Every so often I come across players whose Hudl clips just stick with me. Troy Ellison of St. Anthony High is one of those players. Ellison is not a big player and I don’t know how fast he is, but I know he makes people look stupid. His speed, acceleration and change of direction make him a threat every time he touches the ball.
What separates him from other receivers in my eyes is how diverse of a skill set he has. He has the change of direction for a diverse route tree and the explosiveness to break pursuit angles. Most interestingly he also shows aggressive and sudden leaping ability. The ability to run any route, high-point the ball and strong hands. Anybody else think this sounds like Stefon Diggs? A bold claim, sure, but Ellison and Diggs’ player profiles show a lot of similarities. None more so important than the release off of the line of scrimmage.
When DB’s line up in off coverage, it’s the receiver’s responsibility to close the gap between them as quickly as possible. In the below clip the bottom-most DB is lined up about 6 yards off the ball bracketing Diggs. It’s 2nd and 10 with about 7 minutes left in the game. Minnesota is down two scores. The DB is playing outside leverage with safety help that should prevent a deep pass.
Watch how Diggs subtly attacks the outside shoulder of the DB. It couldn’t be more than a few degrees to the right of where he is aligned before the snap but it makes a big difference. The DB starts leaning upfield and flips his hips prematurely in response to Diggs’ release. He is no longer “in phase” which means that he is not square and in position to make a play. Diggs can still run an out or a curl without interference because of his release and he knows this.
Instead, he invades the DB’s personal space, which forces him to bail since he respects the 4th year receiver’s speed. This also gives Diggs an extra yard and a half of lateral separation from the safety which opens the passing window for Cousins. This gives him all the space he needs to get open downfield to make the play.
Similarly, Ellison’s effectiveness as a route runner starts with his release. Some sprinter knowledge for you: sprinting is just jumping from foot to foot as quickly as possible. High-knee drills are useless if you can’t apply enough force into the ground to move yourself forward. This means that dorsiflexion, the movement of the foot upwards towards the shin, is essential to generating power through your forefoot. Next time you watch a game, look at a receiver or DB’s toes and how they’re pointed upwards. Ellison’s ankle, knee and hip mobility in this respect is excellent and allows him to consistently separate from defenders:
Much like Diggs, Ellison also has some serious bounce for his relative lack of ounce. When he comes off the line his foot fire doesn’t seem to require much effort. For smaller guys this usually just translates to speed but rest assured, Ellison’s got ups. He lives above the rim and will not hesitate to attack a jump ball in a game situation.
What makes him such a threat is that he has the hands to consistently come down with the ball. His overall athleticism also allows him to contort his body in mid-air and land with enough balance to run after the catch. As relatively small receivers you wouldn’t think of Diggs or Ellison as jump ball guys. Again, wrong.
They’re both effective in this situation because they put themselves in a good leverage relationship to the DB, although in different ways. Diggs widens the defender as he did against Green Bay then straightens back out and accelerates to get out ahead of him. He also makes sure to retain his balance to leap and displays the elite athleticism to contort his body to reel in the catch.
Ellison is in a more traditionally effective leverage relationship since he’s behind the defender and has a better vantage point. What sticks out is the the timing of the leap and the hands to reach out and snag the ball. The balance and athleticism to land and finish the play is just the cherry on top. Which brings me to my next point…
Ellison’s film doesn’t feature an awfully diverse route tree but his athletic profile suggests that this is not an issue. His feet fire easily and quickly and his hip fluidity makes him a threat in tight spaces. As mentioned before his ankle mobility allows him to accelerate and change directions better than most. What sets him apart is how he is still able to retain his speed while changing directions.
He is the best athlete on the field around 90% of the time. This can help and hurt him as the only team I’m really interested in seeing him face is Minneapolis North. It’s been next to impossible to find film from that game. In any event, it’s easy to see Ellison is a stud athlete:
Now, unfortunately, Ellison is going to fly under the radar. He plays for a so-so team in Minnesota and is a relatively small guy. The fact that those things drag him down is as depressing to you as it is to me. However, he shows excellent hands, athleticism, acceleration and change of direction. His burst off the line gains consistent separation and he has the hands and leaping ability to be a threat from any alignment.
I’ve watched the same Hudl highlight upwards of 20 times because he is just that fun to watch. To me that’s as good a sign as any that he’s got the goods. His skill set is perfect for the 7-on-7 summer camp circuit (which is why he was on my Dream Team) so I think he’ll start heating up in the next few months. Some lucky coach is going to get a playmaker and I personally cannot wait to say I told y’all so.
Images courtesy of Fox NFL, Hudl.com and mnfootballhub.com