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Kansas State Football: 2021 Quarterback Preview

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The starter is clear, but there’s still a battle here.

Kansas State v Iowa State Photo by David K Purdy/Getty Images

It’s that time of year. August means we’re closer to tolerable temperatures, after a long summer of eating, lifting, and running sprints, fall camp provides the player with actual football and most importantly I have position group previews to attend to!

Much like the players, I’m a bit rusty after a tumultuous summer of moving from Manhattan to Athens, and am going to start with a bit of a softball to get back into the groove. The quarterback position is the most important position in team sports, and Kansas State has a good one returning from injury and a bunch of young guys fighting for position on the depth chart. Let’s get this position preview party started.

Quarterback

Starter

Skylar Thompson

Skylar Career Passing Stats

Year Class G Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A TD INT Rate
Year Class G Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A TD INT Rate
2017 FR 8 51 83 61.4 689 8.3 5 3 143.8
2018 SO 11 122 208 58.7 1391 6.7 9 4 125.3
2019 JR 13 177 297 59.6 2315 7.8 12 5 135
2020 SR 3 40 64 62.5 626 9.8 4 0 165.3
Career 35 390 652 60.55 5021 7.6 30 3 142.35

Skylar Career Rushing Stats

Year Class G ATT YDS AVG TD INT Rate
Year Class G ATT YDS AVG TD INT Rate
2017 FR 8 69 267 3.9 3
2018 SO 11 105 373 3.6 5
2019 JR 13 114 405 3.6 11
2020 SR 3 19 38 2 3
Career 35 307 1083 3.275 22

2021

Thompson looked like a polished veteran ready to lead the team to glory last season before one of the dirtier plays in recent memory busted his shoulder and ended his season. Skylar is back for one last hurrah, and is the main reason I think the Wildcats will exceed expectations in 2021.

My main question is the confidence in his shoulder. Shoulder injuries are terrible. They hurt every time you breath, and once you have one, you never want another. When defenders are flying around in the pocket, will he have the confidence to step up, deliver the throw, and take a hit? Does the coaching staff have the confidence to deploy him in his familiar goal line running set? Over the last two seasons, he’s almost averaged a rushing touchdown a game, mostly inside the 5-yard line. Will that change with the shoulder injury?

Outside of the shoulder injury, you would like to see his accuracy continue to improve. His career 59.8 completion percentage is a little on the low side. He was completing passes at a 62.5% clip last season, but you would like to see that improve to 65% or over this season. That means he has to deliver catchable balls and his receivers have to help him out and actually make the catch. I like this receiving group, but drops have been a problem.

Skylar brings big game experience and has the talent to be a game winner, not a game manager. He doesn’t have the luxury of a cupcake game to get comfortable with Kansas State opening in Jerry World with Stanford. You know the Cardinal are going to test his shoulder and confidence early and often. I don’t expect him to take many (if any) hits during camp, making his first game back under live pressure a crucial one. If he passes the Stanford test, the sky is the limit for the 5th year signal caller.

He has the talent and poise to lead the Wildcats to an 8 win season and a quality bowl game. If he does that, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him on an NFL roster in 2022.

#2 on the Depth Chart

This is where the real fight is on the roster. Skylar’s spot on the depth chart is a given, but three young guns will be jockeying for position behind the veteran. The depth chart in 2022 is wide open and whoever takes the back up job in 2021 may have the inside track to the open job next season.

Will Howard

Will Howard Passing

Year Class G CMP ATT PCT YDS Y/A TD INT Rate
Year Class G CMP ATT PCT YDS Y/A TD INT Rate
2020 FR 9 90 168 53.6 1178 7 8 10 116.3

Will Howard Rushing Stats

Year Class G ATT YDS AVG TD
Year Class G ATT YDS AVG TD
2020 FR 9 78 364 4.7 3

I’m not sure I could think of a worse scenario to throw a freshman quarterback into that last seasons injury/Covid nightmare. Not only did Howard have to step in as the starter for the injured Thompson, but he did so on a piecemeal roster and limited practice. It’s hard to develop any sort of consistency when you don’t know who is available from one game to the next. No doubt he struggled in the passing game, but I’m willing to give him a pass.

Hopefully last season didn’t dent his confidence, because he has the physical tools to be an excellent college and potentially a professional quarterback. His ability to read defenses and make decisions will dictate his football trajectory, because he’s not held back by any physical limitation. He’s huge (6’4”, 235) and has a cannon for an arm. When he was confident in his read last season, he showed sold ball placement and accuracy as well. The problem, of course, is he was rarely confident in his read. You could tell the game was moving at warp speed for the young quarterback from Pennsylvania.

One aspect of his game that surprised was his ability to make plays with his legs. He showed nice athleticism when it was time to break the pocket and once he made it past the line of scrimmage, he showed solid speed in the open field. He put up 86 yards against TCU, 125 yards against Oklahoma State and 79 yards against Texas on the ground. Those are impressive numbers for a guy considered a pocket quarterback coming into Manhattan.

For my money, Howard is the clear favorite for the #2 job coming into camp. Those snaps last year were invaluable learning tools, and getting a year of eligibility back (should he choose to use it down the line) could pay huge dividends. He’ll need a solid camp to hold off challenges from incoming 4* quarterback and returning sophomore Jaren Lewis, and I think he will have a solid camp.

Jake Rubley

I’m not sure there were many high school players in the nation with a more tumultuous senior year of high school football than Rubley. If a normal year, he would have suited up for his dad T.J. Rubley at Highland Ranch and put up monster stats on his way to an All-State season. As we all know, last year was far from normal.

When Colorado cancelled fall football he moved to Valley High School in in West Des Moines, Iowa, won the started job, played in two games, and was then ruled ineligible by a board of high school football bureaucrats. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around letting the kid play two games, and then benching him after absolutely nothing changed from the time he walked onto the West Des Moines campus to the time he was ruled ineligible. Just another reason to hate the state of Iowa in my humble opinion.

Missing his senior year wasn’t ideal, and he looked rusty in the spring as an early enrolling freshman. He still has picture perfect mechanics and a strong arm, but things were moving fast for him in the spring. He’s one of the players I’m most interested in tracking in during fall camp. Hopefully his issues in spring ball are cleared up and he can show why he is the only consensus 4* player on the Wildcat roster. In a perfect world, Howard or Lewis wins the starting job and he redshirts, runs the scout team, and comes into 2022 with the confidence to fight it out for the starting job as a redshirt freshman.

Jaren Lewis

We still don’t know much about the gunslinger out of Columbia, Missouri. Howard grabbed the starting job last year when Thompson went down, but don’t discount the 3rd year Sophomore. By most accounts, he has the best arm on the roster and it’s paired with a lightning quick release. The problem with Lewis thus far has been consistency. His supreme confidence in his arm gets him in trouble. He tries to fit balls into places they don’t belong, and throws it to the defense more than a starting quarterback should. If you have turnover issues as a quarterback, you’re not going to see the field under Coach Klieman.

At the same time, this is his third year in the system, and the only thing holding him back can be fixed. If he calms down and uses his arm strength for good instead of evil, he has the talent to win the backup job this year and the starting job next year. I’d rather have a quarterback that can make all the throws in need of calming down, than a quarterback with a spaghetti arm. Lewis can sling it, and if starts consistently slinging it to the right team, the Wildcats could have a surprise on the depth chart heading into the fall.

Overall

The depth chart in 2021 is much improved over the depth chart in 2022. Hopefully, that depth is only put to the test after Skylar is shut down in the 3rd quarter after amassing a four touchdown lead.