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2020 Detroit Lions draft profile: Quintez Cephus isn’t defined by his speed

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Let’s take a closer look at one of the more controversial Lions picks of the 2020 NFL Draft.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Oregon vs Wisconsin Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Bob Quinn certainly has a type when it comes to wide receivers. Creating separation is not required. Speed probably not even preferred. Can you make a contested catch with a defender humping your leg? If yes, then welcome to the Detroit Lions.

Ever since the second-round selection of Teez Tabor, drafting a player with a slow 40-yard dash time has left a sour taste in Lions fans mouths, especially when it’s a position where speed matters, like wide receiver.

Newly-drafted receiver, Quintez Cephus, ran a 4.73 40-yard dash at the 2020 NFL Combine and many were shocked. He doesn’t look all that slow on tape, they said. At his pro day, right before pro days were shut down due to the coronavirus, Cephus put at least some of those concerns to rest by improving on his time, running an official 4.56 40 reported by the school (although other reports have his Pro Day 40 around 4.62).

This seemed to confirm what Quinn saw on tape:

“It was funny – he had a disappointing Combine workout slightly. But then he went, he had one of the last pro days before it got shutdown, and he improved dramatically with his 40-(yard dash time). I would say that equates to how he plays on the field.”

Let us dig into why the front office made this pick and take a closer look at the player.

Production

Credit: sports-reference.com

Cephus’ breakout season was during his last year at Wisconsin. He just about doubled his production from his sophomore season. The poor guy probably would have produced a lot more had he not suffered from poor quarterback play throughout his entire career.

Film

People want to point out the speed concerns and those are very valid concerns. The hit rate on wide receivers running their 40 in the 4.70 range at the combine is extremely low. Any success would be considered an outlier, and that’s enough to scare a lot of people off. It gives me reservations as well.

The one thing that stood out the most to me with Cephus that I had not already known going into watching his film was how explosive he was. From an explosion metric standpoint, Cephus tested in the 86th percentile and 75th percentile in the vertical jump and broad jump, respectively.

Explosiveness

Cephus is so explosive off of the line of scrimmage, cornerbacks were often booting up in recovery mode just to keep up with him. This helps him create very quick separation and plays a big part into why people were so surprised about his slow 40 time.

In Detroit, I believe that Cephus can thrive in the “Big Slot” role. Give him the wide side of the field and let him go to work. The longer the route pattern, the more Cephus will struggle to explode out of his break, but give him a quick slant like in the play above and he can beat you whichever way he decides to go. You can see why the Ohio State defensive backs praised Cephus so much with how he was able to take over in the Big Ten Championship game.

Technician

Zach Hicks over at Cover 1 did a fantastic job of highlighting this play and getting Quintez Cephus’ thoughts on it:

“On this play, I was in the slot and you kind of have more room to work with in the slot and you can really play around with your release when you have that much space. I danced a little bit just to get him going and see if he would bite and, if he would have, I would have just took him the other way and took him up the field. He kind of just sat there though, so I slipped inside. I got vertical and slipped him off on the slant. It is very important to mix up your releases and give defenders different looks.”

“The big thing is just having the ability to work different releases and having a lot of space to work with in that area of the field. That’s really all you want as a receiver and that’s the only thing I can think of. You could be on the ball but we typically set our slots off the ball to give them a couple more yards of space to work.”

Cephus is masterful at beating press coverage. He has so many different ways to punish you for getting close to him, which allows him to consistently create quick separation. It’s like he was cooked up in the lab for the sole purpose of abusing a Matt Patricia man coverage-heavy defense.

Ball Tracking

When you’re not a guy that can consistently get separation downfield, you have to rely on your skills in contested situations. Physicality, ball tracking and subtle hand usage are all important factors when coming up with the ball in these situations. Lions fans know it, because they’ve been watching Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay do it for years.

Cephus’ ability to adjust his body to the ball is one of the most impressive traits to his resume. Despite not being a very fast receiver, he lives for the deep ball. In 2019, Cephus earned a PFF receiving grade of 96.5 on throws of 20+ yards, which was good for fifth-best in the entire country.

Wisconsin had a tremendous amount of trust in Cephus last year. Third-and-3, what’s the play? Quick slant for the first down? Nah, just toss it up to Cephus for the deep bomb. He’ll come down with it. That poor Iowa DB.

When the fear of the deep ball starts to creep in, that’s when Cephus can set you up for the hitch/hook routes. He does a nice job of getting low and sinking his hips through his breaks. In this instance, he puts the defender on skates and is able to come to a complete stop in an instant, creating several yards of separation and securing the first down. Cephus does a tremendous job of keeping his opponents guessing.

Physicality

In terms of run after the catch, Cephus can sometimes make you miss, but that’s not really his bread and butter. He’s not going to be a Golden Tate type receiver, but he’s very tough to bring you down and might take you along for a ride if you don’t attack him low.

Cephus brings the type of physical mentality that you love to see in a big slot receiver who is going to take some shots over the middle. Referring back to Hicks’ article, this is what Cephus had to say about it:

“I don’t really think too much about it. It’s just you are going to have to take advantage of every area on the field and, for a receiver, I think being able to run those inside crossers and slants gives you a chance to really run away from guys. You have to be able to use that middle of the field and somebody has to be that guy to have what it takes to run in there. I was blessed with the physical abilities and I’m not afraid of anything, so I just do what I need to do. My job is to catch the ball and I’ll do that anywhere.”

Negatives

There is a lot to like about Cephus, but he does come with some concerns. After all, you’re not going to find a perfect prospect in the fifth round. Obviously, the biggest concern surrounding Cephus is his overall speed. When looking at the historical data, it doesn’t exactly look pretty.

Here is what our own Kent Lee Platte had to say about receivers running a 4.70 40-yard dash or worse.

There have been 263 receivers who ran a 4.7 or slower at the Combine or their pro day from 2000 to 2019, but only three who managed a season of 750 receiving yards or better (Anquan Boldin, Jarvis Landry, and Devin Funchess).

All three of those players were drafted in the 2nd round and were immediate starters, with two of the three involved as primary or second targets in extremely high volume passing attacks with over 100 targets a season.

Cephus is also more unlikely to create separation the longer the play goes on. I really like his ability to create quick separation with his explosiveness and technical prowess off the line of scrimmage, but I do not share that same confidence with longer developing breaking routes.

A lesser concern is Cephus’ drops. He had a drop rate of 7.6 percent via Pro Football Focus’ 2020 draft guide. This is not a bad number by any means, in fact it was pretty average, but I did notice some concentration drops on film and it’s worth mentioning.

Games watched: 2017 vs. Northwestern, 2019 vs. Central Michigan, 2019 vs. Iowa, 2019 vs. Oregon, 2019 vs. Michigan State, 2019 vs. Ohio State, Highlight reel

Fit and outlook for 2020

With Cephus’ athleticism concerns, I see him being mostly limited to playing slot receiver for the Lions (or “Big Slot”) and I believe that in this role, his potential will be maximized. I’m not going to sit here and tell you all that I think he will turn into Anquan Boldin or produce 100 catches and 1,000 yards every year, but I do really like him as a prospect and think that especially for a fifth-round pick, the Lions may have gotten great value and a special player here.

Currently, Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola are all pretty much locks to make the roster. Cephus will likely compete with the likes of Marvin Hall, Travis Fulgham, and others for the last couple of slots. With the way Bob Quinn talked him up, I like Cephus’ chances at making the roster and believe that he could make somewhat of an immediate impact right away as a rookie. As for long term, I think he could potentially work his way up to being a Danny Amendola replacement as a slot WR.