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Kendall Wright & "Space Players"

Earth-shattering analysis: Kendall Wright was brought in to improve this offense, hopefully vaulting it into elite territory. Here's where it gets a bit more interesting though. Perhaps no receiver prospect in this recent draft can impact the offense in as many different ways as Wright. Before we go further, let's define the "space player." For that, I'll turn it over to Chris Brown of SmartFootball & Grantland.com:

These naturally gifted players need just a little bit of open territory to operate, and when they get it they incinerate defenses. They operate in the area between the short dive up the middle and the long bomb down the sideline. They are "space players."

Players like Sproles, on the other hand, just need a glimpse of open field, created either by defensive alignments or the coach's schemes, and once there they thrive. They are looking for creases between defenders and one-on-one situations against guys unable to cover them.

In coaching the Saints, Payton takes advantage of the three best ways to use space players. First are screen passes — plays designed to get the runner into open space, preferably with blockers ahead of him. Second is the space player's role as an underneath receiver, where he provides an easy option for a quarterback while drawing coverage away from downfield receivers. And, finally, a space player can be a runner on draws and sweeps after the earlier plays have forced the defense to substitute favorable (for the offense) personnel.

The question becomes "Is Kendall Wright a space player?"

Kendall Wright and the Baylor Offense

Before projecting forward, it's important to see how he was used at Baylor. If he wasn't a space player there, then it's hard to fathom he'll be one here. Taking a cue from SuperHorn's Locker study, I went back and tracked Wright's contributions in the four games available. I tried to group the types of routes and touches together, and came up with the following (these are all Madden-ized terms, as I don't know technical names):

2 Reverses
2 Deep Hitches/Comebacks (>10 yds)
2 Handoffs
2 Deep Crosses
4 Inside/Outside Slants
5 Wide Screens/Bubble Passes
5 Intermediate Hitches/Comebacks (~10 yds)
6 Short Hitches/Comebacks (<10 yds)
8 Deep Posts + 1 Deep Out

As an aside, he also had 3 bubble screen pass attempts (only 2 of which he actually threw on). It's irrelevant to this post, but I found it interesting still.

A few specific examples:

The TCU Tape: At 1:37, Wright catches a pass near the sideline, shifts to his right and beats the defender for a first down. In this case, Wright takes a play that's going nowhere and flips it for a first down. It's a nifty play, and one that can really help keep a drive going. It's not going to make the ESPN highlights at the end of the day, but those types of plays are crucial for an offense.

The Oklahoma Tape: At 1:01, Wright takes an inside slant pass and busts it for over 50 yards. Those types of passes are great safety valve plays. It's a higher percentage throw that can really help out a young QB against the blitz.

The Texas Tape: At 1:35, Wright takes a reverse pitch from Griffin, beats a defender and goes for 20 yards.

The Washington Tape: I thoroughly enjoyed watching every minute of this tape as Wright's various abilities were on display. At 0:20, Wright scores a TD by freezing the defender and diving by him. At 1:22 he takes a wide screen pass, dekes past the corner and goes for the first down.

From what I've seen, Wright was a tremendous space player for the Bears. His speed, agility and vision are a coordinator's dream.

Kendall Wright and the Titans Offense
In the post from Brown above, he mentions former receiver Eric Metcalf as a space player. This was particularly intriguing because Metcalf played in a run-and-shoot offense, a similar offense to the one Chris Palmer runs in Tennessee. I don't know anything about Metcalf, but Brown did have another post with a more recent example: Victor Cruz. That article should look familiar, because it's the same one SuperHorn discussed before the draft. Brown discusses Cruz's success from the slot as a streak receiver for the Giants. I'm left to wonder if Wright can be the Titans' version of Cruz. Wright played both inside and out for Baylor, and had success in both spots from what I've seen. From the tally above, you can see he ran a lot of deep routes and had a tremendous amount of success with them.

If we want to use Wright as an outside receiver, he can fulfill that role. We need someone with speed on the outside, and his vertical routes will fit perfectly with our offense. If we want to use him inside that way as well, great. We can also use him on handoffs, screens and slants- all those space plays he contributed to at Baylor. That's why I'm so excited about this pick. I consider being called a space player lofty praise, but Wright is so talented he has the potential to be even more than that.

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