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Houston Texans Draft Primer: West Coast Wide Receiver Love

Could Nick Toon be the next in a growing number of successful Badgers in Houston?
Could Nick Toon be the next in a growing number of successful Badgers in Houston?

It's no secret that your Houston Texans need to add a wide receiver or two to their receiving corps. Outside of Andre Johnson, there is no consistent playmaker, plus the group as a whole lacks young talent. However, a misconception that I have seen on message boards, comments sections, and Twitter is that the Texans need to draft Super-Fast Wide Receiver with a 4.3 40-yard dash because they need a fast deep-threat in this offense.

To those who hold this line of thought, I have one thing to say to you: Stop. You're lacking a basic understanding of what kind of offense is being run by your chosen professional football franchise.

I don’t intend for that to come off as mean-sounding, but hearing this chatter pick up is beginning to drive me up a wall because it's not adding to the draft conversation and I absolutely love the West Coast Offense. I mean, I grew up thinking that Bill Walsh was an unadulterated genius for his design, which focuses more on timing and precision than pure athletic ability. My childhood doesn't bias me beyond comprehension, as Walsh’s teachings are so good that his coaching tree has produced 13 of the last 29 Super Bowl c
hampions, plus another 11 conference champions to boot (not to mention that five of the final eight coaches from this season's playoffs are branches on the Walsh tree).

As we shift into draft season, we all need to understand what makes this offense tick in order to get an idea of who may become a Texan in April. Consider the post-jump a look at the West Coast Offense and what you need to be looking for in a wide receiver.

At the start, I would like to define what the West Coast Offense is. This isn't a constant deep ball, score quick offense, and we don't see that on the field. At its simplest, a West Coast Offense is a ball-control offense that relies on that magical 4.0 yards per carry rushing average and a 62-70% passing completion rate to methodically move down the field, rack up first downs, and chew up the clock. This is why you’ll often hear head coach Gary Kubiak bemoaning the lack of offensive opportunity/number of plays in a loss.

It’s a scheme that relies on short-to-mid range passes that will stretch a defense horizontally as they seek to close down the open gaps in coverage. This, in theory, brings the safeties up, since the desired outcome is to force the safeties into more closely covering wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs. With the defense stretched out, this can help open holes in the running game while also making it easier for the ball-carrier to break bigger gains if they can shake a defender (since back-end safety support is weakened). Additionally, if a safety is thinking horizontally, a play-action fake can be more effective.

Due to the nature of this offense, wide receivers have to run consistently sharp and precise routes with the ability to find the soft spots in the defense. Play-design will help them create space from the defender to some degree, but separation comes from lateral quickness and the ability to make clean, quick cuts; that's more important than long-range quickness. In other words, look more at prospects' 3-cone drills instead of 40-yard dashes. Still, no athlete will have the impact of someone who understands what the offense is attempting to do and why being meticulous about route-running is so important. The West Coast Offense is a machine, with each cog needing to play its part as opposed to being filled with Randy Mosses who do what they want.

Blocking, whether it be for a running back or to help turn a six-yard pass into a 25-yard gain for a fellow wide receiver, is also important. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need a bigger receiver, but you have to find someone with the willingness to put in the work in on every single play. Work ethic is a huge part of success in the West Coast Offense. Again, you don’t want the Mosses, as freakishly physicially talented as they might be, of the world.

As far as target wide receivers go, think more Nick Toon, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin McNutt, or Marvin Jones as opposed to more unrefined route-runners like Joe Adams,T.Y. Hilton, or Alshon Jeffery (who carries a red flag in the work ethic category). If you believe you can teach route-running to someone like Adams, Hilton, or Kendall Wright, make sure said prospect comes with a film room/practice junkie/hard-worker/coachable label or else you’re simply re-running a Jacoby Jones experiment and hoping for some blind luck to lead to a different outcome.