BGA: Scouting Ben Obomanu

Bent, TheJetsBlog.com

Yesterday, the Jets signed free agent wide receiver Ben Obomanu. Jets fans might not know too much about Obomanu, so I’ve been looking at game footage in detail to investigate what he could bring to the table.

Obomanu is a 6-1, 205 pound receiver who was a 7th round pick out of Auburn in 2006. He has 4.45 speed and has caught 100 passes for 1,383 yards and seven touchdowns (including postseason games) in his career, the majority of which came in 2010 and 2011. He caught just four passes last year and missed the second half of the season with a wrist injury. He signed a one-year, minimum salary deal with the Jets per Jason at OTC.

After the jump, I review Obomanu’s career and look in detail at footage from 2012 to evaluate some of his strengths and weaknesses.

Who is Ben Obomanu?

Obomanu was never an elite college player at Auburn, registering 97 catches and 18 touchdowns in four years. He never led the team in receiving yards, although he did lead them in receptions with a career-best 33 in his senior year. He ran a 4.45 at the 2006 scouting combine and showcased his athleticism with a 41 inch vertical and a 121 inch broad jump at his pro day as he would end up being drafted in the seventh round by the Seahawks.

After spending his rookie year on the practice squad, Obomanu made his debut in 2007. He had what looked like it might be a breakout game in week three, catching four passes for 72 yards and a touchdown against the Saints. However, over the course of the rest of the regular season he didn’t have another game with more than one catch, finishing with 12 catches on 29 targets. In the second round of the playoffs against the Packers, he had four catches for 63 yards and although the Seahawks lost, it gave them hope he was ready to step up in year two.

Unfortunately, he broke his collarbone in preseason and was placed on injured reserve missing the entire 2008 season. He didn’t play much on offense in 2009 (just 64 snaps), but did carve a niche for himself on special teams, with 12 tackles. He ended up with just four catches and one lost fumble. In 2010, he finally got more of a chance, earning a starting role by week 11 and finishing with 30 catches and career highs for yards (494) and touchdowns (four), including a career-best 159-yard game against the Chiefs. He also had nine more catches in two postseason games. In 2011 he had another good year with a career high 37 catches and his second career 100-yard game.

2012 would prove to be a disappointing year as he caught just four passes and then suffered a wrist injury which saw him placed on injured reserve. He played 150 snaps in eight games and was targeted just eight times. The Seahawks were due to pay him $2.3m in 2013, so he became a cap casualty and joins the Jets who have roster spots up for grabs at the receiver positions, as well as a couple of injuries making front line reps available.

The Numbers

Five seasons (plus one spent on IR)
66 games
13 starts, of which seven were in 2011
87 catches, 1,209 yards, seven touchdowns (plus 13-174 in four postseason games)
13.9 yards per catch
57% catch rate
13 drops, of which eight were in 2011
Four carries for 41 yards (three first downs)
One fumble (lost) on offense, one fumble (not lost) on special teams
16 kick returns for 381 yards (23.8 average, 45 long)
29 special teams tackles, including 12 in 2009, two missed tackles, two penalties
Three offensive penalties committed
16 20+ yard plays and six 40+ yard plays

Let’s look at footage from 2012 to get a sense of what he brought to the table last year before going into more detail about his abilities based on the highlights from earlier years.

2012 Preseason

Obomanu opened preseason as a starter, but missed the second and third preseason games with a minor injury and ultimately didn’t make much of an impact with no catches on three targets and a five yard loss on his only touch (an end around). None of this was really his fault though – one pass was intercepted by linebacker Colin McCarthy who dropped into the passing lane and made a leaping catch, one was broken up on a back shoulder throw where the defender grabbed him before the ball arrived and should have been flagged and the other was also broken up as he was open near the goal line but the throw was made too late and the cornerback jumped the route. The end around wasn’t his fault either, as he had nowhere to go. However, his failure to make an impact with the ongoing competition pushed him down the depth chart as there were reports that his drops issue from 2011 carried over into camp. Braylon Edwards would beat out Terrell Owens for the last spot with Obomanu’s place on the team pretty safe due to his special teams contributions.

