How NFL Teams Can Get the Best Use out of Key 2015 Rookies

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterJuly 5, 2015

USA Today

The rookie transition to the NFL can be tough from a scheme perspective, but the top coaches, the best offensive play-callers, find a way to maximize their inexperienced personnel through specific concepts.

Think of catering the playbook to fit the skill sets of these rookies. This creates opportunities and allows the first-year guys to play with confidence and speed versus veteran competition. That's crucial early in the season.

Today, let's focus on five key players in this rookie class and break down some schemes that will put them in a position to succeed during the season. From Jameis Winston in Tampa to Kevin White in Chicago, here are the concepts I will be looking for in 2015.


Bucs QB Jameis Winston: Work the Seams/Hot Reads vs. Pressure 

Winston's best throw (based on his tape at FSU) is the inside seam route. That's where you see the accuracy, the touch and, more importantly, the anticipation to fit the ball into tight windows or away from a defender's leverage.

The Bucs' No. 1 pick can eat up the middle of Cover 2 or attack man-free by looking off the safety and delivering the ball to the proper shoulder of the slot receiver. Plus, Winston can identify pressure, find his hot read and get the ball out to take advantage of matchups versus both zone- and man-blitz schemes.

Here's an example of Winston recognizing the pressure versus Notre Dame and finding the seam route to expose the interior blitz from the Irish.

Draft Breakdown

Now, project that same read, that same throw and that same result with Winston targeting wide receiver Mike Evans in Tampa to maximize both of their skill sets in the middle of the field. Evans has the size and the frame to create the necessary leverage on the seam regardless of the coverage call in the secondary.

Let's check out another example versus Notre Dame with the Irish sending man pressure (zero-pressure scheme) in the deep red zone against the Seminoles.

Draft Breakdown

What do we see here? A quick hot read from Winston (identifies man coverage, no safety help in the middle of the field) and a ball delivered to the upfield shoulder for six points.

Winston played in a pro-style offense for Florida State, and that will help with the transition for the No. 1 overall pick in Tampa. However, finding matchups with Evans to get the ball up the seam and defeat pressure will be vital for Winston early in the season versus NFL defenses that love to blitz rookie quarterbacks.

Raiders WR Amari Cooper: Deep Double Moves (Sting Route)

The Raiders' first-round pick out of Alabama is a silky smooth route-runner with the deep-ball speed to expose Cover 2 safeties on the "sting" route at the NFL level.

Go ahead and flip the field, create opportunities and produce points over the top of the secondary for quarterback Derek Carr. That's the idea here with the No. 4 overall pick in Oakland.

This route—which I broke down last week as one of the "unstoppable" plays at the pro level—is nasty versus a deep half safety. Think of a deep double move down the field with the receiver stemming to the corner before breaking back to the post. That's trouble for any safety who fails to play with the proper depth or opens his hips too early in the break.

Here's an example of the route with the Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. turning a safety around versus the Rams once he sells the outside break to the 7 route (corner route). This is six points all day long versus Cover 2 or Cover 6 given the explosive change of direction ability from Beckham Jr.

NFL Game Rewind

During the 2014 college season, Cooper ran this same route on a night when he absolutely whipped the Auburn secondary on a variety of concepts. But it was the sting that stands out from my perspective when talking about Cooper as he makes the jump to the NFL.

This guy can glide through his cuts. There is very little wasted movement in Cooper's game and he can run the entire route tree like a veteran player. He was the most "pro-ready" receiver in the 2015 class.

Draft Breakdown

I'm excited to see Cooper in Oakland this season along with rookie tight end Clive Walford. These are two upgrades for Carr as he continues his development. And with Cooper, there will be opportunities for explosive plays.

Titans QB Marcus Mariota: Packaged Plays/Spread Install

The transition for Mariota to a pro-style system was a major discussion point throughout the draft process due to the offense he played in at Oregon. It's a spread-based system that doesn't always translate to the NFL game.

However, while Mariota will be expected to adjust his game to a more pro-style offense in Tennessee, Ken Whisenhunt's team would be crazy if it didn't install some spread schemes in the game plan for the rookie quarterback. This is about Mariota being comfortable and producing in schemes that cater to his skill set.

