Big plays in the passing game were almost entirely absent from the Packers offensive unit in the 2015 season. In fact, Green Bay only had four passing plays of over 40 yards in the regular season, which is two less than the six that Jordy Nelson accounted for on his own a year prior.
Obviously, losing Nelson to an ACL tear in August was a major part in that, but the fact that there is no other “big play” receiver on the Packers roster is pretty hard to dispute at this point.
So, should Ted Thompson choose to address that – or should TCU’s Josh Doctson be the best player available on the board when the Packers pick towards the end of the first round (Is that “best player available” disclaimer needed every single time?) – serious consideration should be given as to whether or not to take him, which would be the first time Thompson would have selected a receiver in the first round in his entire tenure. In fact, trading down to the early second round for Nelson in 2006 is the closest the Packers have come to investing big in a receiver in the draft under Thompson’s reign.
Freshman (Wyoming): 35 rec, 393 yds, 11.2 ypc, 5 TD
Sophomore: 36 rec, 440 yds, 12.2 ypc, 4 TD
Junior: 65 rec, 1018 yds, 15.7 ypc, 11 TD
Senior: 78 rec, 1326 yds, 17 ypc, 14 TD
When it comes to “going up and getting it” – Doctson would be considered an elite level talent. Listed at 6’3, 195 lbs., he has desireable size for that type of receiver, though he could likely afford to add bulk. The guy can basically put on a clinic in terms of tracking the deep throws, high pointing the football, contorting his body while remaining under control and doing the little things, whether in the air or in combat with defensive backs, to complete the catch. His ball skills and body control are truly impressive and there are a good number of plays that are great examples. Here are a few, each including one or two fine details that make his talent stand out.
You can see Doctson has strong hands here, as the defensive back has his left arm at the catch point and is attempting to dislodge the football as the pair begin to tumble to the ground. After securing the catch initially, and with his right foot already established in bounds breaking his fall, Doctson twists his body away from the defensive back to ensure that the ball wouldn’t be dislodged by the defender and to enable him to cradle it to lessen the chance of it dislodging upon impact on the turf.
Again, what’s fun to watch about Doctson is that catches like these aren’t flukey, but more something he has shown he can consistently do.
For example, the tail end of the next play, which is displayed in two parts. First, the entire route and catch.
Here, Doctson quickly eats up the cushion of the defender off of his release and then stems inside towards the post with one quick step that, as a result, freezes the corner. Right there, the corner is beat, leaving a throwing window up the sideline.
The safety is coming over the top to help, meaning the football would need to be dropped in between the corner underneath and the safety over the top. With Doctson needing to wait on a somewhat underthrown football, there are two things to like about the lead up to the catch point after the ball is released.
The first being with the cornerback having his back to the football, he is simply left to only track Doctson and try and make a play while being bland to the whereabouts of the football. Good receivers recognize this, and try to delay their jump as to not tip off the defender to when the ball is arriving. The corner is almost in his chest as he jumps, but having waited to attack the ball, the defender reacts almost after the ball is already in his hands.
It appears Doctson also felt the safety screaming towards the sideline to help contest, and his jump for the football is followed by him angling towards the sideline as to not expose his chest or the ball to impact from the safety. This is where the ball placement on the throw from Trevone Boykin is also a big plus, having thrown it to the back shoulder as opposed to directly up-field.
Now, another angle to look at the finish…
Here are some similar skills on display as the previous jump balls. The defender is caught with his back to the catch point as discussed from the other angle. He has almost over-run the spot and as a result has to almost hopelessly throw his arms up to try and deflect or dislodge the ball.
Doctson attacks the ball, all hands. Like the previous catch, he displays good form (thumbs together to form a diamond), catches it away from his body and almost even with his facemask, which turns along with the football as he begins to twist his body away from contact and a possible deflection.
That’s great body control, but also appears that Doctson is staring the football in to his hands throughout the entirety of the catch.
Again, it’s when there are a great number of flash plays like this that all look somewhat similar that you begin to be impressed by Doctson’s skill at winning what some might call “50/50 balls”.
You see him out-jump the defender, attack the ball with his hands, look it in, and twist his body away from the defense. This is a really well placed football, and for that reason, he has some room in the back of the endzone to complete the catch not only by NCAA rules, but by NFL rules as well. Both feet are established in bounds, as well as a knee, leaving little doubt.
Fade routes are a fairly low percentage throw in the NFL, but projecting this skill to the NFL, with likely better coverage, would still seem favorable for Doctson given his almost ridiculous “catch radius”. And yes, that term is sort of ridiculous, yet still fitting for this scenario.
It was hard not to get caught up in impressive grabs such as those, but just making an eye-popping grab doesn’t make a collegiate wide receiver a good NFL prospect. Let’s look at another skill of his that I came to like when studying Draftbreakdown.com videos: recognition.
It’s important for receivers to understand coverage in the NFL. To be able to feel zones and know how to properly finish a route in order to work himself open when it isn’t as simple as just beating a man.
With Doctson as the outside receiver in this set, both he and the slot receiver run slant routes at different depths in the endzone. The safety, lined up over the slot, sinks back under Doctson’s slant at the top of each of their routes, eliminating the first throwing window to Doctson.
That’s when Doctson, rather than staying covered or continuing at a 45-degree angle and running himself into continued coverage in the back of the endzone, flattens his stem, feeling what is essentially a blind defender with his back to him, knowing the second throwing window will be there as he crosses that defender’s back.
These are simple route concepts that many NFL teams, the Packers included, run with success but are contingent on receivers that can “feel” coverage and be trusted by their quarterbacks.
This is a very similar look to the previous play, with the slot receiver running a hitch route rather than a slant, in order to hold the linebacker (11). The slot defender (7) also sits on the hitch route for a moment, and this creates a passing window behind him as Doctson recognizes this and crosses his face. As he makes the catch, Doctson braces himself for contact and protects the football, though the backside defender is late to get there and does not lay a hit on him anyway.
Again, small things that lend to Doctson’s awareness.
Where he fits:
The things about Doctson that are to be considered big positives are things that would seemingly bring a new dynamic to the Packers offense. Davante Adams, a touchdown machine his final year at Fresno State with 24, was supposed to be the player that can go up over a defender and compete for 50/50 balls. The hope was he would become a solid option as a perimeter wide receiver that could exploit single coverage with Jordy Nelson commanding safety help, and Randall Cobb working in the middle of the field.
The fact of the matter is that, while still early, Adams has shown many more negatives than positives. He hasn’t displayed the ability to consistently beat single coverage and beyond that, that the quarterback could trust him.
Doctson looks the part of a guy who can win against single coverage and add an element of explosiveness on deep balls, particularly with the accuracy of a quarterback like Rodgers.
But it also seems, at least to an amateur eye such as mine, that he can diagnose coverage schemes and do the “little things” to work to get open.