The next stop on our Free Agency Film Room quest is Baltimore. After receiving for 944 yards on 75 targets in 2015, the ceiling was high for Kamar Aiken. The UCF star stepped into some rather large cleats left by the injured and depleted Ravens receiving corps and was able to put up blistering numbers. But 2016 told a very different story.
Aiken was unable to breakout as Perriman, Smith and Mike Wallace resumed normal service. Aiken put up just 328 yards and a single touchdown, one year after being heralded as one of the most overlooked wideout talents in the league. But was there more to it than just the return of a starting corps?
Aiken played around 20% of his snaps last year in the slot..but this year it became his perennial role for a team who really lacked a dominant slot threat. As a result, most of his targets were on short drag, slant and intermediate routes, limiting his production. It would be easy to look at his explosive 2015 film and make a case for Aiken, but what would be more interesting is seeing how much of what made him so lethal in 2015 carried over into his limited 2016 role.
Aiken went undrafted out of UCF and landed with the Ravens practice squad in 2013. He earned a tender following that season and went on to receive for 267 yards in 2014. The gritty underdog has dealt with adversity and climbed huge Mountains for a long time now..but even his own words showed how difficult 2016 was for him. “I am ready to try free agency. This has been my most frustrating year ever.” So the question is, should the Eagles take a chance?
Getting off the line:
What Aiken still showed consistently in 2016, was strength. At 6’2 and 215 lbs, he has the frame of a very solid and physical receiver. This gives him a considerable advantage when it comes to winning the battle at the line of scrimmage, something that the Eagles struggled with drastically last season.
Aiken combines strength with some extremely crisp footwork to make jamming him at the line extremely difficult. Aiken put a great double move on his man here working out of the slot toward the bottom of the screen. He has great burst getting off the line which makes him incredibly tough to stop if he has breathing room. We will address this very same play for a different reason later on, but from a burst standpoint..it paints an accurate picture.
Aiken’s ability to use his strength to get past corners at the line is extremely impressive. Malcolm Jenkins was tasked with stopping Aiken here, only to be cast aside, leaving Flacco an open window to feed the receiver his first and only touchdown reception of the season.
It’s this strength and athleticism that makes Aiken a matchup nightmare in man-coverage situations.
Aiken can be seen lining up again out of the slot above and is able to break past the attempted jam with ease and create separation for a deep shot. Flacco decided to go elsewhere instead, but it’s the physicality of Aiken that transpires perfectly into the stem of his routes and give him a huge advantage.
The same can be seen here as Aiken takes advantage of a sleeping Lion, using a quick juke and resistance to a late push to create a perfect lane to dominate the stem of his vertical route.
Aiken’s route running is silky smooth. The way he can glide past a zonal look with some nifty footwork to break open as he did here, is beyond impressive. If he has room to work with and grass ahead of him, the chances of outwitting Kamar Aiken are slim to none.
Nothing shows the precision of Aiken’s route running like this play however. Running a comeback route against press-coverage, Aiken is well aware of the slot corner pressing him on his outside. As opposed to turning straight inside and risking the play being blown up or completely silenced, he quickly cuts to his inside where he has acres of space, drawing the cornerback inward. A quick spin back outside to look for Flacco opens a very small window that wouldn’t have otherwise existed. Again, Aiken wasn’t targeted, but the clean footwork and exceptional instincts stand out here.
The problem with Aiken comes on routes where he isn’t given the opportunity to get physical early in the route. The Jets corner doesn’t bite on Aiken’s stutter, relinquishing the advantage he would have normally gained. Toward the end route, it’s Nick Marshall who gets physical and is not only able to slow Aiken down, but near enough force him out of bounds. The moment that the one-on-one matchup becomes an even matchup, Aiken struggles to get separation..and that’s what cost him at times in the few opportunities he had in 2016.
Following from the point made above, it’s interesting to look at Aiken’s play when the corner has the advantage. The effort is certainly there and Aiken won the battle at the line, but Malcolm Jenkins clung on for dear life, read the route well and was able to cut back underneath. Aiken doesn’t have enough to fend off the Eagles slot corner, who was keen to make up for his earlier error and the result of such (rarely) tight coverage across the board was a Flacco sack.
