For our recent Path to the Pros series, we had the chance to speak with several NFL prospects across a range of positions as they transitioned from college to pros. One major commonality? To be a great college player, getting in the film room is darn near as important as getting in the weight room. Many top prospects highlighted film as an invaluable tool in their development, a weapon that helped mold them into the players they are today. And if they want to make an impact in the NFL, that weapon will have to be wielded with even greater expertise.
To help you appreciate the importance of this habit—and perhaps pick up some tips that can help you get more from the tape you watch—here are six NFL rookies on the art of watching film.
Deandre Baker, New York Giants CB
"When you watch enough film, you'll know what's coming before (it happens). Teams don't change game plans in the middle of the season, that's just not what they do," says Baker, who was a consensus All-American his senior year at Georgia. "Just watching what receivers run what routes. Big receivers not gonna really run slants, they wanna run deep balls, fade balls. Quick receivers run quick routes. So just knowing the personnel and what type of receivers I got and what type of quarterback I got. Can he make the outside throws? Is he a deep-threat QB? What things can he do? Looking at it in high school, I would've never thought about it like that."
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears RB
"There were times where I'd call (my coach) two, three o'clock in the morning trying to get the password for the film so I can watch the film as far as the practice I had that day or what I needed to know for the next day," says Montgomery, who was a two-time Pro Football Focus All-American at Iowa State. "Four or five years ago, I was watching film of me. It was more like highlights. I wasn't really paying attention to what I wasn't doing well. I grew a fine understanding that I had to pay attention to the things I wasn't doing well, because those matter more than the things (that) were going well."
Quinnen Williams, New York Jets Defensive Tackle
"I became like a doctor at technique. I was watching film—I was doing it to the max. Watching Daron (Payne), A'Shawn (Robinson), Jarran Reed, Warren Sapp—just nose guards in general. Gerald McCoy," says Williams, who switched from defensive end to nose guard for Alabama ahead of the 2018 season that saw him capture the Outland Trophy. "I used to watch Daron Payne's get-off all the time. He was one of the most explosive guys I've ever seen. He used to get off before people even moved…(Then) Fletcher Cox. Fletcher Cox is like 325, but his get-off his amazing. I'm like how is he this big but (he) has the same get-off as Aaron Donald? I learned to get-off like that."
Lukas Denis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Safety
"In high school, you obviously look at just plays. You see who's good, who struggles a little bit. See how well they can throw and catch," says Denis, who was a WCFF All-American his junior season at Boston College. "But in college, it's what yard line do they come off their break. How many steps are they taking before they come off their break. Can I jump that? Can I not jump that? Where are the quarterback's eyes going on the play? How is he reading the safety? When you start to do that, it makes the game a lot easier."
Jordan Kunaszyk, Carolina Panthers Linebacker
"In high school, I would just watch film—I thought I knew what I was doing, but I was kinda just watching it to watch it. I would try to pick up on little tendencies. I'd look at the offensive linemen's stances. When they're in this stance, are they run heavy? Or are they light on their hand (and) it's a pass? Little tendencies you could catch in high school," Kunaszyk, who compiled 148 tackles as a senior at Cal en route to AP All-American honors, says. "As I transitioned to college there's a lot more things I look at in terms of personnel, in terms of backfield sets, in terms of the depth of the running back. Is the running back scanning the protection before the play? (That) will give me a cue it's likely going to be a pass, whereas when they're just looking straight ahead, it's a run. I look at the feet of linemen. There's so many little things. The splits of the receivers will give away what's going on. Those things have allowed me to continue to grow in that aspect of the game and there's so much more that I could learn and I can't wait to get into an NFL building and have somebody take me under their wing and show me what they've learned over the years."
Jaquan Johnson, Buffalo Bills Safety
"Early on in high school, after games, I wanted to know what I did wrong and what the team did. Things of that nature. So after the game—we normally played on a Saturday. On Sunday, my coaches, they all got together and they watched the film, and they told us what they broke down for the film. And you know I didn't quite like that. I wanted to see. I used to ask my coach, Corey Johnson, I used to ask him if I could come watch film. I didn't want to overstep boundaries, (but) he allowed me to do that and I was just able to grow love for watching film like that," says Johnson, a two-time All-ACC safety and a 2017 Sports Illustrated All-American at the University of Miami.
"(I remember) South Dade was a big rivalry team for us. And I wanted to go into the game making sure we were fully prepared. So me and my coach watched film. We noticed whenever they motioned, they liked to do switch routes. This was a team that liked to come out in stacks, and they always had someone in the flat, and then they were running a corner route as well. So every time they came out in this formation, we had a linebacker showing he was blitzing, but he was dropping into the hook-curl from the line of scrimmage. Cornerback was jumping down on the flat route. Every time they came out in that formation, we were able to get an interception, because they didn't see the linebacker dropping all the way to the hook curl. They were just reading the cornerback jumping down to the flat route."
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