Alabama QB Jake Coker is an underrated quarterback. David Igono explains why and frames the expectations with a quote from an developmental QB whose pre-draft expectations were framed in the opposite direction.
The spotlight placed around quarterback prospects during their college careers is often a double edged sword. We get to see how they perform under pressure on a regular basis. We also bind them to a set of expectations that we often force onto our evaluation of their potential career arcs.
This isn’t a negative or positive thing. It’s a human thing. We tend to process information better when we can attach it to a story that backs up our assessment.
Take Jake Coker out of Alabama. There was actually a chorus of people who voiced displeasure with his selection to the Senior Bowl – a game is in his home state that has a long history of showcasing Rolling Tide players. He’s also coming off a national championship. It seems a lot of observers feel he isn’t ‘good’ enough for the next level based on what he didn’t do at Florida State and Alabama.
It’s difficult projecting quarterbacks to the next level. There are, however, basic truths that can inform the evaluation process. Kirk Cousins enjoyed a breakout 2015 season largely due to better decision making. It still took time for him to work out the kinks in his game. Although Coker’s stock may not be as high as Cousins was leading up to the draft, I see parallels that leave me mostly positive on what Jake Coker can develop into.
Coker has work to do on his footwork and his feel for the pocket. That being said he enjoyed a strong finish to his senior season, especially during the playoff run. It may not have been as scintillating as Cardale Jones’ run the year before but it illustrated what winning quarterback play is about. Take this quote from Kirk Cousins on what he’s learned from studying Tom Brady:
“It doesn’t take anything special or anything magical to be a great quarterback,” Cousins said, recounting his takeaway that day. “You just have to be decisive. Have good command. Let the system work for you. Let the guys around you work for you. If you do that, good things will happen.”
I believe that Coker, while he very well may be the ugly duckling of this quarterback draft class, has demonstrated that he can take the next step of his development and become a solid quarterback.
“You just have to be decisive.”
Being decisive as a quarterback stems from knowing the offense and understanding when to attack a defense. “Attack” isn’t always a thirty-yard seed down the seam. It can be as simple as taking advantage of defensive substitutions and quickly getting the ball in the hands of a capable weapon.
Coker waits for his target to uncover from four defenders and places the pass where his man can turn and get an easy first down. This keeps the offense on schedule and forces the defense to be wary of making late substitutions. Making quick decisions forces the defense to only be able to react, which is the kiss of death for the defense. Good defenses are consistently able to force decisions, not wait for them.
“Have good command.”
Having good command of the offense and being decisive go hand-in-hand. Good command of an offense is the beginning of being able to manipulate a defense: Use of the eyes, pump fakes, and play fakes that allows a quarterback to bait defenders to go for the target he truly wants. Knowledge of down and distance along with understanding tendencies leads to a quarterback engaging in a chess match and it’s something that Coker is steadily improving at.
The placement of this target in that window answers questions about his arm strength and accuracy in the intermediate game. It also shows his ability to ‘open’ windows to exploit.
“Let the system work for you.”
Awareness, especially in the red zone, speaks to a clear mind that processes information. Coker is not the fleetest of foot, but he understands when he has to move to extend a play for a positive outcome. Where he struggles is when he doesn’t make a quick decision. The next exposure demonstrates his growth in that regard. Not only does he move his platform to throw, he correctly identifies the zone beating route for the touchdown.
That kick step to move outside of the pocket allows him to keep his shoulders square to his target and deliver a strike while staying in the pocket.
“Let the guys around you work for you.”
Delegating the workload is one of the hardest concepts for young quarterbacks to grasp. The more arm strength, mobility, or bravado a prospect has the more difficult it is to “let” other players on the offense to move the sticks. Delegating isn’t as rigid as only throwing check downs or keeping the ball underneath. I define it as choosing your guy to beat his defender as quickly as possible.
Coker has a stud at tight end in O.J. Howard. He knows he can beat the majority of coverages within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Why not get the ball to him quickly and let him work?
Getting the ball out quickly to your best weapons puts a defense on its heels. That usually leads to a mismatch that can be exploited.
Jake Coker is a viable pro prospect. He has the size, arm and pedigree that teams pine for. He does need to work on various elements of his game including pocket awareness, footwork and decision making. It would benefit him to hold a clipboard early in his career and adjust to the speed of the game.
I would love to see him learn behind a Joe Flacco or Ben Roethlisberger, bigger quarterbacks who have enough mobility to extend plays and the experience to use the full arsenal of weapons in the offense. His stock is on the rise, even if not’s widely being trumpeted.
David Igono is a former defensive back who played at West Virginia University and a couple of seasons of arena football. A longtime draft anorak, he considers the 2014 RSP the inspiration for taking the process more intentionally. Follow him at @d1gono.
For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2016 Rookie Scouting Portfolio (Early-bird purchase for the April 1 download is available now.) Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2015 RSPs at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.