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3rd year receiver Terry McLaurin just keeps getting better

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Emilee Fails

On a team filled with young, developing players, Terry McLaurin is the one young offensive playmaker who both produced at a high level throughout 2019 & 2020 and appears to have “star” potential.

On a roster dominated by top draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Ryan Fitzpatrick are probably the only players on offense who have any real national name recognition, yet this week, Peter Schaeger of Good Morning Football ranked Terry McLaurin as one of the five most underrated receivers in the NFL.

Because the team has disappointed so often over the past two and a half decades, I think that Washington fans at times hesitate to embrace the idea that a given player can perform at a very high level on the field even as the team struggles. It can be hard to be a star on a struggling team, but as the Football Team’s fortunes hopefully improve and performance becomes more consistent under Ron Rivera, Terry McLaurin has the opportunity to rise to greater national prominence.

I contend that Terry McLaurin is going to build on his first two NFL seasons and rise to be among the best in the NFL in the coming seasons.

First, let’s look at some simple statistics from Terry’s 29 regular season games as a pro. He caught 145 passes for 2,037 yards and 11 touchdowns. He made a 1st down on 65% of his catches, and he had just 3 drops on 134 targets in 2020.

But the raw statistics above don’t really do justice to what Terry McLaurin has accomplished in his first two seasons, and how well that bodes for the future.

Contested Catches

Perhaps the most surprising and impressive advanced metric related to Terry McLaurin has to do with his contested catch percentage. As a rookie in 2019, Terry McLaurin was #1 in the NFL in contested catch percentage at 68.4%.

Watch this video that talks about how impressive McLaurin is when it comes to contested catches.

Video from Billy’s Film Session

Yards Per Route Run (YPRR)

Consider the Yards Per Route Run, which you see charted against Target Rate below. Of course, being targeted at a higher rate will lead to higher YPRR, so we’re looking for receivers who are the highest on the chart at any given point along the X axis.

You can see, if you look closely, Terry McLaurin’s name in a group at the 20% vertical axis, lumped together with Keenan Allen and A.J. Brown. Graphic messiness aside, this is a strong indicator of future success. McLaurin’s yard per route run (YPRR) average in 2019 is one of the best ever recorded by a rookie wideout in the 14 years from 2006-2019 shown on this chart. Only 11 other rookie receivers have recorded a higher YPRR average across 300-plus routes than McLaurin (2.05) during that time.

Chart from Pro Football Focus

Deep ball, sideline and end-zone receptions

One of the hallmarks of a player who catches a lot of deep balls and makes a lot of contested sideline catches or catches in the end zone is that the player has limited Yards After Catch, which is a statistic that is compiled more by running backs and receivers who catch the ball on short passes, especially over the middle of the field.

Compiling cumulative big yardage totals with limited YAC is a sign of a special type of receiver — one who is frequently beating defensive backs deep, catching the ball with more of the field behind him than in front of him when he gets his hands on the ball.

McLaurin creates separation down the field at a high rate, with his speed, route-running and releases all combining for high-end receiving production without high-end YAC. He was one of eight NFL receivers who recorded fewer than 25% of their receiving yards after the catch in 2019 but still managed to total more than 800 receiving yards.

In 2020, with a different offense that was more conservative, McLaurin’s depth of target changed from 12.1 yards to just 7.4 yards as the succession of quarterbacks (Haskins, Allen, Smith, Heinicke) consistently opted for shorter pass routes. McLaurin’s yards after catch went up a bit as a result, rising from an average of 3.7 yards per reception in ‘19 to 5.5 ypr in 2020.

First Down Training breaks down McLaurin’s ability to change direction

Billy’s Film Session talks about the threat of McLaurin’s speed and shows him beating Stephon Gilmore

Route running abilities

Darius Slay who, as a member of the Eagles plays against Terry twice a year, rated McLaurin as the second-toughest receiver he had to cover behind Keenan Allen. That’s pretty high praise when you consider that Slay has gone up against players like Stephon Diggs, Amari Cooper, and Allen Robinson and others.

Terry McLaurin is capable of running any route the coaching staff asks him to. To illustrate, McLaurin and Seattle rookie WR DK Metcalf were the only two rookies with 100-plus receiving yards across four or more different route concepts.

Chart from Pro Football Focus

McLaurin’s route versatility continued in 2020:

McLaurin runs the full route tree and has success across the board when his quarterback gets the ball to him. Terry McLaurin’s sophistication and versatility as a third-year player who has had to catch balls from six rather mediocre quarterbacks in his short career augers great things still to come.

What Terry McLaurin has accomplished is especially impressive when you consider how little help he has had from the scheme or the rest of the offense for most of his two-year career.

A top producer for his team

McLaurin ranked 6th in the NFL in 2019 with regard to the percentage of his team’s total passing yards accounted for as a rookie. Michael Thomas was #1 at 38.6%; Terry accounted for 28.6% of the Redskins passing yards in 2019. In fact, as a rookie, Terry ranked 4th in the NFL in percentage of the team’s total passing touchdowns, at 38.9% (Cooper Kupp was #1, at 45.5%).

