The modern NFL receiver must be able to play against press coverage. It is a prerequisite, given the number of press snaps an NFL wideout handles in a game. Press coverage rates took a slight dip across the league in 2021, which may be due to how defense continues to evolve and change, but well over half of the receiving snaps still had at least one element of press.
Click here for more PFF tools:
Snaps with at least one press dB | NFL, 2016-2021
Looking at how the 2022 NFL Draft-eligible wide receivers fared against press coverage doesn’t give us the complete picture, but it does shine a lot on some of the strengths and weaknesses of the top prospects.
2021 Receiving Grade vs. Press: 88.8
London passes the litmus press test, also known as the six-yard hitch. Beating press and then getting vertical is one thing, but beating press while running a shorter route is a different animal. You don’t get to see this route very often because teams will teach their receivers to convert hitch routes to fades against press.
The receiver is asked to win twice on this route — first, off the line of scrimmage, then at five-to-six yards where he will have to throw the defensive back who is now trailing him. Michael Thomas is one of the best, if not the best, at this in the NFL. The route is a trust exercise, but the quarterback must throw the ball on time while the receiver is still being somewhat blanketed by the cornerback.
All that is to say, London gets the job done here. This is partly why he’s the top receiver on the list. His big body and hand usage help him get off jams at the line of scrimmage, which he pairs with different types of intermediate route breaks to free himself from trailing cornerbacks. He can also win vertically with good change-of-pace moves off the line.
If you aren't ridiculously slippery to avoid press, you have to work through it with your hands. Drake London does that here, winning the slant. pic.twitter.com/s0Q5mZgixk
— Jake Schyvinck (@JakeNFLDraft) February 21, 2022
2021 Receiving Grade vs. Press: 62.9
Both Olave and his teammate Garrett Wilson did not earn high grades against press coverage. That's largely because the Buckeyes had a viable third receiving option, a luxury most teams don't possess. Olave and Wilson both predominantly play outside, with each taking about 81% of their snaps from out wide in 2021. Most college defenses will not line up and play press-man across the board like you see in the NFL. At most, you will see the outside receivers pressed, giving the slot receivers a little more freedom. Ohio State has future first-round pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the slot, so quarterback C.J. Stroud could bypass the outside press to throw inside for big gainers, muting Wilson and Olave’s receiving grade.