Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Scouting Glossary: Accounting for Ancillary Coverage with TCU QB Max Duggan

Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Scouting Glossary illustrates how TCU quarterback Max Duggan of the 2023 NFL Draft class accounts for ancillary coverage to deliver an optimal target to his fellow draft classmate, wide receiver Quinton Johnston. 

What Is Ancillary Coverage?

There are probably multiple ways to describe this coverage among coaches. I call it ancillary coverage because it’s a player or players who provide the necessary support to the primary coverage in the area of the target.

I’ll also use the term peripheral coverage because I’m noting a player not in the area of the target but close enough to become involved with defending it. Either way, ancillary coverage is a defender or defender not primarily responsible for the receiver’s route:

  • A defender in the adjacent zone to the target. Their location gives them an angle to work into to that targeted zone and attack the ball or the receiver.
  • A defender with a man-to-man assignment against a receiver in the same zone as the targeted receiver and he correctly identifies the quarterback’s intended target early enough to peel off his assignment and attack the actual target.
  • A defender assigned to the intended target as part of a double/triple team or bracket coverage. He may not be near the receiver as the quarterback begins the release of the ball, but will be in the path of the receiver’s break to challenge the target.

Depending on the route’s location and the nature of the defense, ancillary coverage can be any defender on the field:

  • A defensive lineman or linebacker who drops into a shallow or intermediate zone.
  • A safety aligned over or under the break of a route determines the target and works into the path of the break.
  • A cornerback peeling off his man-to-man assignment that’s working through the same area as the intended target.

One of the biggest causes of interceptions occurs when the quarterback neither identifies nor accounts for ancillary coverage when they make the decision to throw the ball.

A quarterback may see the nearby coverage but not account for the defender’s body position (leverage) which will make it easy for him to intercept the target. Or, the quarterback has no way of seeing the leverage of an ancillary defender but he should know that defender is in the area.

A good example of this is when a quarterback is working through route progressions to one side of the field or holding the defense with his eyes until he executes a late turn and quick throw to the opposite side of the field. Screens, throwbacks, or secondary targets often require the quarterback to release the ball as soon as he pivots his body to the opposite side of the field.

Because of the development timeline of the play or pressure, there’s little time for the quarterback to turn, set, AND note ancillary coverage before beginning his release. Inserting that final step can derail the play.

Quarterbacks often lean on their pre-snap or early post-snap identification of the entire coverage concept. They surmise where the ancillary defenders should be when making that late turn and this guides the quarterback on where to place the ball.

A quarterback properly accounting for ancillary coverage will often place a target in a position that forces the receiver to alter the speed or direction of the break to eliminate the ancillary defender’s angle to the ball. This placement often forces the receiver to change his body position to earn the ball. The change might be a difficult but necessary move.

To the uninitiated, this pass may appear as if it’s lacking pinpoint accuracy. However, when we grade quarterback accuracy, we should be accounting for more than the ball reaching the receiver in stride or exactly the exact spot where the receiver settled on the field. Ancillary coverage is one of those factors quarterbacks (and evaluators) must take into account.

What It Looks like with TCU QB Max Duggan (and Quinton Johnston)

In this case, the ancillary defender is the safety located in the right flat before the snap. As the safety in the flat climbs up the seam toward the formation, the safety in the right flat rolls over to the deep middle of the field. This is a common attempt to disguise a defensive look with the hope of confusing the quarterback/receiver tandem that may have specific coverage adjustments embedded into the routes.

Duggan identifies Johnston getting open up the left seam and also identifies the position of the safety. How can you tell?

Duggan’s pass placement forces Johnston to slow down and turn to face the target. If Duggan simply placed the ball where the receiver was initially breaking based on the designed route break, the ball would lead Johnston directly into the oncoming safety.

Instead, Duggan’s throw slows the pace of the receiver to buy time to make the play before the safety reaches the receiver and it forces the receiver to turn his back to the safety and this protects the ball from potential contact from the defender.

Ancillary coverage. Peripheral defender. Nearby defender. The scheme. Whatever you call it, the quarterback must account for it.

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.   

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. 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: