Reception Perception: Josh Reynolds & Ability Beyond the Assignment
As the draft creeps ever closer, it’s been hard to miss the steady drumbeat growing among film watchers for Texas A&M receiver Josh Reynolds. Lauded for his ability to high-point the ball and make the spectacular grab, even a cursory glance at his game provides an easy piece of evidence for why he has so many fans.
Reception Perception aims to do what is a challenge for just the average note-taker: place all portions of a wide receiver’s performance in context and congruence with each other. Through the number of metrics provided by the charting methodology, we can observe which players exist in a limited or narrow role, while also noting their strengths and proficiency in that assignment. Most importantly, the success rates in the series help show whether that player in question can ever hope to function outside of their collegiate role.
Josh Reynolds is a fascinating case, as his evaluation brought on a healthy mix of questions and answers. After questioning whether some of the anecdotes of his strongest traits hold up, we may have stumbled on how he truly stands out among players incubated in similar collegiate environments.
Alignment and Target Data
Games Sampled: South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi State, LSU, Kansas State
Throughout the 2017 Reception Perception draft series we’ve placed little emphasis on the wide receivers who primarily stuck to one side of the field, as fully explained in JuJu Smith-Schuster’s profile. With players like Laquon Treadwell, Kevin White and Dorial Green-Beckham primarily playing one side of the field in college and also getting off to slow starts in the NFL, we might be seeing the beginning of a trend developing. With such a limited collegiate assignment that does not replicate a pro receiver’s deployment, perhaps these players are naturally predisposed to a steeper learning curve.
Josh Reynolds becomes the latest among a group of prospects charted the last three years to operate almost exclusively from one position on over 70 percent of their charted snaps. Of these players, Green-Beckham posted the highest yardage total in his NFL rookie season with just 549.
The former Aggies receiver took 84.2 percent of his snaps at right wide receiver over the six games charted for Reception Perception. Over 66 percent of them came with Reynolds attached to the line of scrimmage playing the X-receiver spot. He gained some experience playing in the slot, traveling there on 5.3 percent of his snaps, 24 in total.
Texas A&M plays a wide-open spread passing offense much like the offense Chad Hansen operated in at Cal-Berkeley. Unlike his Cal counterpart, Reynolds wasn’t the target hog of the Aggies’ offense in 2016, drawing a target on 26 percent of his charted routes. Reynolds only caught a pass on 14.7 percent of his patterns, the second-lowest rate among 2017 draft prospects with only Josh Malone’s 13.1 percent trailing him.
One of the issues sure to stick with other analysts, though they tend to be overstated in general, is his propensity for drops. Reynolds checked in with a 9.4 drop rate in his sampled games, one of three highest in this class. Drops are often overweighed by fans because the negative effect they have on us tends to overwhelm our perspective and casts a shadow over positive traits. On the other hand, spectacular catches can have the inverse effect and cause us to extrapolate those high moments to the rest of our takeaways.
Before digging into his route running, it’s important to note the attributes that most often draw analyst’s affection. Simply put: Josh Reynolds makes some of the most spectacular catches among the wide receiver prospects in this draft. His highlight clips and cutups are littered with impressive, leap-driven catches where Reynolds plucks the ball with strong hands in midair. Yet, in the inverse effect of the overpowering negative visceral reaction to drops, observing a few of those awe-inspiring catches can leave a stamp of positive reaction that’s tough to wash away.
Given some of the sterling catches he makes in the air, it was disappointing to see Reynolds check in with a 64.3 percent contested catch conversion rate in Reception Perception. Now, for context, that’s far from a poor score. It is above the two-year prospect average. However, it falls just above the 58th percentile. Reynolds is certainly capable of winning this brand of difficult reception, but his ability in the air is far from a dominant trait on the level of a Chris Godwin, and even falls below some smaller receivers like Carlos Henderson or Taywan Taylor.
One area where Reynolds did live up to the hype was after the catch, going down on first contact on just 35.7 percent of his “in space” attempts. He was proficient in making the first defender miss, breaking a single tackle on 50 percent of his in space attempts, and at busting out big plays, shown by breaking two or more tackles on the remaining 14.3 percent. Both of those scores checked in above the two-year prospect average.
