COLUMBUS OH - SEPTEMBER 18: John Simon #54 of the Ohio State Buckeyes fights off a block to get to ballcarrier Phil Bates #5 of the Ohio Bobcats at Ohio Stadium on September 18 2010 in Columbus Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
The Seahawks didn't take a receiver in this year's draft, so any touchdown makers acquired in undrafted free agency, I think, require some attention, especially after the success of Doug Baldwin and Ricardo Lockette last year. Jermaine Kearse and Lavasier Tuinei drew attention as northwest products signed post-draft this year, but free agent Phil Bates from Ohio caught my eye. Yes these are just UDFA, but I do think it's worth entertaining one or two of these guys could make the roster/remain in the program, or perhaps up the competition level and push someone out. It's been documented part of the Seahawks' goal is develop and promote players in-house, and we know that it's not only the drafted players that matter.
Bates is listed as a wide receiver on the official announcement, yet his ESPN stats page has him as a quarterback. The listing of quarterback brings intrigue but in reality neither term does justice to the type of player he is; an explosive player as a runner, receiver and thrower, a raw gadget-type threat with upside. If Bates can stay healthy and take advantage of the opportunity, at 6'1" 220 pounds - with 32 3/8 inch arms, 10.5 inch hands, 75 1/4 wingspan - he's rather unique and could prove worth developing.
His pro-day numbers at a slimmed down 200 pounds: 4.48 (1.54 10), 4.39 shuttle, 6.87 3-cone, 40.5 vertical, 10'08" broad jump, 19 reps of 225. What will he play at in the NFL; playing at 220 he managed to separate and he's able to breakaway showing decent speed, so I'm curious to see if he keeps the weight off to increase his crispness as a receiver. He's bigger than Doug Baldwin, and his numbers are pretty similar (Baldwin 5"10, 189, 4.49 (1.54), 4.26, 6.56, 37, 10'03" 6); except for 40 times, the comparison to Lockette (6'2", 211, 4.34 (1.52), 4.37, 6.76, 35.5-39, 10'07", 22) is even closer. However, as you can see in the picture up top, he's pretty thickly built at 220 and plays more like a running back than a receiver.
He's still raw at that position, but is smooth out of breaks and can accelerate/create separation in short spaces. He is tough and smart both inside and outside as a runner, with solid vision and an ability to consistently change gears. He has a nasty hesitation/stutter-step, but he's not a put-the-foot-in-the-ground-and-go type as his juking nature is often present running in traffic. As a gadget player he can make throws on reverse-pass big play balls and he's a threat - run, pitch, pass - as a "pistol" quarterback. I think calling him a QB/WR is misleading because he's a tough athlete with the ball in his hands. He has football in the family as his father was a fullback at Nebraska and a corner in the NFL; the natural athleticism is there. He also he has an interesting back-story.
Here is a rough timeline of his collegiate career. In 2007 he was a true freshman at Iowa St. and saw small spurts of action early at quarterback, but was moved to wide receiver as the year progressed. In 2008 he was back to the backup quarterback spot in spring ball. In the fall he started a game, then was one of two quarterbacks flip-flopped for a few games. On October 9th, after not playing in the game the week prior and seemingly the odd man out, he unexpectedly quit the team and didn't go to coach Gene Chizik before he did so. Bates says his mind was made up.
He redshirted in 2009 and in spring of 2010 he popped up in spring ball at Ohio. Coach Frank Solich on quarterback Bates, "He has all the physical tools to be a real weapon in the running game. Now, if we can get him to complete upwards of 60, 65 percent of his passes, well then he could be a real special player."
He had a chance to start in 2010, but a thumb and other injuries plagued him; he then was the MAC East offensive player of the week in Week 6. "Ohio QB Phil Bates (Omaha, Neb.) was an extremely versatile threat for Ohio as he ran for 142 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries (12.9 per carry) and also completed a 47-yard bomb to wideout Donte Foster for 191 yards of total offense."
In the second half of the year an injury to his non throwing shoulder and other dings limited his ability to throw more than a few passes a game; he missed three games total. All year he contributed as a runner, only two games with less than 6 carries and six with 9-11 - 78 carries for 519 yards total. In 2011 he started the year "lined up as a flanker or the 'Wildcat' package quarterback;" he threw five passes total and 14 of his 16 rushes on the year came in the first five weeks. After the first five weeks, he missed five of their last nine games and only had 15 catches total. He was 1-4 as a starting quarterback in college. The story paints a picture of a talented athlete that never truly found his role on the field. Sounds like a guy this organization could help, as long as he's willing to put in the work.
Onto the highlights. (The videos provide broadcast and all-22 tape for each play, so I've given times to make it easier to move through the videos.)
The first few plays in the video are his biggest plays of the three put together for the most part, as his skill set is shown right away. At :3 he catches a quick screen, in the slot, towards the outside and he changes speeds extremely well; using a stutter step and the shielding of his blockers to get the edge and tight rope to a touchdown. At :38 he lines up in the Pistol, and on the zone-read uses the stutter-step to do something very similar to the first play, this time without blockers to help spring him to the second level.
