BGA Special: Scouting Mardy Gilyard

With all the waiver claims over the past few days, the Jets have acquired several players who are not exactly household names. I have therefore been looking at game footage to get a feel for what these guys bring to the table.

Mardy Gilyard is a playmaking receiver who put up huge numbers in college and made multiple highlight reel-worthy plays. He is probably more comfortable in the slot because he lacks the ability to get deep separation, but is a good athlete (39 inch vertical), with outstanding short area quickness (he posted a sparkling three cone drill time of 6.78 at his pro day). Why, therefore, did he find himself cut after just one year in the league?

Gilyard started out his college career at Cincinnati as a cornerback, but after being declared academically ineligible for 2006, he was converted to wide receiver, where he developed into one of the top receiving prospects in the 2010 draft. Some draft sites had him as a possible 2nd round pick, but he was eventually drafted by the Rams with the first pick of the fourth round.

With the Rams starved for wide receivers, Gilyard got plenty of opportunities, but he reportedly struggled to learn the system and his playing time on offense all but vanished after week six. Hamstring and wrist issues didn’t exactly help matters, either. In 2011, the Rams added Mike Sims-Walker and decided that the likes of Danario Alexander, Mark Clayton and Danny Amendola bring more to the table, especially after Gilyard had some preseason struggles.

Gilyard is still a guy with bucketloads of potential, but there are obviously plenty of issues that are holding him back from being a consistent contributor at the NFL level. Let’s look at his body of work as an NFL receiver and try and determine how he can help the team (assuming he sticks around) in the short term and potentially down the line.

Let’s start by looking at what’s been said about him in the media. He soon wore out his welcome by the sounds of things and didn’t really help his cause by reportedly asking for a trade in May:

A guy that could not make it into games with a young QB and no WR help on the roster is not a guy other teams will want. Granted Gilyard has probably seen the light that his NFL future in not in St. Louis, but who is going to trade anything for this guy? Since I am not on the ground in St. Louis I have no idea what the deal here is, but it sounds like a kid with no work ethic, who possibly has a bad attitude and all that is a big red flag that this is not a kid any team will want on their roster.

He was given an opportunity to play at the start of his rookie year, so let’s look back on his 2010 season as a whole and consider some of the issues that limited his playing time.

2010 Statistics

In basically six games (I think he saw one offensive snap in the second half of the season), Gilyard caught six passes for 63 yards. Disconcertingly, he was actually thrown at 15 times, so his catch rate was just 40%.

He returned 16 kickoffs for a pedestrian 22.3 yard average with one lost fumble. He also fair-caught one punt and was credited with two tackles.

Pass Catching

These were the catches Gilyard made:

1. Seven yards on an out pattern, where he fought to get to the marker, setting up the go-ahead TD on the next play.
2. Nine yards over the middle on a nice third and five route over the middle.
3. Four yards on a screen pass.
4. Five yards on a dump-off over the middle.
5. 17 yards on a downfield sideline catch, plus 15 yards for a facemask penalty as he was tackled.
6. 21 yards on a low, diving catch down the middle to convert a 3rd and 17 situation.

Some of the incompletions were as follows:

- Screen pass in the flat. Hit as soon as he caught the ball and dropped it, although he was better off dropping it because it would have gone for a loss.
- Timing was off on his route, as the pass came at him when he wasn’t expecting it.
- Ran a deep corner route and had a step on the defender, but the throw was underthrown, perhaps because the QB expected him to curl his route back towards the outside.
- Miscommunication between QB and WR as the QB threw an out pattern, but Gilyard didn’t break to the outside.

Kick Returns

- Gilyard had a 34 yard return in his first game, but this would prove to be the only time he gained more than 30 on a return.
- He broke a total of three tackles, all in his first two games.
- In week three, he lost a fumble which set up a touchdown.
- In week ten, he muffed a kickoff in the endzone.

Special Teams

- As a punt return gunner, he had a great highlight in week one. With two guys blocking him, he evaded them and got downfield and made a big hit on the return man, although in doing so he aggravated a problematic wrist injury.
- On another punt, he was only blocked by one guy and blew by him easily to down a punt at the four yard line.

Miscellaneous

- Gilyard wasn’t called upon to run block much, but on two running plays, he motioned over to the edge of the line and made a cut block on a defender. In each case, he executed the block, but the defensive player was able to get back up and stuff the run for no gain.
- As noted above, he fair caught one punt.
- On one play, the Rams lost a fumble. Gilyard hustled over to the recovering player and tackled him, jarring the ball loose for a forced fumble, although the ball bounced forward and was still recovered by the defense.

