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2024 NFL Draft quarterback deep dive: Michael Pratt, Tulane

Is Michael Pratt the developmental QB to watch?

South Alabama v Tulane Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Every year it seems as though there’s a quarterback who comes from seemingly nowhere to generate buzz in advance of the draft.

This year that player is Tulane’s Michael Pratt. Tulane wasn’t on anyone’s radar two years ago as a 6-6 and 2-11 team in 2020 and 2021 (respectively). Then they completed a remarkable turnaround and won 23 games in the next two years. And all of a sudden the draft community was talking about their quarterback as an under-the-radar player who could be the next “Brock Purdy”. That’s obviously unlikely, as Purdy’s rise from “Mr. Irrelevant” to an NFC Championship appearance (an nearly two, had it not been for an injury) in his first two years is a once in a generation story.

But what about Pratt? Could he perhaps be another “Matt Schaub” as a player who comes from the mid rounds and becomes a solid starter? And could that make him a potential option for the New York Giants if they choose to pursue a developmental quarterback?

Background

Michael Pratt wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school and was a consensus three-star recruit.

He was rated 49th at his position by ESPN, 47th by 247Sports, and 25th by Rivals. He received multiple offers from smaller schools, including his hometown FAU (he grew up in Boca Raton), as well as schools like Yale, Harvard, Cornell, Brown, and Dartmouth. The Ivy League interest speaks to Pratt’s intelligence, though the lack of interest from schools larger than Tulane, Toledo, or FAU speaks to the general perception of him by bigger schools.

He would ultimately commit to, and play for, Tulane.

Pratt started early in his freshman year, becoming the Green Wave’s quarterback in the third game of their 2020 season and he would never relinquish the job. That said, it wasn’t smooth sailing for Pratt, as the team struggled as a whole and his stats reflected individual struggles as well. Things turned around when Tulane instituted their third offensive scheme in three years in 2022, unleashing running back Tyjae Spears and finding a passing attack that played to Pratt’s strengths.

Measurables

Height: 6-foot, 2 ⅜ inches
Weight: 216 pounds
Arm length: 30 ½ inches
Hand size: 9 inches

Games watched: vs. Kansas State (2022), vs. USC (2022), vs. South Alabama (2023), vs. North Texas (2023), vs. SMU (2023)

Pratt has solid, if unspectacular, size for an NFL quarterback. He isn’t quite built to prototypical specifications, but he’s unlikely to fall below many team’s thresholds for the position.

His hand size is a bit worrisome, particularly if he lands in a situation where he’ll have to play a significant number of late-season games out in the elements. The average NFL quarterback has a span of a bit over 9 ½ inches, so that will definitely be a conversation among evaluators. Gripping the ball and throwing with touch might be an issue in the NFL, but it’s also worth noting that players like Ryan Tannehill and Joe Burrow have had plenty of success with 9-inch hands. It’s far too early to say whether Pratt will succeed or fail in the NFL, but his hand size is unlikely to be a determining factor either way.

Intangibles

So much of what we focus on with quarterbacks is tangible — things like their height, weight, 40 time, or their ball velocity. However much of what makes a quarterback successful is intangible.

We can’t really measure things like mental processing, football IQ, leadership, or competitiveness, but we can see their effects.

Football IQ

The Tulane offense didn’t ask much of Pratt from a cerebral aspect. That’s common around college, where even few “pro style” offenses involve quarterback autonomy or extensive progression reads. It also isn’t exactly indicative of Pratt’s intelligence or ability to operate a more sophisticated offense.

Tulane has had four different offensive coordinators over the last four years, and offenses that are simplistic are easier for young players to grasp. Pratt showed improvement in the offense installed in 2022 after struggling to acclimate in previous schemes. That offense primarily featured RPO plays, play-action to simplify the defense, and primarily quick one-to-two man reads.

Slade Nagle took over the offense in 2023 and put his own slant on the scheme, but kept the core similar. Nagle introduced more 12-personnel packages and gap runs, but RPOs and play-action concepts remained.

