Big 12 Preseason Player Preview: KD Cannon, WR, Baylor

With questions surrounding their program and talent looking elsewhere, Baylor needs its veteran players to step up. After losing Corey Coleman to the draft, the Bears will look to KD Cannon to lead the wide receiver group. Matthew Brown breaks down the receiver looking at his traits and not the scheme he plays in. 

The turmoil of Baylor University’s offseason, with head coach Art Briles departing amid disturbing reports of how Baylor handled – or, rather, mishandled – sexual assault cases involving football players on numerous occasions, has seen many players depart from the university – including the entire 2017 recruiting class. As the university attempts to rebuild its reputation and improve its processes, the roster still contains some talent. One such player is wide receiver KD Cannon, who, after much deliberation, decided to stay at the program for another year. The junior will be the Bears’ main offensive weapon in 2016, and will look to solidify his status as a potential late first or early second-round pick.


[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Production

Cannon’s numbers actually declined from his freshman season, when he had 1,030 yards on 58 receptions – an average of 17.8 yards per catch. The Bears’ offense had two returning 1,000-yard receivers in 2015, Cannon and junior Corey Coleman, but Coleman’s emergence was part of the reason Cannon’s numbers, 50 receptions, 868 yards, 17.4 average, dropped last year. Another potential reason for this decline was a season-ending injury to starting quarterback Seth Russell with six games left in the season. The return of Russell, and the departures of first round pick Coleman, wide receiver Jay Lee, and tight ends Gus Penning, Tre’Von Armstead, and LaQuan McGowan, should only see Cannon’s targets – and therefore numbers – increase. Cannon, who made the preseason All-Big 12 team, will undoubtedly become Russell’s favorite target.

Production in Briles’s offensive scheme should be treated with a degree of caution. Receivers often put up big numbers because of the way defenders are isolated in space. It is true that traits should be analyzed, not scheme, but how scheme influences production should always be factored into the conversation. As for new head coach Jim Grobe, coach of the year twice previously in two different conferences, his offensive play calling will likely remain fairly similar to that of Briles, having retained the former head coach’s son as offensive coordinator. What may, however, affect Cannon’s ability to put up big numbers is, per Phil Steele, the loss of 144 starts on the offensive line, with four out of five offensive linemen departing from college football.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Hands

Cannon’s catching ability is an area that he needs to work on, with the receiver having far too many drops last year. He is frustratingly lacking in consistency in this area in games.

The first reason for Cannon’s drops is the fact that he sometimes hears footsteps. In particular, he struggles at times on underneath routes.

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When locating the deep ball, he needs to learn how to adjust to the football and get his head around on a regular basis. Despite the pass being thrown to the outside, Cannon should adjust and focus for the touchdown. One positive here, though, is how his short area quickness off of the line helps him avoid the jam.

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Yet Cannon has shown that he can adjust to the football on shorter routes.

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A crucial skill for wide receivers is high-pointing the football, while at the same time boxing out defenders. Cannon does this, flashing an impressive vertical.

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The issue of quarterbacks overthrowing the football to him will be addressed below, but it is not unreasonable to expect Cannon to develop a layout catch on some occasions when the ball is slightly too far ahead of him.

The unpredictable and inconsistent nature of Cannon’s catching ability is exemplified by these two plays against Oklahoma State. In the first play, Cannon attacks the football, leaping up to catch it. In the second play, he just waits for the football to come to him.

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[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Speed and Acceleration

Cannon has game breaking, take-it-the-distance speed, making him an elite college deep threat. In a 40-yard dash, he would likely run a 4.3-4.4 time. His explosiveness saw him used often as the option in run-pass option (RPO) bubble screen plays. When going deep, in single coverage, and if the defensive back fails to get hands on Cannon at the line of scrimmage, it is game over – assuming there is a good pass thrown.

In fact, Cannon, when sent deep, nearly always has separation. With better quarterback throws / chemistry, he could have had far more touchdowns. This was especially apparent in Baylor’s 2015 matchup with Texas Tech.

As mentioned previously, he could perhaps make a better attempt at catching the football.  Yet it appears that the likely reason for his high rate of incompletions, as with those below, is him simply not being on the same page as his quarterback.

