," Quick said, "at that point it's all hands and concentration. You're losing your feet, but you're able to concentrate on the ball and you just let your body go with the football. That's good stuff right there."
Corey Davis Vs. Ball State
Since we went with Williams' highest-volume game of the year, I did the same with Davis - a 12-catch performance against Ball State that led to 272 yards and three touchdowns through the air. When I told Quick what Davis' numbers were in the game, his answer pretty much summed up Ball State's afternoon.
The game starts with Davis catching a screen pass from the slot and hitting the sideline for a modest 6-yard gain.
"He seems to move pretty well for 6-3", Quick said.
I added that I was excited to see him run at the Combine, but it was later announced that he would miss pre-draft workouts due to an ankle injury. Teams will have to watch the film to gauge the small-school standout's athleticism. Two more deep post routes later (where he wasn't thrown the ball), Quick let out an audible "ooooooh" by seeing how smooth he was in the open field.
Western Michigan opens the third drive of the game at its own 43-yard line, and the Broncos call a shot play. Davis runs a post and this time his quarterback lays the ball out to him for a 57-yard touchdown throw.
Quick laughs, wondering aloud what the defensive back was waiting for to turn and start running.
"He just runs by this guy," he added. "I love that subtle move at the top of the route. He gets on top of the corner a bit, gives him a little shake, and then it's over."
It's notable that one of the biggest knocks on Davis is that he faced little competition in the MAC conference, and plays like this against Ball State's secondary are a point of contention with some people since he faced little to no resistance on his way to the end zone.
On the first play of the following drive, Davis lines up in the slot and runs another route down the seam. He gets by the corner with ease and is home free for a score, but he drops the ball right in his hands.
"That's unfortunate," Quick said, before adding that everyone drops passes. He was excited to see how Davis responded to it.
Two plays later, Davis doesn't get the ball, but we see a great side-by-side comparison after watching the game of Williams earlier. It's third-and-9, and Davis is lined up alone just inside the numbers to the right. He breaks inside at the snap, works upfield, then cuts outside, running a corner route. This was the same exact route run by Williams earlier that Quick worried was too flat and rounded off. Davis, on the other hand, presented a different story.
"I love that stem," Quick said. "He hits this north-south and then watch at the top of the route how he breaks it off real hard. The quarterback can see the angle. He gets those corner's shoulders turned. That's just a perfect route. This is much better than the one we saw Williams run, this is beautiful."
Early in the second quarter, Davis catches an in-breaking route for a 22-yard gain. I look over at Quick, and he's all smiles.
"That's so nice," he said, with a huge grin on his face.
"Let me show you what's so great about this play," Quick started. "This is just perfect. He approaches this guy and he's pushing to the corner's outside shoulder. As soon as he sees him drop his right hip, he knows he's clear, because he knows the corner can't drop fast enough to get to that angle. So the quarterback just pulls the trigger - bang - that's so pretty! You don't know how fast he's going. Look at his high-knee action. You don't know if he's going full speed, 80 percent speed, the corner has no clue. Yeah, that's NFL stuff. He's had a good teacher."
Needless to say, this play resonated with Quick.
A couple of snaps later, we see another shot of Davis blocking in the screen game.
"That's a good job of blocking," Quick noted, "we've seen that now a couple of times from him."
The drive ends with a 35-yard touchdown catch by Davis on a double move. He runs and out and up, and he makes an outstanding catch over a defender in the end zone for six points.
"That ball is not where it should be," Quick said, "but he goes up and finds it. Wow. I can't believe he came down with it, he just took it away from the corner."
In Western Michigan's first possession of the third quarter, Davis takes a pass for a 62-yard touchdown on an amazing catch-and-run, a play that drew an audible response from Quick as Davis broke multiple tackles on his way to the end zone.
"He delays his release to let the slot receiver get upfield ahead of him, and I can't believe he scores on this. Watch how he flattens this route off when he should, coming back to the football," Quick said. "He avoids contact, weaves through the middle of the field, catches the ball, then gets out of traffic. He should've been stopped by four different guys. How did they not tackle him? Are you kidding me?"
Again, this is where the lack of top-end competition comes into the discussion.
On the next drive, the Broncos have the ball at their own 1-yard line facing second-and-13. Davis is lined up to the right and takes a quick hitch for 23 yards and a first down, catching the ball just past the 5-yard line and drop steps past the corner on his way past the sticks.
