Eight quarterbacks will suit up to participate in this year’s Senior Bowl, all hoping to improve their standing in the eyes of NFL talent evaluators. Mark Schofield will be in attendance, and has broken down their film and found where each player needs to improve, starting with Dak Prescott ball placement.
When the football world descends on Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl, a number of signal-callers will be hoping to boost their draft stock in front of NFL coaches and scouts ‒ not to mention the countless writers, evaluators and fans in attendance during the week. Mark Schofield will be there to watch Dak Prescott’s ball placement.
Dak Prescott shows some impressive traits and some areas that could use refinement. Prescott is a very strong and athletic football player, who exhibits the mental components required for the position. His ability to work through progression reads in Mississippi State’s offense, as well as his ability to maintain aggression and manipulate a defender with his eyes.
However, Prescott can be or is sometimes inaccurate with his throws. He needs to show the ability to consistently deliver catchable balls, and help his receivers make plays after the catch with good ball placement.
Here the QB makes the right read and decision, getting his team into the perfect place to make a play. But a lapse in ball placement leads to the pass falling incomplete.
In this 2014 game against UT-Martin, the Bulldogs face 2nd and 3 on their own 33-yard line. Prescott is in the shotgun with 10 personnel, including trips to the right and a single receiver split left. The football is on the left hashmark and the receiver aligned on the top of the numbers, leaving room to work toward the sideline.
The Skyhawks deploy a 4-2-5 nickel defense, showing straight man coverage before the snap. The cornerback over the outside trips receiver is in off man technique with the rest of the defenders aligned at a depth of 8 to 10 yards across from a receiver. The free safety is in a linebacker’s alignment, shaded toward the running back:
To start the play, the running back cuts outside in deep motion toward the trips. The free safety does not trail him across the formation ‒ instead the defenders in the secondary all take a few steps back. This is an indication to Prescott that zone coverage is in play:
The Bulldogs run a packaged play, setting up a running back swing screen to the trips side, with all three receivers blocking. To the backside, the X receiver runs a quick out pattern. Should Prescott see something he doesn’t like to the trips side of the formation, he has the option to work to his left and throw the quick out:
Prescott takes the snap and opens to his right, quickly checks the quick swing screen and immediately spots the DE dropping. He pivots to the backside where the cornerback and free safety are dropping into Cover 4 zones. In addition, the linebacker is not buzzing to the outside/flat ‒ he has turned to face the sideline, trying to wall off a cut to the inside, anticipating a slant route. This means that the receiver should have more than enough room to catch a quick out pattern and move the chains. But watch where this pass is placed:
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The ball is high and to the inside of the field, forcing the receiver to twist his body back toward the middle of the field. The off-target throw allows the corner to make a play, breaking up the attempt.
Up until the placement of the throw, Prescott does everything flawlessly. He opens to the right to check the primary read on the play, deftly spots the defensive end dropping into coverage, and quickly pivots to the backside, locating the quick out. But by leaving the football inside, he allows the corner to break up the pass. The quarterback needs to put the football in position for his receiver to make a catch and hopefully pick up yardage after the reception.
In MSU’s 2015 game against Texas A&M the Bulldogs trail 14-3 late in the first quarter, and face 4th and 3 on the Aggies’ 35-yard line. They line up with 11 personnel on the field, with a tight end trips formation left and a single receiver split to the right. TAMU uses their 4-2-5 nickel defense and show Cover 1, with the weakside cornerback in press alignment and the strongside defensive backs backed off:
Check that that weakside cornerback again and you will notice that his angle, peering in at Prescott, not the WR across from him. This should indicate that the secondary will drop into zone coverage ‒ which they do, while using matching concepts on the inside two trips receivers:
Mississippi State runs a mesh concept here, with the two inside trips receivers coming over the middle, along with the weakside WR. The outside trips receiver runs a straight vertical route. But the primary target here is the back:
Ashton Shumpert (#32) runs a simple flat route, with the crossing routes working to create traffic underneath, which prevents defenders from flowing toward the RB. The design works to perfection, and Schumpert is wide open and has room to run:
Again, Prescott does everything right on this play ‒ up until the placement of the throw. He takes the snap and checks the mesh receivers, which freezes the underneath defenders for a moment. That, coupled with the route design, works Shumpert free. Prescott then delivers another errant pass, high and to the inside.
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The ball placement forces Shumpert to extend and twist back toward the middle of the field. He gets a hand on the throw but cannot complete the catch. Even if he hauls in this pass, the contortions required to execute the reception would likely result in Shumpert crashing to the turf short of the first down.
The job is to put the football in a position for the receiver to make the reception, and pick up yardage after the catch. On both of these plays, Mississippi State missed a chance to move the chains because of poor ball placement. Prescott displays a number of high-level traits on film ‒ even on these two plays. But better ball placement down in Mobile is necessary to show scouts he’s a future starter.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.