03 May

Five Colorado games in 2024 season where Buffs QB can dazzle pro scouts

It’s likely we’ll see four or more quarterbacks selected in the first round when the 2024 NFL Draft gets underway on Thursday. We might even see quarterbacks go with the first three picks. Why? Well, not just because teams picking early in the draft often need a QB or because it’s the most important position in sports.

Ask NFL personnel evaluators, and they’ll tell you another big reason: There isn’t much confidence in next year’s crop of quarterbacks.

Looking ahead to the 2024 college football season, there is no alpha QB — the guy everybody looks at as the best player in the country and favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. The race to be the first QB chosen next spring is wide open, and one of the names often mentioned as a possibility is Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders.

Sanders is a polarizing prospect to many, and plenty of people would respond to the idea of Sanders being the first QB chosen next year with a hearty guffaw. Those same people would have had the same response a year ago if you had told them Jayden Daniels would win the Heisman and end up as the possible No. 2 pick in this year’s draft, yet here we are.

The great thing about players is they can improve! As the numbers show, Sanders has his strengths and plenty of weaknesses to address. Here’s a look at how Sanders performed last year in some key statistics and where they ranked among Power Five quarterbacks.

PLAYER PASSING EFFICIENCY COMPLETION RATE YARDS PER ATTEMPT YARDS PER DROPBACK TD RATE INT RATE SACKS PRESSURES PER SACK
Shedeur Sanders

151.7 (18th)

69.3% (7th)

7.5 (35th)

6.13 (45th)

6.3% (20th)

0.7% (4th)

49 (Last)

3.96 (65th)

More than the number of games Colorado wins next season, NFL evaluators will want to see Sanders show improvement in key areas. The biggest will be his propensity to hold onto the ball. Sanders was sacked 49 times last season, and while some of those sacks were the result of playing behind a bad offensive line, he bears plenty of responsibility himself. Few players in the country held onto the ball as long as he did waiting for a target to emerge.

Sanders isn’t alone in having this fault. USC’s Caleb Williams held onto the ball too long last season, and he will be the first pick Thursday night. The difference is Williams was far more mobile and used his legs to move the chains far more effectively than Sanders, who won’t wow anybody in the open field. I’d describe him more as fast enough than fast.

Unless Sanders suddenly emerges as a true dual-threat capable of outrunning defenders, his top priority next season should be processing quicker (both before and after the snap) and getting rid of the ball. The most impressive aspect of Sanders’ game, in my eyes, was that despite holding onto the ball too long and constantly finding himself under pressure, he took care of the football. He tucked it away when hit and didn’t fire it into dangerous areas when throwing.

Another area Sanders can improve is his ability to push the ball vertically. Only 79 of the 430 passes Sanders threw last season traveled further than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage, and he did not perform well when doing so.

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Sanders isn’t likely to develop superior arm strength over the course of an offseason, but even without it, he can improve his accuracy and timing on these throws.

While improvement of any kind will be important, it also matters who you do it against. There’s a difference between lighting up an FCS team and going off against one of the best teams in the country. Thankfully for Sanders, he’ll have plenty of chances against strong competition as the Buffaloes return to the Big 12 next season and have a few big nonconference opponents lined up, too.

Let’s have a look at five games on Colorado’s schedule where Sanders could separate himself from the rest of the pack in the eyes of NFL scouts.

  1. Colorado at Nebraska
    Saturday, Sept. 7

This is the second game of the season and Colorado’s first road test. Not only is it a rematch of last season’s Colorado upset victory, but it’s likely to be one of the biggest on the schedule that weekend. Plenty of eyes will be on this one.

  1. Colorado vs. Kansas State
    Saturday, Oct. 12

Kansas State is one of the most consistent programs in the Big 12 and is annually one of the stronger defenses in the league. If Sanders balls out here, it’s a good omen of what’s to come.

  1. Colorado at Arizona
    Saturday, Oct. 19

This road trip to Arizona will be the first time Colorado runs into one of its old Pac-12 mates in the Big 12, and the Wildcats are considered one of the favorites to win the conference this season. They also have a highly touted quarterback in Noah Fifita, who emerged as one of the best in the country last season. It’s not a head-to-head duel … but it’s a head-to-head duel.

  1. Colorado vs. Utah
    Saturday, Nov. 16

Utah was a top-20 defense in plenty of landmark statistics last season, which is nothing new. Under Kyle Whittingham and Morgan Scalley, the Utes have long made life difficult for opponents (just ask Caleb Williams). If Sanders plays well in this game, it won’t go unnoticed.

  1. Colorado vs. Oklahoma State
    Friday, Nov. 29

This game is included for two reasons. The first is that it’s on a Friday, giving it a much bigger spotlight at the end of the season. More importantly, given the expectations, this could be a must-win for the Buffaloes if they want to reach a bowl game. In other words, it could be a chance to see how Sanders performs in a must-win game against a team that has finished ranked in the final College Football Playoff Rankings seven times in the last nine seasons.

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