Early Review of Spencer Rattler: Cocky or Confident?

With the unresolved Quarterback problem at the helm of the Houston Texans stratosphere, I felt compelled to evaluate some of the top college QBs in the 2022 NFL Draft Class.

This will be the first edition in a multi-part series breaking down who the experts have among the top of the prospect food chain, and some sleepers who could potentially rise and surprise - I hope you enjoy.

As voted by y'all on Twitter, let's start with the cream of the crop, Spencer Rattler, the - for the most part - consensus top QB in all of college football.

I watched the All-22 view of 4 of his 2020 games; Kansas State, Texas, TCU and Baylor. Choosing these four games came down to a mixture of; games at home and on the road, games early and late in the season to track development, games with numerous TDs, games with numerous INTs, and games vs relatively good competition, to get as accurate of a depiction as one can get within a small sample size of just four.

With all of that out the way, let's get into an early review of Spencer Rattler!

Who is Spencer Rattler?

To start, let's get an understanding of some of the basic elements that make Rattler the enticing QB prospect he is. He's been a highly touted recruit since his high school days in Phoenix, Arizona, being listed as a Five-star recruit by 247Sports and ESPN, the consensus #1 QB in 2019 and #9 overall prospect in his class. Rattler set the all-time Arizona state record by throwing for 11,083 yards and 116 passing touchdowns at Pinnacle High School.

Rattler then took his talents to Oklahoma, choosing the Sooners over Alabama, Notre Dame, Texas and USC, among other top programs. He saw limited action in 2019, appearing in just 3 games, but made his name known in 2020, starting 11 games and leading the Sooners to a 9-2 record.

3,031 yards, 34 total TDs and 7 INTs later, Rattler was named the National Freshman of the Year by CBS, First Team AP All-Big 12 and awarded the Most Outstanding Player of the Big 12 Championship.

At just 20 years old, Rattler was an ascending superstar and pairing his raw talent with the offensive mastermind in Lincoln Riley proved to be a devastating combination.

Going into his Redshirt Sophmore Season, the question now becomes, can Spencer Rattler take his game to another level and cement himself as the number one overall pick in 2022? Or will his flaws become too evident and force teams to look elsewhere towards a stacked defensive class?

What does his film say?

Now that we know his background, let's take a look at Rattler's play on the field and pinpoint what makes him special, how he can succeed in the NFL and which areas he needs to improve upon to separate himself from a competitive and volatile QB class.

Let's start with some of the basic things I think he does well, that are easily translatable to the NFL. First off, I think Rattler has a fairly high floor due to his athleticism, accuracy and arm strength. That results in a lot of jaw-dropping "wow" plays and don't worry, we'll get to those soon, but I wanted to start with some basic concepts that he excels at too.

Lincoln Riley's offense builds in some QB-friendly concepts that create harmony with their Power run game and thus create "layups" in the form of Screens, RPOs and Play Action. The Baylor game provides a great example of how Rattler can execute the simple plays but also combine his natural talent to elevate the scheme and ensure success.

Below, you'll see the Sooners call a fake WR screen to Rattler's left, which he expertly sells by staring it down and giving a quick pump fake. That action is just a disguise for the RB screen to Rattler's right. On top of selling the fake, Rattler is patient on the dump off, waiting for his RB to get past DE#90 and including another pump fake to get the DE to jump the lane and allow for more space to be created horizontally.

After stretching defenses horizontally, Riley and Rattler love the RPO game to stretch defenses vertically up the middle of the field. Below, they pull the Left Guard and fake a run in that direction, but Rattler is reading LB#0 which will determine his action.

Since the LB bites down on the run, Rattler pulls the ball and looks for his first read, the post by his slot WR. That route gets open due to the LB biting on the run fake and Rattler lasers the ball just past the outstretched hand of the LB and into his own WRs hands in stride for a 30 yard gain.

I get it, an option read isn't anything crazy impressive, but every now and then Rattler will do something special for his young age.

On this next play, Kansas State's defense shows Rattler one look pre-snap and a different look post-snap. The nickel CB leaves the slot WR and looks to blitz, while the Free Safety walks down to replace the nickel's assignment. Rattler must process these changes quickly and adjust accordingly.

Rattler diagnoses the blitz pre snap and is already thinking that the slot is his best option due to the amount of space he has as the Safety is not in press like the Nickel was. As soon as the ball is snapped into his hands, he makes a quick check on his slot WR and the safety guarding him. He knows the gap between the two is too big and he can take advantage but it needs to be quick. Rattler speeds up the run fake and his footwork to morph into a one step pivot motion and get on balance for the throw. Then, Rattler fires the ball into the quickly-closing throwing window where only his WR can get it. Touchdown.

The point of those 3 clips weren't to wow you and convince Rattler's biggest hater to become his #1 fan. Instead, I simply wanted to show how efficient he is at these quick game concepts and how his mental game, nuanced details and ability to speed himself up provide a great baseline to work with.