Pratt navigates those concepts well and showed improved comfort and improvement in 2023 from 2022. He’s noted that his experience with four different offensive coordinators has helped his development, saying, “You learn a lot of different perspectives, so your knowledge of football and your IQ goes up a lot. But it is very tough going season to season, not really being able to work on the little details and perfecting your game.”

Mental processing

Pratt has the ability to be crisp in the pocket and makes his reads quickly and accurately, at least under normal circumstances.

That said, there are instances when Pratt can show indecision or hesitancy in committing to his reads. He has a tendency to double-clutch the ball when his post-snap reads don’t line up with his pre-snap expectations. He also has a tendency to hold the ball while waiting for receivers to clear traffic, as opposed to throwing with timing and anticipation. He also has a tendency to lock on and stare down receivers. His lack of eye discipline can lead defenders to the catch point. Likewise, his failure to manipulate safeties and linebackers can make catch windows smaller and catches tougher than they strictly need to be.

Pratt’s occasional indecision and tendency to hold the ball can open him up to pressure from opposing pass rushes. He has some pocket presence and ability to navigate the pocket, but needs to get better at knowing when to throw the ball away or find a check-down option.

Pratt showed improvement in his processing over the last two years and his issues could be related to Tulane’s turnover at offensive coordinator. That said he does need to continue to improve his processing at the NFL level.

Competitive toughness and leadership

Pratt is well-regarded around the Tulane program for his leadership. Tulane tight end Chris Carter, who transferred from South Florida, summed up Pratt’s leadership by saying, “When I first got here, he was one of the first people I talked with. He’s just a great leader. He practices what he preaches and is always making sure he’s in good spirits because he knows everyone is looking at him.”

Pratt has solid competitive toughness as well. He’s willing to hang in the pocket and wait until the last possible second to deliver a pass, even knowing he’s about to take a hit. He gives full effort throughout games and doesn’t back down against more talented teams. He’s also willing to challenge tight coverage and give his receivers a chance to make a play. Likewise, he’s also willing to take on contact as a runner when necessary.

Pratt suffered a knee injury in Tulane’s opening game and missed the next two games. He also suffered a sprained knee prior to Tulane’s game against FAU, which was Pratt’s first opportunity in four years to play in his hometown.

“I tried to get him not to practice at all,” Tulane head coach Willie Fritz said. “He tried to go out there, and I told him you’re going to be fine, you’ve been there and done that, there’s nothing they can throw at you you haven’t seen 100 times. He would not have been able to play this week if he didn’t have all the experience he’s got.”

Arm talent

Michael Pratt has a solid arm with enough strength and accuracy to operate an NFL offense. He doesn’t have an exceptional arm with the ability to throw 60 yards on the run or wildly alter his arm slot. However, his arm is good enough to make the vast majority of throws he would be asked to execute in any NFL offense. Pratt is able to generate enough velocity to challenge tight coverages in the short to intermediate area of the field, as well as reach 40 yards down the field from the pocket to create explosive plays through the air.

He also has enough strength as a passer to reach deep out or post routes from the opposite hash mark or throw reasonably far downfield when off-platform

That said, Pratt’s mechanics as a passer are inconsistent and are still in need of improvement at this point in his development.

Starting from the ground up, his footwork is unpredictable and can have profound effects on his accuracy and precision as a passer. Pratt does not consistently align his upper and lower body, nor does he consistently align his lower body with his target. That can lead to off-target throws with poor velocity as he tries to use his arm – and only his arm – to try and make up the difference. His passes have a tendency of coming behind receivers, forcing them to slow or contort awkwardly to make the catch, either leading to greater than necessary difficulty or leaving yards on the field.

He can also be inconsistent in his weight transfer, likely due to inefficient or inconsistent footwork. Pratt is capable of driving the ball down the field when he steps into the throw, but can also have the ball sail, or come up short, on him if he isn’t able to get off his back foot.

Pratt’s arm slot is also inconsistent. He showed improvement in throwing with a more repeatable “over the top” motion, but can default to a more side-arm release at times. As with his feet, that can lead to passes drifting off-target or with placement that limits what the receiver is able to do.

Interestingly, each of these issues is independent of pressure. He can quickly align his feet, step into his throws, and throw with a good repeatable motion under pressure. However, he can also throw side-arm from a poor base with time in a clean pocket.

