High-tempo offenses are becoming more common in the NFL, with teams trying to imitate the success of teams such as the New England Patriots, and the Philadelphia Eagles hired former Oregon coach Chip Kelly with that in mind.
Teams need the right personnel to run that type of attack, and while the right quarterback is a big part of the plan, there is also a need for versatile skill-position players. Their ability to line up at multiple positions allows an offensive coordinator to throw various looks at a defense while dictating matchups and not allowing the defense to substitute.
Here are three players in the 2013 draft class who have the skill set to make an impact in high-tempo packages. And because defenses will need to evolve in response to these attacks, I've also included a defensive player with the skill set to make a defensive coordinator's adjustments much easier.
Stanford TE Zach Ertz* (Grade: 88)
Ertz caught 11 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown against Oregon in 2012, and a breakdown of that production is a testament to how he can attack defenses in different ways. He caught five passes when lined up wide, four working out of the slot and two from the traditional in-line tight end spot.
Ertz's frame (6-foot-6, 249 pounds), athletic ability and ability to catch the ball with a defender on his back gave the Ducks problems on the outside, and his quickness gave them problems when he lined up at tight end. He can cause the same kind of matchup challenges for defensive coordinators at the next level.
Of course, high-tempo doesn't necessarily mean pass-happy, and the biggest knock on Ertz is his run blocking. He has to get stronger at the point of attack and improve his ability to sustain blocks when he lines up at tight end. However, he's big enough to develop into an effective positional blocker and can cover up linebackers at the second level. In addition, his frame, length and body control give him the edge when blocking against a safety or corner.
Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell* (74)
Bell is a powerful runner who grinds out yards between the tackles and picks up yards after contact, but don't let his size mislead you. He's not a one-dimensional, short-yardage back. In fact, one of his Bell's strengths is his ability to contribute on passing downs.
Bell (6-2, 242) can release out of the backfield, work out of the slot and line up wide. He is a savvy route-runner who masks his average burst by setting up breaks and changing speeds. He doesn't have elite ball skills, but Bell has good hands for a running back and can produce after the catch thanks to his power and open-field instincts. He's also strong and tough enough to stop blitzing defenders in pass protection.
A strong performance at the NFL combine is important for any prospect, but it's especially important for Bell. His weight and the 10-yard split on his 40-yard dash are key numbers. Bell reportedly lost close to 10 pounds leading up to Michigan State's win over TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and checking in around 230 pounds in Indianapolis would be a win for him.
His 10-yard split is important because his film raises concerns about his ability to accelerate out of cuts. Posting a time in the 1.65 range would help ease those concerns.
Notre Dame WR Theo Riddick (61)
Notre Dame moved Riddick back and forth between running back and receiver, and while that versatility is an asset he's not an ideal fit at either position. He is on the smaller side (5-10⅜, 197) for a back and running between the tackles is not his strength. As a receiver, Riddick doesn't appear to have the second gear to run away from defenses after the catch or take the top off the coverage. He wasn't particularly productive as a kickoff returner, either, but Riddick is still an intriguing Day 3 prospect.
His future is at slot receiver, where he enough burst to separate from man-to-man coverage and the toughness to make plays over the middle against zone looks. Riddick also can make defenders miss and produce after the catch.
And even though he fits best at receiver, Riddick is a shifty runner with the instincts, quickness and lateral agility to line up at running back in certain situations. For example, a team can start a series working out of an empty backfield with Riddick in the slot. If the defense counters with its dime package, Riddick can move into the backfield and run the ball against the smaller personnel.
The Antidote: Texas S Kenny Vaccaro (95)
Having a safety who is fluid enough to match up with slot receivers, strong enough to match up with tight ends in-line or out wide, and big enough to line up at linebacker depth makes substitutions less of a concern for the defense. Finding that kind of player is difficult, but Vaccaro has the potential to be that kind of a difference-maker.
Vaccaro isn't perfect. He could take better angles and show more body control as a tackler, but his unique overall skill set still makes him a first-round prospect. Vaccaro (6-0.5, 210) is a quick-twitch athlete who can lock down slot receivers in man coverage and cover a lot of ground if asked to provide safety help over the top.
He's strong and tough enough to line up in the box, where he can step up when he reads run and quickly pick up the tight end in coverage when he reads pass. He also flashes above-average route recognition and good ball skills. His versatility is exactly what defensive coordinators are looking for to help counter today's up-tempo spread formations.