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Is Baylor the New “Wide Receiver U”?

Schools such as Michigan, Tennessee, Louisiana State University, University of Southern California and most recently Oklahoma State have produced tremendous talent at the wide receiver position and at one time or another earned the moniker “Wide Receiver U”.

 

 

The barometer on whether the school is meriting of said title is comprised of three very important factors:

 

1)   The ability to aggregate talent at the wide receiver position

2)   Consistent stellar performance on Saturdays

3)   Wide receiver’s assimilation to the NFL

 

Oklahoma State was able to manufacture three high profile wide receivers from 2004-2012 in Rashaun Woods, Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon. While the three aforesaid players were able to dominate their competition all while putting up gaudy statistics at the collegiate level, only one (Dez Bryant) has come close to fulfilling his promise to date. While many would dub Oklahoma State “Wide Receiver U” during the years they were able to accumulate top talent at the wide receiver position, I certainly wouldn’t. The school simply did not have enough high profile talent commit to them to be deserving of the title. Additionally the receiver’s inability to adjust to the NFL was certainly disconcerting and hurt their cause.

 

Since Art Briles arrived at the University of Baylor Nov. 28, 2007, his fast-break offense has taken the Big XII by storm and his receivers have been a major part of his offense’s success. Art Briles has gained commitments to Baylor from several talented wide receivers over the years such as Josh Gordon, Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams, Lanear Sampson, Tevin Reese and current star Antwan Goodley.

 

Many look at the lineage of talented Baylor wide receivers and wonder how has Baylor been able to recruit so well at the position. Competing against the likes of Texas and Oklahoma, Baylor hasn’t had the luxury of recruiting top tier talent out of high school. Baylor coaches find players that exhibit traits that fit their system and they cultivate that player’s talent until they are productive each and every Saturday.

 

Recruiting

Gordon was ranked No. 128 by ESPN out of high school, but he displayed great hands and an uncanny size/speed ratio that was intriguing to Baylor’s coaching staff. Kendall Wright just barely made ESPN’s 150 high school prospect list, but there was a catch, he was a high school quarterback who had never played wide receiver. Despite not playing wide receiver in high school, he demonstrated exceptional lateral agility that would allow him to gain separation off the line of scrimmage as a receiver. Tevin Reese was merely a two-star prospect and Goodley was a three-star prospect but both presented exceptional ability after the catch. Reese possesses great speed and acceleration and Goodley at 5-foot-10, 222 pounds, is extremely tough to tackle in the open field as a result of his strength and above average long speed.

Goodley became the third consecutive Baylor wide receiver to lead the Big XII in receiving with 1,319 yards and 13 touchdowns. With that said, what is it about Baylor’s offense that allows their receivers to put up such big numbers every year? In short, Art Briles’ offense can be summed up into three words; spacing, tempo and leverage. Do the aforementioned attributes translate to the NFL? Below I will display and elaborate on examples of each.

 

Spacing

Baylor’s balanced 2×2 formation is ostensibly their favorite look. The difference in this 2×2 formation compared to most is the spacing. The slot receivers are outside of the hash marks and the outside receivers are at the bottom of the numbers. Spacing is what causes many problems for opposing defenses as it makes it almost impossible for them to disguise blitzes. Baylor’s splits leave defenders almost completely on an island and routinely forces one-on-one matchups with their fastest player on the opposition’s slowest player in the secondary. When facing an offense such as Baylor’s, a defense must make a decision to either stop the passing game or stop the run.

Oklahoma attempted to stop the pass the majority of the game during their 2013 matchup, but when the Sooners elected to bring another defender into the box, Baylor certainly took advantage, as seen in the above video. Levi Norwood takes literally two steps to cross the cornerbacks face and gain separation. Pursuit to the ball carrier also takes longer because they have much more ground to cover as a result of the spacing. Wide receiver splits make a huge difference because it can create separation pre-snap, as well as after the catch. The only way to mitigate their ability to constantly get mismatches in space is to consistently get pressure with four defenders.

 

Tempo

Realizing that anything that can be done in a huddle can be done without one, Baylor plays extremely fast not just during the play but between plays as well. One of the biggest ways an offense can get the upper hand on a defense is to increase the tempo or the frequency in which plays are run. An up-tempo offense can keep a defense in their base personnel and limits their ability to substitute. Any defense playing against an offense like Baylor’s, it’s imperative to have many players that can wear many hats or it could be a long night for the defense. Art Briles’ offense has been described as a fast break on grass because of his team’s tempo. It is tough on defenses both physically and mentally to get stops because each play is happening so fast.

