Spencer Sanders Is The Sleeper QB You're Looking For

Photo: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

North Dakota State University has this extremely good football team playing at the FCS level and sent Carson Wentz to the NFL as the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft; it was the highest selection for an FCS player — ever. The Bison’s have another NFL-ready quarterback in the 2021 draft class, if he wants to declare next year. 

His name is Trey Lance.

Lance is not a sleeper. He is a small-school prospect, in that he attends a school that doesn't play at the Power 5 level, but he was a 3-star recruit, a top-50 quarterback recruit and a top-10 recruit in the state of Minnesota. He's also a national champion for a team that, well, wins a lot of national championships — North Dakota State has won 8 of the last 10 FCS championships — and has sent multiple quarterbacks to the NFL. 

While prospect watch lists are being built, many people are gathering names and trying to figure out how generally good these players are and who is worthy to follow in the 2020 season. Sleeper prospects come when the season begins and draft discourse on their 2020 film begins. If nobody is truly undiscovered, who can really be a sleeper during the summer? I'm going to argue the closest thing we've currently got is Spencer Sanders, the rootin'-tootin' gunslinger for Oklahoma State.

Nobody talks about Sanders as a quarterback of draft interest and understandably so: He was a redshirt freshman and only has 11 games under his belt after a torn ligament in his throwing hand ended his 2019 season. Quarterbacks typically don't declare young; starting experience and growth are big parts of the evaluation process for passers, who enter their first seasons with a steep learning curve ahead of them. Quarterbacks typically don't get to start as redshirt freshmen either, and when they do, they aren't as good as Sanders was.

Sanders threw for 2,065 yards on 247 attempts (8..4 yards per attempt), completed 63% of his passes and recorded 16 touchdowns to 11 interceptions last season. Those numbers put his season, in terms of passing efficacy, right around those of Florida's Kyle Trask (8.3 yards per attempt on 67% completion percentage), Iowa State's Brock Purdy (8.4 yards per attempt on 66% completion percentage) and Texas' Sam Ehlinger (8.1 yards per attempt on 65% completion percentage). All three of those quarterbacks have some draft buzz to their names. Where is the buzz for Sanders?

You may see Ehlinger or even Purdy and wonder about Sanders' running ability, and again, he holds up. Sanders was more efficient than Ehlinger on a similar volume, though he wasn't used nearly as much in the red zone since he doesn't have the same fullback frame Ehlinger does. Most of the concerns around Sanders are around his scoring ability: Sanders only accounted for 18 touchdowns last season across those 11 games.

Remembering Sanders' supporting cast helps put it in perspective. Chuba Hubbard was tied for the most rushing touchdowns (21) of all Power Five running backs last season, with J.K. Dobbins and Jonathan Taylor, and had more rushing attempts (328) than any college back. Sanders enjoyed training wheels that few other redshirt freshman passers get in college, which could help explain why he was such an efficient passer and help excuse his low scoring output.

Sanders' film is extremely fun. He's an aggressive and accurate passer who looks for downfield opportunities and can extend plays to get those downfield shots by moving within the pocket or scrambling away from pressure. He's risk-prone with the football both as a ball-carrier and passer, but again, a lot of that can be excused and understood through the lens of his age. The more experience he gets, the smarter you expect him to become.

Sanders isn't a top-tier quarterback yet by any stretch of the imagination, where Lance belongs, but if you're looking for a sleeper, you can't be looking at the top tier anyway. Sanders is more than deserving of having his name mentioned in that second or third tier of passers that includes Ehlinger, Purdy and Trask, but he doesn't get that run either. Sanders is my best candidate for a sleeper passer, but then again: the more you know about him, the less of a sleeper he becomes.