The clearance rack is a fascinating place. Without a doubt, a good half of the items curtained there belong in the department store’s version of the Island of Misfit Toys. Yet, it’s also home to pieces that serve as true finds for the keen-eyed shopper able to spot the gems.
Any self-respecting amateur fashionista has plucked an item off that clearance rack and thought to themselves, “What is this even doing here?” in the portion of the store so deeply discounted. A true hipster does it at least once or twice every other shopping excursion, at a minimum.
It’s important to remember that a piece of clothing doesn’t end up on the clearance rack because of something that’s inherently wrong with it. Rather, public perception and reaction is what puts it there. Whether it’s “not the right season for flannel” or “that shirt clashes with jeans” or “graphic tees are a dime a dozen,” the clientele at large’s pushback to certain items see them slapped with that red sticker; nothing more, nothing less.
In the same vein, every few years we see stellar examples from the traditional slot receiver archetype slip into the clearance rack portions of the NFL Draft’s third day. The 2017 iteration of that player is Ryan Switzer out of UNC.
Despite a senior season spent as the apple of future top quarterback selection Mitchell Trubisky’s eye while catching 96 passes, Switzer catches little buzz from the NFL Draft analysis machine. As analysts spent the draft season attempting to decipher how to best justify overspending on hot ticket items at the “big slot” position in Cooper Kupp and Zay Jones, Switzer existed on the periphery with little questions on his resume.
The prototypical undersized slot receivers constantly find themselves on the draft’s clearance rack because the first two days “aren’t the right value for them” or “they’re scheme specific” or “those little guys are a dime a dozen.” Now, some of that might be fair, but it doesn’t change the fact that in the proper offense those players can go on to consistently churn out productive seasons and help move the chains. Ryan Switzer has every bit the look of the next player to come out from under the radar to make his future pro team quite happy as an interior player.
Alignment and target data
Games Sampled: Georgia, Pittsburgh, Florida State, Virginia Tech, NC State, Stanford
While players like Kupp and Jones, in the minds of some, at least offered reasons in their profiles for analysts to consider whether they could operate outside, there’s no mistaking where Ryan Switzer belongs. The UNC senior took 86.9 percent of the snaps played in his six games sampled for Reception Perception from the slot. That was the highest ratio of any player charted in this class. Switzer operated off the line of scrimmage on 93.6 percent of his plays, affording him a free release and assisting in avoiding physical coverage early in the route.
The Tarheels’ leader in receptions and receiving yards, Switzer was the clear favorite target of one-year starter Mitchell Trubisky. The future first round quarterback targeted Switzer on 35.6 percent of the slot maven’s 222 routes over his sampled contests. Naturally, he ran a number of high percentage patterns, but Switzer’s excellent hands still show up in a 72.2 catch rate, fourth-best in the class. Despite all the targets sent his way, he only dropped three passes.
Success rate vs. coverage
The slot receiver is most well-known for its typically undersized subjects who excel in the short-area quickness department. Ryan Switzer certainly fits the bill there, standing at just 5-foot-8 and weighing 181 pounds. He also showed well in agility drills at the NFL Scouting Combing, including the 60-yard shuttle (86th percentile), 20-yard shuttle (92nd) and three-cone drill (75th), per Mockdraftable.
With that being said, the most important quality for a slot receiver to possess is strong technique. In order to fulfill their destinies as underneath producers and reliable dump off options for their quarterbacks, these players need to come with a strong craftsman approach to the position to separate early and often in their routes. Ryan Switzer has that ability in spades.
Operating on the interior, Switzer faced zones far more often than one-on-one coverage. His 138 registered attempts vs. zone coverage checked in as the second-most in this class, trailing only Zay Jones. Switzer’s 81.2 percent success rate shows why he’s such an ideal fit at the position, checking in at the 79th percentile among prospects charted the last two years. He already proved that the coverage he’ll see most often in the NFL is no issue for him to foil.
Of course, there will be situations in which Switzer is tasked with beating man coverage or is even roughed up at the line of scrimmage by a nickel corner. He verified that he could indeed separate from isolated coverage, not just sift through zones, by posting a 71.1 percent success rate vs. man coverage, a score falling in the 67th percentile. His technical prowess and route-running acumen makes him a chore to cover, even for cornerbacks with more overall athletic ability. Switzer rarely saw press coverage operating in the slot so often, a class low 14 attempts, but did show well in limited reps with an above 71.4 percent success rate (74th percentile).