McLaurin is one of only four players to be in the top-7 in both categories, and the only rookie to appear in either category.

Peter Schrager recently compared Terry’s 2-year contribution to his team’s offense with that of two other more heralded receivers drafted at the same time as McLaurin — A.J. Brown of the Titans and DK Metcalf of the Seahawks.

Stats from Good Morning Football

What this chart tells us is that Terry has had to do more to “carry” his team’s offense. He has accounted for 21.9% of Washington’s receptions since being drafted, along with 29.1% of the team’s receiving yards and 32.4% of the passing game touchdowns.

It seems inevitable that, while Terry McLaurin’s share of the Washington offensive production may drop slightly with the addition of Cutis Samuel and Dyami Brown to the offense, his raw statistical production will probably increase as the #1 wide receiver in an offense that has gunslinger Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm.

All of Terry’s skills — his route running, reliable hands, contested catch abilities — will appeal to Fitzpatrick, who has a history of trusting his receivers and giving them a chance.

Still, McLaurin offers two other skills that any quarterback can exploit: the ability to beat press man coverage and to take a hit and hold onto the ball.

First Down Training breaks down McLaurin beating press man coverage

This film breakdown is from Terry’s rookie season, but he hasn’t rested on his laurels. This offseason, McLaurin said that he worked with veteran receiver Doug Baldwin to learn more techniques for beating coverage.

“He really worked on my releases and he taught me some other alternative techniques to help me get open at the line and just the mindset of how to use these releases, when to use these releases, just to switch it up,” McLaurin said.

The primary reason McLaurin wanted to focus on his releases this offseason was because now, as a third-year player, opponents have had the opportunity to study him; defensive backs know what to expect. Teams now know which routes he runs best and what he is likely to do based on where he lines up on the field. In short, the third-year receiver won’t be able to surprise the defense with the routes he runs as much as he once could.

“Now, I’m two years into the league, there’s a lot of film out on me now,” McLaurin said. “Guys will be able to kind of match my splits on what routes I’m going to run. But if I can win at the line, that definitely gives me an advantage.”

This sort of competitive striving for constant improvement is a huge part of what made McLaurin an instant success as a rookie, and it is an equally important reason why he will continue to dominate as he matures into a veteran NFL receiver.

Billy’s Film Session talks about McLaurin’s ability to take a hit and hold onto the ball

One final attribute that is discussed in this video is McLaurin’s fearlessness and ability to hold onto the ball when hit. In two seasons, McLaurin has fumbled only once, and that was on an in-route across the middle of the field against the Lions where he was hit almost immediately by both the CB and safety. Aside from that one blemish, McLaurin has demonstrated an incredible ability to get control of the ball and maintain it, and to absorb whatever hits defensive backs lay on him.

Limited by quarterback play

The real limitation to Terry McLaurin’s production in his first two years in the NFL was the merry-go-round of six quarterbacks who have thrown the ball to him across his 30 games (including last year’s wildard playoff game).

As a rookie, McLaurin had to suffer through the inaccuracy of an injured Case Keenum, backup Colt McCoy and rookie Dwayne Haskins.

  • No rookie receiver saw a lower percentage of accurate passes on downfield throws than McLaurin.
  • Only 45.2% of his targets of five-plus air yards were charted as accurate in 2019, which ranked 52nd among all qualifying pass-catchers and dead last among rookies.

Again and again in 2019, McLaurin beat the coverage and was running open, only to have the quarterback du jour overthrow him, throw behind him or far too high or low for the ball to be catchable.

As a second-year player, McLaurin was catching balls from four different passers — Haskins again, Kyle Allen, Alex Smith and Taylor Heinicke. Haskins was no more accurate in his second season than he had been in his first. But the real culprit as far as McLaurin’s production was concerned was the innate conservatism of Alex Smith. As mentioned earlier in the article, Terry’s average yards downfield at the point of catching the pass dropped from 12.1 yards to 7.4 yards, and the offensive scheme favored passes to running backs and tight ends.

In the coming season, with more offensive weaponry to challenge defenses and more wide open quarterback play expected from Ryan Fitzpatrick (and/or Taylor Heinicke), Terry McLaurin looks set to thrive in the 2021 iteration of offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s offensive scheme.

A foundation laid for greatness

Consider this from one analyst:

McLaurin didn’t put up crazy numbers, but he was the focal point of his team’s offense, so if the quarterback play gets any better, McLaurin’s numbers will most likely go up significantly. Another thing to consider is that [when] he was a rookie, [he] immediately became his team’s number one receiver. So you have to think he’s only gonna get better as a football player. He was definitely one of the steals of the 2019 draft, and seems like...a number one option moving forward.

Terry McLaurin demonstrated the skills of a savvy veteran in 2019 and stepped forward in terms of both on-field production and leadership in 2020. He will only get better. Terry McLaurin is poised to dominate the competition and establish himself among the elite receivers of the NFL in the coming seasons.

First Down Training breaks down Terry McLaurin’s use of the “blindspot” technique from his college days and rookie season.

This is an extended video, but it shows just how highly developed McLaurin’s route running skills were, even as a rookie.