Sam Ehlinger's momentum could move him up Indianapolis Colts' depth chart
Sam Ehlinger was a prospect several analysts had mixed emotions about ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft, with questions raised about his accuracy and ability to remain consistent at the next level. But it’s safe to say we’ve entered an era of good feelings surrounding the former Texas Longhorns quarterback after he made his NFL preseason debut in the Indianapolis Colts’ 21-18 victory over the Panthers on Sunday.
Ehlinger was the standout on the day as he went head to head with Jacob Eason in a continuing quarterback battle—which will definitely be for a backup role but could evolve into a starting one if Carson Wentz hasn’t returned from injury in time for the regular-season opener against the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 12.
After Eason finished out his night by marching Indianapolis down the field for a touchdown, Ehlinger looked like a true dual-threat quarterback as he helped the team get through to the other side for the win. Ehlinger completed 10-of-15 pass attempts for 155 yards with one interception, leading the team in rushing with 30 yards in that category on eight carries.
As we can easily see looking at the stat line alone, there’s a lot to like and some work to be done at the same time. One of the most notable improvements is accuracy and ball placement—areas we’ll need to see him stay consistent in. Ehlinger also seemed to handle the pressure well and had good pocket presence, also looking like the runner we know he can be, picking up some first downs and getting a two-point conversion.
Speaking of abilities purely as a passer, Ehlinger reworked his delivery ahead of the draft, giving him a release with more action that should help him with the long ball over time.
“I think he tried to loosen up his delivery a little bit and elongate it to a certain extent and get more action on it,” his former offensive coordinator Michael Yurcich told me ahead of the draft. “That’s why I say his anticipation needs to increase. The release got longer, and there’s more whip to it, so now he’s got to anticipate more to make up for it.”
Obviously, the greatest blemish in Ehlinger’s numbers was in his second series with that one pesky interception—and, my, was it an ugly one. The signal-caller had adequate protection and enough time to throw, but instead made it an easy pickup for Panthers defender Kenny Robinson.
Outside of gaining confidence and taking care of the football a bit more, the main thing we want to see more of from Ehlinger is moving the ball downfield. He didn’t really have many passing plays to write home about outside of a 47-yarder to former Texas teammate Tarik Black.
But it was after that play that Ehlinger helped the Colts complete their rally to victory after they trailed, sending a 25-yard strike to Tyler Vaughns to put Indianapolis at the Carolina 1-yard line, setting up a Benny LeMay touchdown run that was followed by the Ehlinger two-pointer. The ex-Longhorn and the Colts’ coaching staff did a fine job shaving six minutes off the clock afterward to end the effort with a game-winning field goal from Eddy Pineiro.
Can Ehlinger build off this bit of momentum and continue to solidify his weak spots as he moves forward in his rookie year? Doing so could mean him opening the regular season at the helm in Indianapolis, depending on how things shake out. He’ll have a chance to answer that question when the Colts face the Vikings up next at 7 p.m. CT on Saturday in U.S. Bank Stadium.