In this area, Reynolds compared to a similarly built current NFL player in Marvin Jones. During his final season with the Bengals, Jones broke a single tackle on 62.5 percent of his in space attempts and multiple tackles on 12.5 percent. Of course, Jones still holds the Reception Perception record with a 90 percent contested catch conversion rate from that 2015 campaign. Should Reynolds soon hone that skill in the air as Jones has, he could enjoy a similar career to the now Lions wideout. He certainly has the potential route-running acumen to do so.
Success Rate vs. Coverage
In his work as a separator, Josh Reynolds shows his true value and placement among the receivers in this year’s class. Despite his tall and lanky frame at 6-foot-3, 194 pounds and propensity to high-point passes in high-leverage situations, Reynolds showed well in all layers of success rate vs. coverage.
With a 71.1 percent success rate vs. man coverage, Reynolds scored at the 67th percentile among prospects charted for Reception Perception. He also showed well when asked to defeat jams at the line of scrimmage, with a 67.3 percent success rate vs. press coverage. That score put him above the two-year prospect average, but only by a few percentage points.
Reynolds’ best work came against zone coverage, with a success rate (83.9 percent) above the 94th percentile. He showed a strong ability to sift through traffic in the middle of the field, as well as diagnosing coverage at or above the level of his quarterback. It should be noted, however, that Reynolds only faced 56 attempts against zones, compared to 149 in man coverage.
We noted that Reynolds comes from a similar college offense to that of Chad Hansen or Ishmael Zamora, who came with limited assignments as route-runners. Not only did Reynolds primarily play just one receiver position, he also was not responsible for a wide array of patterns.
Essentially, Reynolds’ deployment portfolio primarily contained just three routes, with 75 percent of his charted patterns being slants, curls or nines. Those were the only routes he ran at a rate above the prospect average. He did check in at the average for out route percentage and mixed in some posts and digs at a mild level, but by in large, his work was done on just those three routes.
Reynolds’ deployment on just one side of the field in conjunction with a narrow usage pattern on the route tree simply cannot be ignored. It would not be surprising to see this player struggle to make an early impact in the NFL, given his overall lack of a diverse set of assignment experiences. However, his route success rate scores give optimism that with the proper seasoning, there is something to be mined with Reynolds’ potential.
Among those three routes Reynolds ran at a high rate, the only one that did not come with an above average success rate was the nine. His 80.8 percent success rate on slants, and especially his 85.7 percent success rate on curls were some of the best scores in the 2017 draft class.
With his ability to play the ball in the air, Reynolds makes sense as a threat on curl routes in breaking back to the quarterback. It helps that he demonstrates an understanding of deceptive routes running, not tipping off his intent when cutting off a vertical stem. Similarly, as he’s a quantifiable threat to break tackles in the open field, his NFL team will likely make use of him on slants to get him into space.
Though he was not asked to run many other routes at a high frequency, Reynolds largely passed any and all tests in limited showings by scoring above the average on all routes outside of the nine and post. It may take time, but Reception Perception indicates the senior wideout could develop into a more complete player as his career goes on.
Unlike the litany of other receivers who will likely face a steep learning curve due to their college offense and limited roles, Josh Reynolds shows the route-running acumen and separation to potentially eschew those worries. With strong success rates across the route tree and overall marks against man and zone, Reynolds passed the Reception Perception test.
With verifiable strengths in the air in the contested catch game and more notably on the ground after the catch, Reynolds has abilities to lean on while he marinates in the technical portions of the wide receiver craft. Of all the developmental receivers who need to overcome limitations brought on by their college role, take Josh Reynolds as the one to see his ability shine through over his assignment. The ceiling might not be tremendous in his future outlook, with a lack of spectacular scores across the board, but don’t be surprised if by 2019 or earlier, Reynolds is competing for or locked down a prominent complementary spot in a passing game.
If you’re interested in more Reception Perception analysis, make sure to visit our Reception Perception pages for college prospect evaluations and pre-order The Ultimate Draft Kit for access to 50 NFL players’ full data this summer. You can keep up with all of the work using the #ReceptionPerception hashtag on Twitter.