Electric slot receivers are all the rage in today’s pass-happy NFL. Rostering a quick-twitched, dynamic slot receiver can provide NFL offenses with the one-v-one mismatches they’re looking to create against opposing defenses. We’ve witnessed players such as Hunter Renfrow and Cole Beasley make profound impacts on their offenses in recent seasons. 2022 NFL Draft prospect Kyle Philips possesses some of those similar qualities.
A savvy and advanced route-runner, Philips recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network regarding how he developed his route-running abilities, the evolution of the slot position, which teams have shown interest in drafting him throughout the process, how he creates separation against bigger, more physical cornerbacks, how Sleep Number has helped him prepare for the next level, and so much more.
JM: We’ve officially made it to draft weekend, Kyle! It would be rude of me to not start our conversation by asking, how are you feeling?
KP: I’m nervous and excited (laughs). It’s something I’ve been dreaming about my entire life. I’m nervous and anxious to find out where I’m going. The entire pre-draft process has been an extremely exciting one for me.
JM: Leading up to the draft, you were able to transition to sleeping on a Sleep Number 360 Smart Bed. How has Sleep Number helped you train and prepare your body for the next level?
KP: They’ve helped me tremendously. Prior to this whole process, my mindset was always pointed towards training as hard as possible. I didn’t think it mattered how much sleep I was getting. I would just wake up early in the morning ready to attack the day and train train train.
Through my partnership with Sleep Number, not only did they give me a 360 Smart Bed, but they also took the time to educate me on the importance of sleep and recovery for an NFL draft prospect. I feel like a brand new person. I wake up in the morning fully energized. I look forward to coming back to that bed at the end of the night (laughs).
It’s perfect because I’m able to customize how I want to sleep. There are two sides to the bed and I have each side set up a bit differently. Some days I will want more of a firm bed so I have the firmness set to setting No. 70. Other days where I’m more sore, I have the other side set somewhere between 30-40. It depends on how my training session went (laughs). It all depends on how I’m feeling. I’m able to hit the hay and choose how I want to sleep and get a good rest.
JM: That makes a huge difference for your recovery process. When we turn the tape on, we see an outstanding route runner who is sudden and decisive at the top of his routes. How did you develop that aspect of your game?
KP: I’ve watched a bunch of film over the years. It’s kind of funny to say now, but when I was first starting high school, I would head over to YouTube and watch a bunch of videos (laughs). That’s where I first started to learn how to run routes. I watched a bunch of YouTube videos and added the skills I learned to my game. I would watch pro’s running routes, and in some videos, they’d explain how they would do things. I paid close attention to how they’d explain their preferences regarding the stems, top of the routes, and things of that nature. I’d find guys that I liked and I studied a bunch of film. I added whatever I could to my game.
JM: When you would head over to YouTube, and this question can extend to current day as well, which receivers would you focus on watching? Who did you learn from and admire?
KP: I have four names for you. The first two are Hunter Renfrow and Cole Beasley. I’ve paid close attention to those two because I know I’m going to get that comparison a lot due to our similar size and quickness. There aren’t any wasted steps or movements within their game. I love how they run such efficient routes. Everything they do has a purpose to it, whether it’s a stem, lean, head-fake, where their eyes are going, and so on. Everything has a purpose.
Next would be Keenan Allen. Something I took from him is this, he does a little bit of a skip-step at the top of his routes and he’s able to freeze defensive backs at the top of the route and make them move off their spot. He creates separation through that. I’ve been able to add that to my game. Last but not least, I would add Davante Adams. His release package is just so elite. I love his split-release. With routes that I need to get a little faster into, I’ll pull out that split-release I learned from Adams.
JM: Those are four terrific players to study and learn from. Do you have a favorite route to run personally?
KP: That’s a tough question. I would probably go with a basic, or with something up the seam. I like the basic because I can get extremely creative with it. I can mix the defensive back up. With those seam routes, I can take the top off the defense and score a big touchdown for our offense.
