Freshman Film Breakdown: Wide Receivers + Superbacks
By Jack Lido
Editor’s note: The Northwestern Football team begins its season in less than a week, opening the 2018 slate this Thursday against Purdue. Just like any good student of the game, we here at WNUR Sports log plenty of hours in the film room. Over the next three days, one of our broadcasters will analyze some of the high school film of the incoming freshman class. Keep in mind, the plays we’ve selected do not define the players. It’s difficult to get a strong grasp on any player just by some high school film, but this series will help us and you to get familiarized with the latest batch of recruits.
- Charlie Mangieri
- Raymond Niro III
- Brian Kaiser
- JJ Jefferson
3★ SB // 6’4”, 233 // Peoria, Illinois
Other notable offers: Ole Miss
Biggest Strength: Blocking
Here’s a great example of his blocking ability in the open field. First off, he does a great job at selling this as a pass play, as evidenced by the cornerbacks dropping into coverage. Next, the block itself is very good; he catches the defender, moves his feet in order to say square and continues to drive his legs. The one thing I would criticize is his arm extension. It’s hard to see, it looks like he only extends his arms a little bit. I’d love to see full extension when blocking in the open field.
There weren’t a lot of plays where Mangieri was blocking from the 3-point stance, but I really liked what I saw when he did. On this play, while his form isn’t impeccable, his hips are low, he’s got good footwork and of course the defender gets nowhere near the quarterback. He was also a two-way player in high school, with a ton of impressive film at middle linebacker, so we know he’s tough in between the hash marks.
Of course, all this is not to say Mangieri isn’t a good receiver. His route running from the waist down leaves something to be desired, but he has great hands and can find open space with the ball in his hands. His offense runs this play a lot in the film I saw, which means they do trust him to catch the ball behind the line of scrimmage; we’ll see if Mick McCall has the same trust in Mangieri’s four years.
Summary: Mangieri fits the superback position (think of a hybrid between tight end and fullback) perfectly, following in the footsteps of Dan Vitale and Drake Dunsmore, the original superback. He’s too small to be a lineman, too big to be a wide receiver, but he’s versatile. I lean towards Mangieri being more of a blocker who can catch, not the other way around, but in that case he would redshirt this year and try to match the weight of some of the heavier superbacks on the team.
Raymond Niro III
N/A★ WR // 5’10”, 183 // Barrington, Illinois
Other notable offers: N/A – Preferred Walk-On
Biggest Strength: Elusiveness
Niro is a high school Quarterback converting to Wide Receiver, so I’ll be looking at how his skills can translate to the position. Here, he accelerates like a top-tier running back, finding the hole in the defense and then getting up to stop speed very quickly. He does get caught though, because he doesn’t have quite have that breakaway speed. That said, I’m not going to ignore his moves, because being able to make guys miss is the next best thing to running away from them.
This was the only play I saw on tape where he caught the ball. It’s obviously a trick play, so he’s wide open and doesn’t show off his route-running, but he does make a good adjustment on a softly-thrown ball and catches it without much of a problem. He’ll definitely look to develop softer, more natural hands playing catch with the young quarterbacks on the roster.
Summary: When scouts see a smaller receiver who converted from playing quarterback, they typically pigeonhole him as a slot receiver, and in this case I would agree. He has the skill set to be a great slot receiver: seeing blocks, dodging defenders and accelerating. As a preferred walk-on, he’ll definitely have to impress the coaching staff in order to get on the field, but it’s happened before. Also, if you’re curious, some well-know converted quarterbacks with similar size to Niro are Antwaan Randle El, Julian Edelman and Randall Cobb, who were all 5-10 and under 200 lbs. coming out of college.
3★ SB // 6’7”, 222 // Wilmette, Illinois
Other notable offers: Duke, Vanderbilt
Biggest Strength: Jump Balls
Here’s a pretty routine curl route, which gives us a good chance to examine his ability to get separation from the defensive back. Keep in mind that this play isn’t perfect, because he doesn’t get the first down, but Kaiser’s technique still impresses. Kaiser slows himself down on his fifth step before planting his right foot hard into the turf and completely stopping his momentum on the sixth. This is something that elite receivers can do in a single step, so Kaiser has some room to grow, but this route is certainly not bad for a 6-foot-7, 220 pounder.
The defense makes a big mistake on this play in trying to cover Kaiser one on one. It’s mostly off screen, so I can’t say for sure, but this looks like a stop-and-go route. In college, I’d like to see a little more separation on a route like that, but even with the cornerback draped all over him, Kaiser still goes up and makes a great catch. No one I’ve studied can go up and get it like Kaiser, who has a handful of great jump balls on his film.
Here’s a nice block that shows off some pretty good technique for someone who played wide receiver and not tight end in high school. Along with #6, whom he joins on the combo block, Kaiser gets full arm extension and moves his feet to open up a hole for the runner. He doesn’t have special upper body strength yet, but he has the technique to build upon as he transitions to superback.
Summary: I’ll say exactly what I did for Mangieri, he’s too small to be a lineman and too big to be a wide receiver. The difference though, is that I profile Kaiser into a pass catcher that is also a competent blocker. His film makes me believe he grew up learning wide receiver techniques like Cam Green, not tight end and linebacker techniques like Mangieri or Trey Pugh. Plus he’s a monster at 6-foot-7, one of the tallest non-linemen in the Big Ten.
3★ WR // 5’10”, 167 // Houston, TX
Other notable offers: New Mexico, Rice
Biggest Strength: Speed
This play demonstrates exactly what makes Jefferson special and made me audibly say “wow”. He only makes one cut to change directions, but that’s all he needs to dust his defender easily. He can’t beat Big Ten cornerbacks with speed alone, so I would love to see him get even better with his cuts, but you can’t teach speed like this. I timed this 80-yard-dash from his own 20 to the opposite goal line in roughly 10 seconds, which is remarkable considering he has to track and catch the deep ball while avoiding defenders and wearing full pads.
This is a long play with a lot to talk about, so we’ll take it step-by-step. First, Jefferson is wide open on the initial out route and definitely should have gotten the ball on the first read. Once the scramble drill starts, he finds a crease in the defense and makes it easy on his quarterback. After the catch, he puts together some shifty moves to reach paydirt; the one I want to highlight is the one he makes at the 10-yard line. He plants his right foot to stop himself, then spins to avoid the tackler. Honestly I can’t tell if this move would work in college, because it’s a bit slower than just cutting and changing directions, but it worked well enough for him here.
There are two blocking plays in this GIF, because they happen to occur back-to-back in his film. While smaller wide receivers in high school aren’t expected to be amazing blockers, I’d still like to see a little more from Jefferson here. In the first play, he gets a good push, but the referees should have thrown a flag for holding; in the second play, Jefferson eliminates the would-be tackler but does so from the side in a semi-dirty block. He shows good strength for a guy his size, but he has below-average technique.
Summary: Jefferson is the lightest member of the Northwestern squad, but speed kills, and he can develop into the fastest member on the team. There are a few wide receivers already on the team who have a similar skill set, so I don’t see a role for him this year. That said, with some development in the weight room, he can develop into an intriguing fly-route burner.
That’s all for today’s session. Come back tomorrow for Day Four of the Freshman Film Breakdown from WNUR Sports.