When Gerad Parker became Purdue’s receivers coach in 2015, he knew DeAngelo Yancey lacked the explosive traits necessary to make it in the NFL.
When Parker became Purdue’s interim head coach in October 2016, he knew the offense had to run through his now-explosive senior receiver.
Those two factors led to Yancey being selected by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round of last month’s draft.
“I just said, ‘Hey, this is what you’re going to have to do if you want to play in the NFL,’” Parker said, thinking back to 2015, when he shifted from tight ends coach to receivers coach. “In my opinion at the time, he was not dynamic and big-play explosive enough to go play at that level. The knock was that he couldn’t hit a home run. Our big goal for the year was how many plays over 30 yards could he have. That was the biggest push was his ability to run after the catch and hit home runs, so to speak, to get him to a point to where he could be drafted like he was. I think the biggest thing he did was we worked tirelessly as a wide receiver group on his ability to make people miss after the catch and for him to beat press coverage so he could hit home runs down the field. That’s the biggest change from junior year to senior year.”
That was evident in the numbers. As a junior, Yancey caught 48 passes for 700 yards and five touchdowns. As a senior, Yancey caught 49 passes for 951 yards and 10 touchdowns. After averaging 14.6 yards per catch as a junior, Yancey averaged 19.4 as a senior — good for sixth in the nation among players with at least 40 receptions. Yancey went from one catch of longer than 50 yards as a junior to five as a senior. He had more touchdown catches of 30-plus yards as a senior (seven) than he had total touchdown catches as a junior. Yancey ranked first in the Big Ten in yards per catch, second in receiving yards per game and second in receiving touchdowns, highlighted by his six catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns vs. Wisconsin.
Why was Yancey so productive and so explosive? That’s a question asked and answered by his pro day workout, where Yancey ran his 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds but put up 21 reps on the 225-pound bench press. The 40 time was so-so but his total on the bench would have led the way at the Scouting Combine.
“There’s two ways to create explosive plays as a wideout,” Parker said. “No. 1 is to just run away from everybody, like you’re saying. DeAngelo’s not going to run away from you in that league and he knows that. The biggest thing is he knows what he is. The second way is you’re able to hold guys off because you’re big and strong and able to make catches in tight quarters and then fight guys off with that off-hand when you get the ball in your hand. That’s what DeAngelo was able to do this year. He’s fast enough to break away but he’s able to hold guys off on fade balls and different balls down the field and catch them in tight quarters, and then he can hold you off with his off-hand to create big plays.”
Strength, as it turns out, became the strength of Yancey’s game.
“It’s been a progression for him,” Parker said. “He’s always been a big guy. He’s always been around 220 to 225 but his body composition is totally different than it was a year-and-a-half ago. When he takes his shirt off, he looks like a guy should who’s playing at that level. I think he would probably laugh and try to talk back but, a year-and-a-half, two years ago, I don’t think he really looked like a guy that plays in the NFL.”
Parker says he would be “shocked” if Yancey doesn’t have a successful NFL career. More than anything, Parker believes in Yancey the person. He’s seen the work ethic. The maturity. The approach.
“You’re getting a fabulous guy. Anybody who coaches a guy like that is going to speak highly of him, and I’m no different,” Parker said. “He’s a guy that I trust to come into my home, and he’s been here a ton. I trust him to be around my kids and will trust him to sit here and babysit my kids. He’s been a part of our family. There’s an honest sense of growth by him.
“When we got together two years ago, we had a huge challenge in front of us. He did not have the sophomore year that he wanted to have nor expected to have. As that happened, you just saw a guy mature and begin to own who he was as a man. He wanted to improve in every area. Usually, those two things go hand-in-hand. He’s got confidence but he doesn’t have arrogance. He’s very well-mannered and really introverted in some ways but, when you put a helmet on him and he goes to work, he handles himself like a pro should and he’s able to do what he does on the field. I just think you’re getting a real sensitive guy and a confident guy but also a caring guy that gives back and cares about taking care of his family and his mother. It’s the reason he’s sitting here today.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.