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2024 NFL draft quarterback deep dive: Spencer Rattler, South Carolina

Can Rattler reach his potential in the NFL?

South Carolina v Tennessee Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The 2024 NFL Draft is projected to be one of the deepest and most talented in recent memory. In particular, this draft is projected to be deep at the cornerstone positions of offensive tackle, wide receiver, edge, and cornerback.

But more importantly, this draft is also projected to be deep at the foundational position of quarterback.

That’s notable for the New York Giants, who are widely expected to add a quarterback at some point this offseason. They could potentially add one in free agency, draft one highly, or take a flier on a developmental prospect.

If they choose the latter option, they could look at Spencer Rattler of South Carolina. Rattler will be a polarizing prospect with intriguing upside, but is also a complicated evaluation.

Games watched

Oklahoma
vs. Iowa State (2020), vs. West Virginia (2021)

South Carolina
vs. Clemson (2022), vs. Georgia (2022), vs. North Carolina (2023), vs. Georgia (2023)
vs. Missouri (2023), vs. Clemson (2023)

Background

Rattler is one of several quarterbacks in the 2024 draft who availed himself of the transfer portal in search of a better situation, leading to a winding path to the NFL.

Rattler was highly recruited out of college and was considered a four star recruit by ESPN, and was their top QB recruit, and was rated a 5-star recruit by Rivals as their top Dual Threat quarterback.

He committed to Oklahoma, following Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Jalen Hurts in Lincoln Riley’s offense. Rattler only attempted 11 passes in three games as a true freshman behind Jalen Hurts, but broke out as a starter in his second season. Rattler was compared to Patrick Mahomes following his 2020 season and considered a future Heisman frontrunner. It naturally followed that he was talked about as a possible future first overall pick for his ability to scramble, extend plays, and make some truly impressive throws off-schedule and off-platform.

But then things went sideways for Rattler’s career. He didn’t take the expected steps in 2021, still showing many of the same inconsistencies that marred his 2020 tape. Rattler was benched in favor of talented freshman Caleb Williams and ultimately transferred to the University of South Carolina prior to the 2022 season. Rattler continued to flash his upside at South Carolina but has largely been off the draft radar. That began to change toward the end of his time at South Carolina and he made waves at the Senior Bowl.

Measurables

Height: 6-foot, ⅛ inch
Weight: 219 pounds
Arm length: 31 ⅛
Hand size: 9 ¾

Rattler has a compact frame and is short for a quarterback at a hair over 6-foot, but has solid bulk at 219 pounds. His low center of gravity helps to facilitate his scrambling and helps him to survive poor tackle attempts. He also has big hands for his height which help him to grip the ball while scrambling.

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

Rattler wasn’t asked to carry a heavy mental load in either Oklahoma nor South Carolina’s offense. He wasn’t asked to make calls or checks at the line of scrimmage, and neither offense called for him to be particularly active in the pre-snap phase beyond signaling for a player to go into motion.

He was typically asked to make one or two-man reads, and he’s able to do so well. He was able to navigate more extensive read progressions later in his career at South Carolina and the tape shows his helmet swiveling between his reads, though those didn’t come often. Likewise, he shows an understanding of eye discipline and how to use his eyes and body language to manipulate defenders and expand receiving windows.

Rattler showed a good command of both offenses and an understanding of where his receivers would be and when. Likewise, he is capable when going off-script and seemed to build a good rapport with his receivers in scramble drills. He seemed to have a good understanding of how to move in order to extend the play and allow his receivers to work open down the field.

While he seems to be able to identify defensive schemes and coverages, Rattler can struggle to identify blitz packages during the pre-snap phase. Likewise, he can lose track of defenders at the second level. That could be related to his height and sightlines, but if so, he will need to improve his ability to anticipate defenders’ actions.

Mental processing

Rattler is capable of moving through his reads and accurately reading the defense when he’s playing in rhythm and with urgency. This is most obvious early in games, before pressure mounts from the opposing defense or to keep up with the opposing offense. Rattler is able to play quickly and effectively, but his play can become frayed if the game starts to snowball.

Rattler seems to have a persistent issue with anticipating or identifying pressure. He consistently seems surprised by pass rushers and at times never recognizes the potential for a blitz. He has limited pocket presence and has issues navigating the pocket. While it’s improved a bit at South Carolina, Rattler has a tendency to either escape the pocket early, not escape when he should, or recognize when he needs to go to a hot read.

