Spencer Rattler Deserves the Chance to Shed His Past Labels in the NFL

The South Carolina quarterback has been burdened by preconceived notions throughout his high school and college career, but now may have the chance to show his side of the story in the pros.
South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler (QB10) talks to the media at the NFL scouting combine.
South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler (QB10) talks to the media at the NFL scouting combine. / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

We have to begin in a place of unfairness to eventually reach a place of sanity. At least, that’s how it goes for Spencer Rattler, one of the draft’s most interesting quarterbacks.

It is hard to break the chain of narrative thinking, so when a quarterback first comes into our collective consciousness appearing as a brash and unconcerned teammate in a television docuseries, when he was once believed by the NFL draft Twitter consigliere to be the No. 1 pick and is now viewed as a second- to fourth-round selection, and when he then proceeds to get benched and forced to transfer, we can place it neatly into a story that has been fed to us a thousand times. Rattler was a bust right? A tragicomedy, depending on what you thought of him, since there were so many college fans who felt they could boo him like he was a 31-year-old, nine-year NFL veteran. Playing out the string at South Carolina was like watching some bar band where the lead singer claims to have once played bass in Metallica. 

But what if we lightly parsed through our logic for a second. What does the story actually tell us? 

“There’s more to it than that,” says Shane Beamer, who coached Rattler as an assistant at Oklahoma and then as a head coach at South Carolina.

South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Shane Beamer talks with quarterback Spencer Rattler.
Beamer on Rattler getting benched during his college career: “I’ve seen how he’s handled all that. He kept his mouth shut, worked hard and earned the respect of his teammates.”  / Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

First, the TV show. Rattler was on QB1: Beyond the Lights when he was a teenager. You can still find a clip easily on YouTube (the show has since been removed from Netflix) where Rattler calls a teammate an idiot and chides him for dropping passes. We leave out the fact that he was, you know, a teenager, that the entire idea of documenting a kid’s life at that age feels somewhat predatory in hindsight. And we leave out the truism that, as Beamer added, none of us would want a camera following us around at a time in our lives when our ideas of the world and ourselves are far from calibrated. Take it from a person who speaks to his high school best friends once a week and, nearly each time, there is a prayer of gratitude for our cell phones being obsolete, long destroyed, erased and without video or social capability. 

Then, the whole No. 1 pick thing. After Rattler’s redshirt freshman year at Oklahoma, where he followed Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts in succession, and led the Sooners to a Big 12 title game, we, again, thanks to some narrative thinking, almost universally projected him to be the No. top selection in the following year’s draft. Mayfield. Murray. The connection with quarterback whisperer head coach Lincoln Riley. It all made too much sense.  

The problem there, as Jim Nagy, the director of the Senior Bowl noted, is that it would be strange for any scout to be evaluating Rattler that season unless it was by accident, or that the player happened to flash during a moment where the scout was evaluating.

“No one,” he says, “is going out there and looking at a sophomore.” 

Then, when he lost his job in 2021. He lost it to…Caleb Williams

“Someone on Twitter when I was posting about him the other day said: 'Oh, didn’t he get benched?' ” Nagy says. “Yeah, for the guy who is going No. 1 in the NFL draft this year.”    

These stories, though, fuse together. It’s what our brain does naturally as a mechanism for making sense of the world. Rattler was viewed a certain way coming from a television series that we may think twice about making today. That created the arena for both immense vitriol and unsustainable hype. When he played well, that hype facilitated discussions about his future completely devoid of nuance or real information. And when he had to transfer, because a generational player was sitting behind him, it looked like the final act because he failed to live up to the hype that was created by several faulty mechanisms in succession. 

“I’ve seen how he’s handled all that,” Beamer says. “He kept his mouth shut, worked hard and earned the respect of his teammates.” 

South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Spencer Rattler throws a pass.
Rattler finished his college career throwing for 10,807 yards and 77 touchdowns. / Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Nagy says it was “all kind of gross” how Rattler’s career played out. And he’s right. We could use this moment as a mirror for ourselves, to think critically about the information we’re being fed, or about giving people in certain situations some grace based on their maturity level, but we could also recognize that Rattler was simply one of the first waves of quarterbacks to enter a new media landscape and take an uppercut to the chin. He was one of the first to have the totality of his football life documented, and then picked apart. As the Rivals generation entered the streaming era, there was a need for stars, heels and villains. Rattler was typecast.  

“He’s been through a lot, period,” Beamer says. “The way he’s wired and the way he’s been raised, it helped him deal with adversity. I wouldn’t worry about him at the next level because of how he’s wired.” 

If this seems decidedly pro Rattler, we’ll simply call it the other side of the story. Find the truth where you will. Beamer notes countless times over the past two years where Rattler was demolished in the pocket, operated behind an offensive line that lost six players to season-ending injuries (and had two true freshman starters on the offensive line for 10 games in the SEC). He threw to true freshman, had two coordinators in two years at South Carolina, and still managed to grow. To win some big games. 

“There was a play against Georgia, a third down in a backed up situation and we turned a guy free. Spencer knows he’s going to get the crap knocked out of him and he throws a 12-yard in cut on time to a receiver for a first down,” Beamer says. “He makes a lot of throws like that. He made big-time throws in that game.”  

Nagy says that when Rattler arrived in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, Rattler reminded him of Deebo Samuel. In both cases, the player arrives with some kind of pretense, true or not. Nagy says Rattler treated the whole experience like a “business trip.” 

In this version, it’s not really a story about a failure to live up to expectations, or a tragicomedy, or a comeuppance. We may just be truly getting to know someone we never bothered to learn more about for all these years. Those in his corner believe his NFL future will be more indicative of who Rattler really is. It’s just a shame it’ll take that long.


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Zach Koons

ZACH KOONS

Zach Koons is a programming editor at Sports Illustrated who also specializes in Formula One news and analysis. He started as a breaking news writer at SI before joining the programming team in 2023. Also a contributor to NBA and college sports coverage, Zach previously wrote for The Spun and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and currently hosts the Bleav in Northwestern podcast. Zach is a 2022 graduate of Northwestern University and lives in New York City.