The Eagles were extremely aggressive in Free agency last year and this offseason is expected to carry the same level of unpredictability. With glaring holes at wide receiver and cornerback, all eyes are on Howie Roseman and the Eagles Personnel department to make the right moves for the Franchise ahead of the Draft. From DeSean Jackson to Alshon Jeffery, there is an abundance of talent at the WR position potentially entering the FA waters this year. What this series is designed to do, is take a closer look at each player, determining whether or not they would fit the new Philadelphia mold.
When evaluating wide receivers in this series, we will be using some very specific criteria. I recently spoke with an NFL wide receiver coach and asked him what he focuses on improving during the season. Each aspect will be analyzed thoroughly before making a final decision on whether or not the Eagles should make a push to sign the player.
First up is Miami Dolphins wideout, Kenny Stills. Now in his 5th year, Stills arrived in Miami a year ago as the team scampered to find Ryan Tannehill a deep threat. The former New Orleans Saint has 42 receptions for 726 yards and 9 touchdowns this year to go with his blistering speed (4.39 40-yard dash time level blistering). DeSean Jackson is the deep threat that comes to mind when many think of the Eagles potential targets this season, but should Stills have his name in the hat?
Getting off the line:
Unfortunately, this is something that the Eagles wide receivers have struggled with this season. Beating corners off the line in man coverage, or selling a certain route in zone have plagued the corps all season, forcing Wentz to throw the ball into extremely narrow windows a lot of the time.
For Kenny Stills, this is a near non-issue. The former Oklahoma speedster lined up on the outside here before cutting into the slot. The route closed within an instant, but it didn’t stop Stills from flipping his hips and turning the route into a big opportunity. What was double coverage, became a wide open window within the blink of an eye due the burst speed of Stills. Starting the route slow before flipping outside really opens the playbook for the Offense. They can draw a linebacker in as shown here, opening a shot for a TE over the middle, or potentially take a show deep down the sideline. If all else fails, Stills was in perfect check down position.
Stills might be wide open over the top in the endzone on the play below against the Patriots, but what’s really impressive is the initial jump off the line. Against what looks to be a Tampa-2 look, Stills jukes his receiver off the line and runs right around the back of “KVN” ahead of him. The initial job of the corner is to jam that slot receiver at the line before preventing any shots over the middle. Stills slipped by like a hot Knife through butter and then capitalized on a poorly positioned Kyle Van Noy to haul in the touchdown.
Maintaining position and assertion during the stem of the route is key for any wide receiver, but it’s even more important for deep threats, where timing is absolutely everything and the tiniest knock by a corner to slow them down could be the difference between a touchdown and an easy interception.
Stills completes a fantastic double-move here to catch the cornerback off guard and simply dominate the middle of the route. The instinct from Stills to angle himself over the middle before cutting inward with burst, left the opposing defender next to no chance of stopping him. But one last kick back inside from Stills sealed the deal.
Stills does something very similar on this verticals look against the Seahawks. One of his biggest assets is being able to line up in the slot as well as outside. At just 6’0, he isn’t the tallest threat on the team..but his pure speed when breaking over the middle gives him a huge advantage. Even when physicality factors its way in, Stills is able to stay on-course and power into the endzone on this incomplete pass.
Double moves and stutters are a specialty for Stills and it shows. Against the Chargers, Stills was able to work his way out of the slot and push against the corner. Angling himself outside before breaking back inward, Stills created enough headway to put on the afterburners and create a one-on-one matchup heading into the endzone. A matchup which when at full speed, is difficult to lose. It’s this kind of route that the Eagles have been pining to see from Nelson Agholor. What we deem as “crisp” from the USC product is redefined by Stills.
The separation of Stills speaks for itself, but where I’m going to focus this segment on, is intermediate routes. Doug Pederson had a tendency to run plenty of curls and comebacks in 3rd & long situations and the Eagles wideouts simply couldn’t create the separation needed to convert.
For Stills, I feel like these are waters yet to be discovered. Even when not targeted, his finesse and footwork turn a “bend but don’t break” zone coverage look into perfect window for a quick checkdown.
Stills does a great job at the top of the screen on the below play of simply shrugging off the corner. Unfortunately, the situation in the pocket shut the door quickly on a potential pass, but the way that the slot receiver drew the second defender away from the play, opening up that window even more for Stills emphasizes just how dangerous he can be if the supporting cast can all tap in. The distance created between Stills and his man at the ten-yard line is beyond impressive.
The route-running on this play against Burros in Man coverage was eyebrow-raising, but it’s the head of the route that really got me excited. What makes the really quarterbacks great is being able to throw with anticipation. Placing the ball in a perfect spot before your receiver has broken into his route. This is exactly what happened here as Stills cut away at the perfect time for the ball to drop into the bucket, pulling away from the rookie cornerback and speeding into the endzone. At the moment, it’s very rare to se Wentz put this kind of touch on the ball because the receivers struggle to create this kind of situation and often find difficulty in locating the ball.
