Conner Weigman, Kyron Drones, and the flyover defense

Ian Boyd

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The Texas high school ranks had a couple of 4-star quarterback prospects get bounced in the playoffs last weekend. Bridgeland's Conner Weigman went down against Rockwall-Heath 48-28, then Kyron Drones' Shadow Creek got a taste of 6A life in a loss to Katy 49-24.

Neither game was particularly close, largely due to really effective and disciplined play from the Rockwall-Heath and Katy defenses, both of whom employ varieties of the 8-3, "flyover defense" made famous in the Big 12 by Iowa State.

Katy has been at this for a while now, Northwestern just made it to the Big 10 Championship game with former Katy linebacker Paddy Fisher for the second time in three years. The defense Paddy Fisher played on at Katy back in 2015 was probably the greatest defense in Texas high school history. I believe they had about eight D1 recruits in their starting 11, including TCU's Corey Bethley (defensive tackle), West Virginia/Houston's Jovanni Stewart (space-backer), Houston/Wisconsin's Collin Wilder (safety), Arizona State's Michael Matus (strongside end), and Boise State's Breyden Boyd (inside backer).

The key to their scheme has generally been the jack linebacker, who begins his training as safety and maintains the ability to drop and play coverage to give the Tigers flexibility in how they rotate their secondary around to address different offensive formations and personnel. This year's jack is Shepherd Bowling, a 6-0, 210 pound 3-star recruit likely to end up at a service academy next season based on his current offers.

Rockwall-Heath plays more of a true, Iowa State-style flyover defense. They have three deep safeties at the snap and can move players around based on the needs of the game. Like other flyover defenses, they regularly benefit from the ability to have a safety buzz down into the box from over the top and blow up a run when the offense has zero plan to block him. This style of defense that's taking hold in college is already a mainstay at the Texas high school level (naturally) and you'll see it play a prominent role in these playoff games. Future Big 12 passers Drones (Baylor) and Weigman (well...we'll see) had some issues dealing with it.

Conner Weigman

Weigman is an interesting quarterback prospect for the college game. He's a multi-sport athlete who wants to play both football and baseball and that's not the only point of overlap with Kyler Murray. Weigman is a good athlete who runs and throws like a middle infielder on the gridiron as well as the diamond. He can throw RPOs outside the hash marks and overthrow safeties on post routes all day and can do it on the move, he's also hard to catch with some legit quickness and shake in his game at 6-1, 205.

Against Rockwall-Heath he went 19-40 for 272 yards at 6.8 ypa with three touchdowns to one interception. He also ran the ball 11 times for 92 yards.

If you pull up the game film on NFHS (it's like $10 for the month, pretty solid investment at this time of the year) you'll see that Weigman was the primary concern for the Rockwall-Heath defense. He saw a lot of looks like this:


This is the classic Iowa State approach. Cover 2 on the boundary receiver, cover 2 on the twin receivers to the field, five in the box initially but then the sixth guy comes in late from over the top, is unblocked, and makes the tackle. Weigman was looking at these coverage shells on RPOs all day and making the right decision, but the nature of the RPO spread is such that this means the game was coming down to execution in the red zone. Weigman ran for 92 yards and his backfield mate Christian Phillips had 12 carries for 117 yards at 9.8 ypc. Neither could punch it in on the goal line when everyone played up tight and there are unblocked defenders swarming in from all directions.

Weigman hit one 71-yarder in this game, otherwise he's 18-39 for 201 yards at 5.2 ypa throwing underneath against cover 2 shells. So is he a bad prospect who can't handle higher level play? No. The opposing defense was designed to try and stop him from being able to beat them with his arm, that's a real compliment. If your better opponents aren't trying to take away what you do best in a playoff game then what you do best isn't much.

Kyron Drones

It was a bit of a different story with Drones facing the Tigers. Drones went 12-26 for 75 yards at 2.9 ypa with two touchdowns and zero picks and added 14 carries for 88 yards on the ground. Here was a more typical snap against the Tigers:


Or this...


In the first example, Shadow Creek is being gifted wide open space to throw the hitch to the outer slot between the hash and the numbers. That's a long throw, but it's also wide open. Drones misfires, it's a few reads away and he wants the inside throw if possible.

In the second example they are once again getting wide open space outside gift wrapped to them by the Tigers. They then send the receivers back inside save for the check down Drones ignores, the receivers go inside to the Katy linebackers and safeties and Drones ends up running for his life because his offensive line couldn't block the Tiger front. He took six sacks in this game and nearly got picked or his receivers killed a few times trying to force post routes in the middle of the field against Katy's safeties.

Meanwhile the Tigers have a lot of bodies around the box to handle the run game. There were times when Drones beat them because he's a 6-2 athlete with real quickness and change of direction skill, but they didn't amount to much in terms of building drives and beating Katy. Overall the Tigers were rewarded for playing to take away the run game and then the slants and post routes thrown behind them in play-action. Shadow Creek needed precision and accuracy throwing outside by Drones or else a line that could block long enough to give him some real time to get through progressions.

He doesn't appear to be a natural at getting through reads quickly or moving the ball on time, there's no question though he can launch the ball down the field when working with a good run game and play-action that can actually generate space and leverage for the receivers. The problem for everyone moving forward is the "flyover defense" makes it harder to generate space with play-action because safeties can pop up where you don't expect them.

One more example:


Shadow Creek tries to use an RPO to push the ball down the field on a field glance, which to me seems harder than taking the hitch/stick routes that Katy was already giving away. Anyways, Drones is late here. He sets his feet to throw when the window opens and by the time the ball arrives another safety in the flyover defensive model is able to come over. Is that targeting? Yes, but it could have also been a clean hit break-up or an interception.

Both Drones and Weigman strike me as quarterbacks with good mobility and strong arms for executing RPO spread/play-action offenses. Both of them were confronted by defensive schemes designed to stop that style. One of those defenses oriented around stopping the quarterback from throwing, the other invited him to push the ball outside. By this metric, Drones looks like the weaker prospect heading into a potential future in the Big 12.
 

travisroeder

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Appreciate you looking into Drones.

I've watched 3 of his full games, now (but not this one against Katy). Shadow Creek's offense is sort of nuts; they throw deep more than any HS team I've ever seen. It's why Drones' completion percentage is so low. He's certainly not an inaccurate guy (not by high school standards, at least), but he does take a lot of chances throwing into coverage. If he ever becomes a college starter (very likely IMO) he'll always be a guy who has more INTs than average.

Anyway, all that say that I wouldn't take too much from him not throwing outside if he didn't in the Katy game. He's a strong mental processor from what I saw, looking off coverage and such, and was able to make incredibly difficult throws with arm strength like this one below (not a video but he makes that throw). His arm is very Mason Rudolph esque, IMO, in that it doens't look like a cannon but the ball just gets there.

1609274048188.png

Anyway, I really like Drones, especially for another aspect which doesn't get discussed much in HS QBs--he has awesome pocket presence and will be very difficult to bring down in college. Strong frame, above average arm, enough mobility to keep D's honest, and shows ability to mental process. I think his potential is pretty high, he's easily the best QB prospect Baylor has taken since Jarrett Stidham, imo. Just a matter of whether he can take care of the ball enough and learn not to force things, especially over the middle.
 

stilesbbq

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I've decided not to watch any '22 HUDLs until Herman (hopefully) is fired but this piece is a good intro to reasons for optimism after the Ewers let down.

Weigman would be fortunate to be as good as either, but to me being an infielder vs an OF makes his style more comparable to Mahomes than Murray. OFs tend to have a longer release than IFs and not develop the skill of throwing from multiple platforms and angles
 
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