Matt Waldman shares his 2021 scouting report of the Colts’ new starting quarterback, Sam Ehlinger, an intriguing prospect with growth potential who Matt listed as a good pre-draft fit with Indianapolis.
Why the Colts Benched Matt Ryan
You’ll probably hear the reason for Matt Ryan’s benching is that they believe Sam Ehlinger gives the Colts the best chance to win. This sounds odd when considering that Ehlinger is a third-day draft pick from last year who lacks a rocket arm and couldn’t get Texas over the hump — all of the superficial things sportswriters love to share — but what Elhinger brings is better suited for what the Colts could not provide Ryan: adequate protection in the pocket.
After speaking with Trench Warfare’s Brandon Thorn about the Colts’ line last night, his simplest explanation for the state of the unit is that the team misses guard Mark Glowinski and tackle Eric Fisher more than they anticipated when it let them walk at the end of last year. While Ryan has been a good pocket passer with underrated skills maneuvering from pressure, he’s not the same player he once was in this area.
The Colts don’t see their offensive line getting any better this year and they likely feel the lack of time that Ryan needs will hamstring the offense. The Colts also have a lot of youth and inexperience at receiver. Ryan’s ability to see the field and process information is a strength, but only if his receivers can be on the same page with him. Aaron Rodgers is dealing with the same issues.
This is an athletic receiving corps. If the Colts had a quarterback who could extend plays, they could lean less on the conceptual pre-snap adjustments that are difficult for young/inexperienced receivers and lean into extending plays and letting receivers use their athletic ability to re-route into open spaces.
Another benefit of a mobile quarterback is the potential to design runs that force opposing defenses to account for all 11 players on offense. This makes it easier for the offensive line to create rushing lanes and opens the ground game. With a more efficient rushing attack, the Colts can also generate more one-on-one matchups that benefit the passing game, especially with their athletic receivers.
This is the likely theory behind the pat answer you’ll hear from the staff: We believe Ehlinger gives us a better chance to win.
This is also an opportunity to give a young quarterback a mid-year audition. Jalen Hurts and Davis Mills made good on theirs and both turned half of a season into an extended audition the following season. Bengals’ Ryan Finley got one and it didn’t work out for him, but it gave the Bengals clarity for their next draft, which led to the selection of Joe Burrow.
The Colts have obviously thought they were a quarterback away from serious contention. Philip Rivers wasn’t that player when they had a strong offensive line. Matt Ryan is arguably better but without an offensive line that Rivers had and missing pieces on defense, it doesn’t matter.
The team has that clarity of thought to realize it’s time to see if what they liked from Ehlinger can manifest in the regular season before moving onto a new plan in 2023.
Here’s my 2021 pre-draft scouting report on Ehlinger. I actually listed the Colts as a good pre-draft fit for his development.
You can find reports with this level of detail every year in my pre-draft guide, the Rookie Scouting Portfolio — past copies are also available.
QB Sam Ehlinger Scouting Profile
RSP Ranking: QB7
Height/Weight: 6-3/230 School: Texas
Comparison Spectrum: David Garrard-Carson Wentz-Mark Sanchez-X-Bryce Petty
Depth of Talent Score: 74.2 = Reserve: Contributor with limitations in scope and execution. Ehlinger is on the cusp of a Contributor grade, which translates to a player who can deliver starter execution in a limited role and for now, diminishing returns beyond that scope.
Games Tracked (Opponent/Date/Link):
- OU 12/1/18 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5l7UKlqI-Kw
- LSU 9/7/19 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u30Er3EdL30
- OK St. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sil4BvgMxKc
- Texas Tech 9/26/20 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cse4fQWDRdg
- USC https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89VpKCWYhgc
- TCU 10/3/20
- OU 10/10/20
- OK St. 10/31/20
The Elevator Pitch for Ehlinger: A game-tested, multi-year starter at a big-time program, Ehlinger has improved every year and plays with physicality and poise that could translate well to the NFL if he can continue to develop his accuracy and improve the speed of his processing so he’s getting the ball out accurately at the end of his initial drop more often.
Carson Wentz thrived for a year or two behind an Eagles scheme predicated on short drops and quick decisions with zone read decisions from pistol and shotgun. David Garrard would have done the same if in this scheme, especially with a far superior deep game than Wentz.
Ehlinger could be a good understudy for a team that wants to incorporate the offensive principles we’ve seen in Philadelphia and Indianapolis. He’s a sturdy runner with good athletic ability. He handles pressure effectively and he’s an underrated off-platform passer.
He’s like a third-day selection if he gets drafted and that gives him a longer window to develop behind the scenes. In 2-3 years, he could earn an audition as a second-contract starter or develop into a valued backup.
