It’s a question that haunted analysts everywhere since 2018 — is Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger an NFL Draft prospect? Some say yes. Some say no. But everyone has something to say about Ehlinger, the polarizing passer who etched his name into Big 12 lore over the past four seasons. Does Ehlinger’s skill set translate to the NFL level? Or does his production mask a limited profile?
Sam Ehlinger NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Quarterback
- School: Texas
- Current Year: Senior
- Height: 6’1 1/2″
- Weight: 222 pounds
- Wingspan: 75 1/8″
- Arm: 30″
- Hand: 9 3/4″
Tony Pauline’s Sam Ehlinger Scouting Report
Positives: Highly-regarded college quarterback who does not project all that well to the NFL. Patient in the pocket, displays good vision, and locates the open wideout. Possesses incredible poise under the rush, steps up to avoid defenders and buys time for receivers. Effectively commands the offense, leads by example, and improvises when plays break down. Sells ball fakes, sets up screen throws, and picks up yardage with his legs when necessary. Always on the same page as receivers.
Negatives: Possesses an average release and lacks a big-time arm. Not an overly mobile quarterback. Loses a lot of speed and accuracy throwing on the move.
Analysis: Ehlinger is a high-character prospect and was very productive at the college level, but he lacks physical skills for the NFL. He struggled all week during Senior Bowl practices, and while he may never start in the NFL, Ehlinger may be worth keeping on the roster for the extra set of eyes on the sideline.
Sam Ehlinger Player Profile
Senior Bowl Performance
As expected, Sam Ehlinger didn’t move the needle a ton at the Senior Bowl, in regards to his NFL Draft stock. He was able to affiliate himself with NFL scouts and display his leadership ability. However, on the field, he was visibly limited, just as his tape echoed. His functional mobility earned him some nice plays, but as a passer, he failed to distinguish himself. That was evident even in the game, where Ehlinger completed just 40% of his passes.
Sam Ehlinger’s background
While there remains a lacking consensus over Sam Ehlinger’s NFL aspirations, he was a coveted quarterback in high school. In 2015, Ehlinger put together one of the best seasons by a Texas high school quarterback in history, at the school where Drew Brees and Nick Foles once played.
As a junior at Westlake High, Ehlinger completed 241 of 391 passes for 3,833 yards, 50 touchdowns, and just five interceptions. He also ran the ball for 1,360 yards and 20 touchdowns on 254 carries. For his success, Ehlinger earned recognition as the 2015 Texas State Player of the Year.
Ehlinger only played five games in his final season, suffering from injuries. But by then, his impression had already been made on college football evaluators. Ehlinger received interest from prestigious schools such as Houston and SMU, but he set his sights on the Texas Longhorns from the very beginning.
Sam Ehlinger’s career as the Texas quarterback
Ehlinger initially served as Shane Buechele’s backup as a true freshman. However, Ehlinger soon saw the field, logging his first start in Week 2 against San Jose State.
Ehlinger ended up splitting the starting role with Buechele. In six starts and nine game appearances, Ehlinger logged 158 completions, 1,915 yards, 11 touchdowns, and seven interceptions on 275 attempts. He also helped engineer wins against Kansas State and Missouri, notching a victory in the team’s bowl game.
Pulling away with the starting role
Ehlinger and Buechele battled for the starting job in 2018, and Ehlinger emerged victorious ahead of the season. The Texas quarterback would put to rest all remaining talk of the battle with his 2018 campaign. As a true sophomore, Ehlinger led the Longhorns to their first ten-win season since 2009. He passed for 3,292 yards, 25 touchdowns, and just five interceptions while completing 64.7% of his passes.
Texas made it to the Big 12 Championship and won the Sugar Bowl against Jake Fromm and the Georgia Bulldogs. They finished the season ranked ninth in the NCAA. It was the peak of Ehlinger’s career with the Longhorns, but he still made them competitive in 2019 and 2020.
Over those two regular seasons, the Longhorns compiled a record of 14-8 and a conference record of 10-7. They’re in contention to win back-to-back Alamo Bowls this year, and Ehlinger was a big part of that success.
