A Look forward at Jamison Crowder
First a little history
Jamison Crowder was drafted in the 4th round of the 2015 draft; the 6th pick of the round and the 105th overall of the Draft. People are quick to say on Draft day that their team got a “steal” in the draft, but that assessment of Crowder may be accurate for Washington.
I had Jamison Crowder as a high 3rd round talent coming into the Draft. He played for David Cutcliffe at Duke, an underrated coach who is often called a QB whisperer. Cutcliffe was the head coach at Ole Miss and is credited with turning Eli Manning into a NFL ready QB while he was there. He coaches a pro style offense that produced the 6th overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft (Daniel Jones) who like Manning was selected by the NY Giants.
Crowder was a 4 year letterman at Duke playing in 52 games with 283 receptions for 3,641 yards and 23 TDs. He also excelled on special teams returning 65 punts (13.4 ave) 5 TDs and 44 kickoffs (21.1 avg) 0 TDs.
For some reason Crowder had a poor Combine which along with his diminutive stature (5’9”) had him drop down draft boards. His pro day was much better as he ran a 4.46/40 compared to a 4.56/40 at the Combine. He also had a better short shuttle (4.25 sec compared to 4.32 sec) a better 3-cone drill (6.98 sec compared to 7.17 sec), and a better broad jump (123” compared to 115”). None of those results are elite, but he showed great quickness which is what was expected.
Crowder was projected as a slot receiver only even though he ran a diverse route during his college career. Although injuries have curtailed Crowder’s pro career, most scouts didn’t factor in the intangibles in his game. He is a dogged competitor who is super tough with great acceleration and leaping ability; basically everything you want in a receiver.
His coach in Washington (Jay Gruden) loved Crowder’s game and felt he left a lot of production on the table by not using him enough, “I’ve said all along Jamison can play anywhere. He can play outside, inside. He can play running back probably if he wanted to. So we’ll utilize Jamison and try to get him more involved, not just in the passing game and the running game.”
Crowder set a rookie franchise record for receptions (59) and averaged 64 receptions for his first 3 years in Washington. He also returned 84 punts his first 3 years averaging 8 yards per return and a TD. His 2018 campaign was derailed by a nasty, lingering ankle injury, a December wrist injury, and poor QB play (also because of injury). The good news was that none of Crowder’s injuries required surgery.
What does Crowder bring to the Jets?
Like I said earlier Crowder has a diverse route tree, but his bread and butter is his ability to compete and gain separation from coverage men early in his routes. This ability will give Sam Darnold a place to throw the ball if he is pressured quickly will be Godsend to the offense. Here when Kirk Cousins gets pressured he knows where to go with the ball.
This is against a zone defense so without press coverage Crowder does the smart thing and runs a quick out to give his QB an easy throw if pressured. As it was, the four man stunting rush gets decent penetration so Cousins gets rid of the ball and earns a quick 10 1⁄2 yard gain. Just in this little route you can see the skill Crowder brings to the team.
Cousins doesn’t step into the throw so the ball is without good velocity and low. Crowder has to turn his back to the defense to corral the low throw but quickly gets his body turned upfield then spins away from a tackle of Brandon Carr. He then jump cuts back inside to make LB Damien Wilson whiff on the tackle then gets everything he can (as he is surrounded by 4 defenders) before going down. This was a 3rd and 11 play so while the play was just short of a 1st down it still was a point getting play as Washington is now in field goal range. They could go for it and try to turn a 4th and a 1⁄2 yard play into a 1st down.
This is the type of outlet a young QB like Sam Darnold needs. If there is pressure he can dump the pass off. If there is little little pressure Darnold will be able to scan the field, going from deep routes back to short routes to find the best option. Another way of getting the ball out of Darnold’s hand is to just script it using a slip or bubble screen. Here it works perfectly.
The advantage of this slip screen over a bubble screen is huge in my opinion. A bubble screen uses a wide receiver, the throw is longer which allows the defense to come up quickly before the reception and offensive linemen (who are your best blockers) can get in front of your ball carrier. The blockers are WRs who often do a poor job of blocking.
Here you can see the throw is short and quick. The offensive linemen don’t have to hold the blocks as long as the traditional RB screen. The linemen can immediately go to the left to get position for their blocks and don’t have to worry about being called for illegal man downfield because the throw is behind the line of scrimmage. Also Crowder is a seasoned return man who is used to setting up blocks and finding his way through traffic unlike most WRs. Crowder is quicker than fast because he lacks great long speed but he has enough to make it by the safety for the score.
The surprise aspect of Crowder is not only his ability to run all routes from anywhere on the offense but his quickness in and out of breaks. He is also an excellent route runner. As per Jay Gruden, “He just continues to prove every day why we like him so much. He’s great on option routes, he can run vertical stems. He can run just about anything you ask him to run. He gets himself open because he’s got a great feel. He’s got quickness in and out of his breaks. He plays a lot longer than his size. He has got really long arms. He goes up and gets balls.”
Defenses that sit on Crowder because of his short area quickness will soon find out that is a bad idea. Teams that think because Crowder is small 5’ 9” he can’t run anything but short routes will be burned just like the Packers here.
Crowder is basically starting in the same place on the offense that he did on the last GIF, but the routes could not be more different. Crowder is even being guarded by a CB in Quinten Rollins, but it is still no contest. With the addition of Crowder and UDFA Greg Dortch (if he makes the team) you would have two receivers who play primarily in the slot who could run any route with the speed and quickness to beat a CB down the seam. Crowder may have been considered (by opposing teams) an afterthought in Washington since he was considered “just” a slot receiver, but actually in his 4 years there he was 2nd on the team in receptions (221) and 1st in receiving yards (2,628) even though he missed 8 games due to injury.
Crowder is a smart receiver with the ability to read coverages and find weak spots in zones. For this reason Jay Gruden set up many option routes for Crowder to run to take advantage of his intelligence. Especially in zone coverage an undersized receiver can get lost with defenders drawn to larger receivers.
Here is a prime example.
Crowder is just basically running free in the Cincinnati secondary so he sits down in an open area then turns back to give his QB a larger target to throw to. Crowder may be smaller than many receivers, but he still is a football player who is not afraid of contact. He puts a move on safety Shawn Williams and makes it the end zone despite the contact. Crowder himself knows how fortunate he is to have the role he does in the offense. “I think that the slot is a position where you can create mismatches. Guys that play on the outside typically just going to go against defensive backs. Now there are a lot of top defensive backs, but inside we gotta contend with linebackers, safety’s, nickel slots whatever it may be. So, it’s a great time to be a slot receiver” Crowder said.
Crowder’s his hands and ability to go up to catch high passes are also underappreciated. It is the short man bias as a receiver in football. Most people think you are relegated to play in the slot, run short routes, and you have a tiny catch radius. Even his draft report said basically the same thing.
“Lacks desired NFL size. Below-average length and hands and offers a small target radius for quarterbacks.”-Lance Zierlein
His abilities were not lost on his coach in Washington Jay Gruden, “Sometimes he plays bigger than a taller receiver because he uses his height [and] he’s got great jumping ability and times the jumps extremely well. Some tall guys you see, they misjudge it and they don’t jump. But Jamison, he times them perfect and makes big plays.”
Here is a prime example.
The ball from Kirk Cousins is way too high, but Crowder is able to haul the pass in using good hands and concentration to make a play while attaining a 1st down.
(On a side note, if you want to see what happens when a QB under rotates his hips on a throw just watch Kirk Cousins. He short steps his throwing motion so he is basically pointing his front foot at the end zone pylon while throwing an out to the sideline 15 yards away. The obvious result is a high throw to the receiver on a fairly simple pass that a high school kid could make.)
During his rookie year in the NFL it was said that offensive coordinator Sean McVay (now coach of the L.A. Rams) was enamored with getting the ball in Crowder’s hands. An unnamed NFC Scout put it best, ”It’s clear they want to get the ball in his hands. He’s a good returner and does a really good job of navigating through traffic to pick up extra yards.” The Jets would be wise to do the same thing. These are the type of plays Sean McVay envisioned when he wanted to get the ball in Crowder’s hands.
This is that slip screen we saw earlier. It gets linemen out in front quickly and allows Crowder to pick his way through the defense with his great vision. This play is like a well-blocked punt return. It gives Crowder options on where to take the ball. This play shows the vision, foot quickness and the mental quickness to decide which route to take. It also shows the lack of long speed. Crowder is not slow by any means, but he is not a track star either. Plays like these opens up other avenues to get him the ball.
The Cowboys are now up on the line on the next play because they were in off coverage before and got burned for a 45 yard gain. On this play Orlando Scandrick of the Cowboys does a good job of not letting Crowder cross his face in press coverage. So Crowder adjusts and beats him downfield to the high side.
This creates a more difficult throw for the QB because he cannot lead the receiver to one side or the other, but it is also makes it impossible for the defender to pick up the ball because it is coming directly over his head. When Crowder jumps it gives him the necessary separation from Scandrick. Plus with the ball placed out in front of Crowder it doesn’t allow Scandrick to make a play on the ball. Scandrick tries to bat the ball away from Crowder, but he does a great job of quickly pulling the ball into his body to secure the catch for a TD while getting both feet down inbounds.
Sometimes it takes time for a team to adjust to a player with a quick burst and sudden, nimble feet. As a lineman you must be quick in your blocking decisions, make a block, and clear the way. On these slip screens the blocks are totally different than like blocking for a running back. You are not confined to the line. You are in open space. All you need to do is create gaps in the defense for the ball carrier to run through. You are not opening holes, just creating running lanes. Sometimes just getting in a defender’s way is good enough.
Here our boy #61 Spencer Long is trying to run downfield to throw a block for Crowder. He just needs to get out of the way. He needed to block the player coming from behind, #55 LB Paul Worrilow of the Falcons to free up the area. Crowder will have no problem twisting safety #25 William Moore into knots then blowing right by him. This was a TD play if it was blocked correctly. Jets linemen will have to learn how to block this type of play. This type of blocking goes against everything they have been taught about offensive lineman blocking since they were little kids.
This next play is an option route that gives Crowder two options on where to go, but he has to use some keys so he and Kirk Cousins are on the same page. Crowder starts in the slot with off coverage and can either go right or cross the defender’s face to cut over to give Cousins a clear, big target (which is what he did). He also can cut left to the back corner pylon and catch the TD path in the corner (the prefered receiver route) in that it takes the safety out of the play. You see DeSean Jackson doing an in cut from the outside so the corner of the end zone is wide open.
If Cousins and Crowder are off on their reads then Crowder runs to the corner ,and Cousins throws the ball right to the safety #31 Jairus Byrd. =The key is #24 Kyle Wilsonn. If he stays back (like he does) then Crowder takes the in cut. If Wilson comes up to close the gap, this takes away the ability for Crowder to cross his face. He then takes the corner route. As it is he stays back. Both Cousins and Crowder read the same thing which becomes a TD.
If Adam Gase wants to allow these type of option routes which are highly effective because it allows players to adjust the play according to what the defense does then they have a lot of work ahead. A misread by either QB or receiver could spell disaster, but as you see when both players are on the same page it can be nearly unstoppable.
This last GIF shows another type of route that Crowder has run from the slot. Running a route from the slot is an advantage because it almost always allows a free release by the receiver as it is difficult to press a receiver who is off the line. This is a route that you often see offenses run with RBs against LBs. It is called a wheel route. You basically come off the line, take a left, run to the flat, and then up the sideline. Larger players have a difficult time quickly opening their hips so it helps the offensive player gain separation.
When the receivers cross at the line the defense switches man coverage, and Crowder is picked up by CB Brandon Carr. If you notice, Kirk Cousins expects Crowder to beat the coverage (which he does with ease) because Cousins stares down Crowder the entire way. Crowder runs a near perfect route and gives Cousins about 3 to 4 yards from the sideline while he is a good yard or two in front of Carr. This is a TD play, but Cousins carries his throw too far outside (to the sideline). Crowder makes the catch, but the throw carries him out of bounds. A good throw, more up the sideline, would have been better, and Carr would have a hard time catching Crowder before the end zone.
Jamison Crowder brings a quality and diverse skill set to the Jets. Hopefully the injury he suffered at Monday’s practice is minor because he can be a superior punt returner (if needed), a chain mover, a big play threat ,and a difficult cover for a defense. Jay Gruden said it best, “He is a very young player, developing, and his best years are in front of him. I think he’s going to explode on the scene here very shortly. He’s got great quickness in intermediate routes, can separate, has good hands, he’s tough, he’s physical in the running game. There is really not anything that Jamison can’t do. You look at his size and say he’s little, but he plays big.”
Getting a player that is beginning the prime of his career is huge especially after he has honed his skills for the last 4 years in a diverse system that allowed him to gain experience in a variety of roles. Both crowder and Bell should be a massive help to the success of Sam Darnold and should help him (along with Adam Gase) get to the next; much higher level of development. The offensive line has some holes but team has some impressive skill players who can be game changers; this will be interesting.
The Patriots are the Dark Side.
The Jets are the Jedi.
Remember what master Yoda said, “Judge me by my size do you? And well you should not!”
He was talking about Jamison Crowder; I think.