Pro Football Focus has recently released a lot of quality draft content, and it hit another home run earlier this week assessing the value, but limits, of yards-after-catch (YAC) ability.
PFF’s Austin Gayle highlighted two young players, 49ers’ Deebo Samuel and Titans’ A.J. Brown, as the paragons of YAC work among rookie wide receivers last year. Brown and Samuel finished first and eighth, respectively, in +/- expected YAC, according to Next Gen Stats. Few receivers were better at generating more yards after the catch, at their relative depth of targets, than Brown and Samuel were.
The relative depth of target note is critical. As Gayle explains, Samuel had a low depth of target relative to the average receiver, and accordingly the yardage he generated after the catch was just making up for the yardage he didn't generate by running downfield routes. Brown was targeted downfield more but failed to separate regularly down the field and still remained a shallow receiver relative to his output. YAC monsters tend to be shallow threats.
Brown and Samuel were joined by Panthers’ D.J. Moore as the three examples of players with extremely high yards per catch relative to their depth of target; i.e., they were the three YAC monsters. This is an interesting find from an offensive game-planning perspective, but as an evaluator, what I immediately notice is the athletic similarities.
- Brown: 6-foot-0 1/2, 226 pounds, 4.49-second 40-yard dash, 36 1/2-inch vertical jump, 120-inch broad jump
- Moore: 6-foot-0, 210 pounds, 4.42-second 40-yard dash, 39 1/2-inch vertical jump, 132-inch broad jump
- Samuel: 5-foot-11 1/4, 214 pounds, 4.48-second 40-yard dash, 39-inch vertical jump, 122-inch broad jump
All three are squattier, denser but still explosive athletes. These are running back-like builds, which makes sense, given their success as YAC players.
We can think of YAC ability at the receiver position in terms of long speed or quickness and look for lighter players with elite change of direction or big loping strides. But apparently, to really shine as a YAC monster, this physical mold is currently the best.
Who is next up for this mold of YAC production? In the 2020 NFL Draft class Eagles' first-round rookie Jalen Reagor immediately stands out:
- Reagor: 5-foot-11, 206 pounds, 4.47-second 40-yard dash, 42-inch vertical jump, 138-inch broad jump
At a slightly thinner size, Reagor tested as an extremely explosive jumper, and while his 40-yard dash time was a point of consternation, given the big difference between his NFL Scouting Combine and pro day results, it's not difficult to say off of Reagor's film that he's a fast player. Reagor tested poorly in the agilities as well, but with what we've seen from Brown, who never even tested in the agilities at all, we shouldn't be too concerned about those numbers disqualifying him.
We do not have complete athletic testing on Jaguars' second-round selection Laviska Shenault Jr., but he also stands out as a player with a squattier, denser build (at 6-foot-1 and 227 pounds) for a wide receiver. He has running back-like ability off of his Colorado film, wherein he played wildcat quarterback frequently. Shenault was prevented from testing due to injury, but his athletic ability was rumored to be top-shelf. Take that with a grain of salt as he returns to full health.
All of the above players listed were top-50 picks, which may be another key qualifier here. If not, then players like Devin Duvernay (No. 92 to the Ravens) and Joe Reed (No. 151 to the Chargers) should also be considered as potential fits for this mold of player.
The future of YAC doesn't belong to the elite speedsters. Rather, it belongs to the speedsters who can still pack a wallop when they meet contact. Their thick build can help them retain their balance through the feeble arm tackles of secondary players while they drive down the field. As we turn our eyes to the 2021 class, we should consider this mold as a target for NFL teams looking to add to their YAC arsenal.