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Seahawks on tape: Gary Jennings is a physical outside receiver

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West Virginia v Oklahoma State Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Gary Jennings still exists. And the fourth-rounder’s tape is rather good. You’d have been forgiven for thinking that Jennings didn’t actually play for the Seattle Seahawks given the (understandable) offseason hype of the 2nd round, nearly-mythical D.K. Metcalf.

But yes, the Seahawks did take two more receivers in the 2019 NFL Draft. Unlike 7th selection John Ursua, Jennings projects best as an outside receiver in Brian Schottenheimer’s attack. With Doug Baldwin’s retirement, something the organization was clearly aware of during the draft phase of the offseason, it was presumed that Jennings was the immediate slot replacement. Not necessarily.

The 22 year-old’s physical profile, which graded as “elite” according to Kent Lee Platte’s RAS metric, was similar to that of David Moore. Moore is an interesting case study. Coming into the league from Central Oklahoma, his game was less refined than Jennings. Still, Moore’s current route tree—go, fade and hitch—is likely to match Jennings’ rookie year deployment.

When General Manager John Schneider was asked post-draft if Jennings was a slot guy, his answer revealed all: “I mean, not really. He could be that power guy in there [the slot], but he’s really a downfield, he’s a really strong, like, hitch, smoke.”

Schottenheimer, when asked about slot work for Jennings, responded with an initial hesitation that also suggested Jennings isn’t going to be inside:

“Uh, we’ll see. You know, in that system that they ran there they tried to spread everybody out and use the big slot. There’s some teams that use a big slot. Other teams have the real quick slot that moves around, match-up type guy. But he’s hard in there because he’s so big and powerful. We’re working hard, wanna get him out there and when he’s out there, we’ll kind of throw him in the mix and see what he does but his size inside, if that’s where he ends up, creates problems for people.”

The film—something Schneider most definitely grinds—also shows Jennings to be a better fit outside too. If Tyler Lockett, who Seattle will try to get the best match-up for, goes outside; expect Seattle to put an agile, quick-to-separate player in the slot—Ursua, Keenan Reynolds, Terry Wright, Nyqwan Murray, etc.

Given Will Dissly appears to have made an excellent recovery from his torn patellar tendon, more 12 personnel (1 running back, 2 tight ends and 2 wide receivers) from the Seahawks makes sense. The offense used 11 personnel in 2018 66% of the time, yet with Dissly’s talents healthy 12 personnel better suits the running identity of the offense. Again: Jennings aligning outside feels more realistic. If Seattle were to get into their empty sets, they would be looking for 3-cone kings or J.D. McKissic inside—not Jennings’ skillset.

Downfield ability

Do you think Schottenheimer spells his favorite term “shot plays” or Schott plays™ ? Either way, the oft-repeated saying is what quarterback Russell Wilson excels at and what Seattle wants to target. The idea is to take downfield shots, mainly off play-action, against one-on-one coverage. Wilson’s joint-career-best 9.0 yards-per-attempt of 2018 is testament to this. On a similar subject, the 29-year-old passer led the league in Play-Action.

With what looks to be a worse defense in 2019, the Seahawks will likely be forced into passing more. Either way, for Jennings to make an impact as a rookie, his downfield ability will be most crucial. Thankfully, this is nearing the best aspect of Jennings’ game. He fights and dips through contact during the stem of the route, employing an active off-hand while maintaining his speed and not altering his path.

Jennings also tracks the ball fantastically in the air, possessing a variety of catches while winning to the exact right spot. At the catchpoint, he often flashes late hands—a trait Tyler Lockett excels at—which prevents defensive backs from swiping down on arms as a recovery move.“Phenomenal hands,” was Schneider’s praise for Jennings.

The real challenge for Jennings will be establishing the deep ball chemistry and trust with Wilson. Hopefully the offseason trip to Mexico helped. On Driving Home With Gee, it sounded like the camp had. Jennings explained his learning: “Being able to learn the certain nuances, what he’s [Russell’s] looking for, and just hearing a lot of veteran knowledge.”