JM: What are some of the ways you create separation within your routes?
KP: It starts pre-snap. I pay close attention to the defense and their leverage. There’s a reason behind each defender’s pre-snap leverage look whether he’s outside or inside. They typically want to funnel you to where their help is. First, I have to get a pre-snap read on what the defense is doing.
From there, I have to know where my space is and what side they want to protect, the outside or inside. I usually start with stemming towards their leverage because I like to attack what they think they’re taking away. If they’re protecting the outside, I want to set up inside, fake inside, and cross them over and get outside. I like messing with a defensive back’s mind. Let him think he’s taking away something when in reality that’s where I want to go.
JM: Do you attack bigger, more physical corners differently than you do smaller, shifter ones?
KP: Yeah, I absolutely do. When I’m lined up across from a bigger cornerback, they see my size and it means they usually want to get their hands on me. They want to keep me at the line of scrimmage. It starts by me checking out their base. If they have a wider base, it usually means they’re going to trap-hold you at the line and get their hands on you. That tends to be true of the bigger-sized defensive backs. With the smaller ones, they usually have more of a narrow base. They’re going to step back and give you a bit more space. They want to mirror you and cover you. With those guys, you have a bit more time on the release. Their first step usually creeps back a little bit. I have time for my release. I’ll push up and get to their toes a little bit. I can be more creative with the release.
JM: We saw you do that time and time again on tape. The slot position has become more important in today’s pass-happy league. You’re expected to play the slot at the next level. What do you make of the evolution the slot position has experienced?
KP: I love what’s happening with the slot position. They’re giving shorter guys like me more opportunities to go out there and make some plays. We have so many reliable slot receivers nowadays. Quarterbacks know if nothing is open deep, they can always count on their slot receivers to get open and create separation underneath. We’re taking care of those little routes underneath.
JM: It’s a major difference. You scored 10 receiving touchdowns this past season, which led all Pac-10 receivers. What is it about your game that allowed you to find the end zone with such consistency?
KP: I can’t take all of the credit for that. I had a great coaching staff with coach Chip Kelly and everybody on his staff. First of all, they give us a great scouting report on our upcoming opponent throughout the week of preparation. I tend to know how the defense is going to defend us going into a game. With that, the coaching staff has great plays prepared to counteract whatever looks we’re getting. They had a lot of trust in me. They allowed me to run those routes in the red zone. I had a great quarterback throwing me the ball as well.
JM: You averaged an unbelievable 22.6 yards per punt return in 2021. What do you enjoy about returning punts, and do you hope to continue returning them at the next level?
KP: Yeah, I 100% do. Playing special teams is one of my favorite parts about the game. I love returning punts. I’m thankful I received so many opportunities to return punts in college. We had a great special teams coach that really taught me the basics and everything about becoming a great punt returner. It’s an area of the game I’ve grown to love. Whenever I end up, I’m going to work my tail off to earn that starting spot as the team’s punt returner.
JM: Which teams have you met with throughout the process, either virtually, or via Top 30 in-person visits?
KP: I’ve met with every team really. It started at the Shrine Bowl. I met with a bunch of teams down there, and that continued at the NFL Scouting Combine. I had a bunch of formals and informals at the combine. After that, I was meeting with a bunch of coaches via Zoom. I’ve essentially met with every single team.
JM: There’s a lot of interest in you and it’s easy to see why. I’ve appreciated your time today! We wish you the best of luck this weekend. What kind of impact is Kyle Philips going to make at the next level?
KP: I’m going to be a great teammate first and foremost. I think I bring a lot of energy to the table. Guys tend to enjoy being around me. I’m a playmaker on the field. Whatever a team needs, I’m there for. I’m going to continue making plays at the next level. I can pick up first downs. I can make a block in the running game. I can score a couple of touchdowns as well (laughs). I’m going to make a major impact on special teams as well, as we discussed earlier. I can play all four phases of special teams. I’m going to do everything I can to help the team win.