Bess making best of opportunity

January 6th, 2010 By Corey Chavous

The NFL Draft is full of inspiring stories each year. Baltimore Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata’s triumphant rise to first round status in 2006 after losing both parents the year prior. Carolina’s Steve Smith returned from a broken back to become a third round steal for the Panthers in 2001. In 2009, the Cincinnati Bengals discovered a gem in the sixth round out of Abilene Christian by the name of Bernard Scott. This after numerous arrests and school transfers during a tumultuous collegiate career. Bengals fans have probably been more than inspired by his considerable contributions as both a return man and backup running back.

But what happens when you go undrafted?  In the case of Miami Dolphins receiver Davone Bess, that was the story after he decided to enter the draft in 2008.  After recording a jaw dropping figure of 41 touchdown receptions in three years at the University of Hawaii, the 5'10" 193 lb. receiver decided to leave school after his junior campaign.  A major part of his draft day snub revolved around some off field issues (spent over a year in juvenile detention center while in high school) and pedestrian speed (clocked as high as  4.70 in the forty yard dash at the 2008 Indianapolis combine).

After a rookie season in which he caught 54 passes, which were the second most ever by an undrafted rookie receiver, Bess got off to a similar pace in 2009.  With forty receptions over the last eight contests, Bess outpaced Miami's #2 receiver by 26 receptions.  This included a 10 reception, 117 yard effort versus the New England Patriots in Week 13.  Will he develop into a 100 catch guy for the Dolphins in the next couple of seasons?

When you consider that Bess had more receptions than these heralded wideouts- Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions), Chad Ochocinco (Cincinnati), Marques Colston (New Orleans), Donald Driver (Green Bay) and even Vincent Jackson (San Diego)-it is a topic worth visiting.  As Bess continues to develop into one of the league's premier possession receivers, here are some things that define his style of play.

Ability to carry pads 

I was a big fan of Bess during his time as a Warrior receiver.  This was in large part due to a comparison that I felt was befitting of his style of play.  Anquan Boldin was similar in stature (albeit taller at 6'0" 220 lbs.) and speed (ran 4.77 at the 2003 Indianapolis Combine).  The qualities that made both receivers effective while in college centered around quickness, strength and change of direction.  One of the big things in evaluating any receiver with ordinary clock speed is how well he carries his pads.  NFL scouts have these types of terms in their notebooks on every collegiate stop.  If a player has extraordinary foot speed in shorts, but doesn't handle the extra 15-20 lbs of equipment with the same burst, it is a valuable study note. 

While Boldin and Bess are both short striders, they get to their top speed immediately after the snap, making it difficult for defensive backs to gauge their routes.  As a defensive back, when a receiver gets to top speed instantly, it cuts down on your time to decipher body language.  If a guy runs 4.35, but the extra equipment slows him to 4.55 type speed initially, he will probably be a build speed guy.  It will take him longer to get to his top speed.  Those are the receivers that you have to be aware of down the field, but not necessarily in short areas. 

The two aforementioned wideouts demonstrate separation ability on five to twenty yard routes consistently.  A big part of that is related to their initial burst off the line of scrimmage.  It can be what makes a 4.75 speed guy in shorts seem like he's running 4.33 coming off the ball.  This is a big reason why Jerry Rice fooled defenders even into his early forties.  It is an effective explanation for Wes Welker's consistency as a dominant slot wide receiver. 

Bess and Boldin are much quicker and faster on the field than similar opposing players with better timed speed.  The difference is that both of these receivers have the ability to run with their equipment on as fast, if not faster, than when in t-shirts and shorts.  Field speed-a very important trait for an NFL wide receiver.

Quickness, Strength and Change of Direction

A receiver's ability to stop and start at top speed is also a determining factor in their final overall grade.  This change of direction can be seen on out routes, corner routes, double moves or even specialized receiver screens.  It is perhaps most evident when the wideout works the middle of the field.  Bess uses his strong lower body to run through arm tackles and then his blinding quickness to turn defensive backs around.  He can cut at full speed off either leg and his impressive hip flexibility causes defenders to drop their heads when trying to get him to the ground.  Bess has tremendous footwork and agility, with the wiggle necessary to get open in tight quarters.  He can also jump cut without losing speed and this has made him a valuable commodity in the return game during his young career.    

One of the best things about Bess is his ability to run after the catch, often getting a team hidden yardage by making the first defender miss.  It doesn't translate into big gains (only averaging 10 yds a reception), but it does get the key yardage necessary to convert for the team in 3rd & 3-6 situations.

While lacking the ability to strike from any distance on the field, he is a valuable weapon because of his propensity to break arm tackles.  His quickness gets him enough distance from the defender to win with head and shoulder fakes that have nothing to do with what his midsection is doing simulatenously.  If you're going to tackle the stocky receiver in space, it is important to break down and keep your eyes focused around his belt buckle.

Moving Forward

A weakness that Bess will have to improve over the course of his career (to have sustained success) is his ball security.  This hasn't surprised me that much, due to the fact he became overconfident in this department late in school.  He was almost impossible to be tackled by the first man at any point during college, but that speed difference has increased in the NFL.  Unfortunately  for Bess,  it has led to seven fumbles in a two year span.  He will have to continue to drill himself on squeezing balls tighter to his midsection area.  Although he only had one fumble this year, it came on a key punt return vs. New Orleans that cost the team down the stretch. 

If he can continue to improve in this facet, along with avoiding the occasional concentration lapse, Bess' numbers should rise.  Look for the talented third year receiver to eclipse the eighty reception mark in 2010. 

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Posted by ktflsunshine on
Corey, by far, this was my favorite article to date. As a lady I love the game, however, I really do not know the mechanics or intracacies of the game as you explained "ability to carry pad" and how it relates to an athletes performance. I know I am a minority audience but I really enjoyed learning this today and would like to see more of this in your column....thanks for broadening my horizons...KT
Posted by Tommy M on
I was positive Bess was a 3rd round draft pick. All that off field, in shorts, interview etc led to not being drafted, fine. To the rest of us, it seemed obvious how could he was or could be. Schilens and Bess were my steals pre-draft and bingo.

Loved the article and today's show on the NFL network. Keep up the good work, many of us appreciate it.

p.s. How about a LONG article on how the Safety is becoming increasingly important in today's NFL ? If Berry is drafted in the top 5, that should be a hint.
Posted by MrClean on
Bess had 6 total fumbles this season and lost 3. He did much better in that dept as a rookie.

Superb overall analysis though. I always listen and pay close attention to any player analysis you do.
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