Throughout the summer, not only was the Cover1 team watching prospects for the 2019 NFL draft, but we were also paying close attention to rookies recently selected in the 2018 Draft. We wanted to see which guys were standing out and which ones needed a bit more time to adjust. The Chicago Bears are a team we’ve watched closely. They’ve quietly added a lot of quality talent on offense, and they could shock many in the NFL this season. Chicago selected Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft. His rookie year wasn’t fantastic, but it was far from terrible. He developed chemistry with his running backs, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, but the wide receiver corps boasted hardly any positives. Kevin White has had an injury-riddled career, and their leading receiver, Kendall Wright, signed with the Minnesota Vikings. This year, they signed wide receiver Taylor Gabriel in free agency before selecting Anthony Miller in the NFL Draft.
Mitchell Trubisky, Matt Nagy spark Chicago Bears’ offense
After firing former head coach John Fox, the Bears went after one of the best coaching hires, in my opinion. With the hiring of Matt Nagy, I think the Bears have one of the most promising young coaches in the league today. I love the way he utilizes every skilled-position player on his offense. From his tight ends to running backs out of the backfield, he makes sure that everyone gets involved.
The ball placement from Trubisky on his first career throw is pretty solid. pic.twitter.com/yb1FO2ZDWI
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) June 21, 2018
During free agency, the Bears went on and signed two important pieces to their offense. Trey Burton should be their starting tight end, and it’s projected that Allen Robinson will be their number one receiver. They drafted Anthony Miller with the 51st overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and he could easily be considered the number two receiver and should have plenty of success running up the seams and in the short-to-intermediate areas of the field.
There’s no denying the success of Allen Robinson on the field when healthy. Projections for rookie Anthony Miller will be high, and Trey Burton should be consistent as their starting tight end. However, don’t sleep on the signing of wide receiver Taylor Gabriel. During his two years in Atlanta, he recorded 68 receptions for 957 yards and seven touchdowns.
Browns WR Taylor Gabriel’s Skill-Set
After signing with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent in the 2014 NFL Draft, it feels like Gabriel has been playing forever. He’s only 27-years-old and signed a four-year contract with the Bears. He’ll be around for a little while longer and could be sneaky good for Matt Nagy and new offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Let’s take a look at some film and find some correlations from Nagy’s time in Kansas City and Gabriel’s run with the Atlanta Falcons.
Every wide receiver in the NFL can run a slant route. If they can’t, odds are they won’t have a very long career. In Kansas City, Matt Nagy loved utilizing his smaller receiver, Albert Wilson, on slant routes. Only standing 5’9 and 186 pounds, Wilson had the speed and acceleration to locate soft spots in coverage and exploit them.
The Chiefs are in ’11’ personnel with one running back in the backfield (Kareem Hunt #27), and their tight end (Travis Kelce #87) is aligned at the bottom of the screen. In the slot next to Kelce is Tyreek Hill (#10) — both of them are set up and block downfield. Meanwhile, Demarcus Robinson (#14) is in the slot running underneath the slant route from Albert Wilson (#12) at the top of the screen.
When watching the play below, you’ll notice a double twins formation and an RPO concept from the Chiefs. To the field side or bottom of the screen, both receivers will set up and block. On the top of the screen or to the boundary, you’ll see Albert Wilson. He runs a slant route, and underneath that from the slot, there’s a flat route. These quick passes help keep drives alive, but again, this was a great way for Nagy to get one of his undervalued receivers involved.
Much like the Chiefs, the Atlanta Falcons also had an undervalued receiver. That receiver was Taylor Gabriel. Standing only 5’8 and weighing 165 pounds, he was often lost behind Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. But this diminutive receiver’s role was to help in the quick passing game and create after the catch. More often than not, he helped move the sticks and keep drives alive.
Here’s a great example of the Falcons showcasing Taylor Gabriel in the quick passing game. They have twins right (bottom of the screen) with Mohamed Sanu (#12) and Julio Jones (#11). Jones is operating from the slot, and Gabriel is at the top of the screen. On the left side of the line is their tight end, Austin Hooper (#81). There will be double slants on the bottom of the screen and a slant route from Gabriel at the top. Underneath the slant route from Gabriel, Hooper runs to flats and forces Packers safety Morgan Burnett (#42) to follow.
The three most common routes that Albert Wilson and Taylor Gabriel ran in 2017 were slant routes, curl routes, and screen routes. Of the three, the least-run route from both receivers was the slant.
Wilson had 62 targets on the season, and only seven of those targets were from the slant route. Of those seven targets, he recorded 46 receiving yards on four receptions, and all four of those receptions were good for first downs.
As for Gabriel, he had 51 targets on the season, and six of his targets were from the slant route. Of those, he recorded five receptions for 89 yards, and all five of those receptions were good for first downs. Despite neither receiver seeing a high percentage of targets from this route, it’s clear that they collect first downs, but also, they collect yards after the catch (YAC). That shouldn’t change for Taylor Gabriel with Matt Nagy as his head coach.
Whether it be operating as the ‘X’ receiver or out of the slot, the curl route can be utilized anywhere and everywhere. You’ll notice quick hitches on the outside. Meanwhile, there’s a hitch in the middle of the field with a curl route over the top. The curl route that Albert Wilson runs is the one that Alex Smith throws the ball to.
Below, the Chiefs are in ’00’ personnel or an empty formation. Alex Smith scans from his right to his left. He does a nice job with his progressions and finds an open receiver, Albert Wilson. You can tell it’s a curl route because it’s run around 10-12 yards downfield, whereas hitch routes are run around 5-7 yards deep.
Throughout last season, Albert Wilson had 12 targets on curl routes. With nine of those targets being catchable, he caught eight for 90 yards. Of those eight receptions, five were caught for first downs. Whether it’s a curl/flat concept or a spot concept, there’s plenty of success to be had with this route.
Speaking of the curl/flat concept, you’ll notice that exact concept on the play below. This play concept is run by Taylor Gabriel and the Atlanta Falcons. Julio Jones (#11) is operating out of the slot, and next to him as the ‘Z’ receiver is Taylor Gabriel (#18).
The Falcons run this concept out of ’11’ personnel (one tight end and one running back). Levine Toilolo (#80) runs vertical but turns back to Matt Ryan once he throws the football. Mohamed Sanu (#12) is the ‘X’ receiver at the top of the screen. He runs a slant route and is there in case of any opening in the middle of the field. Julio Jones (#11) runs the flat route underneath the curl route from Taylor Gabriel (#18).
Last season, Gabriel had seven receptions off of nine targets from the curl route. Of those seven receptions, he compiled 75 receiving yards and five first downs. Gabriel is a smaller receiver but has the explosion and hip flexibility to pivot off of either one of his feet and turn inside towards the quarterback.
Whether there’s a single high safety look from the defense or man coverage from both safeties on the slot receivers, the curl route is a benefit. It allows a smaller receiver such as a Taylor Gabriel or Albert Wilson to slip into the soft spots in coverages or beat man-to-man coverages on the outside.
Wide Receiver Screens
The greatest asset that Matt Nagy can squeeze out of his underrated weapon, Taylor Gabriel, is yards after the catch (YAC). For example, here’s a play from the Chiefs last year. They’re in ’11’ personnel, and the play design is a wide receiver screen.
Aligned in the formation of trips right, Albert Wilson (#12) is at the bottom of the screen. He’s got Travis Kelce (#87) and Tyreek Hill (#10) setting up to block for him on the trips side. This pass is quick, and it’s set for Wilson to follow his blocks up the sideline.
There’s a clear indication from last year that the Chiefs liked to throw this pass in Wilson’s direction. He had 14 targets and 11 receptions for 116 yards. Keep in mind that he also had three drops when running this play. Most importantly, though, he had 139 yards after the catch (YAC) and one touchdown.
The Falcons used Gabriel in a similar fashion. Against the Lions, they’re in ’20’ personnel and look to get Gabriel in space with blocks set in front of him.
The left tackle and left guard for the Falcons get downfield and block the first person that crosses their face. Operating out of the slot, Julio Jones (#11) also sets to block and helps set the edge for Gabriel. Quickly moving forward and then retracing his step, Gabriel sets for the screen route and catches the ball to go 40 yards for a touchdown.
Out of the three routes I looked at, Gabriel had a catch percentage of one hundred when running a screen. He had 10 targets for 10 receptions and 119 yards after the catch (YAC). Getting him in space and allowing him to create plays after the catch is what makes him a quality option for the Bears’ offense.
Getting Taylor Gabriel won’t move the needle for every fan, but he’ll excite you on game day. He’s got the tools to be the perfect fit as the number three receiver in this offense. There’s a strong chance that he’ll have designed plays where he gets to utilize his legs and makes plays after the catch. He’ll get to operate all over the field. From playing in the slot to the outside, he’ll create mismatches in man coverage, especially when Anthony Miller and Allen Robinson are getting double covered.
Odds are, Robinson and Miller will start the season as the top two receivers on the roster. Gabriel will be the number three and will run plenty of the routes and concepts we discussed above. He’s not going to light up the stat sheet, but that shouldn’t be the expectations for him. He’ll be the ultimate chess piece for Matt Nagy and his offense because he’s going to be utilized all over the field. He’s not as dynamic as Tarik Cohen, but they will compliment each other well. They’ll also help with Mitchell Trubisky’s growth because of their ability after the catch and their speed and elusiveness in the open field.
RPO leaders by percentage of total offensive plays in 2017
— Jeff Ratcliffe (@JeffRatcliffe) February 9, 2018
From RPO concepts to routes run in the short to intermediate areas of the field, Gabriel will find success. He’s only averaged 33 receptions in each of his four seasons, but keep in mind that Matt Nagy threw the ball 55% of the time in 3-WR sets for the Chiefs last season. Trubisky will get the ball out of his hands quickly. Gabriel will see the ball quickly and will create after the catch. Expect him to take a step forward under Matt Nagy and the Chicago Bears.