Looking Beyond the Numbers: Ryan Otten

April 23rd, 2013

Ryan Otten is one of the most underrated tight ends in the 2013 NFL Draft class. (photo: sjsuspartans.com)

DraftBrowns.com Editor: Brendan Leister

In a deep class of tight ends, it is easy for certain guys to fly under the radar in the months before the draft.  San Jose State tight end Ryan Otten has done just that.  At the Senior Bowl in late January, Otten got hit with the flu and a cut on his finger became infected all at the same time.  He was forced to go to a hospital in Mobile, Alabama after the Senior Bowl’s conclusion.  Otten lost nearly 30 lbs. while he was sick.  He showed up at the combine at only 230 lbs., but got back up near his playing weight (242 lbs.) for his pro day in March.  In this piece, I am going to look at a few plays that stand out when I think of Ryan Otten.

BYU 2012

I’ll start off with my favorite play that I saw in the four of Otten’s games that I’ve viewed.

Otten is lined up in the right slot.  You can tell that the defense is in zone coverage by looking at the cornerbacks.  They are opened up toward the quarterback with their eyes inside.  The defense is also showing two high safeties pre-snap.  Unless the safeties shift after the snap, this tells us that the coverage will be a variation of Cover 2 or Quarters.

Once Otten releases off the line, it immediately becomes apparent that he is going to be matched up one-on-one with a linebacker.  Taking note of this, he starts like he is running a slant route and then he accelerates vertically.  Each of the safeties are giving their full attention to the outside receivers and have totally disregarded the mismatch that has been created in the middle of the field.

The entire deep middle of the field is wide open and Otten shows some very impressive speed in getting on top of the linebacker.  Neither safety is in position to help and the ball is already in the air.

With the linebacker desperately trying to keep the separation that Otten has gained at a minimum, he has no idea that the ball is already in the air and headed in his direction.  For Otten to make the catch, he has to slow down subtly and leap up over the trailing linebacker.  This play could not be made without incredible concentration, body control, and hand strength.  You would think that the play ends here, but it doesn’t.  Take note of the 40-yard line, where Otten made the catch.


Otten fights for extra yardage and drags the linebacker and the safety that came over from the bottom of the screen for over 15 yards.

Otten finally goes down once the other safety comes over and helps bring him down.  As incredible as the catch was, the 17 yards gained after the catch may be even more impressive.

This next play is going to also illustrate Otten’s body control and understanding of how to separate from a defender while the ball is in the air.

On this particular play, Otten is lined up as the right in-line tight end.  When looking at the defense, it is safe to assume that they will be running some form of a three-deep zone coverage.  This is evidenced by the cornerbacks facing toward the quarterback with their backs turned to the sideline and the single-high safety in the middle of the field.

Otten comes across the shallow area of the defense on a “drag” route.  The outside linebacker with the arrow is the flat defender.  His zone is the area of the field that Otten is headed for.

With the flat defender impeding Otten’s path on the drag route, he cuts up the field and begins to push vertically; up the sideline.  It is impossible to tell if this addition to the route is by design or if Otten and the quarterback (David Fales) improvised on the play.  My best guess is that Otten was the primary receiver on the play due to the fact that the quarterback looked deep to Otten after selling a play action fake to the left and looking to the right just long enough to hold the defenders.

At this point, the ball is already in the air and Otten has a step of separation on the flat defender that ran with him vertically.  Take note of the fact that the defender has no idea that the ball is in the air and headed in his direction because his back is turned as he tries to close the gap between himself and Otten.

With the quarterback taking a big hit on the play, a perfect throw in stride would have probably been too much to expect.  At the last second before the ball arrives, Otten puts on the breaks and turns back toward the ball.  With the defender in desperation mode, he still has no idea that the ball is about to be caught.

Otten is forced to turn all the way around back toward the sideline to adjust to the ball and make the spectacular catch.  Due to Otten turning around at the last second, the defender has no chance of making a play on the ball.  Otten juggles the ball before finally catching it, but it is still a spectacular catch; nonetheless.

The end zone angle gives a better picture of Otten leaping in the air and adjusting to the football with the defender in no man’s land.

Navy 2012

On the final play, I will illustrate an area of Ryan Otten’s game where he gives great effort, but still has a lot of room for improvement.

Throughout the four games that I took the time to watch, Otten was used in a variety of different ways.  He lined up in the slot, as an h-back, and also as an in-line tight end.  On this particular play, Otten is lined up as the right in-line tight end.

