Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Spencer Rattler enters 2021 as the Heisman Trophy favorite and the potential No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft but he has holes to shore up first.
Following in the footsteps of two Heisman Trophy winners is possibly the most daunting task ever given to a freshman quarterback. Oklahoma Sooners’ star freshman Spencer Rattler inherited the throne that Lincoln Riley help build. Rattler earned the starting job after seeing both Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray win a Heisman and become the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.
A slew of underclassmen quarterbacks leads the way into 2021 after college football lost five first-round draft picks this past class. Third-year sophomore Rattler is likely the most physically gifted passer of the bunch. His blend of quick feet, fast release, arm strength and creation upside outside of the pocket makes him the early QB1 for most evaluators.
His numbers in Riley’s loaded offense support the expectations of being a great collegiate player and NFL prospect. He completed 67.5 percent of passes for 3,031 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His first season had a number of hiccups, especially in his first few starts, but there was plenty to be impressed with.
Spencer Rattler has a lot of upside but must fix these flaws to reach his potential
The rise of Patrick Mahomes has led to NFL front offices watering at the mouth at playmaking passers who can use their legs to augment the offense. Big-armed throwers who can move around the pocket to buy time for receivers are rare and invaluable. The talent to unload the ball even when their lower body isn’t aligned to their target unlocks a premier upside others can’t match.
Rattler had several Mahomes-like moments in his first full year as a starter. He’s springy in the pocket and is willing to exhaust every possible second until he commits to run. There’s an excitement that comes when he’s scrambling and decides to throw because he’s a dynamic athlete and decision-maker.
Charting him to see how he’d compare to his predecessors and to get an early jump on next year, it was startling to see how inconsistent he was despite the obvious physical talent. His highlights were as impressive as advertised, and the traits are phenomenal. And some of his struggles can surely be attributed to being a first-year starter with limited experience in a Covid-affected season.
Rattler’s numbers weren’t as dynamic as Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields despite playing in a friendlier system against low competition in the Big 12. It’s not shocking he wasn’t to the level of two uber-prospects but does underscore how multi-year dominance is rare and we need to see some linear development from Rattler. Calling Rattler a mini-Mahomes is aesthetically correct but not something backed by data.
Rattler’s accuracy was slightly above average on attempts from 0-10 yards, average on intermediate throws, and above-average on 20-plus attempts. He was well below where both Mayfield and Murray finished. Rattler’s situational accuracy on conversion downs and against pressure was concerning as well, leading to an underwhelming profile as a passer.
The lack of consistency can be tied to his frenetic style, lack of experience against complex coverages, and struggles to pull the trigger when he has leverage. He doesn’t need to become a prototypical passer to succeed but there are areas with his footwork that must improve because he’s not as in control of the ball as Mahomes is even when his mechanics break down.
His ball placement is erratic and often caused his receivers issues at the catch point. Most of the drops suffered by the offense were high and away from the receiver. Though still catchable, missing the key target window in the belly or in front of the receiver is extremely costly over time.
Much like Zach Wilson in 2020, Rattler wants to break the pocket a little too often and create new passing windows instead of playing within the scheme. The good news is that mindset can lead to huge game-breaking plays. Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson have shown how valuable it is to create outside of structure.
However, both of those quarterbacks mastered their in-pocket play. Rodgers can unload a pass off any platform and have elite velocity and pinpoint accuracy. Rattler shouldn’t be discouraged from improving his ability to replicate Rodgers or Russell Wilson but must augment his mentality and skill in the pocket to justify the leash to create so much.
Otherwise, the negative plays that come on missed throws or sacks prove too costly when he’s passing up quick, schemed completions. This balance as a young quarterback is razor-thin. It’s completely fair to expect him to continue trending in the right direction and avoid easy mistakes.
Riley has earned some trust when it comes to developing quarterbacks but hasn’t yet fully figured out the in-pocket management curve. Both Mayfield and Murray still lack as traditional drop-back passers after seeing the Sooners’ wide spread for years. Rattler must prioritize this specific part of his game to fulfill his immense physical potential.
He’s flanked by one of the most impressive collections of receiving talent we’ve seen in collegiate history. They’re still young but there’s a possibility of the Sooners matching Alabama’s recent run on insane receiving talent entering the NFL. Rattler must let them do their own thing more often and not take so much of the playmaking role onto his own shoulders.
He enters 2021 as my QB2 but there’s no denying Rattler can transcend into an elite prospect with the right focus on his game.