How Zay Flowers, aka Joystick, Got His Fast Feet

WR Zay Flowers

Zay Flowers has turned one-on-one drills against cornerbacks into a show they don't want to be cast for. 

In his first NFL preseason game, the Ravens' rookie first-round wide receiver left a Philadelphia Eagles linebacker grasping at air. 

In two days of joint practices against the Washington Commanders this week, Flowers burnt, twisted, and turned several Commanders defensive backs, including fellow first-round pick Emmanuel Forbes.

The Ravens now have one-handed catch wonder Odell Beckham Jr., and Flowers is getting perhaps just as much of the spotlight. Even Beckham can't wait to watch what the rookie does this season.

At the start of training camp, Lamar Jackson, a man with some shifty moves himself, gave Flowers a new nickname – Joystick. It tracked with what Flowers showed in college, where he was in the 96th percentile for change-of-direction ability.

So how did Flowers get those fast feet? He says it all traces back to childhood games in South Florida. 

"If I'm being 100 percent serious, it's probably that. We would play a little game called murderball," Flowers said on The Lounge podcast.

"Everybody would try to get one person with the ball. We would try to juke each other out, run around. You've got to tackle the man with the ball. So it's like 20 people chasing you around." 

How long could you avoid 20 people chasing you? For Flowers, that was his everyday life. He grew up with 13 siblings and said "everywhere we went, we played football." 

Fast feet run in the family. Flowers said one of his brothers used to have the nickname "Joystick." 

"I guess I get to take it over now," he said with a smile. "I think it describes me perfect – in and out of cuts fast, do everything explosive, try to make people miss. It's a perfect nickname."

Ravens Assistant Wide Receivers Coach Keith Williams has worked with some of the best in the game, including Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams. Where does Flowers rank in terms of his foot quickness and change of direction? 

"He's ranked up there with the best of them," Williams said. "He has an elite skillset. That's evident. You see it immediately. 

"There are some plays that make you raise your eyebrows. He's pretty much the only guy on the field that can do some of that stuff. You're just thankful he's on your side when you see those plays." 

Williams is a route-running specialist. He stresses the minute details. With Flowers' footwork, he said his approach is don't fix what's not broken. 

"A lot of it is natural," Williams said. "You just stay within the framework of his athletic ability, because it's already good enough. You just try to stop him from developing anything unnatural that he doesn't need." 

It seems no cornerback really wants to go against Flowers one-on-one. After Flowers cooked Forbes on their first matchup at the very start of joint practices with the Commanders, Forbes didn't step into that arena again. 

Before undergoing foot surgery, Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said the worst part of training camp was trying to guard Flowers.

"He showed me he can do it against anybody else, not just our team," Jackson said. "He was making some crazy moves, great route running, great in and out of his cuts, and he was catching the ball, so he was looking pretty good out there."

With Beckham, Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor, Mark Andrews, and more talented pass-catchers in the Ravens' offense, it remains to be seen just how big a slice of the pie Flowers can carve out. Humphrey predicted the Ravens will have two 1,000-yard receivers this year, but didn't say who. 

"Zay is a special talent. Everybody sees that," Wide Receivers Coach Greg Lewis said. "[We'll] just continue to grow with him, and when we can get him the ball, let's get him the ball, because he can do some special things."

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