Week 1 – at Arizona

Obomanu was targeted just once in this game on a deep ball that was way overthrown. He didn’t really get separation anyway. He did make an impact on special teams, making a good tackle in punt coverage despite being double teamed and also drawing a blatant holding penalty.

Week 2 – Dallas

Obomanu didn’t make any impact in this game despite a season high 28 snaps. He did record a special teams tackle just before half time, falling on the punt returner for no gain following a muff.

Week 3 – Green Bay

Obomanu made his first catch of the season in this game on an eight yarder over the middle. He was targeted two other times, one on an out pattern where he was open but the throw wasn’t wide enough and the defensive back got his fingertips to it and the other on a play where the quarterback basically threw the ball away to avoid pressure. Again he flashed on special teams, assisting on a tackle in punt coverage and downing a punt at the one. He did miss a block that allowed Sam Shields to come off the edge to stuff a run though.

Week 4 – at St. Louis

Obomanu’s only contributions in this game were as a blocker. He had a couple of good second level blocks, including this one from the slot to spring Marshawn Lynch for a touchdown. However, he also failed to sustain a block on the outside, allowing his man to prevent the Seahawks from converting on a short yardage play and had another play where he allowed his man to get downhill to bottle up a run.

Week 5 – at Carolina

Obomanu made a nice play in this one, as he got the ball on an end around and found himself one on one against Charles Johnson in space. He put a move on Johnson and gained 11, but it would have been more if he didn’t slip. He also had a holding penalty to negate an 11-yard run by Lynch, although this was a pretty bad call and looked to be a solid downfield block.

Week 6 – New England

Obomanu was targeted once in this game, but it was a low percentage play as they threw a jump ball down the middle on 3rd and 20 and Tavon Wilson broke it up. He also let Devin McCourty get off his block on a 3rd and five to make the stop for no gain.

Week 7 – at San Francisco

Obomanu finally got some decent looks in this game, catching three passes for 50 yards. His first catch was this 36-yarder as he made the catch down the seam and ran for additional yardage, only to slip again. His next catch was a swing pass that went for a two yard loss because of a bad block by Golden Tate. Finally, he caught this 16-yarder down the seam, but came up just short of the marker on 4th and 17, enabling the 49ers to run out the clock. He was targeted one other time, on a third down sticks play, but the throw was made late and too high. He did have one good block, coming from out wide to block down on the safety and enable Robert Turbin to get outside for a nice gain.

Week 8 – Detroit

Obomanu’s last appearance of the season was highlighted by another good block to lead to this long touchdown by Lynch. The only real impact he made other than that was to recover a kickoff that was muffed by Leon Washington in the last minute.

Observations

Based on all the other footage I watched, here was my take on what Obomanu brings to the table, divided into categories:

Usage - Obomanu plays on the outside the majority of the time (about 75%) but has been used in the slot too. In 2012, he was in the slot for 50 snaps.

Deep threat – Obomanu is a true deep threat, unlike Chaz Schilens who was portrayed as a deep threat by the media last year due to his speed, despite the fact he’d only caught one long pass in the NFL and had always operated as a possession receiver. Obomanu can get separation down the field, as evidenced by the fact that 13 of his 66 receptions in 2010 and 2011 came on passes more than 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He’s even had success against some good corners. I have several clips to illustrate this: Here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Blocking - As shown by a couple of the plays from 2012 linked to above, Obomanu has the ability to make some good blocks. It doesn’t always hold true but often when a receiver plays a lot of special teams, they also fare well as a blocker because they’re more used to physical play and hard work. He isn’t perfect as a blocker, but is certainly willing and seems to do a good job of finding a man in space and sustaining his block by typical wide receiver standards.

