The Buffalo Bills have continued to value boundary deep threat wideouts throughout the last several drafts, from 2012’s third-round selection in T.J. Graham, 2013’s third-round pick in Marquise Goodwin and most recently, TCU’s Kolby Listenbee. The Bills used their sixth-round pick on another deep threat with a limited route tree with the hopes that the sheer speed he provides on the boundary would force opposing defenses to pick their poison—do you draw a safety to prevent a home run to Listenbee or do you rotate your defensive backs to contain Sammy Watkins—a wideout who gets better with each game he steps foot on the field?
Here at Building the Herd, we’ll break down Kolby Listenbee’s game from a trait-based analysis; what does he do well? Where does he need work? And most importantly, where does he win?
Kolby Listenbee Background, Athletic Ability
Kolby Listenbee measured in at 6’0” and 197-pounds at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine, but it was reported that he put on up to 20 pounds—which makes sense when you look at his stature on tape. There’s no doubting the speed a player like Listenbee brings to the table—he ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash with a sports hernia.
In his two years as a starter, Kolby Listenbee racked up 71 receptions for 1,350 yards (19.0 yards-per-reception) while finding the endzone nine times.
Kolby Listenbee played opposite Josh Doctson in Texas Christian’s air-it-out offense and it was the speed and the attention he attracted from multiple defensive backs that allowed Doctson to enjoy so much success on underneath routes in plays Kolby was used as a “decoy” as a clear-out man.
Kolby Listenbee as a Vertical Threat
Coming from the Big-12, a conference that is predominately based on a spread passing attack with option runs, Kolby Listenbee is limited in terms of what he was asked to run as far as the route tree is concerned. He primarily ran three routes during his time at TCU—the Go, the Post, and the out—although he did show some impressive foot quickness and the ability to extend his hands and make catches away from his body on slant routes.
For a player that was predominately used as a deep threat within TCU’s air-it-out offense, Listenbee made the most of his limited opportunities. In 2015, he was targeted 56 times, with 26 labeled as “deep” passes—those that traveled 20+ yards downfield, recording 11 catches for 410 yards and five touchdowns (all five touchdowns in his 2015 season).
46.4% of his targets came on passes that traveled 20+ yards down the field and the speed Kolby Listenbee brought to the table forced opponents to account for him, which in turn—opened up a lot of intermediate routes for his teammates.
In the following play against Stephen F. Austin, Kolby Listenbee uses the sideline as his teammate, gaining outside leverage on a go route and picks up a huge chunk of yards.
In the same game, Listenbee shows off incredible foot-quickness on a post route, embarrassing the defender and finding the endzone on a post route.
Here, Listenbee is aligned at the bottom of the screen in a five-wide, “empty” set. Josh Doctson is at the top of the formation, but watch the incredible release Kolby Listenbee shows; getting behind the defender, drawing the safety and still manages to locate the ball in the air, before making a beautiful, over-the-shoulder grab for a score.
One more example of Listenbee’s ability to bait opposing cornerbacks into thinking he’s running the “9” route shows up here against Oklahoma’s Zack Sanchez, one of the top defensive backs in the nation. TCU’s “stacked” alignment with their wideouts puts Oklahoma in a conflict before the ball is snapped.
Listenbee shows off his second gear, breaking inside and making an effortless score.
Kolby Listenbee as a Short-Intermediate Threat
While Kolby Listenbee had a limited role within TCU’s offense, when given the opportunity to work the middle of the field on slant routes over the middle, he backed up the cockiness that he expressed in his post-draft interviews with the Buffalo Bills’ media.
He’s a tough kid and isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty. He doesn’t get alligator arms when going over the middle and is willing to take a hit if it means moving the chains.
One thing you look for when evaluating the “toughness” of a wide receiver is whether he’ll extend his arms when making a grab over the middle or if he’ll “let the ball come to him.” In the following clip, I slowed it down to show the quick footwork Kolby Listenbee (bottom of the screen) routinely shows before extending his body and making a fantastic grab on a crucial third-and-five situation with his team up just three points. Listenbee isn’t worried about getting hit—he wants the first down. And he gets it.
Kolby Listenbee as a Wildcard: Contested Catch Artist?
Kolby Listenbee obviously didn’t see the majority of the market share of targets within TCU’s offense, but he flashed the ability to come down with contested catches on seldom occasions.
Here against Oklahoma, Listenbee draws double coverage but manages to show good body control and come down with a tough grab.
However, with his limited route tree and role within the Horned Frogs’ offense, Kolby Listenbee didn’t get many opportunities to refine his technique as you can see in the following rep.
Kolby Listenbee is definitely an intriguing prospect that seems to have strayed from the T.J. Graham/Marquise Goodwin speedsters the Buffalo Bills have looked to acquire in recent years. Although he didn’t produce great numbers in college, he’s a player with quality traits that should provide value as a boundary wideout in “11” personnel packages as he develops, while hopefully adding some value as a return man on special teams.
For a sixth-round draft pick, the expectations shouldn’t be too high, but unlike the recent speedsters the Bills have brought in, Listenbee has the size and traits that show he could potentially be more than the “9 route specialist” the team has so desperately looked to acquire since the 2013 NFL Draft.