After sitting for the first six games of the season on the inactive list, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant has responded with five touchdowns over the last three weeks while quickly developing as a big-play target for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Today, let's break down the tape on Bryant and discuss why the 6'4", 211-pound receiver could be a breakout star at the position if he continues to improve his overall game.
Bryant's 4.4 straight-line speed is the first thing that jumps off the tape when you watch the rookie eat up the cushion of defensive backs and separate while the ball is in the air.
I'm talking about true deep-ball speed that forces corners to flip the hips before getting stuck in a trail position down the field. Get the one-on-one matchup outside of the numbers and let the rookie go make a play for you.
That puts some real stress on opposing secondaries and allows Roethlisberger to take shots over the top when he reads a single-high safety look in the middle of the field.
Here's an example with Bryant aligned in a stack look versus Indianapolis Colts cornerback Darius Butler from the Steelers' win in Week 8:
Bryant gets a free release versus Butler (no jam) and quickly attacks the outside shoulder of the Colts cornerback. This forces Butler to "open the gate" (open and run) and puts Bryant in a position to separate/stack down the field.
That's how you create leverage over the top versus a defensive back trailing the route. Stack on top and gain the proper position to finish.
During Bryant's first game as a pro, the Clemson product grabbed some national attention Monday night when he ran right past Houston's Andre Hal after forcing the rookie corner to weave inside on the initial release.
In this play, focus on Bryant's speed when the ball is in the air. That's the key when we talk about his ability to go get the deep one:
After that initial stem from Bryant, the cornerback has to flip the hips once the receiver gets up on his cushion. However, Hal isn't prepared to match this type of straight-line speed from Bryant.
I like the fact that Bryant forced Hal to weave off the release, plus he showed the ability to drag the feet on the finish.
But as any defensive back will tell you, speed wins.
That's the first thing opposing defensive backs are going to see when they turn on the tape to prep for Bryant and the Steelers. The rookie can flat-out run. These cornerbacks better play with some depth when they align off the ball and be ready to go when he gets up the field.
Throughout the draft process, Bryant was consistently talked about as a red-zone target in the pro game because of his frame, length and catch radius.
That's the fade, slant and post when you break down Bryant's skill set based on specific route concepts inside the 20-yard line.
Put Bryant outside of the numbers and give him opportunities to create inside leverage at the point of attack (slant, post) or go climb the ladder to high-point the ball (fade).
Let's look at an example of the post route in the win over the Baltimore Ravens on a perfect play call to expose the single-high safety in the middle of the field:
This is a double-post route that puts the free safety in an adverse situation (play two) with the inside route crossing his face. Plus, with Bryant taking an outside stem off the release, the rookie can force the cornerback to widen in his pedal.
That creates immediate leverage for the wide receiver on the break and a throwing window for Roethlisberger after the quarterback "pumps" to the inside post (which holds the free safety in the middle of the field).
Check out the entire route below with Bryant working back inside of the cornerback's initial leverage and the free safety breaking late from the middle of the field:
Let's move on to the fade because we all know that's a critical piece to any red-zone game plan when you have a positive matchup outside of the numbers. Win on the release versus press-man, separate and go make a play for your quarterback.
During the game against the Colts, Bryant matched up to Josh Gordy with the cornerback playing from an inside eye alignment (to take away the slant release):
Bryant did use a quick stutter at the line to get on the edge of Gordy and work through the initial jam, but my focus here is on the ability to gain separation to the sideline while high-pointing the ball to make this play.
Of the five touchdown passes Bryant has caught, four have come with the ball in the red zone. In my opinion, this is where he can continue to impact the game plan for the Steelers as a prime target for Roethlisberger.
Where Does Bryant Need to Develop?
With limited game reps, Bryant has plenty of room to develop. But that should also be expected at this stage of his rookie season in Pittsburgh.
I would like to see Bryant matched up versus some of the top talent at the cornerback position with much more work against true press-man outside of the numbers.
Given his size, defensive backs are going to try to take control of the route on the release, jam the chest plate and stick to his hip when he starts to stem up the field. I want to see his toughness at the point of attack.
As an intermediate route-runner, Bryant needs work coming out the break. He can get stuck at times and does show some stiffness in his hips when running the curl, dig or comeback.
Because of his speed, that's the next step in the progression to develop the ability to push a cornerback down the field while creating enough separation at the top of the route to snap back downhill to the football.
Middle of the field concepts? Bryant has run the slant on tape and did catch a seam route versus Quarters coverage in the game against the Colts, but I see him making his money outside of the numbers in the NFL. That caters more to his skill set.
The key for Bryant is more game reps, as there is nothing better from a developmental perspective for young receivers. They need to play, lose some matchups and learn from the tape.
That's how it works as rookies continue to progress at the NFL level.
Plus, we have to understand Bryant's role in the Steelers' system. He isn't being asked to play like a No. 1 (or maybe even a No. 2) with Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Lance Moore in the game plan.
The way I see it, Bryant has a high ceiling when breaking down his size, speed and catch radius. And with more time on the field, the rookie can continue to make plays while developing his overall skill set as a pro.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.