The NFL draft still is six-plus months away. But NFL scouts, particularly those who are employed by teams that are expected to be in the market for quarterback help next spring, are trying to figure out what’s going on with Spencer Rattler.
Two months ago, the University of Oklahoma quarterback was being mentioned as a possible candidate to be the top pick in the 2022 draft. If not No. 1, then certainly in the top five or ten.
Now? Now, a much bigger question is whether he’ll even be starting for the 5-0 Sooners Saturday when they face Big 12 opponent TCU.
The third-year sophomore has been inconsistent this season and was benched by his head coach, Lincoln Riley, late in the first half of the Sooners’ 55-48 come-from-behind win over Texas last week after turning the ball over twice and completing just 8 of 15 passes.
Rattler, who threw 28 touchdown passes and averaged 9.6 yards per attempt last season in his first year as a starter, has thrown just four TD passes and three interceptions in the Sooners’ last four games. He has averaged 7.6 yards per attempt in those four games.
Riley wouldn’t say this week whether he’ll go back to Rattler or stay with the latest OU Quarterback Factory recruit, true freshman Caleb Williams, who helped bring the Sooners back from an 18-point halftime deficit against the Longhorns.
Even if Rattler is reinserted as the starter, his draft stock has taken a hit, and it could prompt him to stay in school another year.
There obviously is plenty of time – six more scheduled games and at least one playoff or bowl game, the scouting combine, Pro Day workouts, private workouts with teams – to reverse that slide. But he’s got a lot of work to do.
Rattler has one of the strongest arms in football, college or pro. His ability to throw downfield lasers on the run and make other off-platform highlight-film passes, has drawn comparisons to none other than Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Oklahoma has produced two of the last four No. 1 overall picks and three current NFL starters – the Cardinals’ Kyler Murray, the Browns’ Baker Mayfield and the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts.
“You like Rattler’s athleticism,” said Ben Fennell, an NFL Network draft analyst and a producer for the NFL on CBS. “You like his strong arm. All of those kinds of tangible physical things get you excited about him.
“But the football IQ, the decision-making, the down-to-down responsibility with the football and all of those other things you need to execute, he’s still really inconsistent there, and that’s where most of the questions about him lie.”
Mahomes was a sandlot player at Texas Tech playing in Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense. He put up eye-popping numbers and was a spectacular out-of-structure quarterback. But there were questions about how long – if ever – it would take to integrate him into an NFL offense.
But Andy Reid boldly took him with the 10th pick in the 2017 draft, let him sit and learn behind Alex Smith for a year, and well, the rest is history.
Mahomes threw 50 touchdown passes in his first year as a starter. Threw 38 last year. Led the Chiefs to a Super Bowl title in 2019. The last three years, he’s thrown a total of 17 interception in 1,652 attempts. That’s just one every 97.2 passes.
“I don’t think anyone thinks Rattler is going to have the NFL success that Patrick Mahomes has had,” one NFC player personnel executive said.
“He has the ability to be a very good player. He can wow you with his arm. But as we’ve seen this season, he’s a high-variant quarterback, and that scares people like me. Any time you have high-variant play, typically it’s going to translate into a high-variant career.”
Rattler was benched briefly in last year’s 53-45 four-overtime win over Texas, but was put back in by Riley in the second half and completed 23 of 35 passes and threw the game-winning touchdown in the fourth overtime. In OU’s final six games, he threw 12 touchdown passes and just two interceptions and averaged 9.7 yards per attempt.
Last April, quarterbacks went 1-2-3 in the draft for the first time since 1999. Five went in the first round. It’s much too early to predict what’s going to happen next spring. As always, quarterbacks will get pushed up. But there are no clear frontrunners at the moment.
“I think Rattler still is in the mix as a first-round caliber player,” Fennell said. “But it’s a quarterback boggle right now. There are no clear frontrunners.
“Rattler’s been inconsistent. So has Sam Howell (North Carolina). Kedon Slovis (Southern California) hasn’t really stepped up and taken charge. Matt Corral is exciting, but they don’t really win a lot of games at Ole Miss. You got (Nevada’s) Carson Strong and (Cincinnati’s) Desmond Ridder.
“I think there’s a good seven or so quarterbacks in the conversation for being first first-rounders. But this could just as easily turn out to be a repeat of the 2013 draft, where EJ Manuel was the only quarterback taken in the first round. And he didn’t go until 16.
“Any time you’re stockpiled at a position one year, typically it rubber-bands back. It’s just a very inconsistent landscape of quarterbacks right now. Starting with Rattler.”
Rattler, like many players, has taken maximum advantage of the new college rules allowing players to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL). He signed an endorsement deal with the Louisiana-based chicken restaurant Raising Cane’s.
He was given not one, but two vehicles — a 2021 Dodge Ram TRX and a 2021 Dodge Charger Scat Pack — as part of his NIL deal with a Norman, Oklahoma car dealer. He started his own online merchandising shop. He sends personalized videos to paying fans via Cameo.
There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but some wonder whether it has affected the quarterback’s focus.
Rattler still has a year of eligibility left. If Riley keeps him on the bench, or if he continues to be inconsistent, he could transfer to another school and try to improve his draft stock there rather than declare for the draft.
“It’s going to be interesting,” an AFC general manager said. “Some of these guys may not be as eager to leave college anymore because of the money they’re making from these NIL deals. And that could include Rattler depending on how things shake out the rest of the season.”
Rattler is a confident player. But that confidence often crosses over into arrogance, and that’s one of the concerns scouts have about him.
This isn’t a no-I-in-team guy. Last week, after he was benched by Riley, Rattler never bothered to go over and congratulate Williams during Oklahoma’s comeback.
“If he doesn’t start this week, it will be interesting to see how he reacts,” the AFC GM said. “You can tell more about people by how they react when things go wrong than when they go right. Things haven’t really gone wrong very often for this kid on the football field. So we’ll see how he responds and how he bounces back.”
Beyond that, the lingering question with Rattler is what is he? No one questions his talent, but there have been dozens of talented college quarterbacks who never made it in the NFL. Even among first-round quarterbacks, the success rate is no better than 50 percent.
For every Peyton Manning there is a Ryan Leaf. For every Andrew Luck there is a Robert Griffin III. For every Matthew Stafford there is a Mark Sanchez.
“I think Rattler could turn out to be a Matt Stafford type of player, with a huge arm and throwing the ball all over the place,” Fennell said. “But I also think he could turn into Bryan Bennett.
Bennett was one of the top high school quarterbacks in the nation in 2009. He signed with Chip Kelly and Oregon, languished for two years there, then transferred to Southeastern Louisiana.
He signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent, got cut and spent a couple of years as a backup in the CFL.
“Bennett is the exact same kind of player as Rattler” Fennell said. “A confident kid. Hugely competitive. Smaller than you’d like, but just a huge arm. Great out of structure.
“So, could Rattler be Stafford? I’d say yeah, maybe. Could he be Bennett? I’d say yeah, maybe.