Dino Babers’s scheme rises and falls on quarterback play, as we’re keenly aware of at this point. So for the Syracuse Orange football program, addressing the position was a key part for the offseason.
Landing three-star Justin Lamson in the class of 2021 was one step. Saturday’s news that Mississippi State QB transfer Garrett Shrader would be joining Syracuse is another.
Shrader excited Orange fans as a potential add for the last month, since he seemed to check some boxes as a dual-threat passer with intangibles that reminded them of Eric Dungey. That’s good, of course, given the recent state of the SU line. But a) it doesn’t guarantee success and b) that’s a pretty basic view of what the former four-star recruit brings to the table.
Since we already have a former four-star QB on the roster in Tommy DeVito, the big questions around Shrader will be what else he can do at the position and how do those skills offer an upgrade over DeVito?
Most notably, Shrader’s a true dual-threat quarterback, throwing for 1,170 yards (eight touchdowns, five interceptions) in 2019 with the Bulldogs while running for another 587 (six TDs). Those numbers aren’t eye-popping but he also didn’t play consistently for Mississippi State, starting four games as a freshman while getting significant snaps in another four contests.
Overall, he completed 57.5% of his throws, a number that’s alright but also needs some improvement. Shrader’s thrown just 153 college passes, and has only had two games of 25-30 tries. From an arm perspective, you’re very much looking a guy more similar to Dungey than DeVito, with an emphasis on shorter throws and less of a deep ball. However, Pro Football Focus does show that in 2019, he was able to use various parts of the field and could complete passes both in the middle and past the first down marker — something DeVito’s struggled to do in part due to poor offensive line play and constant pressure.
Comparing the two passers in 2019, DeVito was more effective in the 0 to 10-yard range and had more touchdowns (overall and of 11 or more yards) by way of throwing more passes. However, you could state that they were pretty even elsewhere from a completion percentage standpoint. DeVito just avoided picks more, failing to throw one after September of that season.
Neither player completed passes to the left or right of the hashmarks with any consistent success or frequency, doing most of their work (and getting most of their productivity in the middle of the field). Not all “middle” throws are created equal, obviously, and we can’t pinpoint exactly how many were just inside the hashmark vs. truly over-the-middle throws. But at least on DeVito’s end, we know there weren’t a ton of the latter this year or last.
In 2019 games where Shrader took at least 40 snaps, PFF graded him with a 65 or higher as a passer four times (out of seven). DeVito had just three such games out of 10, though he also had three in four tries in 2020 before his season was cut short. Actually, between 2019 and 2020, three of Tommy’s four best overall offensive games were this year, for whatever it’s worth.
Where Shrader sets himself apart is with his mobility, though. He ran for at least 60 yards seven different times with Mississippi State, including an impressive 125 yards on just 11 carries vs. Kentucky. When blitzed, Shrader grades out as a much better passer than DeVito because he has an ability to move the pocket and make plays. With no pressure in 2019, Shrader was actually a slightly better passer by PFF grades — though DeVito was significantly better on throws without pressure in 2020 (that also pulls from a smaller sample size).
Shrader also has an ability to excel with more designed runs. Aside from the random Western Michigan game in 2019, DeVito’s rushing ability hasn’t been utilized as a key part of the playbook. He’s fast and largely avoids Dungey-esque hits, but it’s just not a factor in his game the same way it is for Shrader. Defenses don’t fear DeVito’s legs and that allows them to blitz without too much consideration for what happens next. For Shrader, it’s a key part of everything he does, whether it’s by design or not, which can pull a defender out of coverage. When he was put under pressure, however: he averaged 8.4 yards per scramble in 2019. Comparatively, DeVito averaged 6.3. On designed runs, Shrader averaged 10.7 yards per carry.
Though it’s great offseason fodder to pin a lot of hopes to a new QB transfer, realistically, there’s a negligible margin between these two from a passing perspective and Shrader’s advantage comes primarily from his legs. He also had the benefit of an SEC line in front of him during his time at Mississippi State, vs. DeVito’s experience behind one of the worst lines in the Power Five — or maybe even all of college football.
This isn’t to throw cold water on the idea that Shrader could be a big improvement for Syracuse under center, or even discount DeVito that much. Realistically, the production is close enough that this will be a legitimate battle for the starting job, and DeVito maybe even has a slight edge right now because of his familiarity with the playbook. A lot can change in an offseason, though, and Shrader has the potential to do some interesting things at SU... provided he wins the job, the offensive line improves at least somewhat and play-calling is geared toward his strengths.
Those last two points are big ifs, by the way. Shrader just seems to give the Orange a better chance at success if one or both go off the rails again.