Shot 7 - Davis is one of the few college WRs that can make most routes look the same at the drive phase. CB has no clue to what he's running pic.twitter.com/rlHqNAmX1u — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) March 31, 2017
"Ooooh, this is a good route. He catches the cornerback. That's good awareness with that move to get outside," Quick said.
I interrupted him, mentioning how he consistently disguises the drive phase of his routes so well. That's something I talked about with Matt Williamson on last week’s podcast as a trait that is really hard to find in receivers coming out of college.
"Yes," Quick answered, "he's square so the cornerback can't get a read on him. He drops his pads, throws that little shake in there. Bang. Drop the shoulder and get around the defender. Love it. First down on your own 1-yard line. Pick up your jockstrap cornerback! For a guy that's 6-3 that's some real good movement, man. That's Randy Moss-like."
I reminded Mike that Moss came from the same conference. Marshall was in the MAC when Moss entered the 1998 NFL Draft.
One the next drive, Davis catches a nifty bubble screen for a 14-yard gain. "That's real nice," Quick said, "after contact he picked up 7 yards where he should've been on the ground. That's 7 extra yards right there. You have to worry about this kid after the catch. There's a lot to like about this kid. A lot. He gets in and out of his cuts so nicely, there's very little wasted motion. He's a really good player."
It's early in the fourth quarter now, and Western Michigan is up 42-13 with the ball on the 5-yard line. It's third down and the Broncos want to hit Davis in the back of the end zone on a jump ball. He goes up and catches the ball but is unable to get his feet down to complete the touchdown, but Quick is still really impressed by the play.
Shot 8 - CB trying to force Davis inside to help, but Davis still escapes outside, attacks CB's technique. Just can't keep both feet in pic.twitter.com/7OKdWcASSu — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) March 31, 2017
"This is a good route," Quick said. "The corner is playing outside leverage (meaning he's trying to force Davis inside to his help), but Davis still gets outside of him. I love that because the corner can't allow that but Davis makes it happen anyway. He closes the gap before starting to widen his stem. Too many times you see this move to the outside too early, but he's vertical already. By getting vertical and attacking the corner he creates more space outside of him for the quarterback to throw the football. If he didn't do what he just did, closing the gap and getting on top of the corner, this play is dead. He gives this play a chance with what he did there. That's good stuff, even if he wasn't able to complete the catch."
"My overall thoughts on Williams are that he's a big target," Quick started. "He can use some help with his route running. He catches the ball really well and doesn't seem to shy away from contact at all. He does some really nice things with his releases. He does a great job staying vertical even against a press corner in his face. 50/50 balls - he seems to win those more often than not. I like the way he slows down to take the ball at it's highest point which is a big thing. That's his bread and butter. He's a really impressive player."
"Davis seems to be very polished," Quick said. "Good route running, he's got good suddenness to him. He's good with the ball in his hands making people miss. He's physical as a blocker. He looks like he's been well-coached and he's well-rounded as a receiver. Sure there are some drops there and Eagles fans may not be all too happy about that, but it's interesting comparing these two guys because they're both really, really talented.
"I didn't see the same kind of 50/50 ball opportunities for Davis that I saw for Williams but Williams wins on those as well as anyone I've seen this year. He knows how to time it to win those jump balls, and he's so good at beating up those corners at the line of scrimmage. On the other hand, Williams didn't have the route running that Davis has. His routes weren't as sharp, they were not as NFL ready. Davis' routes are NFL ready. He's been well-schooled. I think he's better with the ball in his hands than Williams is. I think he has some more suddenness to him and some more quickness to him."
The Verdict: Who Would Mike Quick Select?
To close the discussion, I asked Quick to put himself in the shoes of decision-makers around the league. What would be his next step as he tried to decide who to select?
"I honestly don't think you can go wrong with either," Quick answered. "I think both guys can be very successful at this level. I think you can teach Williams to be a better route runner, which is something that I want to see. I like his releases. So when he adds to those releases, yeah, he's the real deal, and it doesn't take a whole lot to do that. Davis is pro-ready as a route runner, you just have to decide if the competition level and a drop every once in a while bothers you, but I can look past that."
We're now just a couple of weeks out from the NFL Draft, and with players like Davis, Williams, and Ross still very much in the conversation in the top 15 it's very possible one of them hears his name called for the Eagles with the 14th pick. Regardless of where they end up, all three receivers are very much worthy of being selected in the top half of the first round, and are well on their way to being game-breakers at the next level.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.