The Special Stuff

Now for the really fun part, Rattler makes some plays that most QBs simply cannot. It would not be crazy to say that he's at his best in the eye of the storm. Chaos is his playground and when the play breaks down, you just know he'll find a way to make it work.

Vs Baylor, the TE#81 gives up pressure and Rattler is forced out of the pocket to his right. With no one open, Rattler's athleticism shines and he escapes a free defender, finding space to the left and making a cross body throw into the end zone.

These types of "no, no, no... YES" plays are easily found all throughout Rattler's 2020 season. He's got the wheels to escape pressure, the borderline-elite arm strength to drop bombs but also the precise accuracy and ball placement while on the move.

He has a special ability to make defenses wrong, even when they are right. That's the beauty of having a QB with great ball placement, one who can put the ball where only his receiver can get it, and just inches away from a defender.

That one not good enough for you? How about this deep crosser where Rattler makes sure to not lead his WR too far forward into the Safety coming down for the big hit. Teammates are going to love him for protecting them from potential concussion worthy plays.

Or what about this perfectly placed deep ball down the sideline that Rattler drops in a bucket! It's outside of the CBs frame (who's not in bad position), it's out in front so that the WR can cradle it, and it hits #14 right in stride without needing to slow down.

Furthermore, another trait Rattler possesses that is becoming more and more necessary out of modern day QBs, is booming arm strength. Take this 55-yard dime right into his WRs hands vs TCU, for example.

On a designed rollout to his left, Rattler shows the ability to flip his hips and point towards his target, while maintaining power+balance in his base to rip a cannon from his 40-yard line to the opposing 5-yard line. Whew.

Possibly my favorite aspect of Rattler's game is his ability to change a bad read/play into a good one. On this drop back, Rattler has his #2 WR on the Trips side of the formation wide open on a curl and keep in mind it's just 2nd and 1. The simple and easy play is to just take the curl and move the chains.

For whatever the reason, Rattler doesn't like it or doesn't see it and with a collapsing pocket and no one else open, a lot of QBs wouldn't be able to recover from the missed read. Rattler though, slips through a gap to his left and keeps the play alive, providing his receivers time to work open and finding WR#10 towards the sideline.

Offenses won't always be perfect, QBs won't always be perfect, but with Rattler, you increase your margin for error because of how great he is at playing from disadvantageous positions and making defenses wrong, even when they're right.

What needs Work?

While I've talked up Rattler as quite the QB prospect, he is not one without flaws, hence some pessimism around his draft stock and the recent popularity of mocking other QBs at #1 such as Sam Howell, Malik Willis and even Carson Strong.

Many like to point out the roller coaster of emotions that Rattler was in 2020. For most of the game he'd look like the presumptive #1 pick, but then throw a mind-boggling interception that makes him look better suited for the XFL.

In the four games I watched, I was able to see five of his seven total interceptions, among some other turnover "worthy" plays. I've come to the conclusion that those inconsistencies with his decision making process are far from bust-worthy.

This INT was a great ball and good decision, but dropped by his RB.

His worst INT was without a doubt this gift-wrapped throw to a LB that he simply never saw underneath his intended target.

Apart from that one INT, Rattler was not making poor reads or throwing horribly inaccurate balls. Instead, some head scratching moments are bound to occasionally happen due to Rattler's exorbitant confidence and gunslinger mentality. Why are you forcing this into double coverage? Especially when you have a potential TD on the outside of the same side of the field he was looking at (see bottom of screen)?

One possible answer to the above question is simple, confidence. Rattler's been the best all his life, and he knows it. Watch a few minutes of QB1: Beyond the Lights and you can tell how highly he thinks of himself.

While that cockiness can certainly be off-putting, confidence is one of the biggest keys for a QBs success and it fuels his stellar play on the field. Rattler understands his own strengths and takes calculated risks to go for big plays, even if it means throwing contested balls.

He also places trust and faith in his teammates to make difficult contested catches and recognize opportunities for irregularly placed throws that are away from the defender, where only the receiver can get it, but still require a degree of difficulty that not all college players are accustomed to.

Rattler wants to go for the big play, the difficult play, the play that defenses simply can't guard and have to say to themselves "what the f*ck was I supposed to do differently there?"

He wants to impose his will and force defenses who pride themselves on a "bend but don't break mentality" to crumble apart one soul crushing tight window completion at a time.

So, while some of his plays will leave you pulling your hair, remember that he's turning just 21-years old in September. He has plenty of time to find the balance between gunslinger, and calculated assassin. I'd rather have a QB who is willing to take risks and is quite successful at doing so, than one who will always stick to the script and allow the defense to dictate throws.

That being said, this cockiness can become a serious problem if he never finds that balance. Plays like these were rare, but more ugly than most of his INTs. Rattler simply cannot force throws into double or even triple coverage, like seen below.

I'm fine with him taking risks into single coverage when he and his WR are on the same page and cohesively adjust to the coverage via perfectly placed throws. That skillset and chemistry is nearly unguardable no matter the talent in the secondary or complexity of the scheme. However, Rattler often teeters on the line of crazy genius, and just plain old crazy.