Where has the player improved? In 2018, Ehlinger would widen his stance just a hair before beginning his release and it inhibited his accuracy and ability to step through the throw. In 2019, this bad habit appears to be gone. His pump fake has more violence and range of motion. His deep ball is more accurate.
Where is the player inconsistent? Ehlinger’s vertical game is spotty. When he’s on, he’s capable of delivering pinpoint at a range of 40-50 yards. However, much like Carson Wentz, there are weeks where his targets beyond 40 yards drop everywhere but within a step of the receiver. The difference is that Wentz never had a good vertical game and Ehlinger has shown steady improvement, which would have caught the eyes of the public if his receivers didn’t drop so many of these pinpoint targets in 2020.
What is the best scheme fit? He’d be a great fit in the Eagles’ scheme because he can run, he is accurate against zone off the zone read and he has some improvable potential in the vertical game.
What is his ceiling scenario? While his opportunity to earn a starting role will be limited due to his likely draft capital, Ehlinger has the athletic tools to become a productive system quarterback in the NFL. With a good team around him, you may even hear fans of his future organization make vehement arguments that has become a legitimate franchise starter.
The first step is getting the ball out at the right time within the scope of a progression. He can’t lean on his legs and off-script plays in the NFL. He must have the vision and confidence to let the ball go at the top of his drops.
What is his floor scenario? If he develops his game to deliver on time or doesn’t land in an offense that conforms reads to what he does best, he’ll be fighting for a roster spot.
Physical: Ehlinger earned a lot of designed carries for Texas’ ground game. He’s a productive short-yardage runner who also has enough burst to move the chains on designed runs and not just as a passer breaking the pocket into an open shallow zone after outlet receivers have run off the linebackers.
Ehlinger is built to handle tight pockets and withstand contact as long as it isn’t excessive punishment.
Technical: His accuracy is underrated. He makes a lot of pro-caliber throws that good NFL receivers catch but his crew of wideouts has dropped.
Conceptual: He’s better against man coverage than he is zone when it comes to intermediate throws. This is one of the main sources of his difficulties getting the ball out on time and wrecking the designed timing of a play.
Intuitive: The fear for Ehlinger is that he lacks an intuitive feel for when to let the ball go. If he dispels this notion with greater study, he could thrive. His feel for pressure and preemptive measures to adjust his drop length and get the ball out has an intuitive quality.
Build: Well-built quarterback who could probably bulk up and play move tight end based on his quickness, feet, and skill as a ball carrier. He uses these skills well as a runner from the pocket.
Drops: Ehlinger has a good three-step drop plan from shotgun and finishes with a balanced stance. When he hitches, he finishes with a good stance width as well. However, the finish isn’t consistent with every throw type. When Ehlinger has to wait on a route, he’ll take an extra small step forward with his front foot that widens the stance and it inhibits his ability to maximize weight transfer.
Ehlinger knows how to open to one side of the field during a drop and finish looking to another. He’ll also adjust his drop plan based on pre-snap information to deliver a quick throw in the face of unblocked pressure off the edge, or he’ll change his drop to a rollout.
Ball Security: Ehlinger tucks the ball high to his chest when carrying the ball on designed runs. The elbow is close to his side but not optimally tight. Overall, he has strong ball security as a runner.
When rolling away from interior pressure, Ehlinger has both hands on the ball at his chest in a position where he can execute a quick release.
Play Fakes: Ehlinger delivers full-extension play-fakes with zone-read concepts and sells the exchange by bending his knees and shoulders to get under the sightline of linebackers and safeties. His play-fakes are convincing enough for the defensive end to tackle the running back on zone read concepts
When using fakes to set up boot-action, Ehlinger will use the non-ball arm to extend to the back and hide the ball on his chest with his back turned to the defense before rolling out.
Pump Fakes: The first time I saw Ehlinger use a pump fake in three games between 2018-19 was at the end of the LSU game after he crossed the line of scrimmage and pumped with some ball movement and low intensity before heading for the sideline. He prefers using a violent shoulder fake with the front shoulder.
In 2020, Ehlinger demonstrated a pump fake with full motion and moderate violence against TCU.
Release: Ehlinger has an over-the-shoulder release. The ball is brought back with the front point pointing downward before he begins the release motion, so it could be tightened up if coaches desire and feel it’s needed but the release is quick enough not to mess with it.
In 2018, the extra step with the front foot that Ehlinger sometimes added when waiting on a route to break, limited the effectiveness of his weight transfer and the ball died on intermediate and vertical throws that required distance and velocity. It appears he addressed this mechanical flaw in 2019.