Downfield Speed

Jennings isn’t a burner in the “traditional,” slim sense. But he sure can scoot. Defenders are left stunned. This, predictably, enhances his ability to threaten defenses downfield. Even when factoring in the context of how ludicrously open the Big 12 is, Jennings placing third amongst draft-eligible receivers with 12.4 yards per target and placing 6th amongst draft-eligible receivers with a 56.7 receiving EPA still impresses.

“He can fly for a 216lb guy, so he can track it down the field,” described Schneider. The General Manager went so far as to reference the Senior Bowl, where Zebra tracking showed Jennings to be an excellent performer in the top speed rankings: “They tracked him at 23 miles per hour...he had the fastest speed at the Senior Bowl of anyone down there with the Zebra timing.”

(More on Mobile, which I covered for Field Gulls, later)

Adjusting to the ball

Jennings’ tracks the ball well whether it is thrown underneath or over-the-top. More importantly, he uses this information to then adjust his body to the football when it’s in the air. This, once more, makes him a reliable target that can catch in a variety of manners. One small area of improvement would be on catches low and away, where Jennings’ hands can get too wide.

Physicality at catchpoint

Jennings is clearly a gym rat, as pictures from his Instagram show. (Free plug) “Coming out of high school I was all about the pushing up a lot of weight—I could put up 360, 375 at one point coming out of high school. I was rocked up,” Jennings told Gee Scott.

216lbs shows up in Jennings’ play. So does his combine numbers of: 20 reps on the bench press; 37” vertical jump; and 127” broad. Schneider raved about “physicality” when talking about his 2019 draft class and that was apt for Jennings.

At the stem of routes, Jennings can body receivers with his big frame and “chicken wing” move to separate. His push-off moves are subtle enough for the NFL. In tight spaces, Jennings is a nightmare proposition for defenders to cover because of his physical prowess and intelligent moves. He will win the leverage he wants and then go up and grab the football. Furthermore, contact at the catch-point often results in Jennings bundling it away with his size.

Physicality as a runner

Jennings is “smart, tough, reliable” as a runner too. Nearing a running back build, tackling Jennings is close to a business decision for defensive backs. Sure, he’s a lump to bring down. (“Really strong after the catch,” was how Schneider summarized this aspect) But, more than that, Jennings: has the wiggle to make the first guy miss; understands where creases are; and possesses excellent contact balance for the position—almost always falling forward while running victims over. In the Seahawks offense, this still applies to Jennings catching on shallower routes like the hitches or smokes Schneider referred to.

Route running leverage

When running routes in the Mountaineers’ offense, Jennings demonstrated a clear understanding of leverage. For instance: against a cover 2 look, he’d understand the honey-hole location. Or he would win to the high hole against Middle of the Field Open quarters coverage. In order to win leverage, asides from using his physicality, Jennings showed intelligence.

Take his route-running talk with Scott: “It’s kind of funny, coming out of High School I was a very raw receiver. I just mainly relied on my size, I always had good straight line speed, but size and athleticism. But I was very stiff, you know...But my receiver coach, Tyron Carrier, he showed me the ropes of how to be a great receiver as far as being flexible in your hips, getting in and out of stuff—breaks, using your hands to defeat leverage. I give a lot of credit to him.”

A big method Jennings used to get open was making his routes look similar to one another. He’d sell certain routes to defenders to gain better leverage, often squaring the defender up and earning a two-way-go that enabled him to get open. Having such a plan on the football field will be crucial to future success.

Extra steps

While Jennings’ route running is full of leverage comprehension and effort, the above clips feature footwork that could be tightened up—even with the speed-cut nature of West Virginia’s attack factored in. His moves take a few more step and he does require extra steps to throttle down on lateral and underneath cuts. That’s partly the nature of Jennings’ profile; his 7.32 seconds 3-cone and 4.15 short shuttle reflects this.

Work can still be done on honing Jennings’ craft. The vertical cuts, on routes like corners or posts, are hiccup-less and Jennings manages to maintain his speed throughout them. This, again, is further proof that Jennings better suits the outside receiver role. Sure, Seattle does run posts and deep crossers from the slot too—especially off the max-protect play-actions—it’s just the outside generally runs the deepest routes.

