Sunday, May 26, 2024

Shedeur Sanders’ Flaws Could Tank Him From Being a First-Round NFL QB Gem

HomeSports NewsShedeur Sanders' Flaws Could Tank Him From Being a First-Round NFL QB...

The eyes of the football world are always fixated on the quarterback position like a pack of vultures circling their next meal. As the guy who quite literally touches the ball on every single offensive snap, QBs are under a level of scrutiny that would make most people curl up into the fetal position. Even simple handoffs require using their pipes, catching that oblong beast of a ball, and sliding those feet like they were born to glide on roller skates. Playing field general at a high level ain’t just about bringing that bazooka attached to your shoulder – it’s a full mind and body exercise.

As the competition gets stiffer, so do the demands. The mental mastery of protections, routes, coverages, and defensive tendencies separates the Romeos from the basement-dwellers. Knowing where everyone is going to be before they even know it themselves is what unlocks that “anticipation” magic word that gets scouts all tingly. Getting that ball out and into the perfect landing spot before the receiver even makes his break creates awfully tough throws for defenses to stay with. That layered precision is the secret sauce that takes offenses to the next level.

When popping in the tape on Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders, that unteachable arm talent simply smacks you in the face. Standing at a prototypical 6’2″ and 215 pounds, the dude has that ideal quarterback frame built in a lab. He’s a legitimate athlete too, able to make things happen with his feet. Sanders can bucket that sucker with some serious mustard, ripping lasers over the middle and dropping dimes into tight quarters downfield when his feet are set properly.

Those flashes of arm talent and ball-placement are tantalizing as all get out. But frankly, those special plays were too damn rare when comprehensively grading Sanders’ roller coaster 2023 campaign. Too often, Colorado’s offense looked like the same old Broncos dumpster fire we’ve been subjugated to – a handful of explosive snaps getting outnumbered by sacks, hurried throws, and a litany of drive-stalling penalties.

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The sack numbers for Sanders are…woof. He went down a cringe-worthy 10.2% of the time he dropped back to pass, well above the 6.1% average for FBS quarterbacks in 2023. Only three QBs drafted in the first three rounds since 2020 – Jayden Daniels, Will Levis, and Malik Willis – have posted a worse single-season sack rate. Yikes.

Now, Colorado’s offensive line was clearly a turnstile that contributed mightily to Sanders getting his clock cleaned at an alarming rate. But the issues were deeper than just blocking – Sanders struggled handling pressure and making lemonade when the proverbial you-know-what hit the fan.

The Buffaloes’ signal-caller was pressured at a 36.8% clip, which is indeed quite high but not totally absurd compared to other elite QB prospects. The bigger red flag was his inability to consistently mitigate that pressure and create positive gains instead of drive-killing sacks.

Sanders’ pressure-to-sack ratio of 25.3% should have Colorado coaches sweating through their Starter jackets. That puts him in the dangerous waters of infamous quarterback befuddlers like Justin Fields and Sam Howell – not exactly a club you want to be a member of.

Part of the problem was Sanders’ maddening tendency to drift backwards in the pocket, dropping his eyes from downfield to the rushing linemen when the heat got turned up. Instead of calmly climbing the pocket and maintaining his depth, he’d panic and start backpedaling – the cardinal sin for any quarterback.

Bailing out of the pocket like that is essentially waving a white flag and surrendering throwing lanes. It creates drastically tougher angles to make throws from and allows elite speed rushers to simply run him down from behind. Drifting in the pocket is a habit that must be slaughtered with fire for any quarterback, pro or amateur.

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Even when he wasn’t getting hounded by defensive linemen, Sanders was often painfully late pulling the trigger working through his progressions. Far too frequently, he’d simply default to checking it down short of the sticks when his initial read wasn’t glaringly open.

Sanders’ average air yards to the sticks was an abysmal -1.6 yards, one of the lowest marks in the entire country for projected high draft pick quarterbacks in recent years. That lack of aggression and willingness to push throws vertically is a gigantic concern.

While he did only throw 3 interceptions, that’s partially because Sanders simply didn’t give defensive backs many opportunities to make plays on the ball. His lack of a quick, anticipatory trigger led to a 2.8% rate of having passes batted down at the line – an astoundingly high number for a top quarterback prospect.

His elongated, shot-put throwing motion without any sort of lower body torque didn’t allow Sanders to create tight passing windows either. So not only was he indecisive, but when he did have to get rid of the ball hot, he struggled generating the necessary velocity and tight ball-placement required.

There’s no sugarcoating it – Shedeur Sanders has some serious warts for a quarterback being discussed as a potential first-round pick.

The mental volatility, poor fundamentals in terms of decisiveness, footwork in the pocket, and overall lack of mastery at the pre-snap phase were all glaring red flags. Colorado’s offense was an undisciplined mess at times, racking up 29 false start penalties last season which was the 10th-highest mark in the country per PFF’s data. That kind of sloppiness reflects poorly on the quarterback as the leader of the offense.

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In order to solidify himself as a legitimate top prospect for the 2024 NFL Draft, Sanders needs to show vast improvement in several critical areas:

  1. Maintaining his pocket presence and footwork integrity when pressured rather than bailing
  2. Processing information rapidly and pulling the trigger decisively to throw receivers open
  3. Attacking tight windows vertically and not just defaulting to checkdowns underneath
  4. Smoothing out his elongated release and incorporating lower body torque to create tighter windows
  5. Operating crisply pre-snap to get protections and cadences right while aligning the offense properly

The raw tools and upside are evident with Sanders’ big frame, athleticism, and burly arm strength. But as we’ve been reminded time and again, playing the premier position in professional football requires so much more than just being a talented skilled thrower.

The elite quarterback prospects prove they can quickly process all the information on the field both pre-snap and post-snap. They go through full-field progressions, anticipate windows before they truly come open, and make split-second decisions under the utmost duress. They maintain their footwork and base despite bodies crashing down around them. They elevate an entire offense through sheer mastery of the cerebral nuances at the position.

Those unique flashes from Sanders where he hangs that perfect rainbow dime down the boundary to a tightly-covered receiver are glimpses of his immense potential at the position. But those special plays were far too infrequent and overshadowed by mentalErrors, indecisiveness, poor fundamentals, and leaving too many big plays unexploited downfield.

Sanders has one final collegiate season to put it all together and prove his flaws were simply first-year growth pains at Colorado. If he cleans up the footwork, progressions, pocket presence, and overall mastery from the neck up, he could firmly entrench himself as a top quarterback prospect for the 2024 draft.

However, if the same glaring warts regarding decision-making, maintaining his base, bailing from clean pockets, indecisiveness, and issues pre-snap persist, Shedeur Sanders risks plummeting down draft boards. He’ll draw comparisons to other physically-gifted but maddeningly inconsistent quarterback prospects who must be treated as long-term reclamation projects at the next level.

The upside is apparent as an ultra-talented gunslinger with all the physical tools. But playing the most complex and critically important position in professional sports requires much more than just hand cannon for an arm. Sanders now has a crucial 2024 campaign to prove his upside and fix his flaws – if he can’t, he risks being branded more project than prospect.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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