Likewise, and related, he can be slow to work through his progressions, or perhaps can’t keep up with an accelerating game. He shows indecision when parsing route concepts and often double-clutches the ball or waits for receivers to make their breaks before throwing. That can slow his process and open him up to additional pressure when a pass thrown with timing and anticipation would allow him to get the ball out before pressure becomes an issue.

His offensive line did him few favors in 2022 or 2023. However, his issues with identifying pressure and reacting quickly exacerbated protection issues and exposed him to more pressure than was strictly necessary.

As with many of Rattler’s issues, this is one that’s inconsistent. He flashes the ability to read defenses quickly, make good decisions, and get the ball out with timing and anticipation when under pressure. However, these problems crop up throughout his tape from 2020 through 2023.

Competitive toughness and leadership

Rattler is a very tough quarterback, both physically and mentally.

He showed up every play and every game and gave good effort regardless of the situation. Rattler was consistently willing to extend plays, risk hits behind the line of scrimmage, and take on contact. He showed little fear as a runner – either scrambling or on designed quarterback carries – and was willing to take hits to pick up extra yardage. Rattler is also willing to test tight coverage when necessary and appears to have a short memory with respect to turnovers. He didn’t commit an egregious amount of turnovers, but didn’t shy away from aggression when one did happen. He was also willing to hang in the pocket and test the defense on late downs and long distances, which created some of the “wow” plays that will be cited as reasons to believe in the young man.

Rattler has shown solid resilience off the field as well. He hasn’t had an easy path to the NFL between being benched, having to transfer, and then exist in an SEC that’s been dominated by Georgia and Alabama. South Carolina is only 13-12 in his time there and while they’ve had talent on their roster, they’re out-manned by the conference heavyweights. Rattler wasn’t able to lift the Gamecocks to contention by himself, but his willingness to compete was notable.

Coaches and teammates at South Carolina have also spoken highly of Rattler’s leadership off the field, as well as his growing maturity.

He reportedly apologized to head coach Schen Beamer after their October loss to Texas A&M for letting the team down and not being able to single-handedly pull them to victory. He has also reportedly been active in helping the team’s freshmen acclimate to the SEC, as well as keep their spirits up throughout the game.

Arm talent

Spencer Rattler’s arm talent leaps off the tape.

He has a relatively tight, compact throwing motion that allows him to get the ball out quickly once he commits to a read. Rattler typically uses an “over the top” throwing motion which helps compensate for his height, but his arm has enough elasticity to allow him to change his arm angle and use a three-quarters or side-arm motion to get around defenders if a traditional motion won’t work.

He flashes solid fundamentals and mechanics in his throwing motion, doing a good job of stepping into his throws and generating power from the ground up. He’s also capable of generating torque through his trunk to effectively throw while on the run. Rattler throws a very catchable ball with a tight, stable spiral and is able to drive the ball to all areas of the field. He’s able to threaten the defense vertically down the field as well as to either sideline. He also has plenty of velocity with which he can challenge tight coverages.

While Rattler has a strong arm, he’s lacking in consistency and precision as a passer. He shows the ability to throw with solid fundamentals but doesn’t always do so, even from a clean pocket. He can fail to properly align his base with his target when forced to play quickly, despite having plenty of agility to do so. That can lead to obviously off-target passes or the ball sailing on him. His accuracy and precision are inconsistent as well.

Rattler is generally accurate as a passer, but his ball placement can limit his receivers. At best, he can throw low or behind receivers, as opposed to leading them to the open field and giving them opportunities for yards after the catch. At worst, he can put the ball in danger, giving defenders opportunities to generate turnovers (or knock the ball away) when a better-placed pass would be much more difficult to defend.

Perhaps most frustratingly, Rattler is capable of accurate, precise, and well-placed throws while under pressure. However, he is also capable of poor passes while unhurried in a clean pocket.

Athleticism

Rattler is a very good athlete and incorporates his athletic ability into every aspect of his game. He’s a quick, springy athlete with great agility and short-area quickness. That allows him to escape would-be tacklers and make defenders miss while scrambling in the backfield. He has the agility to reverse field while extending plays, cut and turn upfield, or quickly set his feet while throwing on the run.

