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Crabbs | VT WR Phillips is a niche slot target

Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire

Scouting Notes

Crabbs | VT WR Phillips is a niche slot target

Virginia Tech’s Cam Phillips is poised for a big senior season. The 6’0, 199 lb receiver for the Hokies is the only returning receiver who got more than 40 targets during the 2016 regular season. Both of the other two, TE Bucky Hodges (Minnesota Vikings) and WR Isaiah Ford (Miami Dolphins), have moved on to the next level,; leaving Phillips as “the guy” in Blacksburg.

Phillips’ usage as a player in 2016 does leave some questions, but volume is not one of them. Most notably, this is a slot receiver by usage and also by skill. The Hokies used Phillips frequently stacked behind more physical receivers, protecting him from press coverage and allowing him to release cleanly into the field of play. And a vast majority of his targets could be summarized by the play below:

The formation and set accomplish the previously mentioned protection of Cam Phillips at the line of scrimmage. There’s zero way a defender will influence this quick throw or impact Phillips at the reception. It’s easy yardage against off coverage; Phillips makes a lot of plays look easy if he’s not interrupted coming out of the slot. Take this more traditional route against Notre Dame for a touchdown:

Clean release against off coverage, a hard initial push up the field and a nifty move after the catch to force two missed opportunities to bring him down. The initial move after the reception is where Cam Phillips is at his best. He consistently showcases the ability to force a false step and use defenders’ angles in pursuit against them before breaking back against the grain.

Where Phillips will get himself into trouble is by spending too much time not going anywhere. Often times when Phillips transitions from a receiver to a runner, he’ll make the first man miss but try to hit similar moves on defenders after they’ve had time to close space. As a result, he’ll get caught from behind and leave yardage on the table.

Where can Cam Phillips bring more to the table as a receiver in 2017? By offering the Hokies more of this.

There’s not a whole lot of vertical elements to his game but this route was as close to a NFL translation as you’ll find with how the Hokies used Phillips last year. There’s a hard press to the middle of the field, influencing both the LB and Safety stacked over the hash; a needed move to develop a throwing window. Phillips’ transition to avoid contact can be cleaned up, but the timing was appropriate.

And yet again, Phillips is eating against zone coverage. For a player that doesn’t look to have the explosive skill set needed to be a true threat, he’s going to need to win with his head. More reps of this nature in 2017 will have NFL evaluators feeling like he’s capable and up to the task with further development. As is, Cam Phillips is a candidate for a late round draft selection. A lot of where he wins is with athleticism as compared to high end technical skills.

2017 is the year to polish that portion of his game if he’s going to make the next leap.

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Kyle Crabbs

Kyle Crabbs is the founder/Director of Scouting of NDT Scouting Services, a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and the lead NFL Draft analyst for the FanRag Sports Network.

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