Athleticism

Michael Pratt is a solid athlete for the position and meets the requirements for a modern pocket passer. He shouldn’t be considered a true “dual threat” as a quarterback, but he has enough athleticism to run a modern offense that moves the pocket or has the quarterback operate from outside of the pocket.

Pratt is mobile enough to scramble and extend plays, as well as execute the occasional designed quarterback run or zone read. In short, he’s capable of hurting the defense with his legs in the right situations. Those chiefly come when the defense bites on misdirection or uses man coverage and defenders are out of position to make a play on the quarterback as a runner.

He has enough agility to shake poor angles in the backfield as well as enough speed to pick up chunk yardage if he’s able to get to the open field. Pratt also has enough strength in his lower body to survive arm tackles or shoulder checks. That said, he lacks great agility and explosiveness as an athlete. He has “enough” speed, but needs a bit of a runway to reach his top speed and is unlikely to outrun athletic defenders at the NFL level. Likewise, he won’t be making defenders miss in a phone booth, nor will he be lowering his shoulder and trucking defenders like Cam Newton or Josh Allen.

Projectable Stats

Completion Percentage: 66.4 (6th)
Yards Per Game: 216.8 (7th)
Sack Rate: 5.0 percent (3rd)
EPA: 55.2 (7th)
QBR: 71.8 (7th)

Pratt’s projectable stats aren’t particularly exciting on their own, save his solid 5 percent sack rate. They seemingly paint the picture of a mid-round prospect who would likely be a good, reliable backup at the NFL level.

What is interesting about Pratt’s stats is their year-over-year improvement from his freshman season in 2020 to his senior year in 2023. He improved in nearly every category in each year of his college career. For instance, his sack rate dropped from an unsightly 11 percent as a freshman to 8 percent in 2021 and 7 percent in 2022, before finally dipping to 5 percent this past year. Pratt took 33 sacks in 287 drop backs that first year, and only 13 sacks in 260 dropbacks in 2023.

Likewise, his completion percentage climbed from a poor 55.1 percent in 2020 to 57.6 percent in 2021, 63.6 percent in 2022, and then 66.4 percent this past year. His yards per game and yards per attempt dipped slightly in 2023, as did his interception rate, but not worryingly so.

All told, his projectable stats point to a player who has the floor of a reliable backup, but his steady improvement in efficiency and sack rate suggests that there might yet be untapped upside.

Game tape

Final word

Pratt should be regarded as a developmental quarterback, but might be the safest of the prospects to get that label.

He has adequate size, enough arm strength, and solid athleticism. He flashes the ability to make plays off platform while also being able to execute from the pocket. Off the field, Pratt is well regarded for his football IQ and as a teammate.

He might not have the high upside of players with more exciting physical traits, but his profile suggests a player who has the floor of a good, reliable backup to an established starter. There’s plenty of value in that and there have been a number of quarterbacks who have carved out long careers as such. Likewise, there have been plenty of teams who’ve suffered for not having a good contingency plan in place if their starter goes down. As he is now, Pratt might not be the reason why you win games, but he can at least be a player who could keep a team’s head above water.

But Pratt’s improvement over the last four years suggests that he has untapped upside. Pratt certainly has issues he needs to work on. His inconsistent footwork and throwing mechanics, his (likely related) inconsistent precision, and his occasionally slow processing will all need to be improved at the NFL level. Whether or not he’s able to improve those (and by how much) will determine whether or not he can become a starter.

And in that vein, getting NFL coaching and landing in a situation with year-to-year stability could be the lynchpin for his development.

Pratt’s draft stock will ultimately be determined by whether teams believe he can be developed into that starter. Ideally, Pratt would land in a situation where he can learn behind an established starter. Scheme-wise, he might be best in a “New West Coast Offense” (similar to those called by Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, or Mike McDaniel) that would play to his quick release and not ask him to attack vertically or hold the ball for too long.

There have been several examples of quarterbacks who improved every year in school but were underestimated coming out of college, and Michael Pratt has a chance to be the next in that line. But even if he doesn’t become a starter, a mid-round pick isn’t a terrible price to pay if he “only” becomes a reliable backup.