I’ll make no bones about it: Spencer Rattler is far and away the most viable 2022 NFL Draft quarterback prospect. He isn’t just a No. 1 overall-caliber player. He’s clearly on par as a prospect with players like Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, both of whom were top selections—Mayfield in a more crowded class. In a weak group—as the 2022 class currently looks to be—Rattler is far and away the favorite to be the first quarterback selected, as well as the top selection.
But for all of his franchise-changing potential—and hear me: franchise-changing potential is there—there is still indeed work to be done in Rattler’s upcoming season. Even for the top horse in the race, there are “QB Summer School” assignments to be completed.
Spencer Rattler’s Summer School: Internal Clock
Rattler has a great natural feel for the game. He works to space in the pocket, can make defenders miss in tight areas, and naturally places the ball in catchable but safe locations relative to coverage. When he makes bad mistakes, such as throwing picks or missing open reads, they are more of the “brain fart/carelessness” variety than they are of the “I don’t know what I’m doing” variety.
With that said, while his feel for the game is solid, the internal clock with which he plays is often a bit slow. At this stage, Rattler is a “see-it, sling-it” thrower who wants to see his receivers enter their breaks and uncover before he begins his throwing motion. Not unlike Zach Wilson from last year’s draft class, Rattler has a wicked quick motion and can put a ton of mustard on the ball—more than Wilson—so he often gets away with it.
But, that delay can give defenders opportunities to get back involved on the ball. When you’re able to throw with anticipation on a breaking route like this, you can get the ball to the receiver while there is still space between him and the cornerback he just shook off. When you wait to see it, you give the corner time to explode back into the receiver’s cylinder, making pass break-ups all the easier.
Let’s take a look at back-to-back plays from Rattler’s game against TCU. They’re knocking on the door of the red zone here. On 1st-and-10 from the 24-yard line, Rattler has a 989 concept: two verticals on the outside (the 9 pattern), plus a bending route on the inside (the 8 pattern). Rattler initially wants the bender to the middle of the field, but the safety in man coverage has taken that away.
Once that safety follows the bender, Rattler knows he has one-on-one coverage on the 9-route to that side of the field—no safety help. But he lingers too long on the bender, which naturally condenses the throwing window for the 9-ball against the end line. He doesn’t throw with enough pace, pulling the receiver out of bounds and leaving the pass incomplete.
On the very next play (2nd-and-10 from the 24-yard line), a similar issue shows up. Rattler wants an in-breaking route with a big-bodied target against a safety in man coverage, and this route is “NFL open.” But Rattler is a little late to trigger, waiting until his receiver turns his body to the pocket; and he’s a little behind with his ball placement. Neither is an egregious issue alone, but combined together with a future top-50 pick in Trevon Moehrig in coverage, it creates a pass break-up.
These are the little margins that matter in the NFL. Both passes were catchable, but they were also more difficult than they needed to be and it’s because Rattler is simply playing at a bit too comfortable, too methodical a pace than the situation demands.
Can this be fixed?
It absolutely can. I’ve characterized this issue as an internal clock problem; we might also just put it in the bucket of “processing speed,” though that’s a term that gets overused and abused in quarterback analysis. What we do know about processing speed, however, is that it grows with comfort and experience. Rattler was a first-year starter who was thinking on his feet and making conscious decisions more than reacting and playing in rhythm. That is an extremely common issue in young starters, and it is a testament to Rattler’s strengths—arm talent, accuracy, feel, and athleticism—that he was able to be so productive in spite of it.
The best fix for Rattler is live reps, which he obviously doesn’t get during the summer. But film review and board work will help drill into his mind the progressions and coverage recognition he must ingrain in order to succeed at Big 12, and subsequently NFL, pace. This is far from a debilitating issue, and if it is Rattler’s biggest problem as a freshman passer, there’s reason for overwhelming confidence in his year-two growth and subsequent rise to the upper echelon of NFL draft quarterback play this season.
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