This is where things get a little murky..until this point, Stills has been painted as if he’s the second coming of Jerry Rice. However this season he has a catch rate of just 52%. Not all of this is down to him, batted passes, underthrown balls and other factors have snuck their way into this equation, but Stills has struggled since his days in New Orleans with catching passes away from his body.
At the moment, Wentz is placing balls higher than he should be. It’s a problem that has plagued him since Training camp and is viewed as a simple teething problem that will be ironed out. But even so, a receiver with a larger catch radius would certainly aid his development. That’s not to say that Stills lacks effort, he gives as much as anyone, but as we can see here, the ball is slightly overthrown and is simply tipped away by the receiver in a catchable situation.
The same kind of thing can be seen here. The ball is thrown toward the back shoulder of Stills, but he has to do a better job of hauling in.
Although this drop can be regarded as an exception to the rule, this one play alone could send shivers down the Spine of even the most casual Eagles fan..
The other flaw in the game of Stills is yards after catch. Which when you think about it is staggering considering that he’s a perennial deep threat who averaged 11 receptions of 40+ yards in his first two seasons and averaged 17.3 yards per reception this year. Stunningly, Stills ranks 180th in the league when it comes to YAC..with 180 on the year and an average of 5.2 yards per reception.
One theory behind this is that many of the balls thrown his way are home-run hits. Which means it’s either clearing the fence or it’s being caught for an easy fly-out. However, situations like this 3rd & 9 reception against Eli Apple don’t help. Stills effectively stops his route after a battle to get open, allowing Apple to close back in and wrap him up. How do you stop a Rocket from taking off? You don’t let the thrusters get hot.
Stills comes across from the outside here, doing well to create space on a Drag route, but again coming to a near-halt in order to gain possession. Maintaining speed and even picking it up would have given him a chance at a huge running lane if he had beaten the first tackle, knowing that there were two blockers outside to help. Instead, Stills tucked the ball in and pushed for a couple of extra inches. Missing tackles is a skill for Stills, pushing through them or breaking them is what really hurts his YAC..in a very similar fashion to Zach Ertz of the Eagles.
In contrast, the strongest aspect of the Dolphins receiver’s game is the way he adjusts on the fly. The Eagles need their receivers to be doing all they can to help Carson Wentz and as it stands, the quarterback is having to do all the work, manipulating the Defense, moving the pocket and leading them with the ball.
Stills does an absolutely brilliant job here of cutting underneath the cornerback to help the signal-caller. What was a brick wall in double coverage, became acres of space after Stills drew two defenders into each other, stuttering on his route and then juking outside to finish the job.
The same can be seen against the Ravens. Stills gets around the outside of his corner in man-coverage, giving him a crease to cut inside and force open a pocket of space. By the time that space was carved however, the ball was thrown elsewhere. But the vision of Stills to see the Safety dropping off and then flip the route outside to create a bucket kind of situation was admirable.
One of the best examples of the in-route adjustments is one of the hardest to spot. Stills is at the top of the screen running an out route. A quick cut inside does the job, but two coverage linebackers left him completely blanketed. Stills kept his legs turning and shifted around the back of the players, creating a small window over the middle to complete the pass. With one receiver falling and the others being covered, the effort shown by Stills to get open brings us very nicely to our final gif.
The Eagles have struggled with “effort” this season. Whether it was being critiqued by Doug Pederson after the loss to the Bengals or observed by many as Dorial Green-Beckham showed the very traits that persuaded the Titans to accept so little in return for his services, the Birds have to find more receivers with the confidence and work-ethic of Jordan Matthews.
There’s one play and one play only that sums up the effort of Kenny Stills. Sprinting down the sideline on a crisp route, Stills flips his hips inside to prepare his body for the catch at a tough spot. Upon making the reception, Stills spins off a tackle and drives for the endzone as opposed to looking at the sideline that was an inch away or simply accepting possession and absorbing the tackle. Case closed.
What Stills lacks for in YAC and a catch radius, he makes up for in every other area that the Eagles lack. He may not be the most poignant deep threat or have the experience/draw of DeSean Jackson, but Kenny Stills is six years younger and just as explosive. As of right now, the Eagles just need someone who can stretch the field and develop with a very young receiving corps, peaking as they hit their most competitive year. Stills fits this mold perfectly at just 24-years old and combines the speed of Bryce Treggs, with the effort of Jordan Matthews and the playmaking of Zach Ertz. A shot worth taking, wouldn’t you say?
Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports