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2020 Draft Prospect WR Devin Duvernay

A game breaker from the slot

Texas Tech v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Devin Duvernay is a different kind of receiver than you normally find in the NFL. He is a short and kind of thick with great speed and superior contact balance. He is built more like a RB with well-developed thighs but small shoulders and short arms. He is fast but he is not sudden, a slot receiver who was a team captain. He is more of a vertical threat, a speed demon who can break tackles. He was 3rd in the nation with 106 receptions but also 5th in the nation in yardage gained (1,386 yards). He didn’t run particularly great routes, but his QB Sam Ehlinger just loved him because he is smart and knows how to clear coverage but also sit in zones.

He has worked hard to become a better receiver. He moved from the outside into the slot at the behest of his receiver coach Drew Mehringer, a spot vacated by Lil’ Jordan Humphrey after he (foolishly) left early for the NFL.

“He said I could have a big breakout year at this position,” Duvernay said. He also knew that head coach Tom Herman’s system favored the slot position in his offense.

About 25% of his receptions comes off hot reads by Sam Ehlinger. “Obviously, he made the transition into slot, but I’m extremely comfortable with the way that he runs routes, where he’s going to be,” Ehlinger said.

Duvernay has a huge fan in West Virginia coach Neal Brown who is part of the same coaching tree as Texas coach Tom Herman. “I’d just like to watch him play because he does a really good job of settling zones,” Brown said. “He understands when it’s man and runs away from man coverage. He catches the ball, and just like I was talking about our guys needing to, he catches and gets vertical.”

He has worked tirelessly on his hands for hours after practice since he came to Austin. The result is one drop ball in a game since 2017. Duvernay does admit to dropping a pass occasionally in practice. “Rarely. Rarely,” quarterback Sam Ehlinger said. “Don’t let him fool you.” Duvernay has the respect of his teammates, respect that was earned not given.

He has what is termed as “build up speed” which is usually a term used for much taller, speedy players. He has good short area quickness, but he takes a few extra steps to get up to full speed. That speed won the Texas H.S. 6A 100 meter sprint championship with a time of 10.27 seconds. Once he gets into the clear no one is going to catch him.

Duvernay is a quiet kid, rarely says anything unless he is spoken to. Even then he will barely say more than a few words. He is highly competitive, just hates to lose at anything and believes in his abilities. Former NFL player and Jim Thorpe Award winner Michael Huff is on the staff at Texas. The former safety asked Duvernay “What would happen if me and you lined up one-on-one?” “If me and you lined up one-on-one?” Duvernay repeated, Touchdown.”

Duvernay is a tough kid who will go anywhere on the field to make a play. He is not a polished route runner as of yet. but he does understand how to get open, when to sit in zones, and how to drop his shoulder to get an extra yard no matter who he goes against. Here against LSU he does just that against Grant Delpit.

Duvernay isn’t some toothpick speedste. He is a football player first and a receiver second. He leaves Delpit on the ground then gets a whack at LB Michael Divinity. He even has a little look at Delpit on the way back to the huddle thinking like, “Hey. is that all you got.”

It is a play they still talk about in Texas, a team lifter against the eventual National Champions who they took to the wire. It fired his team up. He has more of those plays in him on the next level.

I mentioned earlier that the technical acuity of route running is still in the learning phase for Duvernay, but he still understands how to work against a defense and get open. Here is a nice example of just that as he is in the slot. He comes off the ball like he is going to run a simple drag route but cuts back upfield behind the linebacker in front of the safety. He found the perfect soft spot in the coverage for a big gain.

You don’t have to be a great route technician to get open in certain defenses. You do need to recognize the defense you are up against on any particular play. To do so you have to put in the work during the week to watch tape and go over schemes with coaches. Obviously Duvernay put in that type of work. It shows.

The next play is a zone read option play where Ehlinger has to read the right inside linebacker (#45 Michael Divinity) to see how he reacts to the play fake. If he steps up in a run fit (like he does here) Ehlinger is going to want to throw the football because of the window this creates in the defense.

The problem is that the defense knows this look too so they will try to squeeze that window as much as they can. The safety (#3 Jacoby Stevens) is playing an OLB position. He is sliding towards that throwing lane as soon as he sees pass. Duvernay must get some quick depth on the dig route then cross the field quickly to get into the window. This is receiving in a congested area. He is able to make the catch then get down before #6 the ILB Phillipps takes his head off. Duvernay knows he is running a route into the teeth of the defense yet he does his job and gets a first down in the process.

Now it is 4th down with Texas down by two scores in the 4th quarter. Where do you go with the ball? It’s simple. You throw to a guy who can get open fast with great hands. It’s no good if you get a receiver open, and he drops the ball. It’s game over. LSU has all their men at the line with a zero coverage in the back. They also bring a zone blitz so you don’t know who is coming and who is dropping into coverage.

