Listen: You can’t get excited about Paul Richardson just yet. Yes, he was the Seattle Seahawks’ second-round draft pick, but he has a lot to learn at the wide receiver position. Players like him come into the league every year, and within three years, they’re out of it. It’s a difficult transition.
In the NFL, wide receivers don’t just catch passes on bubble screens and fly routes; they run more complicated routes, such as double moves, square-ins, digs and shallow crosses. All these routes require outstanding technique that takes a couple of years to develop. That, too, is how long it’ll take for Richardson, who mostly ran vertical routes at Colorado because of his deep speed. The Seahawks will likely use him the same way, stretching defenses with his 4.33 40-yard dash speed to create room underneath for the other receivers running traditional West Coast Offense routes.
But even the vertical routes that Richardson runs need work. He needs to sharpen his cuts and run with more intent. Here’s an example against Colorado State during his final season.
Facing second-and-15 from the 25 yard line, Colorado’s offense needs to move the ball to set up a manageable third down. They have a chance to do more than that, however, when Richardson lines up at the wide side of the field in an isolated matchup with a Colorado State cornerback. The cornerback’s playing off-man in single-high coverage, respecting Richardson’s deep speed.
When Richardson releases off the line of scrimmage, he jabs inside with his right foot and pushes his stem outside, on top of the numbers. This keeps the cornerback inside, keying the quarterback.
Ten yards later at the 35, Richardson rounds inside like he’s running a post route. But what he’s really running is a post-corner route, which requires him to cut back outside.
When Richardson sticks his right foot in the ground and then his left to lower his shoulders and burst outside, he eyeballs the pylon at the near corner of the end zone. This is a major mistake. He has the cornerback on his heels, so by continuing to run vertically, he’s giving the defender a chance to make up ground. Remember also that the cornerback is in single-high man coverage, meaning he has safety help in the middle of the field.
When faced with single-high on a post-corner route, Richardson needs to flatten his route out to the sideline to avoid double coverage downfield. Instead he keeps running, allowing the cornerback to get in position to break up the pass.
Running routes is difficult, especially in the NFL because the game is faster and there’s more thinking involved. A college receiver comes into the league after catching jump balls and other type of throws that allow him to outmuscle cornerbacks and run away from safeties. That rarely happens in the pros because (mostly) everyone is on the same playing field, which is why technique is important, even on the less complicated routes.
The Seahawks’ goal is to develop Richardson’s technique so he can run more than vertical just routes. Ideally he’ll run shallow crossing routes too, which are less complex than the post-corner route he ran against USC, but they still stretch and put pressure on the defense.
In the same game against USC, he ran a smooth shallow cross on second-and-five. Facing press coverage at the line, Richardson released flat into the middle of the field for three yards before rounding into the crossing route. The cornerback bailed at the line and dropped into deep third coverage, passing off his assignment to the strong safety creeping into the box.
The safety tried to jam Richardson as he came down. The 6’1” receiver avoided him by giving the cold shoulder. He accelerated past the safety and picked up a yard (if not more) of separation to catch the pass for a first down on the opposite side of the field.
When Richardson starts developing, he’ll contribute to the Seahawks’ offense by running more routes, such as the shallow crossing route. It may seem simple, but there are many receivers in the mold of Richardson who struggle to run it.
Case and point: Mike Wallace of the Miami Dolphins. Wallace is not a natural route runner because he struggles to quickly get in and out of his breaks. He’s primarily a vertical speedster, so when he runs a shallow crossing route, he’s stiff and doesn’t have a feel for zone coverage. The success he has found in running this route is primarily because other receivers have created enough room for him to build up speed and turn the corner.
Richardson is similar to Wallace in the laterally stiff sense, but he has a better feel for zones. Once he combines his natural talent with technique, he’ll have a feel for all types of coverages.
Feature photo courtesy of USA Today/Ron Chenoy