We typically expect the slot receiver to mostly function on the short-area routes near the line of scrimmage, piling up catches on slants and drags but not much else. Yet, we will occasionally see an interior receiver break that mold and post big plays on a variety of patterns. Washington’s 5-foot-9, 179-pound receiver Jamison Crowder proved to be one of those players in the NFL this year. Some of the data gleaned from Ryan Switzer’s route tree appears to lend credence to the idea he could be one of them, as well.
Red is below the two-year prospect average, green is above and yellow is within the average.
The most interesting figure is indeed a below average 14.4 route percentage on slants. It’s a pattern we typically associate with the slot receiver, but it was not one of Switzer’s highest usage routes in relation to other prospects. The flat route, however, came in at an above average 13.1 percent and that is another pattern commonly associated with the slot position.
It’s striking to note Switzer’s above average rate on more intermediate routes such as the the dig, post corner and out. UNC not only asked Switzer to work the middle of the field, but also heaped out-breaking assignments on his plate.
In addition to the example of Jamison Crowder, Doug Baldwin is another slot receiver who operates well beyond the typical confines of the position. Despite being almost exclusively an interior player, Baldwin is an outlier in that he also functions as his team’s true No. 1 receiver. His ability to function as a threat in the intermediate game is one of the biggest reasons why. It appears that Switzer showed some of the ability as the Tarheels’ top receiver in 2016, at least from a usage standpoint.
Obviously, Switzer did not see much use in the deep game, and his 6.8 route percentage on the nine was the lowest among 2017 draft prospects. However, he did show an ability to get open with a sterling 73.3 percent success rate vs. coverage. Switzer isn’t typically separating with speed or precision against man coverage on those patterns, but rather, finding holes in zones and presenting a chunk play option for his quarterback.
We noted that Switzer wasn’t as much of a threat on slants as one would typically expect from a slot receiver, and his 75 percent success rate vs. coverage was a below average score. The same can be noted for other in-breaking routes like the dig and post. Perhaps this isn’t the central point of his game because he’s not a consistent “make the first defender miss” player.
Switzer was “in space” on 12.6 percent of his charted routes, an above average rate. However, he went down on first contact on 53.6 percent of his “in space” attempts, fourth-highest in the class. Yet, he did show some ability to occasionally break a big play, as his multiple broken tackle rate of 14.3 percent was above the two-year prospect average.
It appears that Switzer may fit best as a threat on out-breaking routes such as the corner and flat, where he posted above average success rates. Not only can he consistently earn first downs on those plays, but especially on the corner, he can also pick up chunk yardage for his offense if paired with a precise passer.
Some of Switzer’s ability to be a safety blanket also shows up in his route success rate chart. Switzer’s “other” route percentage fell at the class average, and the vast majority of those plays were situations where he broke off his original route to work open for a scrambling quarterback. His strong 81.8 percent success rate on those patterns show he has a knack for improvisation, and option routes that often earn interior receivers long term NFL roles. Switzer’s 77.4 percent success rate vs. coverage on the curl is a score that reminds of Willie Snead, who moved to the slot in New Orleans this past season and remains the steady force in that receiving group.
So much of Ryan Switzer’s profile, Reception Perception-based or otherwise, screams of a future successful NFL slot receiver in the making. He’s adept at beating multiple forms of coverage with a strong set of route-running tools, but also shows Baldwin and Crowder-like abilities to work in areas of the field beyond near the line of scrimmage.
As with most slot receivers, much of his future role and the following production will be dictated by landing spot. These type of receivers, in particular, require precise, intelligent quarterbacks in high volume passing games to make noise in the stat sheets. If Switzer does land in one of those spots, expect him to go on to be one of the annual steals off the clearance rack that the football world at large looks back and wonders how they missed on that up and coming item.
Either way, Switzer looks destined to outperform the expectations of a player curtained on the clearance rack. His archetype will likely land him there on draft day, as public perception so often dictates it does, but that will just be another reward for those with the keen eye to spot the bargain at hand.
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