Getting off press

There’s one area to Jennings’ game that is nearing a total projection. Most receivers coming out of college have barely faced press coverage to a NFL standard. Yet WVU’s usage of Jennings pretty much guaranteed he avoided any press at all. By spending 80.6% of his 2018 snaps in the slot (per Sports Info Solutions), Jennings rarely—if ever—was met with a defender at the line of scrimmage due to the nature of Big 12 defense.

Watching Jennings’ college footage and looking for his ability against press requires some educated guesswork. He needs to keep his chest less exposed at the beginning of routes and develop a different move to his off-hand swat. This isn’t just about arm-work; working on his footwork and release plans for press will be integral too. The NFL is a world where, if you can’t succeed against press, teams will just keep doing it. Over and over again.

Schotty was clearly hyped to see his receivers try to deal with press when he was asked about the impact of padded practice at Training Camp. “We need the aggressive press man to man and we need to get rerouted,” the offensive coordinator stated. It was sweet to see Jennings get off veteran Neiko Thorpe’s jam and then adjust to catch a go ball from Geno Smith. Excellent early signs!

Blocking good

Jennings will need to usurp Moore if he is to get meaningful rookie playing time. Jaron Brown, though, is the currently listed starter and is a man who Schottenheimer has been praising heavily this offseason. Brown was a highly efficient catcher last year who Schotty has hinted was underutilized. However, it’s easy to get the feeling that the Seahawks like Brown for his blocking first and foremost.

Jennings’ blocking in CFB was full of effort and willing. The way that he was coached required a prolonged breakdown in space. He’s rather sticky as a blocker, especially in small areas, and he certainly embraces the “no block, no rock” mantra that pretty much every wide receiver coach screams at their unit in meetings. Finally, Jennings’ physicality shows up with strength at the point of attack.

Blocking bad

In closer space, Jennings was almost flawless as a blocker. However, not helped by the spread-out nature of the Mountaineers’ attack, Jennings had some leverage issues when blocking that saw him whiff on defenders after getting too heads up in his approach. Seattle coaches “track the near hip, near foot, near shoulder” tackling. It would make sense that their stalk-blocking principles match this, like USA Football does. Jennings taking better angles in space would hugely benefit him.

Senior Bowl

“Jennings, he had a great, great year. Coming out of that offense there’s always questions, right? But he did a great job at the Senior Bowl,” said Schneider—who was clearly as impressed as I was by Jennings’ 2019 Senior Bowl showing. The Senior Bowl gave Jennings the opportunity to show his plan for dealing with press coverage. The level of competition was also rather high.

I was impressed with how Jennings worked Cincinnati Bengals 7th round pick Jordan Brown in the showcase fixture:

Jennings was out there burning dudes in-game:

Here Jennings’ body positioning and strength shone:

Jennings also beat Indianapolis Colts 2nd rounder Rock Ya-Sin on a redzone fade (probably needs to watch the push off):

Jennings’ adjustment-to-the-football skills were evident in Mobile too. Take this video, where he used the corner’s momentum to separate and then worked back to the ball:

In summary: the Senior Bowl proved that Jennings’ skill-set can repeatedly win against drafted talent.

Projection

The initial signs are already promising. “Gary Jennings is growing as a player, he’s understanding his roles, he’s doing things right, he’s thinking. I think he had a hot adjustment today off one of our empty protections that you don’t see a young player make,” Schottenheimer reported from camp.

Yet this will come down to the pre-season games and whether chemistry exists with Wilson. A Jermaine Kearse-type role is probably the early ceiling for Jennings and Moore is the direct competition. The wide receiver comp overall looks totally vicious and D.K. Metcalf already appears to have established himself as a starting talent. Brown, Moore, Malik Turner, Amara Darboh, Jazz Ferguson are the other outside types.

When talking about becoming a pro, Jennings iterated “It’s only the beginning.” He plays and looks like a Seattle receiver with his explosive catching ability; the type Wilson would love. Jennings, though, must clean up his footwork and be able to consistently defeat press. If he can do that, he will be another big-bodied catcher for Wilson to hit one-on-one. For a man who says “I don’t have any quit in me,” expect Jennings to earn regular season action in year 1.