In the above video there are roughly 11 seconds between the time the ball carrier is tackled and the referee spots the football for the following play. The reason they are able to get to the next play so quickly is not only a result of their communication, but the fact that the ball carrier hands the ball directly to the official so that he can spot the ball more quickly. This is a small, but important detail that many miss when watching up-tempo offenses. At the moment, there is only one NFL head coach that makes certain his players utilize this strategy, and that is Chip Kelly. Baylor averaged one play every 20.1 seconds in 2013. The NFL’s fastest team was the Buffalo Bills who averaged 20.6 seconds per play.

 

Leverage

Baylor’s spacing typically forces the opposition into a pseudo-zone defense but their efforts are routinely rendered ineffective as the defensive secondary is typically left on an island. Baylor’s route tree is option based and predicated on the opposition’s leverage. The downside to their system is that as a result of the spacing, there are a limited number of routes that can be run. Their limited route tree has an impact on Baylor wide receiver prospect’s transferable NFL qualities, but has certainly proven to work on Saturdays.

In this video, leading Baylor wide receiver Antwan Goodley knows pre-snap that he’s facing zone. The Buffalo secondary shows their hand by alignment as the cornerbacks have their backs toward the sideline. With knowledge of the coverage Goodley runs a simple over route with the option to stem vertically if the inside linebacker stops his feet. Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty sees the exact same thing as his receiver and connects with Goodley for a long touchdown as a result of two players reading leverage properly. Though Buffalo was playing zone coverage, it still ends up being man-to-man as a result of spacing, while Petty and Goodley being on the same page reading leverage seals the deal.

 

Conclusion

Baylor’s staff has proven that they can acquire big-time talent at the wide receiver position and continue to do so. While Antwan Goodley continues to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors, they have more young wide receivers waiting in the wings. Corey Coleman, Davion Hall, Ishmael Zamora and five-star recruit KD Cannon will continue to carry the torch for Baylor’s stellar history at the wide receiver position.

Bringing in great players is important to a coaching staff, but it is vital for a program to cultivate their talent and develop a system so that there is consistency week in, and week out. Baylor is a well-oiled machine at this juncture and players know exactly what is expected of them. Baylor wide receivers are asked to make great decisions on the fly, play fast and make defenders miss in the open field. Doesn’t seem like a very difficult job to me. If I were a 17-19 year old wide receiver looking to earn a scholarship, I’d certainly want to play in Art Briles’ offense.  With that said, putting up big numbers at Baylor does not always lend itself to NFL Success.

In recent years we’ve seen one Baylor receiver go on to achieve NFL stardom on the field in Josh Gordon. The other wide receivers have been average at best. Terrance Williams seems to be making strides but he had a very unique situation in Dallas where tight end Jason Witten took Williams under his wing. Witten taught Williams the nuances of route running, an area many Baylor wide receivers seem to be deficient.

The learning curve for a Baylor wide receiver making the transition to the NFL is STEEP. It is unfortunately compounded by the fact that Baylor’s wide receivers spend three-four years working on routes not commonly associated with NFL offenses. In fact there are many collegiate offenses that aren’t conducive to facilitating NFL success because collegiate coaches are concerned about one thing and that’s winning.

 So is Baylor “Wide Receiver U”?

At the moment, Baylor wide receivers have not consistently shown the ability to assimilate to life in the NFL. Thus, I must answer the above question with a resounding NO! Baylor met just two of the three requirements to earn the moniker, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t revisit this topic in the next two-three years.

In order for Baylor to eventually earn such a distinct title, a few things that equate to sustained NFL success need to happen.

Baylor’s current talent needs to continue to ripen which will open the pipeline for more talent to commit to the Baylor program. Additionally, changes need to occur at the professional level. Rigid NFL play callers with antiquated ideology will need to broaden their horizons and realize what Baylor is doing could absolutely work in the NFL. Furthermore, spread principles will need to be run with greater regularity in the NFL. Last but certainly not least, coaches like Art Briles, Gus Malzahn and Kevin Sumlin must make their way to the NFL and have success.  Once those things happen (and it’s entirely possible), Baylor will certainly be deserving of the title “Wide Receiver U”.

 

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