When necessary, Ehlinger can deliver accurately in the short zones when forced to throw with a sidearm delivery. He’s an underrated off-platform passer within 15-20 yards of the line of scrimmage. There are more athletic and celebrated players in this class who aren’t as accurate or discriminating with this skill.
Accuracy (No Pressure)
On-Platform Accuracy: He displays anticipation on short and intermediate timing throws to the flat and boundary. He also displays placement behind the receiver on routes where the receiver will have a clear lane inside the pursuit of the coverage likely to overrun the play to catch up to the receiver making the reception.
The range of his deep accuracy is 45-50 yards but the level of accuracy is general as of 2018. In 2018 and 2019, Ehlinger has difficulty placing the ball to the shoulder where the receiver is open on vertical routes. Against TTU in 2020, he was closer to pinpoint with an opening slant but still at the back shoulder of the receiver despite placing it in stride.
Against TCU in 2020, he deliver a pinpoint 45-yard rail shot up the left sideline that the receiver caught against tight coverage but the officials called him for interference. He followed that up with a 34-yard target that resulted in a 52-yard play over the middle against tight man that was also pinpoint. He delivered a 42-yard pinpoint target up the right sideline later in the draft that was dropped against tight coverage.
Ehlinger fits the ball well over shallower zone defenders when targeting a receiver in the intermediate and vertical ranges of the field. In the short range of the field, Ehlinger will squeeze the ball between a trailing cornerback and safety with a placement that gives the receiver a chance to protect himself and the ball from the safety.
Off-Platform Accuracy: Ehlinger’s patience and setup of screens are pro-caliber right now. He opens up to the opposite side of the field smoothly, looks back to the middle as if he’s going to a second progression, and then fluidly turns to the backside and delivers the ball accurately to the back in the flat while fading away off his back foot.
Opposite-Hash Accuracy: He has general accuracy at 29 yards on a deep cross to the boundary and pinpoint at 33 yards on a back-shoulder fade. His opposite-hash deep fades have general accuracy at 38 yards. His go routes have pinpoint accuracy at 40 yards. He’s also too aggressive with targeting receivers in the vertical and deep range when there’s a defender over top to cut off the target.
Mobile Accuracy: He delivers with pinpoint accuracy at 25 yards moving to his right.
Decision-Making: Ehlinger will look off the opposite side of the field during a drop to hold a safety and set up a deep shot up the other sideline. He’ll also look off the flats and sidelines to open up the middle.
He’s an aggressive quarterback who will attack the deep and intermediate ranges when given an opportunity, but he will check the ball down even when pressure isn’t closing and he’s exhausted his options further downfield while in the pocket. He’ll also throw the ball away against early and insurmountable pressure.
He’s patient to work through 2-3 progressions against zone coverage and find openings in the intermediate or vertical range. He’ll read the field from sideline to sideline. He’s also skilled at waiting late to turn back to his intended route, getting rid of the ball fast and accurately against tight coverage over the middle.
Ehlinger does not account for zone defenders over top in coverage when targeting receivers breaking underneath these defenders in the intermediate and vertical ranges of the field. He’ll try to squeeze the ball in and while he’s often within general accuracy of the receiver, his decisions place his receivers in danger or the ball in danger of being cut off. He’s been doing this for three years and he hasn’t addressed the behavior.
One of the criticisms I’ve heard levied at Ehlinger is that Texas only gives him half-field reads to aid his decision-making. While this is a part of the playbook, there are plenty of plays on tape where Ehlinger reads the field fully.
One weakness of his game that could be magnified in the NFL is him not getting the ball out at the optimal time. This is common with a lot of prospects. Only the best make the transition. If he can, he’ll surprise as a starter. If he can’t, he may be fighting for an opportunity to develop into a backup.
Sense Pressure: Ehlinger shows some feel for backside pressure and will move without overreacting, even if it’s just one short or long step to adjust and then deliver the ball in rhythm to his receiver. He’ll even bait a corner blitz from the blindside, waiting until the corner is within a step before spinning and rolling away.
He’s willing to stand in the pocket and deliver into front-side pressure that’s unblocked, taking the hit. He’ll also throw the ball away if pressure is too close and he can’t make an accurate throw to an open man. Late pressure that reaches his knees or ankles doesn’t distract Ehlinger from delivering a late out or comeback with accuracy to the intermediate perimeter.
Ehlinger identifies the potential free blitzer off the edge pre-snap and adjusts his post-snap drop to deliver the quick throw. He also spots interior pressure pre-snap and times his response to it well post-snap if his teammates can’t stem the tide.
His post-snap reactions to blitzes without tells are also quick and fluid. He’ll flush or roll to an open side and get the ball out to an open man or out of bounds.
He has a sound pocket clock even when pressure isn’t arriving, he’ll know after a specific period of time in the pocket it’s best to flush to a side and buy extra time because the edge pressure will be making its way back to him.
