'You can't teach speed.'
It's an old adage based on a simple idea. As much as you can work on it, most players with special levels of speed are simply born that way. While the adage is factually correct, the implication it carries is not. The statement implies that you can teach a player to do everything else, so speed should be valued more when gauging the skill set of a particular player.
As previously discussed with running backs, speed is often an overvalued trait on the field.
It is most valuable at the wide receiver position. Receivers typically play away from their teammates and the bulk of the opposition's defenders. They are asked to create and work in space all over the field. They aren't afforded much time to either come free underneath or run past the defensive back covering them to attack the deep portion of the coverage.
Any receiver that has enough speed to simply run deep and enough ability to catch the ball on a somewhat regular basis will have the opportunity to be a role player in the NFL. Field-stretching receivers are valuable even when they aren't being thrown to, because they stretch the defense by pushing the safeties deeper off the line of scrimmage.
However, those kinds of players don't go high in the draft unless they offer more versatility. Two receivers with impressive straight-line speed who need to prove their versatility this year are Ty Montgomery and Amari Cooper.
Montgomery is a 21-year-old Stanford receiver who has played three seasons for the Cardinal. In 2013, he was very productive as he compiled 61 receptions for 958 yards and 10 touchdowns as well as 13 rushing attempts for 159 yards and two touchdowns.
His speed becomes apparent as soon as he gets the ball in his hands.
Montgomery has a combination of long speed and acceleration that allows him to easily pull away from the defense once he finds space. With the ball in his hands, he is also very adept at finding that space.
On this play we can see how Montgomery understands that he can't simply look to outrun the defense as soon as he gets the ball in his hands. He is always aware of his blockers and their positions in relation to the defense. Not only does he read blocks correctly to find space, he alters his speed to avoid having to make more difficult cuts.
By anticipating what is going to happen in front of him, he is able to slide from running lane to running lane like a slalom runner.
As impressive as Montgomery is with the ball in his hands, he has limitations as a traditional wide receiver. If Montgomery was in the NFL right now with the skill set he showed last season, he would be the type of player who had to be schemed open. His ability with the ball in his hands is already at a level that would make him very dangerous on screens, end-arounds and in different route combinations, but if asked to run a precise route against press coverage before making a contested catch, he may be overstretched.
Montgomery doesn't fit your traditional slot receiver or outside receiver type. He has a bulky frame that is listed at 6'2”, but appears to be closer to 6'0” with relatively short arms.
Most effective slot receivers in the NFL are slighter and quicker than he is, while most effective outside receivers have a greater catch radius with the ability to make contested catches more comfortably.
To compound his limitations at the catchpoint, Montgomery is also a very linear athlete when asked to run different routes down the field. Much like Ted Ginn of the Arizona Cardinals, he loses his speed when he is asked to sharply turn or use his footwork to turn defenders away from where he wants to go.
On this play against California, we got to see the kind of play that would allow Montgomery to be effective in the NFL. He initially lines up as the inside receiver of a trio to the top of the screen. He is a few yards off the line of scrimmage and releases into a seam route behind the bigger receiver ahead of him.
The defense drops into zone coverage and Montgomery is able to run free down the seam. The receiver who initially released ahead of him drew the attention of the deep safety, leaving Montgomery uncovered. A precise backshoulder throw allowed the receiver to adjust and make the reception before continuing into the end zone.
Ginn was able to be effective with the Carolina Panthers in this type of a role last season, but his lack of fluidity in his routes had made him ineffective for years before that point. For Montgomery, this is also a major concern at this stage.