The Jury’s Out On Sam Ehlinger – Lee Vs. Thomas

Here we are, The Jury’s Out and this time we’re talking college QB’s and more specifically, we’re talking Texas Longhorns QB, Sam Ehlinger.

I will be going up against our very own Thomas Rowberry for this one. I’ll be taking the Ehlinger is bad angle, whereas Thomas is taking the more positive end of the spectrum.

You, the readers, the people are the ones who will make the judgement.

Before we get into it, here are Ehlinger’s stats from last season:

Passing – 25 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 3292 yards, 64.7%, 146.3 QB Rating

Rushing – 17 touchdowns, 482 yards

Let’s start on a positive note with Thomas…

Sam Ehlinger enters his Junior season at the University of Texas on the cusp of establishing himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of Texas Longhorns football. Last year as a Sophomore, Ehlinger took control of the Longhorns offense and provided stability at the quarterback position not seen since the days of Colt McCoy in 2009.

With Ehlinger at the helm Texas recorded their first double-digit win season since Colt McCoy led them to a 13-1 record in ’09. In doing so Ehlinger set multiple school and conference records, these include the Texas record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback after scoring 17 surpassing Longhorns legend Vince Young’s record of 15. He also set the Big 12 record for consecutive passes without throwing an interception, doing so by going 10 weeks and 308 passes without throwing an interception, breaking former West Virginia star, Geno Smith’s record of 273.

Throughout the 2018 season Ehlinger faced off and often outplayed some of college football’s elite quarterbacks, going head-to-head against the likes of eventual Heisman Trophy winner & first overall pick Kyler Murray, 2019 third round pick Will Grier, USC true freshman JT Daniels and likely 2020 first round pick Jake Fromm. In these games he and Texas beat Oklahoma 48-45 in the Red River Showdown, destroyed USC 37-14, lost in a 42-41 shootout against Will Grier and the Mountaineers, lost in the Big 12 Championship game against Oklahoma and then beat Jake Fromm and the Georgia Bulldogs in the All-State Sugar Bowl.

So why was Ehlinger so successful in 2018?

Improved Throwing Mechanics

One of the big reasons we saw an improvement in Ehlinger’s game in 2018 was down to an improvement in his throwing mechanics. In this article on Burnt Orange Nation they go into greater depth about how Tim Beck and the Texas coaching staff helped improve/shorten Ehlinger’s elongated throwing motion. The short version is that Ehlinger has compacted his lower body throwing motion, reducing the size of his strides whilst also holding the ball much higher than he did in 2017. The emphasis on raising where Ehlinger holds the ball helps sure up his throwing motion, taking seconds of his wind up and release allowing him to get the ball out far quicker than he did in 2017.

Improved Accuracy

In his nine starts in 2017 Ehlinger threw for 1915 yards, 11 touchdowns and 7 interceptions whilst only completing 57.5% of his passes for an average of 7.0 yards per attempt, not horrific numbers but not exactly lighting the world on fire either. These struggles looked to have followed Ehlinger into 2018 as he struggled somewhat in the 34-29 season opening loss to Maryland in which he threw a pair of interceptions to match a pair of touchdowns. This however proved to be an anomaly, over the next 10 games spanning two months Ehlinger would go on to complete 308 consecutive passes without throwing an interception whilst throwing for 19 touchdowns in the process.

Ehlinger finished the 2018 season having thrown 25 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions, for a TD:INT ratio of 5:1 which came second in the Big 12 to only Kyler Murray.

Athleticism

Vince Young is arguably the most athletic quarterback the University of Texas has ever had, he ran for at least 11 touchdowns each of his three years playing for Texas, eclipsing the 1000 rushing yard mark twice (he fell short by 2 yards his first season) whilst setting the school record for rushing touchdowns scored by a quarterback in a season, scoring 14 in 2004. Well, in 2018 Sam Ehlinger broke that record and did so by becoming a dominant redzone running threat. In 2018 Texas scored 33 redzone touchdowns, 16 of those were scored by Ehlinger.