The scheme I'm looking at is a series of packaged plays (run-pass option) that give Mariota the opportunity to utilizes his talent, vision and accuracy to expose poor eye discipline at the second level of the defense. Packaged plays aren't a new thing to the NFL as they show up all over the tape on Sundays in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers, in Philadelphia under Chip Kelly, and in Minnesota with Teddy Bridgewater.

Here's a look at one of the Vikings' packaged plays versus the Falcons with Atlanta playing Cover 3 (Buzz).

NFL Game Rewind

As you can see, Bridgewater can hand off on the inside zone, throw the seam or target the bubble screen-flat combo based on the coverage look. In this situation, Bridgewater is reading the linebacker at the second level through the mesh point (quarterback-running back exchange) and targets the seam for a completion in the middle of the field.

Mariota ran the same packaged plays at Oregon (out of different formations) that allowed the quarterback to hand off on the zone and throw the seam or bubble screen or slant based on his pre-snap read of the coverage.

Draft Breakdown

I'm very interested to see if Mariota can make the jump to the NFL and produce consistently in a pro-style offense. However, the Titans can make the transition process much smoother if they implement some of the Oregon schemes for their extremely talented and athletic rookie quarterback.

Rams RB Todd Gurley: Power Football

You don't need window dressing or exotic schemes with Gurley. Just play physical ball, run the power game and let the rookie from Georgia get downhill to showcase his speed through the hole, power, vision and agility.

The Rams are going to be that old-school team on offense under Fisher with the run game at the top of the call sheet. And Gurley can be the No. 1 back once his knee checks out and he is cleared to play. He's a legit top-10 talent.

What kind of schemes are we looking at? Gurley can produce in any zone-based scheme you want to install in the playbook, but I love his game in the downhill, power schemes.

Here's an example of an NFL power scheme from the Patriots film with LeGarrette Blount running the one-back Power O (kick-out, pull the backside guard).

NFL Game Rewind

This is a staple of the NFL (and all levels) when offenses want to control the line of scrimmage and wear down opposing defensive fronts. Hit the defense in the mouth. It isn't creative or exotic, but it's a proven scheme.

Gurley can produce in that scheme or in the base Iso, Lead Open, Wham and Counter OF. Take a look at this touchdown from Gurley versus Clemson with the running back waiting for his blocks to develop before accelerating up the field.

Draft Breakdown

That's a big-boy run right there from Gurley with Georgia pulling to the edge and leading up through the hole with the fullback. Gurley splits a tackle and then displays his breakaway speed on the way to six points. He can move once he pushes the ball through the second level.

The Rams have to be cautious with Gurley this season and his snaps could be limited to a degree when he does get back on the field. But the pro size and the skill set he brings to the NFL will produce results in the power run game.

Bears WR Kevin White: Shot-Zone Targets

The Bears rookie wide receiver has a freakish skill set, size (6'3", 215 pounds) and the straight-line speed (4.35 40 time) to beat defensive backs over the top. This is a rare athlete with the explosive ability to make plays.

However, given that White is still somewhat raw in his route running and coming from a spread offense, I wouldn't be surprised if the Bears reduced his route tree this season. Put him at the "X" receiver and let him run the slant, post, dig, curl, tunnel screen and fade. These are routes where his athleticism can take over at the point of attack and they can also create opportunities to produce after the catch.

The one route I want to look at today with White? The fade—in the "shot zone." That's when the offense has the ball between the 20- and 35-yard line and wants to take a shot to the end zone.

Here's an NFL example with Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant matched up versus the Eagles' Bradley Fletcher. It's one-on-one coverage with Fletcher walked up in a press alignment. Bryant beats the Eagles' cornerback off the snap, runs through the jam and separates down the field on a great ball from Tony Romo.

NFL Game Rewind

It would be unfair to try to compare White to the Cowboys wide receiver. Bryant is the best in the game from my perspective. However, this is the type of matchup the Bears and quarterback Jay Cutler want to exploit with the West Virginia product when the ball is in the "strike zone" due to his size and skill set.

Check out White versus Alabama last season when he is matched up outside versus a press corner on the fade route.

Draft Breakdown

I love White's ability to finish here. That's how you climb the ladder, play the ball at the highest point and take it away from the defensive back in coverage. Win at the line, get down the field and produce.

With the addition of White (and slot receiver Eddie Royal), Cutler now has the best collection of skill talent since he's been in Chicago. And there will be opportunities for Cutler to target the rookie underneath or take a shot over the top of the secondary given White's ability to win matchups.

Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.