He’s also capable of hurting defenses on designed quarterback runs, bootleg roll-outs, and zone reads. Rattler has enough speed to pick up chunk yardage on designed runs or when scrambling.

Projectable stats

The use of stats and analytics is changing how we view and analyze the game of football. However, just because we have masses of data points, doesn’t mean we automatically make better decisions. Data that’s misunderstood or poorly interpreted is the same as no data at all, and distracting noise at worst.

However, there are some stats and advanced analytics that do have predictive value. Some stats, such as sack rate, are “sticky” and can follow quarterbacks from college to the NFL, as well as from team to team.

For our purposes, we’ll be looking at completion percentage, yards per game, EPA, and ESPN’s QBR. Each of those stats have a moderately-strong to strong correlation coefficient between college and the NFL. None of them are definitive, but they’re another tool that can help provide a backstop to check bias as well as confirm what we did (or didn’t) see on tape. For reference, I’ll be listing their rank among top quarterback prospects in 2023.

Yards per game: 265.5 (6th)
Completion percentage: 68.9% (4th)
EPA: 41.3 (8th)
QBR: 65.3 (8th)
Sack rate: 9.1% (8th)

Rattler’s stats are a mixed bag, with some trends that are encouraging, while others are concerning.

They aren’t particularly impressive compared to the top quarterbacks in the draft class. He’s accurate, but wasn’t particularly efficient outside of his 2020 season. Likewise, he didn’t throw for many yards per game, but got sacked at the highest rate.

Looking back over previous years, he did tend to get more accurate from Year 1 to Year 2 in a system. His accuracy jumped 7.4 points from 2020 to 2021 at Oklahoma (from 67.5 to 74.9 percent), and 2.7 points from 2022 to 2023 at South Carolina (66.2 to 68.9 percent). He also cut down on interception rate from 2022 to 2023 in a similar manner, going from 3% to 2%. That would suggest a player who improved his command of the offense with more time in it, which also lines up with what his tape showed.

On the flip side of that, his yards per attempt stayed consistent from 2021 to 2023 (7.9, 7.6, and 8.0). He did improve slightly, but never managed to match his 9.6 yards per attempt in 2020. Most concerningly, his sack rate went up each year, starting from a relatively high 6% and climbing from there.

Game tape

Final word

Rattler is going to be a polarizing prospect in draft rooms.

It’s easy to fall in love with his highs and let the “wow” plays there will be scouts who want to like him and coaches who are sure they can fix the warts in his game. Highlight reels of him scrambling and throwing 40-yard passes make comparisons to Patrick Mahomes or Caleb Williams roll off the tongue.

Visions of Houdini-act heroics can make it easy to ignore the bad plays and raise the possibility of him reaching the lofty expectations foisted upon him after 2020.

The flip side is that there will be evaluators who won’t be able to ignore Rattler’s issues against pressure or precision as a passer. That’s the flip-side of the 40-yard bombs and “wow” plays – that Rattler wasn’t able to keep the offense on schedule well enough that heroics were necessary. There will also be teams who move him down their draft boards simply due to his stature.

His development will depend on learning to anticipate pressure and have an answer ready before the ball is snapped. Whether it’s changing to a better play, adjusting the protection to account for a free rusher, or understanding when getting to a hot read soonest is absolutely necessary. Rattler will also need to do a better job of playing with anticipation and understanding when and where to look for the big play.

The most fair analysis of Rattler is that multiple things can be true at the same time.

He absolutely has exciting physical traits and the ability to generate game-changing plays and there’s a reason why he had so many people so excited after his 2020 season. It’s also concerning that there are still persistent issues regarding his processing, mechanics, and ball placement across four years at two different programs.

Rattler is the type of player who can look like a first-round pick in one series, then an undrafted free agent on another.

Development isn’t linear, and it’s possible that Rattler can still develop into a game-changing player. However, it’s also possible that his issues with identifying pressure and playing with consistency are part of who he is. That uncertainty could make Rattler the biggest boom/bust prospect in the draft. His flashes of brilliance can convince a coach to just keep trying, but his lows could get a coach fired.

Rattler will be drafted, and likely much earlier than he would have been a year or two ago. However, he also comes with a bright “buyer beware” disclaimer. Just how early Rattler is drafted will likely depend on each individual teams’ assessment of his risk.