Despite his penchant for winning, Ehlinger confounded analysts in the draft scouting sphere. Some sang his praises, while others lamented the idea of him starting in the NFL. Even now, as onlookers debate the 2021 quarterback class, Ehlinger’s standing is a matter of interest. How exactly does he project to the NFL level? Is he worthy of an NFL draft selection?
Once and for all, is Sam Ehlinger an NFL Draft prospect?
It’s easy and difficult to be a fan of Sam Ehlinger. Several traits pop out as positives.
Ehlinger is an ultra-competitive player who plays with energy and fire. He’s also an active leader, not only for his team but for his community. Ehlinger was named a finalist for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award this season. His passion also permeates to other players on the field. Whatever he needs to do to win, he’s willing to do it. He even actively blocks for running backs downfield when he has the chance.
Ehlinger’s traits as a leader and a competitor should earn fans at the NFL level, but his physical makeup is what complicates his NFL projection. The Texas quarterback is big and tough, but for all his rushing production, he’s not going to test as well as people expect. He’s still an above-average athlete for the quarterback position, but his speed is only that, and he’s not evasive or agile.
Sam Ehlinger’s limitations as a thrower
Additionally, as a thrower, Ehlinger leaves a lot to be desired. He gets by to an extent with some good mental traits.
There are times when he uses his eyes to manipulate safeties. He clearly has a decent understanding of all the different moving parts of a given play. Yet, Ehlinger doesn’t always act on that understanding consistently. He can be slow to pull the trigger when going through his progressions, and a lot of times, when he waits too long, he lowers his eyes and looks to run rather than extending the play.
Ehlinger’s arm doesn’t do him any favors, either. Ehlinger can generate decent velocity when his base is set, but overall, he has a below-average arm. His release is relatively slow and concentric, and he doesn’t display the ability or elasticity necessary to throw at different arm angles.
Ehlinger’s lack of arm strength can be somewhat mitigated in the short ranges, but it shows up much more often in the intermediate and deep ranges. There, he lacks the velocity to get the ball downfield quickly. His accuracy also lacks down-to-down consistency. Although he improved this somewhat over the course of his collegiate career, it’s still a major concern, especially in an NFL where things move faster and where windows are tighter.
The verdict on Sam Ehlinger’s draft stock
Ehlinger is a leader and an absolute gamer. Multiple times, he put the Longhorns team on his back in competitive games, most notably this past year in a four-overtime loss against Oklahoma. The Texas quarterback is a respectable fighter. Also, as a two-time captain and a three-time Academic All-Big 12 selection, he offers impeccable locker room traits that will translate to the NFL.
However, that’s only half of the NFL equation. The other half consists of physical qualities, and there, Ehlinger comes up short. He lacks an NFL arm, both in terms of strength and elasticity. And he’s not as athletic as a dual-threat quarterback should be. Ehlinger’s experience and mentality should lend him an NFL career, but he’s almost certainly a Day 3 pick.
Similar to fellow Texas legend Colt McCoy, Ehlinger best profiles as a long-term backup. His competitive edge also gives him a chance in spot-starting situations.
Sam Ehlinger’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Anywhere from Round 5 to Round 7 is fair game for Ehlinger. I personally wouldn’t pick him until later on Day 3 — and there’s no guarantee he’s picked at all — but he has traits some NFL teams may gravitate to when looking for a quality backup. The potential fits for Ehlinger are fairly wide-reaching. Any team with a need for a backup, or an aging backup and a need for a QB3, could benefit from adding Ehlinger to the roster.
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Stacking Ehlinger with an early-round rookie passer also has merit. Ehlinger has the traits you want in that situation. He’s unlikely to create a quarterback controversy, but at the same time, he’ll work and accept his role and be ready in case his number is called.
He might also be a good mental companion for another rookie passer, similar to Brett Rypien and Drew Lock in Denver. Taking this into account, Ehlinger exists as a potential late-round option for teams like the Jets, Bears, and 49ers. Additionally, the Texans, Seahawks, and Giants might also be good fits.
Picking the best fits for the Texas quarterback is, of course, a subjective exercise. Keep in mind that he’s not being selected as a starter. If Ehlinger is selected, it’ll be to serve as a backup or quarterback depth. Every team needs that, and Ehlinger’s profile meshes well with that projection.
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