The offense has called a draw play.  You can tell because the offensive linemen are all in pass blocking stances and the quarterback is looking downfield and dropping back as if he were taking a pass drop.  Otten heads straight for the Mike linebacker.

Although Otten does successfully get in the linebacker’s way for a second, he keeps too narrow of a base.  You can see that Otten’s feet are right next to each other and he is not in a position to sustain a block.  Otten must learn to drop his center of gravity and keep a wider base under him so that he can stay on balance and do a better job of sustaining blocks.


As a result of poor technique, Otten barely gets a hand on the linebacker.  The linebacker merely steps to the outside and then ducks under Otten’s block attempt and continues in pursuit of the running back.

Otten is left with nothing to do but watch as the linebacker pursues the running back and eventually combines with other defenders to make the tackle after what actually ended up being a nice gain for the offense.


All in all, expect Ryan Otten to be selected at some point on the draft’s third day.  Otten’s combination of speed, savvy, ball skills, body control, and versatility will make him very attractive to NFL executives.  However, due to his lean frame and deficiencies as a blocker, Otten will likely be restricted to h-back and slot duties early on in his professional career.  With offensive coaches focusing more and more on attacking the seam of the defense in today’s NFL, I expect Ryan Otten to be a very hot commodity when this Saturday rolls around.

Ryan Otten Scouting Notes

Very consistent production over junior and senior seasons.

52 catches, 739 yards, 5 TDs during junior year.

47 catches, 742 yards, 4 TDs during senior year.

Very lean frame.  6’5” tall. Weighed only 230 lbs. at the combine.

Very fluid athlete for a tight end.

Possesses soft hands.

Strong ball skills.  Can go up and make difficult catches.

Fights for extra yards.

Understands nuances of route running.

Used in the slot and as an H-back, and in-line.

Shows good effort as a blocker, but seriously lacks strength at the POA.

Not very smooth in and out of breaks.  Has to slow down considerably to change direction.

Lacks explosiveness.

Shows good body control when adjusting to passes.

Navy 2012:

Runs a whip route from left slot, shows fluidity and good hands on the catch with a defender draped all over him.

Gets to second level and misses block on LB.

Blocks from left slot on screen pass to teammate.  Drives defender into ground.

Jumps up and makes a one-handed catch after quarterback scrambles out of pocket and throws a high pass.

Lines up as right slot receiver.  Runs a stick and nod route and gets behind linebacker and in front of safety.  Catches pass with his hands and gets taken down after trying to fight for extra yards.

Runs a flat route.  Once he gets to sideline, he gets vertical and gets behind defenders.  If QB had thrown the ball, may have been an easy TD.

Runs down seam wide open.  Could have been a huge play had QB thrown him the ball.

Pushes vertically and gets knocked off of his route by a defender.  Comes back to the ball and catches a pass.

Runs stick route, sits down between two defenders and catches the ball.

Catches speed out, cuts inside and gets tackled inside 5.

Colorado State 2012:

Starts as H-back, blocks outside linebacker and seals him away from play, creating ally for ball carrier.

Runs a slant route, gets behind LBs, in front of S, catches pass in stride and gains a few yards after the catch.

Showing great effort as a run blocker.

Catches drag route and gets brought down right after making the catch.  Defender was draped on his back.

Utah State 2012:

Catches speed out for short gain before going out of bounds.

Gets behind LBs, jumps up to make a catch.

Showing good effort as a blocker in run game.

In the RZ, runs a post route from left in-line TE, gets behind the entire D.  QB overthrows him, he jumps up, makes the catch, but cannot get a foot in due to the overthrow.

Runs a seam route, catches a pass in stride behind the LBs, and in front of the safeties.

Catches slant route in stride, gains a few yards after the catch after being tripped up.

BYU 2012:

Runs a drag route from right in-line TE.  When he gets to flat defender, he runs vertically up sideline.  Slows down and catches back shoulder fade.  Showed excellent body control on the play.

From right slot, runs a seam route after first faking the slant, shows impressive speed to get behind the LB, and then jumps up and makes a catch with the LB right on his back. Refuses to go down and gains an extra 10 or so yards after the catch.  Excellent play.

Tags: 2013 NFL Draft, 2013 Tight End Prospects, Ryan Otten, San Jose State, X's and O's

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