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Cannon’s speed also makes him a great run after the catch threat too, either in the screen game or as a quick passing option.

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Occasionally Briles would use Coleman as a runner out of the backfield, and Cannon’s speed may see him in similar situations this season. He ran the sweep at times last season, but he needs to improve his ball security if he is to do this more regularly (more on this below).

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[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Quickness and Agility

Crucially for a wide receiver, Cannon can change direction sharply at speed – in large measure due to his smooth hips. Here he cuts behind zones, changing his direction at a rapid pace.

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[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Route running

It is well publicized how basic Baylor’s route tree is. Indeed, in Cannon’s freshman year, most of his catches came from streaks. Furthermore, in the Big 12, receivers rarely face press in such a spread out conference. While the simplicity makes it harder to analyze a player’s route running, it does not make it impossible.

Cannon’s agility enables him to change his direction at top speed, making him a fearsome player to attempt to cover. The body control he has enables him to make sharp cuts, and also sell certain routes in order to gain separation. Here, he fakes the post and beats his man deep:

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Cannon is not put off by contact on his routes; he can box out his opponents, using his hands and body in order to gain enough separation to make the catch:

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And fight through contact:

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And when the quarterback scrambles, Cannon can work his way back to the quarterback brilliantly, attempting to provide an option.

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In terms of areas to work on with his route running, his cuts could sometimes be cleaner. He has a tendency to round them off a bit too – knowing that his speed will make up for a lack of more polished route running.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Size

Cannon stands at 5’11”, weighing 170 lbs. His height is not too much of an issue, as he provides a solid catching radius – though he could do with extending his frame more often. However, he will need to bulk up to be an effective player in the pros, though; otherwise the NFL’s strong jammers will keep him held at the line of scrimmage, irrespective of his quickness off of the line.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Blocking

Baylor’s offense often has receivers taking plays off or running smokes when the football is run, whether out of spread formations or RPO routes such as bubble screens. Cannon actually could have blocked down field more though, as too often he did the bare minimum and appeared less than eager to even do that.

Below is an example of Cannon blocking, which is something he needs to do more frequently.

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[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Psychological

Admittedly, false narratives can be made from trying to read body language. That said, Cannon appears moody and petulant when the ball does not come his way. Moreover, he gesticulates and frequently looks to the sideline angrily. He needs to mature. In the 2015 Russell Athletic Bowl against North Carolina, Cannon to an extent allowed cornerback Des Lawrence to get into his head.

As well as lacking maturity, Cannon sometimes loses his focus. This switching off leads to mistakes which  are sometimes more costly than others.

Here, he had a play designed for him, and yet he messed it up:

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Having played under numerous quarterbacks last year, with Russell and Jarrett Stidham suffering injuries, it is fairly understandable for there to be some miscommunication between passer and catcher. That being said, it is a worrying sight when the receiver is not on the same wavelength as the quarterback. It is hard to know who is responsible, but, based on watching the tape, it appears that miscommunications happened most often when Cannon was targeted.

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[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Ball Carrying

Cannon’s athletic ability understandably saw him tried as a kick returner last year. Instead of fulfilling his perceived potential as one of the most dangerous returners in college football, Cannon was relieved of return duties after multiple fumbles; when running with the football, he carries it far too low and loose.

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One positive on Cannon is that, when carrying the football, he does not shy away from contact. In the first play here, he fights for a first down. In the second, he impressively avoids a loss.

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[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Conclusion

There are concerns over Cannon’s arthroscopic knee surgery, but Baylor coaches have maintained that he will be ready in time for practice. He has the talent to win the Biletnikoff Award and be the first receiver taken in the draft but, if he fails to rectify his inconsistent catching ability and poor ball security, he may well sink to the third or fourth round. It will be interesting to see how Cannon deals with an increase in coverage focused on him, as he was often left in single coverage / isolated due to the threat of Coleman in 2015.

Follow Matthew on Twitter @mattyfbrown. Check out Matt’s piece on Chip Kelly’s favorite formation, or  Kenneth Dixon and what the Ravens should expect from him this season.

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