2022 NFL Draft: The fall of QB Spencer Rattler and why we shouldn’t compare him to Oklahoma’s past No. 1 picks

We can learn from the past, but only if we look in the right place. That was my attempt at a profound quote. I’ll explain what I’m getting at here — it pertains to Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler. 

Many of us vividly remember Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Jalen Hurts effortlessly operating Lincoln Riley’s brilliant scheme and producing with unprecedented efficiency. Those memories were used as a segue to believing Rattler was simply “next,” especially after his impressive redshirt freshman season in 2020. And, like Murray and Hurts, Rattler walked onto the Norman campus as a marquee quarterback recruit. 

But we just collectively glossed over the “redshirt freshman” part. 

Of course, everything is instantaneous today, and most of us have been conditioned — knowingly or not — to believe quick-hitting headlines tell the entire story. Therefore, we saw “productive Oklahoma quarterback” and immediately thought he was locked-in to being an early pick, and to many, No. 1 overall was his likeliest destination. 

Rattler took his first snap in the 2021 season at 20 years old with only 328 attempts on his collegiate resume. And while Riley’s offensive genius and the abundance of four- and five-star surrounding talent at Oklahoma can clear the runway for an ascension up draft boards, every quarterback’s different. If anything, the creativity of Riley’s attack and the dynamic supporting cast the Sooners trot out every season are the ingredients for a passer’s flaws to be completely overlooked because of the raw statistics almost guaranteed to be accumulated. 

Now, don’t get me wrong — Rattler is extremely talented. It’s obvious on some of the throws he makes every week. But Riley’s “Air Raid” system, one that features plenty of intricate screens and quick passes, attempts to “raid” defenses down the field with vertical routes. 

Those long-ball connections were the foundation that made Mayfield, Murray, and Hurts so highly regarded as prospects. Check the percentage of attempts each Oklahoma quarterback made at least 20 yards down the field — one passer sticks out like a sore thumb. 

Percentage of pass attempts 20+ yards downfield

Baker Mayfield, 2017


Kyler Murray, 2018


Jalen Hurts, 2019


Spencer Rattler, 2021


Striking difference, right? Rattler executes the easy, underneath, schemed-open stuff quite well. The field-stretching, game-changing plays simply haven’t been there at what’s recently become the “normal” Oklahoma rate.

Only 15 of Rattler’s 176 pass attempts have gone 20 or more yards down the field this season. To match the previous rates of Mayfield, Murray, and Hurts, he would have needed around 34 or 35 of those deep shots. It’s not like Rattler hasn’t connected on those throws; he hasn’t even been attempting them. 

And his decision-making and communication with receivers have been like that of a, well, redshirt sophomore quarterback. Those vital elements of playing the position have lacked on almost all of his interceptions. Remember, Mayfield went on to start two seasons after his redshirt sophomore year at Oklahoma. By Hurts’ third year in the Alabama program, he already had a pair of seasons of starting experience, was relegated to a backup role and was destined to transfer to Oklahoma to get a full year in Riley’s offense. 

Murray is clearly the exception to the rule, not the standard. Mayfield, Hurts and Rattler just don’t have his caliber of athletic abilities. 

Of course, Rattler is ahead of the vast majority of redshirt sophomore quarterbacks in college football. His standing as the No. 1 pro-style quarterback recruit in the country in 2019 suggested that would be the case. He’s just fallen short of the “we’ve never seen this before in college football history” efficiency standards set during the Riley era. That’s really it. 

And now, if you type “Spencer Rattler” into Twitter’s search, it autofills to “Spencer Rattler transfer.” That’s the world of college football we’re living in. It’s baffling how fast everything happens today. Just over a month ago, had you polled draft analysts across the internet, Rattler would’ve gotten plenty of votes as the 2022 No. 1 overall pick. Now it’s to the transfer portal for him. 

Rattler’s incredibly steep fall is a teachable moment, like most things in life. Don’t scout the helmet. Not every impressive redshirt freshman is bound to be selected early in the following draft. Being “first” on a marquee prospect means nothing. Maybe Oklahoma’s offensive environment is too cushy.

Projecting a quarterback from college to the NFL is the most challenging evaluation in all of sports. And every quarterback consists of his own unique mental and physical traits, even if he initially appears to be next off the assembly line at a college football powerhouse.

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