It’s cliche for a slot receiver to be compared to New England Patriots ‘Y’ receiver Wes Welker nowadays, and one could say it’s a bit of a lazy comparison. But Fresno State’s Devon Wylie’s game truly resembles Welker’s.
Like Welker, Wylie is a versatile player that has good hands, quick feet, and runs never-ending pivot routes that seem impossible to stop. However, that’s not all there is to his game, so join me as I delve into the details of Wylie’s talents.
Much like Welker, who’s one of his favorite players, Wylie is a smaller pass catcher, and it showed at the Combine when he measured in at 5’9 1/4″ and 187 pounds. That’s not the ideal size for a receiver, but it works in the slot where receivers come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the smaller athletes like Welker and now Wylie to the taller Marques Colstons.
Wylie’s size has not been a detriment to his game, and he was very effective when on the field for the Fresno State bulldogs, catching passes both high and low. He has quality explosion, which was on display at the Combine where Wylie had a 39″ vertical jump.
Wylie catches the ball very well. He’s shown the ability to catch with his arms extended away from his body and secure the ball by bringing it into his body and trapping it. Trapping isn’t always viewed as a positive tendency by scouts because they prefer passes to be caught away from the body, but it’s something that happens often for receivers when they are looking to catch and run, and it has to be evaluated.
Route running can be taught, but it’s still a difficult aspect of the game to learn, which is noticeable at the collegiate level with receivers. The majority are raw in this department because they don’t always do the right thing, such as breaking down quick enough or keeping their eyes focused on the defensive back instead of telegraphing their next move to the defender.
Tipping off the defender is something that Wylie’s had minor issues with from what I’ve seen, but overall he runs quality routes. A significant amount of the routes in his game are typical slot routes, and they stretch the defense horizontally while forcing the defender into a trail position. These routes include pivot routes and shallow crosses.
If there’s one thing that all receivers must do to succeed at the next level, it’s separate from defensive backs when running routes and breaking them off at specific depths. Wylie does a very good job of this, which is why I rate him very highly in the draft for the specific role of a slot receiver — which has become a starting position over the years.
The reason Wylie separates so well is because of his very quick feet and quality balance. This can be seen on film in many games, and an example came against Nebraska this past season. I’ve used snapshots of the game to illustrate how his quick feet cause problems for defenders in short areas, consequently leaving them trailing at the break of the route.
The image below illustrates a simple drawing of a pivot route that Wylie ran from a slot alignment.
The next image shows Wylie separating from the defender in man coverage, and he ends up holding Wylie to slow him down.
Tracking the Ball
Tracking the ball seems like a simple task, yet it’s often a difficult one for many receivers. Just ask Braylon Edwards.
Fortunately for Wylie, he doesn’t have an issue with this. He’ll drop some passes, but all receivers do. However, he catches the majority of them and shows quality body control when going up for the ball, whether it’s on a short horizontal route to intermediate depths of the field, or getting vertical against a safety who usually has the height advantage. He shows the ability to track the ball over his shoulder and bring it down as well.
Yards After Catch
If there’s one aspect of Wylie’s game that I think he’s exceptional at, it’s his yards after catch ability. He has shown on numerous occasions that he’s very instinctive with the ball in his hands and can find the open field. He also shows the explosiveness and lateral agility to cause trouble in the open field.
One of the reasons for this appears to be the offense he came out of in high school, as he noted in an interview at the NFL Combine. He came out of an offense that utilized the Fly Sweep as its base play, and he served as the “Flyback,” which means he was running sweeps across the formation, as he did at times for Pat Hill at Fresno State last year.
There’s also the added factor that he’s a punt returner, something he does very well, which has helped him find space in the open field.
One might say there’s only positives that seem to be listed of Wylie’s game in this post. That’s because in writing these reports, my goal is to provide a full evaluation of the player while also identifying his strengths that translate over to NFL systems. Wylie’s quick feet, good hands, and value as a returner will enable him to be a quality player for teams that utilize a slot receiver often, which most teams do as the NFL has moved to a 11-based personnel groupings (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) .
However, the negatives that dock Wylie’s stock are his size, which is still small by NFL standards, and his medical history. He’s had durability issues while at Fresno State that have kept him off the field at times, which is troubling. One way he can solve this is by taking less hits when catching the ball, something that Welker does exceptionally job to protect his body.