Last week, the Jets confirmed that they had claimed Oregon wide receiver KD Cannon on waivers from the San Francisco 49ers. Cannon had been signed to an undrafted free agent contract after the 2017 NFL Draft but was released after rookie camp.
The 21-year old Cannon is 5'11" and 182 pounds and established himself as a big play threat at Baylor over the past three seasons. He had two thousand-yard seasons and caught 27 touchdown passes, including 13 in 2016.
Cannon was productive from day one at Baylor, catching at least one pass in every game he played for them. In his freshman season, he emerged as one of Bryce Petty's favorite targets, catching 58 passes for 1,030 yards and eight scores.
In his second season, with Petty gone, Cannon's numbers slipped slightly, but he still had 50 catches for 868 yards and six touchdowns.
Following the firing of Art Briles, Cannon considered transferring, but eventually opted to return for his junior season and declared for the draft at the end of the season. It ended up being his most productive year, with 87 catches for 1,215 yards and 13 scores, as he ended up his career with a record 226 yards in 14 catches in the Cactus Bowl.
Despite being projected as a possible day two pick in some places, Cannon went undrafted. However, he signed a priority deal with the 49ers that guaranteed him $45,000; an especially high sum for an undrafted player. However, he was released at the end of rookie mini-camp. The Jets assumed $40,000 of that guarantee when they claimed him.
Cannon looks fast on film and he backed that up at the scouting combine by running a 4.41 40-yard dash. He also had a 37" vertical jump but the rest of his numbers were unimpressive.
That includes his agility numbers from his pro day, which were below average.
Cannon primarily played on the right side of the formation with the Bears. He was usually outside, but even when he was in the slot, Baylor spread the field horizontally so much that he was typically outside the numbers.
As you can see from the chart below (via Pro Football Focus), Cannon was one of the top deep threats in the country last season and he generated even more yardage on downfield throws in 2015.
Cannon's yards per catch average was almost 18 yards per reception in 2014 and 2015, but dropped to 14 in 2016. Even so, he underlined his big play capabilities by having at least one 50-yard play in six games. He had only done that in seven games over the first two years.
Here's an example of that deep speed, as Cannon (#9) comfortably blows past two defenders for this deep touchdown:
Here's another long play, as he gets a clean inside release and blows by the cornerback and the safety running over. Had the ball not been slightly underthrown, he would probably have scored easily:
(Also, take a note of his reaction after the play. We'll come back to that further down).
As you can see, much of his deep success came on go routes, but he ran a post route here, outpacing the defender for another long score:
Cannon has had several drops each year, but he's targeted a lot, so his drop rate isn't too bad. His catch rate is constantly around 60% which is pretty good for someone who gets a lot of deep targets, although he does get some dump-offs too.
Here's one drop, showing poor concentration:
Generally, Cannon doesn't always look like the most natural pass catcher and he'll juggle or body catch at times. However, he has shown a capability to go up over a defender and make contested catches.
The book on Cannon is that he mostly ran screens, go routes and stop routes. That's accurate, although he has mixed in the occasional crossing pattern, out-breaking route or double move. It will definitely be a learning curve for him to start running a full route tree though.
Here he stops well on a hitch route to get separation for a well-timed pass:
Here is a touchdown on more of a back shoulder fade. Cannon typically locates and adjusts to the ball well and uses those skills here:
Yards after the catch
Cannon's yards after the catch numbers are not that impressive, even though he had a lot of plays where he caught the ball downfield and ran uncontested the rest of the way which would skew the numbers.
He caught a lot of screen passes, but generally didn't have much success with these and didn't break any long plays.
He does a nice job here of breaking a tackle downfield and shows his speed as he runs away from defenders:
Although you'd like to see more broken tackles from him, he did display his athleticism on this awesome play:
Cannon isn't blessed with size and is constantly lined up wide so doesn't get to contribute much as a blocker. He gets after it nicely on this play though, driving his man back on a downfield block:
However, even on that play, he eventually allows his man to get off the block and that is something he need to work at, as you can also see here:
Cannon is at his best when he's running into space or away from his man, so he didn't display much physicality on film. However, he occasionally made a catch in traffic or battled for yardage at the end of a run.
Cannon briefly saw action as a kick returner in 2015, although his longest return on seven kicks was just 27 yards. Otherwise, he hasn't contributed on special teams at Baylor. Maybe the Jets will experiment with him as a gunner, but that will probably be a learning curve for him and he may need to bulk up to handle the more physical aspects of a special teams role.
It was difficult to get a sense of Cannon's instincts and intelligence from the film, because he had such a limited role.
There were plays where he found a gap in the defense or displaying open field vision after the catch, but nothing outstanding.
On the deep reception above, you'll have noticed that Cannon got in the face of the cornerback at the end of the play. He was lucky not to get flagged for taunting on that play and then, a few plays later, did cost the Bears 15 yards when he did this:
Clearly he plays with a chip on his shoulder, which can be a good thing if the coaches are able to channel that in the right way, but might make him a challenge to keep in check.
His early release from the 49ers also gives cause for concern. According to FanRag Sports, the 49ers were "hardly thrilled with Cannon’s work ethic and the way he handled himself during drills".
When Briles was fired, Cannon initially tweeted out that it would probably be the last time you saw him in a Baylor uniform, but cooler heads prevailed and he did eventually return. He perhaps showed improved maturity and focus in 2016 by only being penalized once, having been flagged five times in 2015.
Initially, Cannon's best chance of earning a role on the team is probably as a deep specialist. His inexperience with pro-style route trees is likely to hold him back at the outset.
One thing that might help him in camp and preseason is the fact he should have good chemistry with Petty.
Cannon missed just one game at Baylor, due to a groin injury last October. Otherwise, he seems to have been healthy.
Cannon is a viable deep threat with genuine ability and college production, so I wonder if the fact he went undrafted has more to do with character concerns. Maybe the 49ers release will be the wake-up call he needs.
He has talent but is also going to be raw and may struggle to get separation initially at the NFL level. This might force him into a limited role or a year on the practice squad before he's ready.
It's interesting to compare him to Gabe Marks, another undrafted pick-up who probably went undrafted due to character concerns that may be unwarranted. Cannon is younger and a better athlete than Marks, but Marks is the more complete receiver. Both were extremely productive at the college level.
The Jets have Eric Decker, Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, Jalin Marshall and Charone Peake returning after having played significant roles last season, added to which they signed free agent Quinton Patton and brought in five rookies. It's therefore going to be very hard for a player like Cannon to avoid getting lost in the shuffle, but he's a player who obviously has significant upside if the Jets are prepared to be patient with him.
UP NEXT: We'll take a look at Michigan offensive lineman Ben Braden.