Reception Perception: Hard to Find the Faults in Equanimeous St. Brown’s Game
The public tenor on the 2018 NFL Draft wide receiver class is highly skeptical regarding the presence of a No. 1 receiver candidate, if not outright negative. We’re disappointed at the lack of an A.J. Green or Julio Jones-level prospect. Most would settle for a Mike Evans-type, at this point. It’s true, there doesn’t appear to be a take-it-to-the-bank future All-Pro at the position in this group. The quality of the class comes from its depth and collection of future contributors in multi-receiver sets. Yet, among that group of future slot receivers and No. 2 wideouts, there lies one candidate to crack the ceiling set on this positional draft class as a whole. Notre Dame wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown has all the tools needed to construct the career of a top-flight WR1 in the NFL.
Games sampled: Georgia, Michigan State, North Carolina, USC, Miami, Stanford
One of the first positives you’ll notice on Equanimeous St. Brown’s game film is his deployment. Unlike some of his peers in this class who are pigeon-holed into the slot, or fixed on one side of the field as a pure split-end, Notre Dame let St. Brown play every position.
St. Brown split time between each side, taking 42.9 percent of his sampled snaps from outside left and another 39.4 percent on the right. He took reps at both flanker and the X-receiver position throughout those snaps, as well. The coaching staff even made use of his skills in the slot, where he lined up on 17.4 percent of his snaps in this sample.
Coming into the NFL with experience operating at a variety of positions could help lessen St. Brown’s learning curve. If that’s the case, it will only take minutes off the clock until he gets on the field and shows off his wide range of skills.
Success Rate vs. Coverage
After a disappointing final college season that can be entirely attributed to the offense around him and quarterback play, St. Brown reestablished momentum at the NFL Scouting Combine. The 6-foot-5, 214-pound wideout ripped off a 4.48-second 40-yard dash. A player blazing a time like that will always send evaluators into a tizzy, scrambling back to the tape and metrics to see what the player is about. Revisiting St. Brown’s game confirms this player is the real deal.
Even though he’s a big receiver, St. Brown separates with ease. His 73.7 percent success rate vs. man coverage puts that to a fine point. It falls at the 78th percentile among draft prospects charted over the last three years. His success rate vs. zone coverage score (85.2 percent) was even better, clearing the 96th percentile. He wasn’t quite an elite performer when facing press coverage, posting a 70.9 percent success rate across 55 attempts, but he still cleared the prospect average by a comfortable gap. This hulking 6-foot-5 receiver has the basic skills needed to further develop a variety of release moves to elude press coverage at the line. Reception Perception shows he’s already more than halfway there.
St. Brown’s success rate vs. coverage scores confirm the theory that this was a player weighed down by the burden of inferior quarterback play in 2017. The gifted wideout can be observed getting open on a regular basis, defeating a variety of coverage types to create clean separation. The passes will come at the NFL level with a proper quarterback pairing. That theoretical quarterback will be giddy when he discovered this is a player who gets open at all levels of the field.
In addition to the insufficient support, St. Brown’s assignment helped to bring down the consistency of his production. He ran vertical, low-percentage routes at a rate that’s abnormally high even by college standards.
As mentioned, St. Brown’s 28.1 percent route percentage for the nine route is well above the prospect average. This was clearly a receiver that Notre Dame wanted to get involved in the downfield passing game and provide a credible threat to keep the defense in a mental bind.
Elsewhere, we see a fairly balanced route tree for Equanimeous St. Brown. Outside of the nine, the only route he ran at a rate above the prospect average was the dig at 7.8 percent. With several other patterns, including difficult pro-level routes like the out and comeback, he comes in at a rate near the prospect average.
The fact that he tried his hand at a variety of route concepts in college makes his success rates all the more impressive. It’s clear that this is the brand of big receiver who is also a skilled route-technician.
Going back to those vertical routes he ran at an outrageous rate…he also got open on those patterns with incredible frequency. St. Brown posted a 72.1 percent success rate on nine routes, clearing the league average with a 13-plus percentage gap to spare. A dangerous vertical threat, he brings the same type of deep speed and downfield ability that once made fellow former Golden Domer Will Fuller a first-round pick. That’s a pick the Houston Texans don’t regret and St. Brown offers far better size. If Fuller can go in the first round, nothing should stop this suped-up player from the same school from reaching those heights.
However, don’t let the deep threat profile distract you from what a complete player this is. St. Brown posted strong success rates across the board, at least hitting the average on all but one branch.
As impressive as that nine route score was, his 92.9 percent success rate on slants might have been even more notable. He ran that route at a rate in-line with the average prospect but was simply unguardable when deployed this way. With how he executes a clean release from the line and gets up to speed quickly in-route, St. Brown is an absolute chore when he looks to make use of the middle of the field.
A full-field threat, it’s hard to find a hole in Equanimeous St. Brown’s route-running profile. He’s massive and gets open at an usually high rate on crucial routes.
It’s in this area that Equanimeous St. Brown cements his status as a top-flight prospect. He has the size, the technical nuance and the ability to separate but it doesn’t stop there. This is a player who can win in the air and on the ground.
St. Brown will certainly drop a few passes he should catch but he more than negates that with the ability to high-point the ball. He doesn’t get enough credit for being a tough player at the catch point, willing to absorb and play through contact. Just over 25 percent of his sampled 2017 targets registered as a contested catch attempt and he hauled in 70 percent of those. He plays to that impressive size.
Again, he doesn’t just thrive in the air. He’s a threat with the ball in his hands, as well. St. Brown went down on first contact on just 12.5 percent of his in-space attempts. He had just eight opportunities, but he made them count. That size flying at his speed is just too difficult ot deal with.
The more you watch, the more you like Equanimeous St. Brown and the harder it becomes to find faults. St. Brown gets open at all levels of the field, is nails as a competitor, wins the ball in the air and fights for yards after the catch. It’s all there. You’ll need to perform some mental gymnastics to not slot him squarely among the top-five receivers in this draft class, at least.
Equanimeous St. Brown’s game should take you back to the 2015 glory days of Martavis Bryant, before the progress-stopping suspension. You find a player with freaky size/speed to help him pull away from coverage in the vertical game, the ability to make the highlight catch and the killer instinct after the catch layered with the technical flashes you want to see for a full-time starter projection.
If you’re looking for a player with that No. 1 wide receiver potential that so many in this class seem to lack, look no further. Equanimeous St. Brown brings a full-course meal to digest for those fascinated by quality receiver play.
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