Connor Cook On Two: Anticipation

Connor Cook‘s traits, and experience in the MSU offense, have some scouts salivating over him as a potential #1 overall pick. Mark Schofield says one of the traits displayed on the field is Cook’s ability to anticipate the pass, throwing receivers open before their break.

It sounds odd to say that Connor Cook is a name flying under the radar right now, but given the rise of Jared Goff on draft boards, the intrigue around Christian Hackenberg and Cardale Jones, and interest in other names such as Paxton Lynch and Carson Wentz, the Michigan State senior continues to provide steady, solid play at the quarterback spot for the Spartans.

Play One

On this 2015 play against Western Michigan, Cook and the Spartans face a 1st and 10 on their own 20-yard line. The quarterback stands in the shotgun with 11 offensive personnel, with slot alignment right and pro formation to the left. The Broncos have their base 4-3 defense on the field in an under front and show Cover 1 in the secondary:CookOT1Play1Still1Michigan State runs a smash concept to the pro side of the field. The receiver runs a quick curl, while tight end Josiah Price (#82) runs a corner route. Backside, the slot receiver runs a skinny post while the outside WR runs a vertical route:CookOT1Play1Still2

Cook opens this play looking left, to the pro formation, which happens to be the short-side of the field. With Western Michigan playing Cover 1, Cook needs to freeze the free safety, so he stares at the deep defender to hold him in the middle of the field. If the QB can hold him in the middle of the field, he has a chance for a big play on the corner route. The design of the play will keep the playside cornerback down near the line of scrimmage on the quick curl, opening up the deep outside for the TE.CookOT1Play1Still3

At this moment, Cook is about to release the football. He has edge pressure bearing down on him, so he cannot wait any longer, yet look at Price. The TE is starting his break, and has yet to even turn his helmet toward Cook. But the ball is coming out:

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Cook executes a perfect anticipation throw here, dropping the ball over the tight end’s shoulder toward the deep outside. Since he was able to hold the free safety in the middle of the field for a moment, the defender cannot rotate over to provide help, and Price makes the catch for a big gain.

Play Two

An even better example of this trait comes from the 2014 Rose Bowl against Stanford. Cook, then a sophomore, was starting his first bowl game after leading Michigan State to an 11-1 regular season record, and a victory in the Big Ten Championship Game over Ohio State. On this play, the Spartans face 2nd and 10 early in the second quarter. Cook is in the shotgun with 20 offensive personnel, using slot formation right and WR Tony Lippett (#14) split to the left. The Cardinal have their 4-2-5 sub package on the field, showing Cover 2 in the secondary:CookOT1Play2Still1

The defense runs a twist up front, with the linebacker and right defensive end crossing inside, while the left defensive end and the rest of the defense drops into zone coverage:CookOT1Play2Still2

Lippett runs a skinny post from the weakside, and Cook delivers a perfect throw just before the blitz gets home:

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To truly appreciate the execution here we turn to the end zone angle. As the quarterback starts to release this ball, his target is nowhere near making his break. But Cook throws him open, leading him to the inside between the two-deep safeties, and putting Lippett in a position to pick up yardage after the reception with a perfect anticipation throw:

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At the moment Cook releases the throw, the WR still has yet to plant his left foot to make the cut. But because of the anticipation from the quarterback, and the great ball placement, Lippett is able to secure the throw in stride and race into Stanford territory with a huge play.

Out of the countless plays I have seen from Cook, this might be my favorite. It illustrates many of the upper-level traits coaches seek in a quarterback: pocket presence, accuracy, anticipation, as well as a deep understanding of defensive schemes and the offensive play call. With a track record of plays like this, it is no wonder some NFL scouts consider him in the running for the first overall pick.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy ESPN & Draft Breakdown.

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