If there was any personnel grouping that needed an infusion after last season, it was wide receiver. Thayer Thomas played admirably, but as a whole, there was nothing to write home about regarding receiver production in 2022. State then said goodbye to three of its top 4 receivers, leaving a dearth of experience and playmaking. Enter Kevin Concepcion.
Concepcion has played in four games, and I feel very comfortable saying he is the most complete freshman receiver I've ever watched at State. This guy can play, and it showed up in a big way at UVA on Friday night. He is an extremely high-level route runner, and his ability to separate from coverage has already made him the team's leading receiver and Brennan Armstrong's favorite target.
Concepcion’s explosiveness is a huge asset to his route running. Route running is a very nuanced concept where every little movement matters, and when you can explode out of your break like Concepcion, you can create separation from any little mistake you can force the DB to make. The freshman receiver’s speed and acceleration put a lot of pressure on a defensive back to get it right, lest they get left behind. At Virginia, they were often left behind.
When you’re running routes, you want your route stem to look the same throughout the whole route tree, and you want the defensive back to be conscious of the straight go route for as long as possible. When you create that concern about getting beat over the top, that’s when you start getting the defender to turn his hips in order to get downfield, and that’s when he loses leverage to carry you as the receiver through the break. When you have the speed and small-area quickness that Kevin Concepcion has, all of that happens so much faster and the margin for error that is that much smaller.
Take this post route from Concepcion against Virginia.
This is a safety in cover 2, meaning he is responsible for the back right half of the field. At the top of the route stem, KC plants his left foot and takes an outside step like he’s going to run a fade or a corner route. The step gets the safety to turn his hips outside just ever so slightly, and he’s beat at that point. KC’s break to the inside leaves him behind and he’s wide open.
Here’s a similar one against Notre Dame, but Concepcion runs the outside fade instead of the post.
This is defended much better, but Concepcion's slight hesitation at the top of the route stem manages to catch the DB a little flat footed, and his acceleration out of the break is able to create enough separation for a throw to drop in. The throw is bad and late, but that's not what this article is about.
Concepcion is very good at baiting defensive backs. This route, also from Notre Dame, creates space over the short middle against man coverage.
Concepcion chops his feet to the outside at the beginning of the route, as if he's going to run something with an outside release. It gets the defensive back to turn his hips outside, and Concepcion cuts across his face into open space.
Here's another that was schemed up for him against Virginia, and he got the safety to bite hard.
Just before this snap, Concepcion motions to the slot with Julian Gray to the outside. The play then sets up like a tunnel screen. Concepcion works toward the boundary as if he’s setting up the screen on the cornerback, and the safety climbs toward where the screen would be thrown. Concepcion then hits top speed toward the endzone almost immediately. The acceleration is the killer.
This guy's toolbox is overflowing, and it's really impressive for such a young player. He is a bright spot on an offense that hasn't done much else particularly well this year. State will need more guys to step up, but it has a game breaker in the slot that it hasn't had in a while.