It wasn’t just Ehlinger’s ability to run in short redzone touchdowns that were on display though, his ability to tuck the ball and find an open running lane helped keep drives alive, he showcased the ability to roll out of the pocket and throw on the run.

Against West Virginia (whilst playing with a grade 1 sprain of the AC joint) the Mountaineers sent an all-out blitz after Ehlinger who absorbed pressure and threw a 40 (air) yard dime off his back foot to Collin Johnson.

As stated at the beginning of this piece, Sam Ehlinger is going into 2019 with the opportunity to become one of, it not the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the University of Texas. His jump in production both as a passer and a runner from 2017 to 2018 cannot be stressed enough, with an additional year playing for Tom Herman and Tim Beck, and continued improvement on his mechanics we should expect Ehlinger to produce in 2019. Is he good enough to close the gap on Oklahoma in the Big 12? Potentially. Will he be a high draft pick in 2020? Again, potentially. At this point I see his upside being a third round pick. He has plenty of arm strength, albeit not elite. Has a good awareness on the field and an uncanny ability to find the goal line whilst in the redzone.

Sam Ehlinger is not Justin Herbert, Jake Fromm, Tua Tagovailoa or Jacob Eason however he is a damn fine quarterback who has all the abilities to succeed at both the college and NFL level and who might just go down as the greatest quarterback to walk the campus of the University of Texas.

Please look out for a follow up podcast in which Lee and I will debate Sam Ehlinger a little more, as well as a couple other quarterbacks we have differing opinions on, but without further ado, here part 2 with Lee being all dreary…

I don’t know what Thomas will have said as we did this as a blind article but I will open up by saying this, Sam Ehlinger isn’t a terrible player, he’s actually a fairly fun watch in some respects. However, I’m looking for college players who can be a success at the next level and make waves in the NFL. I’ll leave being a fun guy to Kawhi Leonard, just for a second.

Thomas probably spoke about Ehlinger’s size, how he fits the athletic profile that the modern day NFL just loves to see in quarterbacks and how he is a threat as a ball carrier… and that’s all well and good but is it enough?

We all know that the quarterback position is the most difficult position to play in sports. Not only is it is a physically demanding, requiring requisite arm talent, nimble footwork and strength but also the ability to process mentally  and have the ability to perform under pressure, whilst remaining true to your throwing mechanics and make the correct decisions with the football.

Let’s get going then.

Let’s start positive, Ehlinger does have a good athletic profile; he’s 6’3 and over 230lbs, so we’re talking about a big dude, essentially a shorter Josh Allen. Ehlinger also has a good amount of arm strength, unfortunately however, not as strong as Josh Allen, and is a decent runner and is especially potent in short yardage and goalline situations, hence why he scores a heap of touchdowns, 16 in 2018 in fact.

However, as he saw with Josh Allen and other mobile QB’s, such as Lamar Jackson recently being able to gain yards with your legs should be an added bonus, an ancillary trait, not something to hang your hat on.

What he should be doing, is wowing fans, coaches and scouting teams with his throwing abilities. 

So He Can Run, Can He Throw?

Texas play this super spready offense, which asks Ehlinger to throw to the sideline quite often, which to be fair to him, he does pretty well. He’s got the arm strength to reach the sidelines and his completion percentage was a respectable 64.7%, respectable but by no means elite. I’d really like to see that rise a few points in 2019. There are a lot of easy and quick throws incorporated in the offense; wide receiver screens and quick outs. There are also more difficult corner routes and then a fair amount of deep shots – I mean, why wouldn’t you with a receiver like Collin Johnson in your ranks?

Generally, over shorter and intermediate distances, Ehlinger is decent but I feel that he lacks a hell of a lot of polish. One thing that really stands out is his carelessness with his ball placement. 

On this designed roll out, Lil’Jordan Humphrey makes his out cut and since the slot corner is playing inside, Humphrey gets a load of separation – Ehlinger just has to pop the ball in front of him and it’s an easy 5 or 6 yard gain. This is a bit of a layup throw and it’s completely airmailed. Really disappointing play in the 4th quarter of a big game.

