One of the best returning players for the Texas football program is obvious for the 2020 season, to-be senior QB Sam Ehlinger.
Pro Football Focus is starting to convert from the mode of grading out the individual performances in college football and NFL games this season to grading players for the upcoming NFL Draft. There’s also the trend that is about to start of the “way-too-early” college football rankings and assumptions of who the best returning players and Heisman contenders will be. The Texas football program gets itself intertwined in these discussions year in and year out.
In relation to the 2020 season for the Texas Longhorns football program, the most talked about player will definitely be to-be senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger. Entering the 2019 regular season, Ehlinger was already one of the most hyped up junior quarterbacks and Heisman contenders in the nation. But Ehlinger and the Longhorns didn’t live up to that hype for most of 2019. With a new chance to turn the page in 2020, there could be better fortune ahead for Ehlinger in his fourth-year as the starting quarterback.
Doesn’t that sound weird to almost be calling Ehlinger a senior quarterback?
It seems like just yesterday Longhorn football fans were getting over the fact that Ehlinger wasn’t turning the ball over at the worst times each game. Granted with the roller coaster ride this Longhorns team went on in 2019, it feels like a long while ago that Ehlinger was declaring that this program was “back” after beating the Georgia Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl to round out the 2018 season.
Moreover, a more refined and analytics-based outlet like PFF even has Ehlinger among their best returning quarterbacks (as far as we know now) for the 2020 college football season. PFF ranked their top 10 best returning college football quarterbacks for 2020, and Ehlinger was No. 6 on the list.
Here’s what PFF had to say about Ehlinger’s stature for the 2020 season.
While Texas football isn’t back to contending form, Sam Ehlinger is doing his part and had one of the top seasons PFF saw in 2019. After the Longhorns’ blowout win against Utah in the Alamo Bowl, Sam Ehlinger’s PFF grade improved to 90.5 — the sixth best in the country. PFF recently debuted our wins above average metric (WAA) at both the professional and collegiate levels, and this only validates Ehlinger’s great play in 2019. Regardless of position, Ehlinger was the fifth most valuable in WAA and the most valuable among those to play only 12 games. Ehlinger can hit his receiver in stride across the field like most can’t. For example, on crossing routes, his 91.8 PFF grade ranks fourth in the FBS and is one of nine to be above 80.0. Including horizontal passes, Ehlinger is second in accurate-plus pass rate behind Joe Burrow.
At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, Ehlinger is a quarterback who can handle designed runs but can bail on the pocket a touch too soon. As a result, he has placed among the top 15 at his position in both 10-plus yard runs and broken tackles. While that style of play won’t carry over at the NFL level, it’s working for him in college.
There were two quarterbacks out of the Big 12 ranked on this list. The other is the Iowa State Cyclones to-be junior quarterback Brock Purdy. This is somewhat rare to see just two Big 12 quarterbacks, and none from the Oklahoma schools, in the top 10 on a list like this.
Former Texas head coach Mack Brown saw his quarterback recruit, the North Carolina Tar Heels to-be sophomore Sam Howell, on this list at No. 4. And the list was rounded out by Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence in the top two, in that order.
Ehlinger finished up the 2019 season, including a win in the Alamo Bowl over the Utah Utes, with a resounding 39 total touchdowns and just nine interceptions. His production was down from his sophomore season, but was still very solid by really any consideration.