Marc Trestman continues his evaluations of the top quarterback prospects eligible for the 2024 NFL Draft with a breakdown of Colorado QB Shedeur Sanders and how he needs to improve to succeed at the NFL level.
Having coached against Deion Sanders, the player, I was excited to study his son, Shedeur Sanders.
Deion was the Jerry Rice of defensive backs. While fans know him as “Primetime” and “Neon Deion,” when I joined the 1995 San Francisco 49ers coaching staff the year after Deion left, the staff and players always talked about his elite work ethic, football intelligence and leadership qualities. After watching Shedeur on tape, it is evident that some of his dad’s qualities have rubbed off on him.
Who is Shedeur Sanders?
A former 3-star recruit, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound quarterback elected to play for his father at Jackson State. He immediately earned the starting job and led the Tigers to a 21-3 record while completing 68.4 percent of his passes and throwing 70 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. He won the Jerry Rice Award for most outstanding FCS freshman in 2021 and the Deacon Jones Trophy as the nation’s top HBCU player in 2022.
With his father operating as a stellar recruiter, Shedeur played with some outstanding athletes at the receiver position. His stats appear more impressive when you know he was sacked 60 times over his two years in a Jackson State uniform. To partially mitigate their pass protection issues, Jackson State got the ball out of Sanders’ hands with quick game passes, which, among other things, boosted his completion percentage.
In the games I watched, Jackson State’s offense used a variety of formations and protection schemes, but few movement designs to get the quarterback out of the pocket and away from the pass rush.
As Sanders follows his father to the University of Colorado, he has an excellent opportunity to replicate his success at the FCS level on the Power 5 stage.
What Sanders Does Well
As mentioned above, Deion’s work ethic, football intelligence and leadership qualities appear to have rubbed off on his son in many ways.
Shedeur functions well in the shotgun, understanding the importance of drop-back fundamentals and how they are tied to route concepts and receiver depth. Within the pocket and while completing his drop, he is regularly seen in an athletic position. He shows a good wide base with knees and hips bent while loading on his back foot, ready to deliver and make the necessary weight transfer to his front foot.
Sanders’ release quickness is more than adequate. He has an extremely high over-the-top release with a complete finish through his left side. This extended, over-the-top delivery never varies; you never see him throw from alternate arm slots or throwing positions. This is not a hindrance but is more the exception to the norm, with today’s quarterbacks utilizing more awkward and alternate arm slot throws.
Sanders’ accuracy shows up throughout the tape. He often hit deep receivers in stride or connected on back-shoulder throws with great ball placement. His 2022 completion percentage would have been even better if not for an inordinate number of drops by Jackson State receivers.
As you watch Sanders play, his football intelligence and poise jump off the tape.
Pre-snap, he appears to be in total control of the offense, giving hand signals and making calls. Post-snap, he shows good field vision to assess the coverage and make quick decisions. He has good game management awareness, rarely forcing passes into coverage with an inherent ability to anticipate when his receivers will break open against man coverage.
When pressured in the pocket, Sanders consistently looks confident and poised, showing the courage and toughness to take big hits while standing tall and delivering. He has the awareness to naturally climb the pocket and find a quiet area to throw, all while maintaining eye discipline upfield.
When things break down, he is an exceptional playmaker with a “backyard football” mindset. He directs traffic well, throws accurately on the move, and clearly knows how to slide to avoid contact. He does not have his father’s speed or quickness, and by no means is he the most athletic quarterback that I have evaluated for the 2024 draft class. That said, he is dynamic enough to make things happen while on the move to escape, evade tacklers and extend plays with his legs or arm.
Perhaps the most promising aspects of Sanders’ game are his intangible qualities, including leadership and clutch factor. In numerous critical situations in the games I watched (red zone, third down, etc.), Sanders consistently found a way to make plays when it mattered most. In the red zone in 2022, he threw 25 touchdowns and rushed for five more scores.
His leadership and love of the game show up after big plays when you see him rushing downfield to pick up a tackled player or celebrate with his teammates. And after a turnover, you see him sprinting over to try to make a tackle.
How Sanders Can Improve
While Sanders has several qualities that made me like him more and more as I watched, some aspects of his game must improve before he can play at a high level in the NFL.
As I have often said, arm talent is one of the most important and difficult traits to assess without on-field vetting. Based only on the tape, it is hard to determine if Sanders’ arm strength meets the NFL threshold. While at times it appears to be NFL-caliber, a few balls come out wobbly and hang in the air too long. I hope another season, along with the added value of playing in a Power 5 conference and thorough on-field vetting, will clear up any arm talent questions.
Aside from my reservations about his raw arm talent, my biggest concern is his lack of respect for taking care of the football. His staging of the ball is sometimes inconsistent, which can slow his release quickness. And he is simply too reckless in the pocket while escaping and on the move.
While escaping the pocket, the bottom tip of the ball is often in one hand, away from his body and below the waist, begging blindside pursuing defenders to knock it loose. While on the run, it gets worse. This lack of awareness of ball security is unacceptable. It has led to 19 total fumbles (six lost) in his career, which is the most of any quarterback I’ve evaluated in the 2024 class.
To put it bluntly, his ball security fundamentals need an overhaul.
You simply have to be impressed with Sanders. The move to Boulder will undoubtedly answer a lot of questions about him. One thing that is already clear: he belongs at this higher level in college football. I’m extremely excited to watch him play against TCU, Oregon and USC in 2023.
Marc Trestman is a former NFL, CFL and college coach. After more than a decade as an offensive coordinator and quarterback coach in the NFL, he coached in four Grey Cups in the CFL, winning three over seven years with Montreal and Toronto before becoming head coach of the Chicago Bears. Follow him on Twitter at @CoachTrestman.