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Solak | Parallels between Equanimeous St Brown and AJ Green in Route Running

Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Scouting Notes

Solak | Parallels between Equanimeous St Brown and AJ Green in Route Running

E…q, u….a, n…

Yeah, I spelled that correctly.

Watching redshirt sophomores around this time of year is a risky proposition, but with Equanimeous St. Brown, I couldn’t resist. Standing at 6’4 and cresting 200 pounds, the Notre Dame standout endured shaky QB play last season to post 58 receptions for 961 yards and 9 touchdowns, as well as an excellent 16.6 yards per reception.

But St. Brown’s tape illustrates a prospect far more dynamic than a downfield, jump ball threat. All too often, prospects as large and high-cut as Equanimeous (folks understandably call him EQ) forego the nuances of route running, relying on their frame and strength to bully smaller corners.

Not so with EQ, who regularly flashes the footwork and hip flexibility to suddenly and smoothly re-direct, adding a second, dangerous layer to his game.

To typify a tall receiver running routes with nuance, I went through some tape of Cincinnati Bengals WR A.J. Green. Before we go any further, an important caveat: my comp for Equanimeous St. Brown is not A.J. Green. Green had better hands and better burst coming out of college. But, to better understand the value of EQ’s hips and feet, A.J. Green’s tape provides an analogous context.

Jadedly recognizing that my efforts are in vain, and that I will still be accused of making the comparison, let’s get cookin’.

Curls

Green and St. Brown both do significant work on curl routes–intuitively so. Both receivers threaten the deep third on every snap, considering their massive frames and long speed. By generating vertical push through their routes, these receivers can set corners back on their heels, and with a sudden stop, separate instantly. An example:

The corner doesn’t even massively displace here (don’t worry, that’s coming later). But you can see how Green releases, draws even to the defender with urgency, and then slams on the brakes to create a natural throwing window. The ball arrives on time, and from a bump-and-run alignment, this is nigh on impossible to defend.

Paying distinct attention to Green’s hips, we see how they drop, taking with them the majority of his weight. This markedly decreases the time it takes Green to decelerate to a stop and turn for the football. If he were to remain stiff and upright, his momentum would continue flying forward for a noticeably extended period of time.

Turning to St. Brown’s tape, you’ll notice a similar drop of the hips and a similarly effective deceleration. With good awareness, he clears the sticks on third down—and even though the ball arrives a beat late, the corner was so concerned with the prospect of St. Brown streaking down the field, that the window remains open long enough for the completion.

It is imperative, as alluded to above, that receivers like Green and St. Brown have this dimension to their game—and that it’s more detailed than simply muscling a corner off of them. While the physicality to create separation is an important skill (that Green has and St. Brown flashes), running crisp routes and sinking the hips through breaks will be more often successful—and less often flagged.

Without the threat of the curl, corners can play a half-stride ahead of the wide receiver, erasing the over-the-top window without worry.

Breaks

Speaking of adding dimensions to the game, St. Brown and Green both threaten the intermediate level of the field with their nuanced route-running—not to mention their astounding catch radiuses. We’ll begin with my favorite Green rep of this film session:

The explosiveness into and out of this cut is truly impressive—for any WR, not just one of Green’s size and body type. The hip drop, redirection, and burst out of the cut on this deep in are dramatic.

Green crosses the face of a defender in excellent position, fighting through the hands, and moves with urgency into a tight throwing window. Great snag, too. What a rep.

St. Brown’s tape doesn’t have a cut of this quality, but he does run routes with a similar understanding of cadence and coverage, as well as the snappy breaks to make the magic happen. On this rep against Nevada, St. Brown is so dynamic on his deep in that he shatters some poor safety’s ankles. That toe drag, hip sink, and burst are truly exciting to see from a 6’4 wideout.

Watch as QB DeShone Kizer (#DawgPound) releases with anticipation, knowing St. Brown will enter the Cover 2 soft spot with intention, get his head around, and locate the football.

And then break the safety’s ankles again.

Speaking more comprehensively on a topic brushed upon above, these nice hips fulfill the physical aspect of route running—understanding coverages and leverage is the other half of the battle, on the mental side of things. Having the physical profile to run crisp routes only benefits the receiver who knows how to use such routes, and both Green and St. Brown demonstrate this skill.

On this route, Green masterfully—I mean, just masterfully—creates space on the boundary by selling the post. He recognizes bump-and-run coverage and cuts inside hard, turning his head and hips to the quarterback as if expecting the football. But as the corner opens his stride, anticipating a race to the middle of the field, Green closes his stride and drops his hips, whipping his core through a 180-degree rotation to break outside and make the snag on the boundary. That’s good stuff.

St. Brown regularly demonstrates a knack for creating separation by manipulating cornerback leverage, especially when working against zone coverages. Here, some poor off-man corner gets shimmied into next week.

St. Brown plants with his inside foot and pushes his arms, selling hard the outside release that he often takes on his go routes. But the hips drop, the outside foot plants, and he stems back inside.

Notice that he doesn’t yet break on the dig route, but rather still pushes the corner vertically. This causes the defender to throw his weight backwards, in a desperate attempt to keep pace with a wideout he expects to continue down the field. But the corner’s been fooled once more: St. Brown cuts into wide pastures. Pressure on Kizer prevents the QB from hitting EQ for a big gain.

Double Moves

The final stop in our dissertation on big guys and their hips: double moves. The daughter of the devastating curl route, convincing double moves really put the corner between a rock and a hard place. Green often doesn’t need double moves—he has the speed and release technique to separate down the field regardless. When he does use them, however…

Sheesh.

Despite the faraway angle, it’s not tough to see how drastically the deceleration of Green impacts the corner. Recognizing his lack of safety help over the top, he plays on top of Green, refusing to give up the deep ball—as he rightfully should. But Green sells that fake so well (watch the head, hips, and hands), that the corner whips around to close on the football, and Green blows right by him.

The angle on St. Brown’s double move isn’t great. From the bottom of your screen, you can see him do a nice job chopping his steps and dropping his weight through the hips, then bursting out of the move and stacking the corner.

A costly Kizer under-throw erases the step of separation St. Brown had gained against the isolated corner. If he’s hit in stride, he has a chance to take it all the way home. But he never secures the ball against his chest, and a great route goes to waste.

Conclusion

I cannot overstate how excited I am about Equanimeous St. Brown—whenever it is he declares (if I were him, I’d be getting the heck outta South Bend, that’s for sure). As an fan, it’s easy to brush over the polish in his game, focusing on the far more noticeable traits of, uh, being 6’4 and super long.

But without the route running nuance—both mental and physical—of which he boasts, he would lack the dimensions necessary to threaten the field at multiple levels, win in different ways, and blossom into more than just a role player at the NFL level. I don’t think he’ll live up to Green’s draft stock (4th overall) and overall excellence—he lacks the natural hands and effortless speed—but St. Brown has envious split-end traits that should only mature over time. Keep an eye on Equanimeous—and his hips—moving into the 2017 CFB season.

Benjamin Solak

Ben Solak has been a football fan and film junkie for all of his life, and has the pleasure of serving as a National Scout for NDT Scouting. He also covers the Philadelphia Eagles for Bleeding Green Nation and co-hosts the Locked On Eagles podcast. Ben takes many things far too seriously, including fishing, Captain America, grammar, and Game Of Thrones.

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