Most FCS quarterbacks don’t see much hype during the NFL Draft cycle. Trey Lance of North Dakota State is the exception to that rule. Receiving first-round hype, Lance has smashed through barriers set by the level of competition and is now mentioned with the likes of Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence in the top quarterback conversation. However, there is another FCS quarterback that no one is talking about. Jacksonville State quarterback Zerrick Cooper, a Clemson transfer that has thrived since changing schools, has slowly gained steam. While the hype is not there yet, he certainly has put himself on the radar of NFL teams heading into his senior season.
Jacksonville State quarterback Zerrick Cooper’s impressive tape
Cooper has a few nice traits that stand out immediately when watching him. The first is that he is much better than anyone else on the field at the FCS level. That is something that is always a good indicator if a guy is a worthy prospect to pay attention to and put on your radar. The other thing that jumped out was his touch. Cooper has a beautiful touch on his passes and makes some nice tight-window throws. He also has adequate velocity when he needs to rocket them in tight spaces.
This play right here shows off that beautiful touch. Cooper fits it in over the linebacker, hits his receiver in the stride, and it goes for a touchdown. The thing that allows Cooper to get such good touch on his throws is his sound mechanics. He has clean feet and a smooth release of the football.
Perhaps the other defining trait that Cooper has is his escapability and mobility. The Gamecocks allowed Cooper to work out of the pocket naturally on sprint outs and read options. Still, when a protection assignment gets busted, Cooper can evade pass rushers and extend the play with his legs. Here he does just that by breaking tackles and getting first down on a hard-earned run. The drawback to playing like this is that he loves to be physical, and that is an easy way to get hurt, but it also shows the natural contact balance he possesses.
Here, he shows off great poise and toughness by standing in there and taking a hit to fire this ball across the middle of the field accurately. He also shows off some good anticipation as he throws this thing right as the receiver is getting out of his break, throwing to where he will be, allowing the receiver to catch this in stride.
He also shows good pocket presence. He feels the rusher from the backside, steps up in the pocket, and takes off with no one else open. Frequently, pocket presence is a matter of if you have it, you have it, and Cooper has that ability to feel rushers from the backside and manages the pocket well. He is efficient and quick when moving around the pocket and does simply just bail.
There are certain traits that Cooper does lack at times. At Jacksonville State, a lot of the concepts are quick and one-read. As such, when forced to read through progressions, Cooper is too slow to recognize open receivers. In addition, his eyes need work. He lacks the eye manipulation that NFL quarterbacks would usually have at this stage. The biggest negative, however, has to be the fact that he does not take care of himself when running. It is fun to see him lower the shoulder into defenders, yes, but he has to start sliding and learning to live to fight another day. That is an easy way to get injured.
Decision-making is another question mark in Cooper’s game. While he certainly can make those tight-window throws and often does, he trusts that touch a bit too much. With the defender lurking underneath here, this ball has to be thrown to the receiver’s outside shoulder, but he lobs it and almost gets picked off. Cooper has to learn to eat some throws like this at times.
The other big issue on film is his deep accuracy. It is incredibly inconsistent, even throughout just one game. Cooper’s base gets wide as he tries to drive the football, and it causes an unstable platform for him to throw off of. This leads to far too many incompletions in his deep ball. That will be something that he will have to correct.
Cooper is a fun prospect to watch. There is a lot to like when watching his tape. Not every quarterback has his innate feel for pressure and ability to maneuver the pocket as efficiently as he does. Also, his ability to extend plays with his legs and make plays out of structure is going to be an attractive feature for NFL teams. The mental side of his game needs some work, but that can come along with work. Cooper may not be on the level of a guy like Lance, but he could put himself right in the conversation to be in the next tier of quarterbacks.