Is Sam Ehlinger the Third-Best Returning Quarterback in the Country?

Chris Dukes

If you listen to a lot of NFL scouts and pundit, Trevor Lawrence has been settled in as the No. 1 overall pick for the 2021 NFL Draft since midway through his sizzling performance against Alabama in the College Football Playoff Championship his freshman season. 

Last year Ohio State's Justin Fields earned a spot right next to him with a Heisman-finalist season in Columbus. 

Still, that leaves a big group of quarterbacks sitting on the next level heading into the 2020 season. Pro Football Focus took a look at returning starters and ranked Sam Ehlinger, Sam Howell (North Carolina), Kedon Slovis (USC), Jamie Newman (Georgia), Tanner Morgan (Minnesota), Brock Purdy (Iowa State) and D'Eriq King in a dead heat for the next spot on their list for now. Here's what the site had to say about Ehlinger. 

 Argument for: Over the last two seasons, Ehlinger has produced a two-year overall grade that is the fifth-best at his position and has been among the 10 most valuable players in the country both years. Ehlinger has squeezed some impressive throws into tight windows in that span — his 33 big-time throws to a tight window since 2018 is tied with Burrow for most. He's been particularly good when leading the receiver across the field — his horizontal lead passes have been his bread and butter. Ehlinger’s grade on such throws and accurate pass rate both crack the top-five.

Argument against: Ehlinger’s mobility can be an advantage at times, but there are just far too many instances of him bailing on clean pockets and trying to create a positive play with his legs instead of his arm. In fact, it happened 40 times in 2019, which was six more than any other quarterback. Sometimes this works out for him, but a majority of the time he bailed way too early and had a better option.

Our take: Looking at Ehlinger purely as a pro prospect, he's definitely going to have to continue to develop his game in 2020 to impress scouts, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that he could work his way into a first-round tier with an impressive senior campaign. We've seen the last three No. 1 overall picks come from way down the board to the very top over the course of just a few months and it's important to remember that he will have the same quarterbacks coach in  who helped develop Fields a year ago in Mike Yurcich. I expect Ehlinger to get more help from his offensive line and running game this season and showcase more of his arm than his legs going into the season. This is a big pack right now, but Ehlinger is going to get plenty of chances to separate himself through the season.