Another flaw in Rattler's game is one that I don't see discussed nearly as much but could be far more detrimental in my opinion. That flaw, is inconsistent pocket presence and an urge to scramble when unnecessary.

Take this play for example, it's 3rd and 5 and Rattler has an option in the flat (TE#37), with the nearest defender (Safety#25) almost 20 yards away when he decides to scramble instead. The pocket was collapsing a bit, but he had the opportunity to side step and stand tall with chaos surrounding him, buying time within the pocket instead of running into a sack which took the offense off the field.

Simply put, Spencer Rattler does not like to get hit. I understand that seems like a blanket statement for most QBs and you should look to preserve your body by avoiding big hits, but Rattler's antsy nature hurts his ability to maximize his effectiveness within the pocket.

On this next play, pause it at the top of Rattler's drop and you'll see that he has two options available to him. First is the slot WR#12 over the middle on a "spacing" route. Second is WR#17 - who aligned to the right of WR#12 - running a post and getting behind the LB. There's a tight window to hit #17 on an inside placed ball at the 10-yard line.

It's a difficult throw that requires anticipation no doubt, but we've seen Rattler can make those. He would need to stand tall in the pocket and make one of those two throws while accepting that he would get rocked by the incoming defender. Instead, he scrambles, successfully avoiding a sack, but just barely getting back to the LOS, instead of a 10 or 20 yard gain if he made the throw.

Too often Rattler will escape the pocket when he doesn't need to, and I acknowledge how great he is when off-script, but what happens when NFL teams play contain and force you to win within the pocket?

Rattler must improve his anticipation and willingness to stand tall, deliver a strike under pressure and live with the physical consequences of taking a hit. This is an issue that likely won't be magnified early in his career, but as defensive coordinators adjust and watch his tape, they'll know how to stop him, and the sooner Rattler knows how to counter their counter punch, the better.

The final flaw I'll discuss is one that I think is being overblown a bit; the talent Rattler has around him and how that props up his stats compared to other QBs. Yes, Oklahoma provides Rattler with a genius play caller who makes the game easier on him. However, as shown in the beginning of the article, Rattler shines in the nuanced details to help maximize Riley's scheme as well.

In addition, the Sooners OL is a dominating run blocking group, but is not nearly as sound in pass protection. Most of the amazing wow plays I've displayed today are when the protection breaks down and Rattler is forced to improvise. It's not like he has all day in the pocket to listen to a David Culley press conference.

Furthermore, the Sooners weapons are good and all, but not anything like what Sam Howell had to work with at UNC (Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome). I can't tell you how many more wow plays would've been added in this article if Rattler's receivers could just catch the damn ball when he puts it exactly where it needs to be!

I'm not trying to say Rattler has a bad supporting cast and OC, he has a solid one. However it's no LSU for Joe Burrow or Alabama for Jalen Hurts+Mac Jones or UNC for Sam Howell.

Finally, Rattler is going to have talent around him at the NFL level as well, even the worst team in the NFL would beat the best team in college football. When he gains better teammates who can adjust better and catch his well-placed but risky throws, Rattler highlights will flood all major media outlets and Instagram feeds.

Concluding Thoughts

With this deep-dive on Spencer Rattler coming to a close, I want to leave you with a few summarizing thoughts. Rattler's blend of athleticism, arm talent, off-script playmaking, ball placement and ability to turn a bad play into a good one certainly boast a great argument for the top QB in the class.

As he grows you hope he matures and finds a better balance in terms of decision making, cutting out some of the forced throws into double or triple coverage and understanding when to stand tall in the pocket and deliver a strike while getting hit, instead of unnecessarily scrambling into a sack.

I don't love player comparisons, but if I had to, Deshaun Watson would be mine for Spencer Rattler. They're both great - but not elite - athletes who make off-script plays with their arm and legs, are always looking for the big home run play but struggle with some ugly decisions at times.

Furthermore, they've both benefited from good supporting casts, but neither had elite ones or had their success solely tied to their surroundings. I think Rattler is more accurate at all three levels and has better ball placement than Watson in college, but we've yet to see the clutch gene in Rattler that made so many people fall in love with Watson.

All-in-all, Spencer Rattler has the goods of a franchise QB in the making. However, I am not stating a declaration of undisputed #1 pick certification. I need to watch more Kayvon Thibodeaux, Derek Stingley and the other QBs 2020+2021 seasons to make a truly informed decision.

Similarly, I think this next season is huge in terms of evaluating Rattler's confidence vs cockiness and the odds of hitting his out-of-space ceiling. The flaws can be seen on film, is he willing to put in the work to improve them? Or is he blindsided by his rising stardom and lacking the self-awareness to work out the kinks?

If we see the same old Spencer, yeah, I wouldn't hate going in a different direction; however, if Rattler takes that jump and the inconsistencies start to even out, oh baby, I don't think that's a talent you can afford to pass up on.