Ryan Swope might be the smartest and most efficient route runner in this class of deep receivers. He is not only is good size and a smart football player, but he also possesses natural "street smarts" that make football intelligent players even more dangerous as a game goes on. He shows grit and toughness; as long as he is on the move or in the slot, he is a match-up nightmare. He is excellent when running routes against both single coverage and zone coverages. He knows how to make himself a target. He reads coverages on the run and most receivers coming out of college do not possess this skill. He has very good hands and can catch the ball deep just as well as catching those short passes that move the chains. He has the body type that is able to handle the slot receiver position and, because of his speed in the slot, his football intelligence and street smarts (in knowing how to adjust routes during a game), he is a match-up nightmare very much like Randall Cobb of the Green Bay Packers drafted in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft (see THR archives).
Ryan lacks the "standstill" change of direction quickness that you expect from most slot receivers. He is tight in the hips and not a fluid receiver. I'm not suggesting that Ryan is not quick to get up to speed; it's just that when he is up to speed running routes, he is not quick in and out of his breaks. He catches most of his deep passes on double moves because of excellent route running and changing gears, but his ability to separate is directly related to his lack of quick change of direction skills. Right now, because he is up against linebackers and safeties, he is able to separate. However, up against corners who will be quicker than he is, he will have a problem unless he is in motion. That means he needs a strong arm quarterback throwing to him and, the closer you get to the end zone, the less impacting he becomes because he lacks those quick change of direction skills.
I was surprised as anyone that Ryan ran a fast forty time at the combine. The difference is that I have been around fast forty white guys all my life, so Ryan's skin color was not an issue for me. One of the fastest players to play NFL football was Don Beebe who played for the Buffalo Bills from 1989 to 1994. Nevertheless, I went back to the film to see why I was surprised at this pure speed and what I saw made sense as most fast players do not run very good routes at the college level. They just use their speed to fly by players and have to learn how to use their speed at the next level. Ryan already knows how to use his speed. He changes gears when he runs routes. He sets up his opponent when he runs routes. He breaks down his opponent's cushion, makes his move and goes. He catches so many short passes that making a double move makes it impossible to stay with him. Most of the time his defender is nowhere in the picture so you really can't tell how fast Ryan is on film. All of that being said, Ryan lacks the quick change of direction skills that makes it easy for most slot receivers to separate in the red zone unless he is in motion. That's why playing with two strong armed quarterbacks the last few years has also been a big benefit for Ryan. I like this kid, but the truth is until he ran his fast forty time, I did not understand how smart a route runner he is. His football intelligence and speed make Ryan more dangerous than I first thought he could be for the next level. Ryan is coming into the NFL as a finished product who will impact right away because he understands his limitations and has already compensated for those limitations in his play on the field. Ryan still has room to grow as a receiver. He has to learn to run routes and get open in the red zone better than he does now, but when he does, he will he become a dangerous weapon all over the field and not just in the middle of the field. If your team needs help right away in the passing game, I suggest you draft Ryan early in this draft. He will be a weapon in the slot and make your offense dangerous the day after you draft him.
Drew "The B.S. Detector" Boylhart