After a season with a few flashes of potential but far too many mental errors, the Rams were hoping Gilyard would emerge stronger in his second season. Let’s look now at how he fared in preseason.

2011 Preseason Statistics

Gilyard caught eight passes for 84 yards in the four games. He was only thrown to ten times, so his catch rate was a much more encouraging 80%.

As a kick returner, he averaged 23.9 yards on eight kicks and as a punt returner, he averaged 3.1 yards on 12 punts. He had one special teams tackle.

Pass Catching

Here are details of the eight catches he made:

1. 10 yards, as he made a catch in the flat and broke one tackle on a well blocked play.
2. 11 yards on a crossing pattern, as he broke a tackle to get to the marker.
3. 12 yards on a 3rd and six catch. He broke a tackle to get a couple of extra yards down to the 23 to set up the game winning field goal.
4. One yard on a screen. He had nowhere to go, although it looked like he might have perhaps telegraphed the fact he was getting the ball.
5. 14 yards on 3rd and nine as he caught a pass on a deep out route and hung on despite a big hit from a DB
6. Three yards on another screen pass where he had nowhere to run.
7. 17 yards on 3rd and 12 as he made a low sliding grab and smartly got up before he was touched to get a few extra yards.
8. 16 yards on 3rd and five as he ran a good post route to get a step on the slot cornerback.

The two incompletions he had were disappointing:

- A third and six throw went through his hands and, fortunately, was also dropped by the DB behind him.
- Dropped an easy catch on a crossing route.

Kickoff Returns

- He only managed to get back to the 20 yard line on two of his eight kickoff returns, although perhaps these wouldn’t have been returned in a regular season game.
- On the other two, he went 32 yards to the 27 as his blockers opened up a hole for him and he broke a tackle at the 12 to get out to the 22.
- On one kick return, he fumbled and had it returned for a TD, but was ruled down.

Punt Returns

- 10 of his 12 punt returns combined for just five yards, as he kept catching the ball and getting hit immediately. Maybe he would have fair caught most of these in a regular season game, but felt the pressure to make something happen.
- On the other two, he made the first man miss and then eluded two tackles for 15 and caught the ball at the four yard line, made a stutter step move on the first guy to get to the outside and then broke a tackle to get 17 out to the 21.
- On one punt, he misjudged the flight of the ball and was leaning forward as he tried to catch it. He was lucky to recover the muff.
- On another punt, he fumbled after being hit immediately but his teammate recovered.
- He looked uncomfortable catching one other punt and made a falling catch.
- In total, he broke five tackles on punts.

Special Teams

- Operating as a punt gunner, he split a double team and made an immediate tackle on the return man.
- On another punt, he was in single coverage and got downfield easily to down a punt at the four yard line.

It seems the pattern continues. He had a couple of big third down catches and several broken tackles both as a receiver and a returner, but it was mental errors that plagued him. It’s worth noting that the last two of his catches were late in the fourth game, by which point his fate was probably already sealed.

Conclusions

On the basis of what he has done so far in the NFL, Gilyard has shown flashes of potential, but has made so many mental errors that it’s hardly surprising his coaches lost faith in him. He can run precise routes (witness…), but his issue was that he too often ran the wrong route. As a return man, there’s no doubt he is elusive, but he constantly makes bad decisions, especially when catching punts. However, you only need to watch a highlight reel from his college career to see what he’s capable of in the return game. Maybe he was just trying to do too much in an effort to kickstart his career, but there is no way I can envisage the Jets letting him catch a punt any time soon, no matter what Peter King says.

Where he can contribute right away is as a punt gunner. He excels at getting downfield and can tackle (perhaps thanks to his pedigree as a cornerback). I’ve always felt the ability to avoid blockers and get downfield on punts is a transferable skill that can manifest itself in improvements in route running. The Jets were starting to see flashes of that from Wallace Wright before he left.

Issues like poor work ethic are disconcerting but, in the past, his career has been on the brink of collapse and he didn’t respond like a guy with a poor work ethic. After poor grades cost him his scholarship in 2006, Gilyard worked three jobs and overcame homelessness to pay for classes and keep his collegiate career alive. Now his pro career is on the ropes, does he have it in him to knuckle down in similar fashion and get back on track?

If he can, the Jets could have themselves a bargain.