When the Patriots released their initial 53-man roster with only three wide receivers, and 52 active players, many theorized that a move was coming at the receiver position.
On Sunday, the Patriots put in two waiver claims on wide receivers, signing former Jets wideout Chad Hansen and former Seahawk Amara Darboh.
Although both have potential, it’s Hansen, a former second-team all-conference selection at Cal that stands out as an intriguing fit in the Patriots’ offense.
Hansen skyrocketed up draft boards before the 2017 NFL Draft after hauling in 92 receptions (led Pac-12) for 1,249 yards (led Pac-12) and 11 touchdowns eventually settling in the fourth round to the Jets.
In New York, the 6-2, 200-pound receiver couldn’t carve out a role in the Jets offense as he played on just 34% of the snaps and logged only 17 targets during his rookie season.
However, although the concerns about his average testing numbers (60th percentile at NFL combine) and inability to separate in the short and intermediate areas of the field could be real, the Jets were still unable to unlock the Cal version of Chad Hansen.
And in a new system that better fits his skill set, there’s the possibility that the Patriots can get the player many thought Hansen would be during the 2017 draft process, including myself.
Below, I’ll take you through some of Hansen’s college and NFL tape to highlight why the Patriots and Hansen could be a good match:
One area where Hansen excels that may surprise some people given his athletic makeup is as a deep threat receiver.
During his junior season at Cal, Hansen was one of the premier deep threats in the FBS.
And although he’s not a burner, he ran a respectable 4.53 40-yard dash at the combine and plays faster than he times.
Let’s start with some of the college footage. Hansen, as shown above, can beat cornerbacks with pure speed, especially when given a free release. On this play, he’s going to use a bit of a stutter step off the line of scrimmage to freeze the corner and then explode past him, creating plenty of separation to drop this deep throw in there.
In limited action in the NFL, Hansen’s ability to beat defenders with his speed did show up a few times on tape.
Here, Hansen appears to be running past the corner who’s playing a bail coverage technique, but the throw is badly underthrown and doesn’t give the former Golden Bear a chance to make a play on the football. The corner does slow down to adjust to pick the pass off, but if this throw leads Hansen into the end zone, he’s going to beat the corner over the top.
Hansen is also fantastic at adjusting to passes in the air which allows him to create separation.
The corner is in pretty good position on this play. But Hansen’s ability to track the football and adjust on the fly creates separation late on the throw. The pass is slightly off the back pylon and leads Hansen to the sideline. He has no problems adjusting and hauling in the pass for a touchdown.
If you watch Hansen’s highlight reels from Cal, you’ll find that his tape is littered with acrobatic catches.
Hansen does a great job of high-pointing the football in the air and has terrific awareness along the sideline.
Last season with the Jets, Hansen flashed his contested catch abilities when given the opportunity.
On this play, he works his way up the sideline against cover-2 before catching this ball off the top of Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore’s head while taking a shot from safety Kenny Vaccaro. Again, you see his ability to catch the ball at its highest point, the toughness to take the hit and strong hands to hold onto the ball.
FIGHTING THROUGH CONTACT
Another area of strength for Hansen that will be useful in the NFL is his ability to work through contact while keeping his route on time.
The cornerback plays Hansen with outside leverage forcing his release towards the sideline. Hansen stems him to the outside before cutting back toward the middle on the slant. Notice what Hansen does with his hands on this play. The cornerback initiates contact at the top of the route, and instead of allowing that to impede his progress, Hansen swipes down on the hands of the corner to clear his body and let himself cut in front of the cornerbacks face.
Hansen’s college tape has numerous examples of him fighting through similar contact, but it’s great to see him do it at the next level as well.
BEATING ZONE COVERAGE
As a route runner, Hansen is extremely savvy, and he has a good understanding of how to beat zone coverage, which will bode well for him in New England.
Last season with the Jets, Hansen worked well against zone coverages finding openings in the zone, he just didn’t always get the ball.
On this play, he’s going to work out of a bunch formation at the bottom of the screen. He quickly diagnoses the cover-2 shell and runs a deep curl to sit down right between the cornerback and linebacker. It takes quarterback Josh McCown an extra second or two to deliver the pass due to pressure in the pocket, but Hansen remains calm, presents a big target for his quarterback and easily makes the catch. We see the Patriots ask their receivers to do similar actions against zone coverages every week.
Where you’d like to see Hansen take the next step in the Patriots’ system is finding openings in zone coverage on deep patterns as he did in college.
Hansen does a very intelligent thing with his route against a cover-3 zone. He notices the coverage by the defense almost instantly, so he understands that the opening on this vertical route will be between the cornerback and safety. Instead of running a straight go route, which was likely the call, Hansen is going to bend his route towards the middle of the field, and he’s wide open for the touchdown. These types of routes should look familiar, because the Patriots beat zone coverages, which are used frequently in the red zone, on a regular basis with these types of concepts.
Another skill that Hansen possesses that will fit the Patriots’ offense well is his ability to gain yards after the catch.
As we know, that’s a major part of being a receiver in New England.
Hansen’s isn’t elite after the catch but if you give him a runway he has impressive burst and breakaway speed.
On this play, Hansen is going to run a quick slant and you see that impressive acceleration and ability to instantly go into YAC mode. Hansen runs away from the corner, and when the safety takes a poor angle, he’s gone for a long touchdown.
Hansen can also be used as the receiver on screen passes.
Cal runs a tunnel screen on this play and you see Hansen burst into the secondary after doing a nice job of setting up his blocks. The screen is blocked well, but again, that acceleration allows him to pick up chunks of yardage in a hurry after the catch.
As I often say with these positive film reviews, the plays above aren’t meant to suggest that Hansen will turn into a 1,000-yard receiver overnight now that he’s a member of the Patriots.
But his deep threat capabilities, reliability, football IQ, and toughness are all traits that the Patriots often look for at the wide receiver position.
The Jets offense had numerous deep passing concepts that tapped into that part of Hansen’s skill set, but the Patriots will expand his route tree and put Hansen in an environment that should mask some of his deficiencies.
After reviewing his tape from each of the last two seasons, it’s hard not to see similarities between Hansen and fellow Patriots receiver Chris Hogan.
They’re both deceptively fast, are reliable targets that will run routes the correct way, and are intelligent route runners that understand the nuances of the game.
The two wideouts even have similar areas of concern.
As Hansen, like Hogan, doesn’t always possess the short-area quickness to separate consistently at all three levels.
There’s always the possibility that Hansen’s inability to separate could be his demise in the NFL, and it’s likely the reason why the Jets gave up on him.
But it’s well worth a shot for the Patriots to see if they can get the Cal version of Chad Hansen.