At 1:50 is vision and his ability to change gears -also vary his stride length - en route to a 33 yard touchdown. A few plays later at 2:17 the quarterback comes in him comes out on a gadget play; watch the receiver to the top of the screen. At 3:00 he throws from the pocket after faking the handoff, faking the run inside and stepping back to make an OK at best throw that gets the job done.
At 4:35 he flashes as a runner; with a good timing and burst, tackle breaking ability, and good feet. Then, two quick slants, one from each slot: 5:05 toughness and some shoulder shake, 5:40 is a nice one handed snag. At 6:50 is good awareness as a receiver, helping the quarterback - a trait you like to see out of a former quarterback - as he's rolling out and under pressure.
The next two plays show his ability to get open: at 8:50 he's lined up in the bottom slot and creates separation by changing speed - though the 'backer didn't look comfortable from the start - then at 9:20 he gets off press and open down the seam, but the quarterback is unable to get the ball to him.
At 9:58 it takes a handful of guys to bring him down, and at 10:47 a zone-read run that shows more shakes, power and vision, but also play that shows he sometimes runs upright and exposed due to his height. At 12:10 we see toughness and concentration, at 13:05 he works the zone, 13:24 (receiver on top) he shows willingness to block downfield, 13:50 more helping the quarterback, and the video ends, (14:55) with him (up top) creating space one on one and making a nice adjustment on the ball.
The second video doesn't have as much to offer, but expands on some of the smaller yet important traits that could help to make the team. At :36 is another reverse pass (with a decent throw) and at 1:06 he's on the top of the screen as a run blocker.
At 2:10 you'll notice a receiver come across the top of the screen and block someone backwards, twice; that's Bates doing the dirty work. At 2:35 is perhaps the best reverse pass throw yet, as he hits a deep crosser for the touchdown. At 3:10 is another tough stretch run that shows his ability to find a crease and shake tacklers, 3:50 similar play. At 4:20 begins a stretch of a few plays versus bit time competition (Ohio State). At 6:17 on the zone-read he shows toughness and wiggle as an inside runner.
Now two plays that show off his ability to make plays as a quarterback. At 7:00 he rolls left and manages stop, reset and throws downfield back to the right as he gets crushed, a ball that is only thrown OK and hangs, but only the receiver has a chance. At 8:35 he sprints right and sells the run, picks his head up and flicks it to the receiver. At 11:09 is a simple, not to splashy effective touchdown run but we see him come up limping at the end.
The third video offers three more worthwhile plays and even some footage of practicing. :49 is a touchdown pass on a fly/jet-sweep option throwback to the quarterback. At 2:29 is another good run that shows a lot of the things we've seen, but also brings up the issue of ball security - something coaching can help perhaps? At 3:04 we see cutback ability and toughness, but notice here how he's a dancer and not a definitive cut-and-go downhill bruiser.
We end with some practice footage: 7:20 is a little one handed snag on a short pass, 7:50 shows a downfield catch, catching radius at 10:07, 10:36 he's going full speed and trying to set the tone, at 10:56 he creates some contact, 11:20 is a catch in traffic down the seam, at 12:59 he slips but makes a strong of a recovery, the video ends with a nifty redzone quick slant-to-out route that shows his repertoire.
Even after the videos there are still some big questions about his game: how are his ballskills/downfield tracking ability, as we don't see him flash as a downfield threat at all; how much room for improvement is there in his intermediate-downfield receiving skill set? Does he have any ball security issues, as the ball is sometimes out there and almost always in his right hand? Does his sometimes exposed/upright running style contribute to the injury issues - he takes a lot of awkward falls - and is that something that can be altered with coaching? Can he maximize his athleticism and improve as a runner with better decisiveness and crisper angles? What will his playing weight be; at 220 he looked pretty quick so 200 seems like major difference, is there a happy medium in there to retain power and speed - perhaps trying to protect against injuries by becoming leaner? One final unknown is the extent of his contributions on special teams, which will be key to him making the roster.
On the whole I'd see him as raw, big competition to push Golden Tate, Ben Obomanu and Deon Butler; a versatile, all around playmaker project that has a skill set somewhat unique to the receivers on the roster. Where I could see him having added value is with his size and willingness to take/run through contact, which makes him valuable over the middle and potentially as a returner - there is only one return in the highlights, and it's underwhelming. In a way, he's a similar project to what the Seahawks tried with Isaiah Stanback previously; Carroll on Stanback last summer, "I've had great respect for his ability, his all-around athleticism, he has terrific speed and explosion."
Bates brings a similar dimension; creating potential for a specialized niche as a player that can provide a run/pass/receiving threat from the slot and/or as a "wildcat/Pistol" player on occasion, something we're yet to see from Tate or any other Seahawk. Seattle isn't afraid to run a trick play - Danny did this piece last offseason looking at some of their trick play options, and we saw Marshawn Lynch throw a few passes in 2011. Obviously Bates' potential hinges on his ability to stay healthy, but as an undrafted free agent he provides little risk with great upside. I'm hoping he gets the opportunity to compete at a spot where field time could be there for the taking.