The way football is played in today's modern NFL requires players to know more than just one position, especially if you're a wide receiver.
When coaches, general managers, and scouts evaluate a players' tape, they're looking for consistent production, separation at the line of scrimmage, physicality, and a firm knowledge of the route tree.
Tuesday afternoon, Las Vegas Raiders General Manager Mike Mayock addressed the masses at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, fielding myriad questions from the national media. One question in particular piqued my interest though; Mayock was asked why rookie wide receivers take a while to transition to the NFL level, and his answer said a lot about what he's looking for in this year's draft class.
"I think there are several reasons. Reason number one: The lack of quality press coverage in college football," he said. "When you've got a grown man trying to keep you off the line of scrimmage that's competent, long, and tough that's a different issue. That's number one."
This first point from Mayock is an interesting one, and it feels like something that a lot of people overlook. Every player needs to win at the line of scrimmage, but creating separation isn't easy when you're going up against the best cornerbacks in the world.
"Number two: When you are able to get off the line of scrimmage and the picture changes, the coverage changes, you could go from being the third option on the backside to the first option on the front side. You got to filter that on the run without slowing down, so think about it, when you have to slow down and you're thinking, what happens? Physically you're slower, you're not there [mentally]," Mayock explained. "Why do guys not look as quick in college? That's usually the biggest tell tale is that they're confused. They're not sure where they're going."
When players start overthinking, they lose what makes them special. Having a high IQ and the ability to recognize defensive coverages is essential for playmakers to succeed.
"I think number three is just how much offense you have to absorb," he said. "I've met with some of the college wideouts this year and what they're doing… half of them are looking at the sideline and they have their own individual coach telling them what route to run. Jon Gruden's head would explode. You better get in there and get in the huddle and learn three positions not one, and what he's asking you to learn is mind boggling. I think those are the three main reasons why rookie wide receivers aren't what they should be in the NFL."
This last reason is pertinent for a couple reasons because as Mayock stated, Jon Gruden expects his wide receivers to know the X, Y, and Z positions so he can move them around his offense, and he's not going to be telling them where to lineup when he does so. Secondly, this tidbit from Mayock highlights what it is the Raiders will be looking for when it comes to the 2020 NFL Draft and when they review more tape leading up to it.
Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy and Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb have both been linked to the Raiders with the No. 12 overall pick, and Tuesday afternoon Lamb shared that he would love to play for Gruden and the Silver and Black.
"Just the potential of me playing in the NFL I'm grateful, but playing for the Raiders and Coach
Gruden it would be a huge honor on my end," he said genuinely. "Like I said, I'm very grateful for this opportunity. Truly, I mean that."
In addition, he knows that Gruden is looking for a lot out of his wide receivers, and he's up to the challenge.
"I do feel like I'm very capable of learning a route tree and playing every position possible," Lamb said confidently. "I feel like I'm very versatile and I'm really willing to be put anywhere the team needs me."
As I mentioned above, both Jeudy and Lamb have been linked to the Raiders, and while Mayock isn't going to tip his hand on the team's draft plans, he pointed out the amount of quality receivers at the top of the pecking order, but also the immense depth overall.
"There are a whole bunch of different flavors at the top of the draft," he said. "Jerry Jeudy is one type of receiver, CeeDee Lamb is a different type of receiver, Henry Ruggs is a third kind of receiver, and you can go all the way down. I think the cool thing if you're a team in need of wide receivers — and let's face it, we are — there's quality at the top and depth throughout, and I think that's what you're looking for."
Who the Raiders decide to add at the wide receiver position remains to be seen. It could be in free agency, it could be in the draft, only time will tell, but it's clear after Mayock's comments Tuesday what specifically he and Gruden are looking for.