Texas runs a scheme to get Duvernay open from the slot as he crosses underneath the receive inside him in a “rub” or pick play look. LSU counters with an all out blitz and only dropping a defensive tackle into zone coverage in the middle of the field.

This is a perfect storm for Texas as Duvernay is able to make the catch then split the seam for an easy TD. This is the advantage of speed. A team makes a small mistake, and speed will turn that mistake into a TD. With his stocky frame and lower center of gravity Duvernay has excellent contact balance. He is easily able to break the tackle then head to the house.

This next clip is of nearly the same exact play against Oklahoma State on a 3rd down in the red zone. It’s just a drag route where Ehlinger is late getting the football to Duvernay. There is even a natural pick with the umpire so if the ball is on time it’s a TD. You can see he has to slow down to wait for the pass.

Now this is the Big XII conference. Duvernay will not see such soft coverages in the red zone in the NFL. This is against the wide open spaces of the Oklahoma State defense.

Even though the pass was a little late, Ehlinger makes up for it on the next play.

With the same player in coverage, the corner route is wide open. Duvernay takes one jab step to the inside. Yhe corner who is playing about 8 yards off his man takes two false steps to the inside, then is slow to react back to his left. He is just dusted by Duvernay’s speed to the corner.

This was probably a matchup that the coaches saw on tape during the week and could not wait to exploit in this game. Duvernay had 12 receptions in this game for 108 yards and this TD. He played in 13 games and had over 100 yards receiving in 7 of those games. Here is another look at the play from another view, with the footwork. This is a TD in the NFL.

You can see he has plenty of room to get both feet down then roll out of bounds. You can also see how much he has the corner beaten by. Remember, he started on the 8 yard line, and the corner had his butt hanging over the end zone. Duvernay is slowing down at the catch, and the corner is five yards behind him. He got roasted.

With his speed Duvernay is going to be the king of the double move. It can be effective in two ways. First, a double move like this is a way to get free of man coverage. Second, with Duvernay running a lot of short routes from the slot it doesn’t allow corners to sit on routes because they have no way to catch up if they get beat over the top.

Now this route is not run that effectively, and I’m sure with his work ethic Duvernay will become more proficient at route running. Of course speed covers up a litany of mistakes so when you can just run by someone it makes everything look better. Andy Reid really doesn’t care how well his guys run routes technically. He just puts a bunch of fast receivers on the field and dares you to guard them all. No team has 5 Pro Bowl corners so someone is bound to be open.

Later in the same game Duvernay breaks a big play on a quick slant route. This is the beauty of having a fast player who is sturdy with great contact balance. He breaks one tackle on a 5 yard slant and he is off to the races.

The tackle attempt slowed him down which allowed the safety to get a good angle for the tackle, but even at full speed he has good balance. He makes an extra 20+ yards after the push. The little slant ends up netting over 60 yards on the play. Now this is not a typical play, but if he can do this a few times a year that is priceless. With most NFL games being one score affairs, a couple of unexpected big plays can be huge.

Here again is a simple play that is poorly run, but he is able to cross his man’s face then give his QB a big target to hit in the middle of the field. Duvernay has some hip tightness you can clearly see, but he can still do a better job on breaks. If he is able to drop his weight then sink his hips (even slightly) he would explode out of the break and into the clear. I am sure his position coach will work on him in those drills quite a lot.

Here again is the value of having a sturdy football player as a slot receiver. He catches the ball at the 22 and is contacted at the 18. By the time he gets to the 11 he has 4 men trying to tackle him. They accomplish that feat, but not until he reaches the 7 yard line. These are hidden yards. Some players would have gone down at the 18. Those extra 11 yards in the red zone could be the difference of winning or losing a game.

Most routes run the slot are quick breaking routes run by quick men. A quick slant, an out, a dig route; something quick because most slot receivers are quick but don’t have long speed. They are usually covered by similar players, smaller corners who are quick but lack long speed. If you have a guy with long speed you can fake an out then run him up the seam against certain defenses.

Now these opportunities will not come along very often, but it is nice to have the option when you do.

Speed always helps, here is the same play from a wider angle.

With no deep safety in the middle of the field this is like stealing. If the QB holds he ball for another half a second he has Duvernay wide open downfield with no possibility of the corner affecting the play. I realize this is the Big XII. These are anomalies in the NFL, but you get plays like this even two or three times a year it would be a big boost.

You call it blazing speed when you can stumble like he does here at about the 38 yard line and still just run by the man in coverage.

Devin Duvernay is a game breaking receiver who can play anywhere. He spent three years outside where he was average at best but went into the slot and found his niche. He is a bit of an enigma. He is not like most other players which is good. This makes him harder to plan against. He is tough with game breaking speed but also sturdy with some feistiness about him. Confident, a student of the game, a hard worker with great hands...what is not to like?

That’s what I think...

What do you think?