Routes - Obomanu seems to be a decent route runner and is able to get separation downfield and in short-to-intermediate areas. He perhaps doesn’t run the crispest of routes at times, but that’s common among speedy players that don’t need to have perfect technique to get open and I didn’t see him run the wrong route or any signs of laziness. One place Obomanu’s route running skills have been displayed is in the red zone. Look at the various ways he gets open on these touchdowns: Here, here, here, here and here. Red zone production could be somewhere the Jets need some help, especially with Dustin Keller’s departure.

Hands - As noted elsewhere, Obomanu had a bad year for drops in 2011, with eight in 56 targets. That gave him the eighth worst drop rate in the NFL for receivers with a 25% snap count or higher. However, over the rest of his career, he’s dropped just five balls on 97 targets. That’s a drop rate only two receivers with more than 100 targets bettered last year, Anquan Boldin and Roddy White, so hopefully 2011 was an aberration. Looking at the footage, he doesn’t look like the most natural pass catcher, but does catch the ball with his hands rather than his body. Having said that, there weren’t many examples I saw of him making a spectacular catch, although he did go up to get the ball well on a few of the long passes linked above.

Looking at the drops he made in 2011, one was a concentration drop and the rest came under the category of non-routine catches that went off his fingertips, were thrown slightly behind him or went through his hands as he jumped for ball. One was an attempted one-hander and another saw him lose the ball as the defender hit him, knocking him out. Also, three of the drops came in the last game of the year, so he only had five in the first 15 games. In college, he had one high-profile drop to cause his team to lose to Eli Manning’s Ole Miss, but none of his NFL drops have been as bad as that one.

Yards after the catch – This is an area where you might expect Obomanu to be outstanding, given his speed. However, in 2011, he averaged just 3.7 yards after the catch per reception, well below average. In 2010, he was a much better 5.8 YAC/reception, good for 11th best in the league. However, 50 of those yards came on an 87-yard touchdown where there was a coverage breakdown and he ran untouched to the end zone. If you exclude that play, it drops to 4.7 YAC/reception and down to 40th in the league. In terms of breaking tackles to make extra yardage, he had 11 broken tackles on 66 catches in 2010 and 2011. By way of comparison, Jeremey Kerley had seven on 56 catches last year, so that stacks up reasonably well. Kerley averaged 5.4 YAC/reception. Here is one play where he caught a short pass and ran for extra yardage.

Special Teams – This is one area where Obomanu was really impressive. The Jets already have a decent pair of gunners in Ellis Lankster and Isaiah Trufant – and Joe McKnight is perhaps even better, although the Jets seem reluctant to use him in that role. Based on the footage here, Obomanu would seem to be an upgrade. He consistently did an excellent job of getting past the vice to get downfield and didn’t allow the return man to elude him when he got down there. He’s also returned kicks before, with his longest being a 45-yarder and his average a reasonable 23.8 in 16 attempts. He was working on kick returns at OTA’s yesterday, so might be in the mix there.

Demeanor - In doing my due diligence on Obomanu, I found no details of any off-field issues and watching him on the field, he wasn’t particularly demonstrative or excitable. He did show noticeable frustration at himself on a couple of his drops, though, but nothing too significant.

Conclusions

On the face of it, adding a guy that caught just four passes last year and was freely available at the end of May does little to inspire confidence. However, watching the footage of Obomanu was pretty encouraging and he does seem to have something to offer as a third or fourth option. Failing that, he also has the ability to be a solid special teams contributor (although I felt the same way about Mardy Gilyard).

Obomanu can be a good deep threat (and I once again reiterate that although the media said the same thing about Chaz Schilens, it’s actually true this time), can contribute with his shiftiness in the red zone and isn’t a bad blocker. All-in-all not a bad fallback option to have for depth purposes when some of the contenders for roster spots are unproven.

Whether the move was made with a view to him being a major contributor or just because the Jets were desperate for usable bodies in camp with most of their veterans out remains to be seen, but Obomanu clearly has some talent so could turn some heads in this competition for playing time.