Back in 2009 the NFL Network ran an interesting hour-long show on the "Top 10 Football Myths". Here's the list:
10. Tackle stats are not accurate [THEY ARE!]
9. QB's need a rocket arm to be successful [THEY DON'T]
8. Teams should punt on 4th down [NOT ALWAYS]
7. Turnovers matter [NOT ALWAYS]
6. You need to run to set up the pass [NOT ALWAYS]
5. Icing the kicker works [VERY RARELY]
4. Dome teams are soft [SEE NEW ORLEANS and SEATTLE]
3. Defense wins championships [IT HELPS---BUT YOU NEED BIG PLAYS ON "O"]
2. It is next to impossible to repeat as champions [NOT TRUE HISTORICALLY]
1. The prevent defense does not work [MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, IT DOES]
One reason I point to the Top 10 NFL Myths is I'd like to add another one to the list--- the myth (imo) that a receiver needs to create a lot of "separation" between himself and his defenders to be a good pass catcher in the NFL.
This theory of "The Myth of Separation" occurred to me today as I observed the continuation of the dumping on Jason Avant by local media and casual fans.
Avant is 6-0, 210 (drafted 4th round, 2006 out of Michigan) and hoping to enter his 9th year as a slot receiver for the Eagles. Because he had a statistically unimpressive catch total in 2013 (38 receptions out of 76 targets), and because he is due $3.25 million on his contract if he is kept by the Eagles in 2014, many media folks and fans in Philly want to bury him right now.
The most common complaint you hear about the 30-year-old Avant is "he cant get enough separation" on his routes.
Funny, nobody complains about "separation" when Avant sits down in a crowd to make a crucial 3rd-down conversion, or when he is throwing a superb block downfield to help Shady bust a big one.
And nobody seems to knock Anquan Boldin's "lack of separation" when he takes over a game with one huge catch after another with two guys draped on him. Boldin is the prototype slot receiver whom to me Avant most resembles.
"Separation" in the NFL is a myth, especially for a slot receiver. I think it is a term that is terribly misused by the media and by the casual fan. Effective "separation" against coverage in the NFL can be as little as two inches---or better expressed in the dimension of time, as getting your hands to the ball 0.10 seconds faster than your coverage.
For all we really know, Avant is in the prime of his professional career as a slot receiver. I find it amusing that many fans also complain about Avant's relatively low Yards After Catch (YAC) stat. It's an absurd complaint because the majority of Avant's routes are designed to either find a seam in a zone and turn his back on a hook pattern, or head straight to the first-down marker on a sideline.
Even Jimmy Kempski (whom I like) piled on Avant today in a column for philly.com. He introduced this chart which he presented as Avant's "declining ability"...
I am somewhat disappointed that Kempski did not correlate Avant's 2013 numbers with the effects of a completely changed offensive system and a carousel of quarterbacks trying to learn that system. Also, once Nick Foles took over as QB#1 for the entire second half of the season, it became clear that Avant's role as a target had been reduced to a 3rd or 4th, sometimes 5th read, giving defenders almost 4 seconds to converge on Avant by the time Nick released the pass.
If you could talk to actual receivers coaches, you would find they don't teach "separation" and rarely use the word. They teach making catches when you are covered.
They teach short area quickness and change of direction skills. A nice head fake or a well-disguised offensive pass interference goes a long way. But "Separation" isn’t how they make plays.
The receiver’s responsibility is to use his body and his arms to go and get the football before anyone else can touch it. Touching the ball first doesn’t mean catching it; a good corner can often swipe his arms through those of the receiver to make him drop the pass.
Avant is a slot receiver--- he needs to have both the ability to catch the ball with his body when he's in traffic, and the ability to catch the ball with his arms extended when he is free in single coverage. Avant can still do both with great confidence and experience---he needs only to be targeted earlier in the play.
Catching isn’t just making a high percentage of catches but also doing whatever possible to get your hands on the football--- just like tackling isn’t just measured by the percentage of the tackle attempts you convert, but also your effectiveness at putting yourself into position to make a tackle. Luke Kuechly doesn’t just make tackles. He creates tackles because his instincts always put him in position to make a play. Avant "creates" catches in a similar way.
Ironically, the Ravens dumped Anquan Boldin last season because they didn't want to pay him about the same money the Eagles would have to pay Avant. Not saying the talents and the situations are exactly the same, but you might want to think twice before underrating Avant's potential worth to the Eagles in 2014.
As for the Myth about NFL Injuries--- we tend to think of knees and concussions these days as the most common football injuries. But the fact is you have to differentiate between officially "Reported Injuries" and the actual number of real injuries that are never reported.
Here's a look at the officially "Reported Injuries" in the NFL for the 2013 season---
However, when you show this "official" chart to an NFL trainer, he or she will point out that there are thousands of injuries that go unreported in the course of a season.
These are injuries that are chronic, and not traumatic in nature.
King Dunlap once pointed that out to me in an interview a few years back.
He said that across the board the most common chronic injuries involved the fingers and the hands---not the breaks, but the sprains, bruises and the dislocations.
He also said muscle cramping doesn't count---but it should.