Maneuvering From Pressure: Ehlinger can climb, flush, spin, roll, and use a combination of climbs and spins to exit the pocket. He has a feel for backside pressure and excels when he only has one defender to avoid or multiple defenders in succession when he can deal with one at a time.
As his career has progressed he has also become more accurate after moving away from pressure. The completion percentage may or may not support this point but based on my observations and tracking of catchable passes, this is what I have observed.
His climbs can be short or longer and he reduces the shoulder with both hands on the ball and step up into a compressed area and still deliver the ball with at least general accuracy downfield and pinpoint up the near sideline in the vertical range.
Ehlinger will wait within a step of interior pressure to spin from it and maximize the separation he can get by waiting this long because of the momentum built by the defender. Against edge pressure with a blocker getting pushed into the pocket, Ehlinger will wait within a step and does an excellent job of reducing the shoulder and moving the ball away from a defender’s reach, and using both hands to maintain possession.
He sidesteps interior pressure efficiently, resetting to deliver through a lane of multiple zone defenders to reach his receiver crossing the intermediate range of the field in stride. He’s the type of player who can work a designed roll in the red zone, encounter pressure that cuts off his roll, reverse field, and then hitch with controlled steps to the backside and find an open man.
Even early in his career, Ehlinger has displayed a good feel for bringing the ball down when he feels pressure and the route he’s on isn’t breaking open. He won’t force the ball.
On-Platform Accuracy: He can deliver at 32 yards pinpoint on a sideline fade after sliding away from edge pressure two steps and climbing on towards a compressed middle. He did the exact same thing the following year in 2019 against LSU with pressure forcing him to make a quick climb before he delivered over the defensive back on a line to Eagles at the same distance as the pass mentioned above and Eagles took it up the sideline for a score. If need be, he’ll stand and deliver with pressure in his face and do so with pinpoint accuracy against man coverage.
Off-Platform Accuracy: Ehlinger is productive with shallow-zone targets when throwing off-platform. He’s also capable with intermediate-range sideline targets.
Opposite-Hash Accuracy: He has the arm to deliver 40-45 yards with general accuracy on the go route with pressure compressing his throwing motion.
Mobile Accuracy: He can roll from interior pressure to his right and deliver 26 yards on the move with pinpoint accuracy up the sideline to a receiver crossing into that zone from the inside. He’s also capable of reversing field when a designed sprint works into pressure and throwing on the move to a receiver to escape pressure. He also gets enough under the ball to deliver an accurate 46-yard pass rolling right.
He can deliver a pinpoint pass against tight coverage at the boundary at 16 yards while throwing on the move to his right with a defender hanging off him.
Decision-Making: Ehlinger displays skill to begin his progressions with two reads to the right while dropping, slide a few steps from pressure, and deliver to his third read coming from the left side of the field and delivering it with pinpoint accuracy. Early post-snap, he’ll read the safety climbing to the flat and attack behind the defender even with pressure coming.
Scrambling: He usually makes the first man miss when dealing with pressure in the pocket or a designed roll to the right or the left. He also has a good feel for when to break the pocket and run. He slides when he has a chance to end a play without contact.
Running: Texas uses Ehlinger on a lot of designed runs. He’s strong enough to pull through hits and wraps from safeties—or at least extend through them for extra yardage at the end. He’s also strong enough to pull through reaches to his hips and legs by SEC-caliber defensive tackles near the line of scrimmage. He knows how to drop his pads and bounce off head-on contact to ride over the top of the collision.
Ehlinger has enough quickness to drop his weight on a run to the perimeter and reverse field to a quick cutback into the middle behind the pursuit to avoid losses when the defense has outflanked the offense on the perimeter. However, he’s not fast enough to beat a safety with an unblocked lane to the outside flat on a short-side perimeter run.
If you give him enough of a runway to build up speed, he can outrun the angles of safeties and linebackers. This includes gaining the near-side edge. He’ll slide to avoid hits when he reaches the open field and pursuit over the top has his lanes cut off.
What makes him effective as a runner is ultimately his footwork. He has quick and precise feet to execute pressure cuts or transitional cuts from sideline to downhill and it makes defenders miss and he maintains most of his original pace before the change of direction. Pair this with his size and strength, and Ehlinger is a deceptively effective runner.
These skills and athletic traits will make Ehlinger an effective red-zone runner in the NFL.
Durability: Ehlinger had a separated shoulder and a concussion in 2018.
Boiler/Film Room Material (Links to plays):
And of course, if you want to know about the rookies from this draft class, you will find the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), with the 2022 Rookie Scouting Portfolio for $21.95.
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If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2020 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.
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