The Indianapolis Colts and General Manager Chris Ballard were very active on Sunday September 3rd, following NFL cut day. One player who was added to the team was 2014 sixth round pick of the Miami Dolphins, wide receiver Matt Hazel. Hazel is 6’1”, 198 lbs. and ran a 4.5 second 40-yard dash at the 2014 NFL Combine.
The surprising part of this move was that the Colts had a healthy competition going for the final spots at wide receiver. Third-year receiver, and former first round pick, Phillip Dorsett was trying to play his way into a larger role in the offense late in preseason and even undrafted fan favorite JoJo Natson would have potentially made sense after leading the team in receiving yards and as a returner throughout the preseason.
Ballard chose to go in a different direction, with Natson putting the football on the ground three times in the fourth preseason games and after trading Dorsett to the New England Patriots for second-year QB Jacoby Brissett. These moves left the team with an unsurprising core of Hilton, Moncrief, Rogers, and Aiken , with Bray retaining his spot as the team’s primary return specialist.
The first thing to realize for Hazel is that he had the misfortune of playing in Miami for two years. This was a misfortune because the Dolphins have thrown tons of resources at the wide receiver position. This created not just competition, but highly invested competition that tends to find spots on the roster before late round picks.
Consider that in his two years in Miami he was on a roster with this list of players: Jarvis Landry (2nd Round 2014), DeVante Parker (1st Round 2015), Kenny Stills (trade 2015), Rishard Matthews (7th Round 2012), Mike Wallace (signed in 2013 for 5 yr/$60M), Brian Hartline (4th Round 2009), Greg Jennings (signed in 2015 for 2 yr/$8M), Leonte Caroo (2016 3rd Round), Tony Lippett (5th Round 2015), and Jakeem Grant (6th Round 2016). The Dolphins have proven two things over the last three years: the first is that they will relentlessly dump their resources into the position, including adding veterans for short-term production; the second is that they regularly will let go of receivers who go on to play much larger roles on other teams.
Is Hazel another example of a prospect the Dolphins let go who will find success elsewhere? For the answers, we will turn to the tape.
One of the most important abilities for any young receiver is finding ways to get open. In almost all of the film we breakdown you will see the Hazel faces vanilla zone coverage, but finding a spot where your quarterback can deliver the ball to you is key.
Hazel shows that he has a knack for running a route to open spaces by knowing when to break on his routes. This is a deep out or corner route that he runs deep enough to get behind the underneath coverage and breaks soon enough to keep separation from the safety.
On this deep in route he does the same as he did in the previous play. He jabs outside in order to gain inside shoulder leverage on the cornerback and then goes right to the open spot of the field behind the linebacker in coverage and in front of the safeties playing behind him.
This is more of a skinny post route that he runs right between the nickel and inside linebacker to make a reception in close quarters. The result of this route and reception is a first down. You’ll note that this is another trait that Hazel shows — knowing where the marker is and running routes that getting him to the sticks.
On this play Hazel runs a crossing route behind the inside linebacker and, once he realizes he has a little space, he sits down to make a tough contested catch for a touchdown.
This is another deep in route that Hazel runs to open space. He sees the pressure in the quarterback’s face and adjusts down to catch the slightly underthrown ball.
On this route, Hazel runs a curl in the middle of the field. Similar to his other plays, he breaks down and comes back for the ball in front of the deep coverage and gets the first down yards on 3rd and 13.
Hazel runs a slugo route here and has Josh Freeman stick it right between two defenders. The backside defender is hitting his arm right as the ball arrives. He is able to maintain possession of the ball in close quarters and get the Dolphins a first down.
This is a crossing route right in front of the inside linebacker. Hazel knows full well that he is going to take a shot here but makes the catch and gets the first down.
On a deep in route, Hazel makes the catch despite the trailing defender swiping at the ball and pulling down on his arms from behind. He also takes a shot from the defender in his face but retains possession.
WORKING THROUGH CONTACT
Wide receivers are going to take shots on crossing patterns from linebackers who do their jobs right. Some players allow the contact to essentially take them out of the play but Hazel keeps digging and is rewarded when his quarterback is desperate for a release valve. The play goes for 24 yards.
On this play, Hazel runs a shallow out route and has to fight for the extra yards to get the first down. He braces for the hit, spins to avoid the blow, and reaches out to get the first down.
GOTTA HAVE FEET
Indianapolis Colts fans are all too familiar with circus sideline catches. Both Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne had their share of highlight catches on the boundaries. On this play, Hazel throws his hat into the ring as a guy who can make his way onto a highlight reel as well.
This is a poor angle so the replay below confirms that he makes the catch and has both feet in bounds.
Hazel down a nice job of controlling his body to make the catch on a back-shoulder throw and keeps his feet down as he is going out of bounds.
A reason Matt Hazel has not broken his way onto a roster to this point in his career is that he is not a flashy receiver. He has the look of a possession receiver who is unlikely to blow anyone away with his speed. In Indianapolis, there has been a lot of talk about adding players who have rare traits and in many respects, Hazel doesn’t fit that description. He is not particularly tall, not particularly strong, and not particularly fast.
What Hazel does well, though, is something that could be useful for teams who already have other players on the roster who serve in the game-breaking role. Indianapolis has speedster T.Y. Hilton to abuse teams deep and get over the top. The team also has young receiver Donte Moncrief who is fast enough to beat a man deep and strong enough to be a red zone threat. Second-year wide receiver Chester Rogers was targeted often on downfield throws of 15 or more yards in his rookie season as well.
Adding Hazel might be adding competition with veteran Kamar Aiken to serve in the possession receiver role. Someone who can keep the chains moving on short and intermediate routes. Someone who can punish defenses who are too quick to focus on the deep threats. With Aiken not doing a whole lots to standout in training camp and preseason, maybe a younger player who continues to improve will offer an even cheaper option in what can be an important rotational role for the offense.
One thing seems quite certain — neither Aiken nor Hazel should be overly comfortable with their place on the roster. If Aiken does nothing in what will likely be an expanded role in Chester Rogers’ absence against the Rams, he’ll be opening the door for Hazel to take his place. Similarly, if Aiken shows out and inspires confidence from the coaching staff, Hazel could find himself back on the waiver wire.