I noticed a little bit of a theme when watching Ehlinger that as the distances get further away, he struggles more and more when being asked to throw with timing and anticipation to hit a receiver whose route is on the horizontal plane. 

Humphrey runs a 15 yard route with an in-cut and Ehlinger really should be doing is putting it out in front of his receiver to allow him to continue his route and gain more yardage. Maybe there was a little miscommunication on the route because the ball is delivered behind the receiver, like he was expecting a deep curl. Either way, it really needs ironing out for next year.

On the last throw, Ehlinger wasn’t really under any pressure, which is a good thing… Because when he is, he falls to bits a little bit.

Here against USC, he has a defender bearing down on him and what everyone wants to see is the QB stand and deliver – take a lick but throw the TD. Ehlinger falls away from the throw and his mechanics go awry and again, he air mails a sure fire TD.

I don’t see a lot of finesse when it comes to Ehlinger’s game…

I don’t see touch passes, like ever. I don’t think in the 4 games that I’ve studied and those I watched when studying Collin Johnson, I don’t think I’ve ever been wowed by his ball placement.

To me, he hits what he should and the rest is pretty shaky, especially his deep ball. This is something I really take umbrage with… He doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing when throwing the ball deep…

Exhibit A)

Exhibit B)

That second clip, against Maryland, Ehlinger overthrows his man by 7 yards. I mean, what are we doing here? I just think he’s just heaving it up and hoping. 

One last thing in the passing game, before we move on to Ehlinger as a runner.

Pocket Awareness

Another disturbing theme is that Ehlinger really lacks pocket and situational awareness. If a defense can back Texas up and then put him under pressure then he is pretty liable to eating a bad sack.

To me, this screams that Ehlinger isn’t reading the defense correctly pre-snap and struggles to make snap decisions when he needs to.

Texas is in max protection and Ehlinger only has two routes to hit, both of which come to nothing but he’s slow to diagnose. This surprises me, as usually, he’s pretty quick to tuck the ball and run.

I’ll admit, having two route is hard and lack of options can lead to coverage sacks. However, there’s definitely issues making pre-snap reads, as this clip against Oklahoma shows.

Again, hopefully he’ll take a leap in his Junior season in this regard – He’ll need to if he’s going to be a high pick when he comes out.

Right then, on to one that all important athleticism…

Ehlinger is a good athlete and this naturally turns heads but I do think he can get himself into some situations in the backfield that he simply won’t be able to wriggle out of at the NFL level when he’s going up against bigger and stronger opponents.

I feel that sometimes he backs himself too much and it leads to sacks and modest gains. I don’t think he’s quite as athletic as he thinks he is. 

And I noticed that he can be neutralised by a spying linebacker fairly easily…

This is Cameron Smith, who ran a 4.69 40 yard dash and posted other mainly average athletic numbers at the Scouting Combine this past spring.

Like I said, he’s not Josh Allen in terms of his arm and he’s not Josh Allen in terms of his legs, either… And we all know how much I loved Allen coming out of Wyoming. [insert staring emoji].

Conclusion – I’m going to be blunt, I wouldn’t want my team to draft him, I think he’s a mid round QB with athletic upside, at best. He’s much more comparable to a Will Grier than Cam Newton or other large but mobile QB’s. In the college landscape he’ll win some games, especially in the Big XII, where defense isn’t exactly the cream of the crop. He will win hearts and minds and like I said at the top, he will be fun to watch… But does that make him a “good” prospect? Well that’s your choice.

“We’re back”, that’s what Ehlinger declared after the Sugar Bowl victory last year. Texas will be a decent bet for the Big XII title next year considering Oklahoma, lost a whole host of players including another Heisman winning QB, West Virginia lost a bunch of starters and Iowa State lost their best running back and wide receiver.

Can they do it? I’m not so sure, he does have time on his side and I do think Texas will win games in 2019 but to me it’s more like Sam Meh-linger… 

We hope you enjoyed this episode of The Jury’s Out

Follow @Full10YardsCFB on Twitter

Follow Thomas @Rowberry_

Follow Lee @Wakefield90

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