The 2021 NFL Draft is loaded with talented wide receivers, which should give teams plenty of options to get fantastic value in the middle and later rounds.
One player who has the skills to make a big impact at the next level, no matter where he’s drafted is Auburn’s Anthony Schwartz.
An explosive playmaker with the speed to take the top off a defense, Schwartz recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his skill set as a receiver, how he attacks defensive backs of different sizes, and what kind of player he’ll be at the next level.
JM: You were a world-class sprinter in high school and it shows on tape. How do you think that made you a better football player?
AS: It definitely helped me with my speed. I was able to become as fast as I can on the field thanks to my track background. I’m a quick accelerator because of it. One underrated factor that doesn’t get mentioned enough, it really helped with my conditioning too. I don’t have to take plays off. I don’t have to come out of the game. I can play at 100% speed the entire time.
JM: That’s a great point. What can you tell me about the scheme Auburn ran on offense, and what your coaches asked of you?
AS: Our scheme was something like a fast-paced spread offense. It was a west coast style offense.
My first year at Auburn, I was more of a gadget guy. I took some handoffs, designed reverses and other quick developing plays to get the ball in my hands. Going into my sophomore and junior years, I transitioned and grew into more of a traditional receiver role. I wasn’t just a gadget guy anymore. I became a guy my coaches can trust to run the entire route tree. I became a guy that could play a full game.
JM: How did you develop from a gadget guy into a seasoned receiver that could run the entire route tree? You obviously put in a lot of hard work.
AS: It’s funny, being that gadget guy made me more comfortable with the ball in my hands. It helped me settle into the game more. I was playing behind a smart, veteran guy in Ryan Davis. He had just wrapped up a spectacular season when I first got to Auburn. I followed him around. He showed me the ropes. I learned so much from him. That helped me a lot.
I started playing more toward the end of the season. I played more snaps. I gained the confidence and experience I needed to move forward as an every-down player. I took that next step and developed into a complete receiver.
JM: You eventually got to a point where you could handle both inside and outside duties. We saw that on tape. You played on the outside and you played in the slot. Tell me a little about your different responsibilities there, and what you enjoy about those positions?
AS: The differences between playing inside and outside boils down to how the defense plays.
When you’re on the outside, it’s more often than not you against another guy. You’re out there on an island. It’s typically a one-on-one match-up on the outside. I love that because I prefer it to be me against you. I wanna win every single time. It’s more physical on the outside. I like that part of it too.
Being in the slot, you have to know what the defense is doing. You have to recognize if the nickel or safety is the one covering you. Maybe the linebacker is gonna drop out and pick you up. There’s a little more thinking required in the slot. Once I was able to pick that up, I handled a lot of snaps in the slot.
Playing in the slot is different from a physicality standpoint. There wasn’t anybody pressing me at the line of scrimmage there. You have more space to release. It can be easier to get open, but you need to have more knowledge of the defense. You need to spend time in the film room to understand what’s going on.
JM: Deep speed and run after catch ability are obviously big elements to your game, but you’re also very sudden off the line of scrimmage. How did you develop that aspect of your game?
AS: That’s something I’ve been focusing on since my freshman year of high school. I knew I had to work at that. Patrick Surtain II and Tyson Campbell were teammates of mine in high school. I practiced against those guys every single day. I had to stay crisp and bring something new to the table every time. You’re not going to beat those guys one-on-one if you’re not at your best. I had to constantly work at it.
We worked a lot on our releases as a warmup to practice at Auburn. Because I’m so fast, if I win the release, I’ll easily win the route. That’s something that I focus on. We’ve had a bunch of great defensive backs come through Auburn as well. Just like in high school, I had to bring something new to the table every day.
Those are the things that helped me develop that area of my game.
JM: You’ve been practicing against NFL-level cornerbacks since your high school days. Your deep speed also opens up a lot of things for you underneath.
AS: I agree. I’ve been used to taking the top off the defense so often that teams will play so cautious against me. Having that in mind, teams will try to play deep, they’ll play more Quarters or Cover 3.
That gives me so much room to run an underneath route. I can run something quick and easy. That forces the defense to come up. When that happens, that’s when I can truly shine. You can’t play deep anymore because I’ll just catch and run underneath. And when you come up, that’s when I’ll beat you deep. Me being able to do both brings a lot to the table for an offense.
JM: I love that. You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t. We’ve reached the part of the draft where things are happening virtually. How is that process going for you, and which teams have you met with so far?
AS: The process is going great so far. I was a little nervous for my first meeting (laughs). Other than that, it’s been easier than expected. I feel like things are going great for me.
I took a lot of business classes at Auburn. I’ve done so many mock interviews. I feel like that experience is helping me a lot throughout this process. As far as the teams I’ve met with, I’ve spoken with the Patriots, Seahawks, Steelers, Jets, Chargers, Colts, Saints, and Titans.
JM: There’s a lot of interest in you. It’s easy to see why. How do you approach a bigger, more physical corner in man coverage differently than you do a smaller, shiftier one?
AS: You have to know that those bigger corners wanna get their hands on you right away. That’s something I pay close attention to. You have those patient big corners as well. They’re gonna let you do whatever you want and react to it. You also have those aggressive corners.
With the aggressive one, you really just can’t miss. That’s something I’ve struggled with in the past. I’m working on that. The corners that shoot their hands, they know I’m fast. They know they have to get their hands on me. That’s something I’m working on. I have to be quicker to get their hands off me. I feel like I’ve gotten better at it.
For a smaller corner, those tend to be the patient guys because they’re usually of the speedier variety. They’re patient because they think they can catch up. They’re not gonna shoot right away. They’re gonna be patient and try to cut you off as soon as you make your move. They might be a bit more grabby than those big corners but they’re usually more technical as well. You have to play with great technique against those small guys.
JM: What is one strength of your game that you don’t think gets talked about enough?
AS: I feel like some strengths that I don’t get enough credit for, one of them would be my hands. I don’t think people saw enough of that in college. I would also point to my ability as a route-runner.
We weren’t asked to run a full route tree on a consistent basis at Auburn. We had some plays here and there. When I’m able to get loose and really run routes, I feel like I can get open. We did a lot of that during one-on-ones in practice and I got open a lot. I can win with any route on any given rep. That’s an underrated part of my game because we didn’t always show it in games. Auburn just didn’t wanna attack defenses like that.
JM: That’s a fair answer. I’ve really appreciated your time today. This has been great. You’re one of the fastest, most exciting receivers in this draft. In closing, what kind of impact is Anthony Schwartz gonna make at the next level?
AS: When you draft me, you’re drafting the fastest guy in football. You’re gonna get a guy that can stretch the field. I’m gonna do whatever my coaches ask of me. I’m tough. You’re getting a guy that will go out there and block an All-Pro linebacker. I can play on special teams too. I don’t run my mouth. I just try to get as many yards as I can.