Written by Zachary Gartin
Welcome back to The Post-Corner! It has been a really interesting week filled with Covid concerns (college football has sucked at managing it and the NFL has decided to join the club!), crazy upsets, people getting fired before Adam Gase, and surprising wide receiver performances.
Brandon Cooks has been revived with the firing of bad coach and even worse GM Bill O’Brien, leading the league with 161 receiving yards in week five. Darius Slayton and Preston Williams both went over 100+ yards against bad or injured secondaries. DeAndre Hopkins and Calvin Ridley were predictably good, going three and four in yardage total for week five. Chase Claypool had his “Welcome to the NFL” game against the very bad Philadelphia defense, totaling over 100 yards and four touchdowns on 10 total touches. But probably the most surprising performance was from second-year receiver Travis Fulgham, who had 10 receptions for 152 yards and a touchdown against a pretty talented Steelers defense.
After scoring the game-winning touchdown in week four against the 49ers, Travis Fulgham took another step forward with a great performance. And now we get to take a deep dive into his week five performance and see if Fulgham is here to stay! So let’s take a swim.
Where is Travis Fulgham lining up?
The usual first question of these articles might be the most important. When we talk about scheme and usage, a lot of it is location. And the Eagles line Fulgham up all over the place.
Fulgham played 43 snaps against the Steelers, 24 of them on the outside, and 19 of them in the slot. This varied alignment allowed him to be used all over the field, getting him easy looks against man coverage and allowing him to avoid dealing with press coverage (only faced it on two of his passing snaps.) Fulgham isn’t a natural separator, but his size and natural athleticism allow him to be great at taking advantage of certain matchups, so moving Fulgham around allows him to be matched up with lesser DB’s and take advantage of different defenders throughout the game. Plus, the free releases (press releases is not the most dynamic part of Fulgham’s game) schemed up by his alignments allow Fulgham to build up a head of steam and he makes plays that way.
When it comes to free releases, it’s really surprising how big of a factor the Steeler’s defensive backs played in terms of alignment. Fulgham only faced press on seven total plays (only two of those were passes) and faced a defensive back seven yards off the line of scrimmage on 24 plays (19 of them were passes). Getting a free release is partially schemed based on alignment, motion, and formation, but some of it just goes to the defensive backs playing a lot of off coverage.
In the play below, you see an example of how he was schemed open for an easy completion against off coverage. After the catch, Fulgham does a good job of creating extra yards, but the free release and lack of tight coverage make this play.
What routes is Travis Fulgham running?
Much like the receiver we talked about last week, Travis Fulgham is a vertical wide receiver through and through. The four most common routes he ran all start with a vertical push. He ran some variation of a hitch six times, a “9” route five times, an out route 5 times, and some variation of a dig route 4 times. All of these routes (except for the “9” route) require you to sell vertically, and it worked for Fulgham.
His most successful route was easily the Out route, where he totaled 58 of his 152 yards and averaged 11.6 yards per route run. He feasted on the off coverage and inside leverage that the Steelers were consistently giving him. As a wide receiver, being put in these situations should equal easy catches, and Fulgham did just that. While you can expect more out of a wide receiver in terms of separation, the Eagles should be exceptionally happy they at least have a receiver who can win when he is supposed to.
How is Travis Fulgham winning?
Catch Radius and Verticality.
I try my best to limit myself to two terms that describe why the wide receiver is winning, and it took me a bit to come to these two. Catch Radius is the first thing that comes to mind due to some of the balls he is coming down with. His vine-like arms (92nd percentile according to MockDraftable) and size allow him to catch especially high passes with ease and come down with them still in stride. For six of his 12 targets, the ball was placed above his head and he came down with every one of them, most of the time with ease. He also came down with two contested catches, showing the ability to catch the ball in tough situations.
Verticality is another thing that needs to be talked about with Fulgham’s game. Fulgham is at his best when threatening the defensive back vertically. While his acceleration isn’t great, once Fulgham has reached top speed, he can be quite dangerous. His verticality is especially lethal when he is given consistently free releases because he can quickly threaten the defensive backs cushion and force him to open his hips. Once that defensive backs hips are flipped, Fulgham can break any way he’d like, as he does in the route below:
Fulgham won because he was able to take advantage of those two skills to the fullest on Sunday. But was that skill being utilized organically?
Why is Travis Fulgham winning? Is it skill, scheme, or both?
I usually use a percentage when discussing how much of a wide receiver’s performance was his vs. the schemes doing and I’ll be continuing that here.
35% Fulgham. 65% Scheme.
Before anybody gets mad (I don’t know why you would), this isn’t a bad thing. It just shows that despite the Eagle’s abysmal record, they are doing one thing right. And while it isn’t winning games, using a somewhat limited weapon in Fulgham correctly is a moral win in and of itself, right?
Ok, maybe not. But still, it’s good to see a team that has struggled to find consistent weapons for Carson Wentz, figure out how to use a wide receiver to make it easier on their struggling quarterback. Using formation and alignment to scheme up free releases and advantageous leverage for the specific route being run and making sure a big-bodied, athletic receiver is there (Hello, Fulgham!) to make the tough catches is important. Also, making sure that your young, second-year receiver is doing what he does best throughout the entire game helps them create separation for your quarterback.
Fulgham does deserve some credit though. His ability to capitalize on his opportunities is important, whether it was pressing the defensive back vertically to create some separation for Wentz or Fulgham’s ability to consistently haul in high passes with ease. But it’s important to realize that Fulgham was taking advantage of things schemed up for him as a vertical, big-bodied receiver. As soon as he was asked to something he doesn’t usually do, his limitation and inability to move a defensive back from his spot with quickness and route-running showed. This limits his ability to impact the game when the gameplan doesn’t scheme him up free releases and advantageous leverage.
Is this production sustainable?
The big question has arrived, and I am honestly not sure. I’ll give my best guess though.
Travis Fulgham has the tools he needs to be a vertical receiver in the same role as Mike Evans (definitely not as effective though), but his ability to deal with press coverage and patient corners are still major question marks in his game. If he can start to affect the defensive backs leverage and use different types of stems, head fakes, or other wide receiver tools to successfully move a defensive back off his spot early in the route, his effectiveness will only increase as the weeks go on. But if he doesn’t continue to grow in some of the smaller, more technical parts of wide receiver play I don’t think Fulgham will continue to have this level of production. Teams will begin to press him, key out and dig routes, and place physical cornerbacks against him to counteract that part of his game. There are parts of his game I really enjoy and think can make him a solid rotational wide receiver, but if he wants to take the next step Fulgham needs to become more refined.
Like most late-round receivers, Fulgham has the tools and some of the skills needed to be a good receiver in the NFL, but I wouldn’t expect him to fly quite as high as he did in week five for the rest of the season.