Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Scouting Glossary: Accounting for Leverage with QB Tanner McKee (Stanford)

Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Scouting Glossary illustrates how 2022 NFL Draft quarterback prospect Tanner McKee of Stanford accounts for the leverage of two defenders in coverage with his ball placement on a downfield target after evading two pass rushers early in the play.

What Is “Accounting for Leverage?”

Leverage is the favorable or unfavorable position that one player has relative to his opponent. Football analysts spend a lot of time on aspects of quarterbacking like coverage identification, progression reads, and play recall.

These aspects of the position emphasize book smarts. A lot of book-smart quarterbacks struggle to deliver to their NFL expectations set during the pre-draft screening process.

These book-smart passers ace the whiteboard portion of the interview, often earning praise that they see and understand the theory of the game like a coach. They impress during the interview, and, in the past, performed well on the Wonderlic–a test that had little value for football players because it didn’t test the speed and accuracy of processing of information found on a football field.

Dan Marino, Brett Favre, and Steve McNair — MVP quarterbacks — excelled on the field because they knew how to identify “what is open,” and deliver the ball immediately. Russ Lande calls this “release confidence.” I call it a fast and confident processor.

Marino and McNair had low Wonderlic Scores. I don’t know Favre’s score, but he didn’t know what a nickel defense was until he was two years in as an NFL starter.

While understanding the academic side of football has a lot of value, there can be too much weight placed on it when evaluating the position. Quarterbacking is a performance job, not an academic one.

What often separates the best NFL quarterbacks from the rest is the player’s ability to account for leverage. It’s an underrated facet of performance gaining more recognition because it’s an underlying key to success among elite passers.

When a quarterback identifies the leverage of key defenders relative to a route in question, he has instant data that tells him if the route will break open and where to place the football. The most advanced leverage readers will see the position of 2-3 defenders relative to the receiver’s route and make complex placement choices that work well in that context.

This isn’t required with most routes. Much of the time a quarterback may only need to read the leverage of 1-2 defenders relative to a route.

One of the best publications that I can recommend for understanding how to account for leverage in a manner that cuts through the if/then that can force quarterbacks to think too much in the heat of action is, “From Headset to Helmet: The R4 System,” by Dub Maddox and Darin Slack.

This publication might be the quarterbacking version of Bruce Lee’s publication, “The Tao of Jeet Kune Do.” Whereas Lee discusses all of the inefficiencies of Wing Chun and how Jeet Kune Do works past it, Maddox and Slack’s publication is similar in this regard with leverage versus traditional methods of coverage processing.

The Basics of Leverage Reading for Quarterbacks

A passer is looking for the position of defenders relative to the receiver’s route break, but not always during the break but at the top of the receiver’s stem prior to the break. Here are basic considerations of favorable leverage:

  • The defender is shaded outside the receiver during the stem and the route break is inside with no safety or linebacker shaded inside above or below the receiver.
  • The defender is shaded inside the receiver during the stem and the route break is outside with no safety or linebacker shaded outside above or below the receiver.
  • The defenders’ chests and/or hips are open to a side of the field opposite the direction of the break.

There are several other considerations. One is the position of defenders who cover the zone of the receiver’s break or who aren’t primarily covering the targeted receiver but are close enough to peel off their assignments to make a play on the ball or the pass catcher.

The length of the break, the depth of the route, the quarterback’s throwing velocity, and the recovery speed of the defender can also shade how favorable the leverage truly is.

What Accounting for Leverage Looks Like with Stanford QB Tanner McKee

The video of McKee below is a good illustration of a quarterback’s decision to throw the ball as well as his placement. The decision to throw and the specific placement are rooted in McKee’s accounting for the leverage of two defenders during the receiver’s break across the zone.

This is an excellent decision under difficult circumstances — NFL-caliber decision-making and execution for the Stanford prospect. It’s an example of how effective leverage reading is the root of the fast processing that pro quarterbacks must possess to become top-flight producers in the league year after year.

This one play doesn’t make McKee a top prospect. It does reveal that he has the potential to see the field and execute with the speed and accuracy that top NFL quarterbacks must on Sundays.

And of course, if you want to know about the rookies from this draft class, you will find the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), with the 2023 Rookie Scouting Portfolio for $21.95 — and an early-bird, pre-order discount is available $19.95 through December 22nd.   

Matt’s new RSP Dynasty Rankings and Two-Year Projections Package is available for $24.95

If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2022 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2022 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

Best yet, proceeds from sales are set aside for a year-end donation to Darkness to Light to combat the sexual abuse of children. 

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