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First Look

Scouting Shedeur Sanders: Colorado quarterback similar in style, skill set to Pro Bowler Geno Smith

Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders logged at least one touchdown pass in each of his 11 games for the Buffaloes last season, throwing four-plus in four different contests. (David Zalubowski/AP)
Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders logged at least one touchdown pass in each of his 11 games for the Buffaloes last season, throwing four-plus in four different contests. (David Zalubowski/AP)

NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2024. This is the first entry in a series of scouting reports that will run in July.

Deion Sanders' first Colorado team took the college football world by storm in the opening week of last season, knocking off heavily favored TCU in a 45-42 thriller. Deion's son, Shedeur, absolutely shredded the Horned Frogs, completing 81 percent of his passes for 510 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions. In the ensuing two weeks, the Buffaloes beat Nebraska and Colorado State, with the quarterback providing more video game numbers and throwing his hat into the Heisman Trophy race.

But in the fourth week of the season, Colorado ran into a buzzsaw, losing 42-6 at Oregon, with Sanders throwing for just 159 yards while taking seven sacks. A week later, Colorado lost a shootout to USC. In fact, the 2023 Buffaloes only managed one more win, finishing a disappointing 4-8 after a scintillating start to the season.

Now Colorado heads into Year 2 of the Coach Prime era in Boulder, with the Buffaloes transitioning into the Big 12 Conference. What can we expect from one of the most high-profile players in college football this year? After digging into Sanders' game tape from last season, here is my initial scouting report.

Height, weight: 6-foot-1 1/4, 198 pounds

2023 statistics (11 games): 298-of-430 (69.3%) for 3,230 yards (7.5 per attempt), 27 TDs and 3 INTs; 111 carries for -77 yards (-0.7 average), 4 TDs.

Game tape watched: vs. Nebraska (Sept. 9, 2023), at Oregon (Sept. 23, 2023), at UCLA (Oct. 28, 2023).

What I liked: Sanders is a pure thrower with a compact, smooth stroke. He has excellent balance and weight transfer upon release, possessing plenty of arm strength to drive the ball downfield. He can throw with timing/anticipation, and he's adept at selecting the proper pace necessary for each throw.

His toughness is another quality that jumps off the screen. He will plant his feet in the ground while under duress, choosing to accept physical punishment in order to achieve completions. He took some enormous shots in the three games I studied.

Where he needs to improve: While I admire his willingness to exhaust every down, Sanders' tendency to never give in and hold the ball results in far too many sacks. Some of these are unavoidable, to be fair. However, there are times when he tries to do too much, instead of dirting the ball and saving yardage. Stubbornness and aggressiveness aren't the only reasons for these sacks, though.

Sanders lacks the ideal suddenness and urgency to avoid defenders and create space/time within the pocket. This can be improved. Tom Brady is the ultimate example here. The G.O.A.T. defied age and improved in this area throughout his career. Right now, Sanders is too monotone with his lower half and needs to move with more urgency.

Biggest takeaway: Sanders has the foundation in place to develop into a solid NFL starter. I love that he doesn't throw interceptions. He sees the field well and can make every type of throw. He's ultra-competitive and has been able to function while under an avalanche of attention and pressure. There are definitely areas where he can improve, but I like the tools combined with the mental/physical toughness.

Colorado does have one premier weapon on the outside -- two-way star Travis Hunter -- but the rest of the offensive personnel was quite underwhelming in the tape I watched. The blocking up front (and by the running backs) was pretty abysmal. Hopefully that improves this fall and aids in Sanders taking a big step forward.

He reminds me of: Geno Smith coming out of West Virginia. Like Smith during his time with the Mountaineers, Sanders plays in a wide-open college offense that showcases his polish as a passer. Both Smith and Sanders have beautiful throwing motions and deliver a firm/catchable ball. While each is capable of taking the free yards presented in the run game, neither is dynamic as a ball-carrier.

Following a long, rocky start to this NFL career, Smith blossomed into a Pro Bowl quarterback. I see similar upside in Sanders. As my Move The Sticks Podcast partner Bucky Brooks would say, both of these signal-callers are more shooters than scorers. They are point guards who play really well within the confines of the play call; they aren't unscripted, creative playmaker types. It'll be important for Sanders' NFL team to realize how to best utilize his skill set.

I can't wait to watch him play: at Nebraska on Sept. 7. I expect the Cornhuskers to be much improved in Year 2 under Matt Rhule. This game will be a good test to observe what these two programs look like in the second season of a rebuild. I'm really curious to see what the new Colorado offensive line looks like. Can you completely overhaul that group and find early success? We'll find out.

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