The list of names for the 2021 NFL Draft quarterback class is taking shape and starting to demonstrate some interesting depth. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence enters the season as the clear number one, with Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Texas’ Sam Ehlinger and Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond all in the next tier. The state of Texas certainly has several solid NFL Draft prospects at the position. To some extent, you can also include D’Eriq King in that group, since he spent significant time at Houston, but will now be playing at Miami. However, there is another, lesser-known, quarterback who plays his football in Texas that could be an intriguing developmental option. Let’s take a look at a potential sleeper in the 2021 NFL Draft in the form of SMU quarterback Shane Buechele.
Buechele’s Texas beginnings
Buechele was a four-star recruit according to many of the major recruiting websites (Scout, Rivals, and 247Sports) having played both football and baseball during his high school days at Lamar High School in Arlington, Texas.
He threw for almost 6,400 yards as a QB in high school and went on to finish second overall in the Elite 11 quarterback competition in 2015. That group also included current (for now) Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins, as well as a couple of quarterbacks set to be drafted into the NFL including Georgia’s Jacob Eason and Michigan’s Shea Patterson (who was MVP of the competition).
Buechele joins the Longhorns
Buechele would go on to commit to Texas and beat out Tyrone Swoopes in 2016 to become just the second true freshman to start for the Longhorns and the first since Bobby Layne way back in 1944.
He set the Texas record for most passing yards by a freshman with 2,958 yards, along with 21 passing touchdowns and 11 interceptions, earning honorable mention for the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year. However, Texas finished with a 5-7 record and head coach Charlie Strong was let go after three seasons. Things then started changing quickly for Buechele.
Herman, Ehlinger join the fray
After a strong run as head coach of Houston, the Longhorns hired Tom Herman as their next head coach in 2017. They also brought in another well-regarded quarterback recruit in Ehlinger, who had a four-star rating of his own.
Buechele was still slated to be the starter entering the season but dealt with numerous injuries throughout the season. He still played in nine games before getting benched and serving as Ehlinger’s backup for the final two games of the season.
Buechele leaves Austin
Buechele and Ehlinger’s battle continued into the 2018 season, going back and forth throughout spring practice. Ultimately, Ehlinger’s momentum from the end of the previous season carried over into 2018 and he was named the starter for the Longhorns. Buechele did have to finish two games for an injured Ehlinger, but that was all the action Buechele saw in a season where the Longhorns won the Sugar Bowl over Georgia.
The lack of playing time led to Buechele redshirting the season and making the decision to transfer to SMU, whose own quarterback had transferred from SMU to Arkansas. As Buechele was a graduate transfer, he was eligible to play immediately.
Buechele reclaims shine with the Mustangs
Buechele quickly became the leader of the Mustangs, as he was named a captain and played all 13 games. He led them to a 10-win season and the team spent several weeks ranked in the top 25.
He threw for 3,929 yards, with 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions which all meant he re-asserted himself as a sleeper quarterback prospect for the NFL. Buechele was also named to the First Team All-AAC in 2019. He displayed a very strong arm at all points of the field, helping to open up the offense and utilizing the playmakers at his disposal, including wide receiver James Proche, who is set to be drafted into the NFL and performed very well in Mobile, Alabama at the Senior Bowl.
Buechele is also a very mobile quarterback, doing a superb job of using his feet to get out of trouble. However, he is also more than capable with his arm. His highlight game of the 2019 season came against Temple, where he threw for 453 yards and six touchdowns in a 45-21 beatdown of the Owls, which you can check out his throws here.
Certainly, the injury history and ultimately being benched will likely be an issue for teams when they are digging into him for the 2021 NFL Draft process. However, they will also see a leader on the field and a player with the mental strength to have put together this comeback story. His 2020 season with the Mustangs will be his most important one yet and it will no doubt be one that NFL evaluators focus most of their time as they prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland.
With another strong season in 2020 for Buechele, he has the opportunity to be in the discussion alongside the likes of Kellen Mond and his old buddy, Ehlinger. However, 2020 is set to be a very telling season for a quarterback hoping to demonstrate he has put his troubles behind him.