On every offensive play in the NFL, offensive units are supposed to have seven players on the line of scrimmage. Five of those seven players are always the offensive lineman. The other two you can mix and match depending on formation and scheme. One thing is for certain though, there will be a wide receiver lined up on the line of scrimmage. That wide receiver is called the X-receiver or “split end,” if you’re old school. The X receiver often lines up on the opposite side of trips and widest from the tight end. He cannot go in motion and he faces predominantly man coverage.
Given the characteristics of the X-receiver position, there is a certain profile that fits the demands of constant press man coverage. Ideally you want your X-receiver to look like Calvin Johnson: big, fast, strong, great footwork. But, Calvin Johnson is a unicorn, so teams try to get as close to that model as possible. Size and strength are certainly requirements due to the amount of hand fighting that is required. The ability to be a vertical threat is also necessary. Now, being a vertical threat comes in two forms, winning with speed and vertical separation and winning in contested catch situations down field. Both can be effective. Lastly, footwork is essential for any receiver, but for playing X the need for vicious releases off the line of scrimmage is a game changer.
Who in this 2021 NFL draft shows X-receiver potential? Let’s see…
Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
Standing at 6-foot-2 weighing in at 209 pounds, Rashod Bateman has the requisite size to man the X-receiver position. Strength and contested-catch ability are also boxes Bateman checks off. In the speed department, Bateman is no blazer but has more than enough running ability to do damage down the field and after the catch. What makes Rashod Bateman special is his route running and releases off the line of scrimmage. The quickness in and out of his breaks and superb footwork at the line of scrimmage are what consistently gets Bateman open.
Here, you see Bateman with quick footwork turning into the inside release. The cornerback has trouble mirroring Bateman for the entire rep. After that, you see the strong hands and catch radius. Add in the yards-after-catch ability as the cherry on top.
J’marr Chase, LSU
The Biletnikoff award-winning receiver out of LSU opted out of the 2020 season, but showed more than enough of the necessary skills in 2019. The physicality of the X position is aligned nicely with what J’marr Chase brings to the table. At 6-foot-1, Chase may not have the ideal length, but his strength down the field — as well as at the line of scrimmage — is where he wins. All throughout his tape you can see Chase fighting press coverage and being physical throughout the route. The added bonus with Chase is the run-after-catch ability. He quickly transitions from a receiver to a running back after the ball is secured. Vertically, Chase should be able to stack some defensive backs, and I expect him to win consistently downfield with superior ball-tracking and high-point ability.
In the clip below you can see exactly what Chase’s game was at the line. You’re not getting any razzle-dazzle footwork, Chase gives you straight muscle and fight at the line. Trevon Diggs gives him a hard jam at the snap, then Chase responds with the “Get Off Me” move and proceeds into his route. That type of play sets the tone for he entire game.
Kyle Pitts, Florida
Kyle Pitts stands at 6-foot-6 and weighs in at 240 pounds. At that size he is excellent in and out of his breaks, has quick feet at the line of scrimmage, and is dominant at the catch point. Kyle Pitts is the ideal X-receiver in the 2021 draft. The only thing is that Pitts played tight end at Florida. At the next level Pitts is your X-receiver in 11 personnel and your “move” tight end in 12 personnel. The fact that you can make the case for Pitts being at the top of two different positions speaks to the dynamic skill set he possesses. Bottom line is that Kyle Pitts is a playmaker wherever he plays on the field. Specifically at the X position outside, Pitts uses his size to shield defenders well. Vertically, Pitts can win the jump ball with ease.
Here you see Pitts with the slight hesitation into an outside release. Notice the strength to keep Jaycee Horn shielded as well as the hand fighting throughout. That’s the type of rep that has to be routine for an X.
Nico Collins, Michigan
Nico Collins is another receiver who will win at the X position with size and strength. Collins doesn’t have the pretty stop/start quickness and hip fluidity, but he does have good hands and ability to separate over the top of a defender. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame allows Collins to go and get that ball whether the defensive back is in phase or not. Below you see Collins (top of the screen) release to the outside, the defender fails to get hands on him. As you can see the defender is still in phase, but it doesn’t matter because of Collins high point ability.
Jalen Camp, Georgia Tech
Camp is a bit of an upside projection to the X-receiver position, but on tape, the physical traits of Camp jump out. Listed on Bruce Feldman’s 2020 Freak List($), Jalen Camp stands 6-foot-2, 220 pounds and has been clocked at 4.4 in the 40-yard dash. On top of that it is said he has maxed out at 400 pounds on the bench. Going forward, if Camp can marry sophisticated releases and precise routes to his insane physical ability, he’ll be a terrifying X-receiver. Below is an example of Camp’s vertical ability; here, he attacks the outside leverage of the cornerback, gets him to open his gate, and then explodes into the post.
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