The Jets caused Aiken more than just a couple of problems. Another silky double move still wasn’t enough to break free in the slot on the below play and it seems that if Aiken’s first attempt to gain separation is unsuccessful, he rarely shows the ability to swing momentum back in his favor. The Eagles battled hard when it came to getting open this season, but often found themselves in similar situations.
Then there are other plays like this however, where Aiken becomes his own worst enemy. He was able to beat Joe Haden clearly on a post route, but whether Flacco aimed wide of the mark or Aiken ran his route at a wider angle, he was unable to line the bucket up with the falling dime. Haden recovered as Aiken fought back on track and made a huge play early in the game, but even when Aiken gets clear separation on a home-run hit, he couldn’t quite send it over the fence.
What Aiken really does well, is secure possession. On slants and curls in 2015, Aiken caught over 80% of passes thrown his way. Despite a much tougher 2016, Aiken caught 58% of passes, just 1% lower than the scintillating 2015 season. He also had only two drops in 2016. A large part of those impressive numbers is his large catch radius.
Flacco threw a dart to Aiken just three steps into his route, but the ball was slightly overthrown. The secure hands of Aiken brought the ball down after a slight jump before turning his body tor push for those extra yards. Wentz is still battling against balls that sail on him..and a receiver with a large catch radius could be hugely beneficial.
Aiken’s athleticism has a huge role to play in his catch radius. Unable to gain separation, Aiken leaps back to make a tough catch before trying to spring for extra yards. It’s that kind of drive that saw him make some extremely tough catches in traffic just one year ago.
Against the Bengals, Aiken hauled in his third longest reception of the season..but it wasn’t plain sailing. Flacco underthrew his receiver, leaving Aiken to get down low for the completion, before again springing back for those extra yards. Whether balls are up high, on his back shoulder, or down low, Aiken will always make a conscious effort to go up and make the play.
Aiken only averaged 3.6 yards after the catch in 2016, which was still 0.1 more than Jordan Matthews. Strangely, that number was an entire yard more than it was in 2015, despite the contrast in season overall. The reason is that Aiken was used predominantly in drag/crossing routes as well as slants out of the slot this season. There wasn’t often a lot of room to push for th extra yards but even when there was, Aiken doesn’t have the overall speed to make the most of the situation, as seen in the crossing play below.
Aiken did a great job of establishing separation on the route by cutting underneath the corner. Once the reception was made however, the momentum seeped away and he was bought down just a few yards after securing the pass.
It’s not that Aiken can’t find those extra yards more than it is his skill-set falls a lot more into the prototype of a possession receiver as opposed to a deep-threat or someone who is relied on to pick up YAC with ease.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, it would have been very easy to look at the 944 yard season, but I felt as though seeing how Aiken battled adversity and adapted to a slot role paints a far more accurate picture.
The fundamentals are clearly there. He’s strong at the line of scrimmage, incredibly athletic and gives a lot of effort. The problem is that after being marginalized in a slot role, it’s difficult to make the case for a signing if the team were to try him outside. The reason being is that he has a very similar skill set to Nelson Agholor. A crisp route-runner who certainly doesn’t lack effort and can really excel in the early stages of the route.
As of right now, the slot role belongs to Jordan Matthews and it doesn’t make sense to upset the Apple Cart. However, given Aiken’s previous affiliation with Joe Douglas and Andy Weidl, the Eagles may see the other side of the coin. Aiken’s drop in form is going to see his price plummet and with so much hype around Jackson, Jeffery and Garcon as the main FA targets at wide receiver, the undrafted wideout could fall through the cracks and land in Philadelphia at a low price.
Aiken has the potential to be a dominant outside threat, but he was never explosive enough to unseat Steve Smith and the Ravens wanted to see how Perriman would respond after missing his rookie season. If we glance at his 2015 highlights, we see a receiver who flourished on the outside and dominated the shorter and more intermediate routes. In 2016, we see a frustrated receiver who had been marginalized through no fault of his own.
For a low price, Aiken is arguably the sleeper of this years group of free agent wideouts. The potential is still there due to his young age and he’s already shown the ability to put up impressive numbers at the highest level. At the very worst, Aiken would have a chance to compete for a spot in camp or make an impact on special teams, (blocking punts and recovering fumbles have become somewhat of a specialty for him.) At best, he would be able to compete for a regular outside role, perhaps displacing DGB.
If the price is right, the Eagles should absolutely take a shot on a receiver who clearly believes he can be a starter.