When Shedeur Sanders chose to play college football at Jackson State for his dad, Deion Sanders, it seemed like high school politics.
Coach's kid gets to be the starting quarterback of the football team? No matter what high school you played sports at, and no matter the sport, you likely saw something like this growing up. If you have kids who play sports, you may have heard in the stands, "He's only starting because he's the coach's kid."
Disney would call it a tale as old as time.
Then the production started to show up in the box scores and a different picture came into focus. Sanders may not have impressed in his college debut at Jackson State, squeaking by Florida A&M, 7-6, but he impressed with poise and accuracy. He finished the game 18-of-24 with 221 yards.
The rest of his freshman year went the same way, as he would complete 68% of his passes for 3,056 yards and 29 touchdowns. He would also go on to win the Jerry Rice Award as the best freshman football player in the FCS.
His sophomore year was even better, as he led the team to an undefeated record in the regular season. He also increased his completion percentage, passing yards, and touchdowns, and was named the SWAC Offensive Player of the Year. It was impressive, but some draftniks weren't as impressed, believing he lacked finesse and an NFL-caliber arm.
Ian Cummings of the Pro Football Network said that Sanders had a lower ceiling than other quarterback prospects and that he "doesn't possess blue-chip talent." NFL Draft Buzz gave him a prospect score of 83.8 (lower than Carson Strong and about the same as Bailey Zappe in the 2022 draft). NFL Mock Draft Database, which tracks and averages draft big board from all major media sources, currently has him with an average draft grade of a fourth-round pick.
And then he made his FBS debut.
2024 NFL Draft: Shedeur Sanders' Colorado debut raises stock immediately
Against a top 25-ranked TCU team,with a highly touted secondary, Sanders completed 38 of his 47 pass attempts (81%) for 510 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions.
No Elite arm strength? No touch on finesse passes? None of that showed up on tape in Week 1 as Sanders looked like the 2023 Heisman favorite on the field.
It's still September, and there's a lot of football left to play. Maybe this was a fluke or a flash in the pan, but he didn't do this against Middle Tennessee State (yes that is a shot at Alabama). He shredded a top-ranked NCAA secondary like they were a high school JV team.
Calling him a Heisman favorite is not hyperbole, and neither is calling him a top quarterback prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft.
We all underestimated just how good he is. Myself included.