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Could Spencer Rattler be Saints quarterback of the future? Archie Manning thinks so.

Probably the biggest surprise in the recent NFL Draft came in the fifth round when the New Orleans Saints, who just last year signed veteran quarterback Derek Carr to a four-year, $150 million contract, chose South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler.

Rick Cleveland
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Rick Cleveland

The Saints hadn’t been expected to take a quarterback. Rattler had been expected to go much higher.

At least one expert, a former New Orleans Saints quarterback and a Mississippi legend, believes the drafting of Rattler was a wise choice by his hometown team.

“I like Spencer,” Archie Manning said recently. “I like him as a person and as a player. I can’t wait to see what he does for the Saints.”

Rattler, an Arizona native, played college ball first at Oklahoma and then for the past two seasons at South Carolina. Manning knows Rattler best from when he was a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy the summer between Oklahoma and South Carolina.

“I really enjoyed Spencer at our camp,” Manning said. “His attitude was great. He worked hard, got along great with all the other quarterbacks and the campers. At our meeting to start every day, he always came in early, sat front and center and just seemed to soak everything in. He had a maturity about him. He wanted to learn. He just had this little gleam in his eye. Obviously, he can really throw the football.”

Manning, who counts South Carolina coach Shane Beamer as a friend, watched Rattler for the past two seasons, even visiting Columbia for practices and attending quarterback meetings.

Archie Manning
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Archie Manning

“I just couldn’t be any more impressed with how Spencer handled things, including some disappointments,” Manning said. “I think he has a bright future in the NFL.”

There are several knocks on Rattler that might have caused him to fall in the draft. For one, he stands just a shade over six feet tall and he is not particularly fleet of foot. That will bother some teams a lot more than it should bother the Saints, who were led to their only Super Bowl championship by a six-foot quarterback with average speed named Drew Brees.

Also, there was the transfer from Oklahoma to South Carolina after Rattler lost the starting quarterback job to Caleb Williams (the first pick of the 2024 draft). And there have been reports that an unflattering 2019 Netflix documentary, filmed during Rattler’s senior year of high school when he was the nation’s No. 1 quarterback recruit, caused some NFL teams to lower their evaluations. Said Manning, “I haven’t seen that documentary but I’ve heard about it. All I know about his attitude and makeup is what I’ve seen first-hand.”

Clearly, Rattler has some upside. At Oklahoma and South Carolina combined, Rattler threw for over 10,800 yards, 77 touchdowns and 32 interceptions with a 68.5% completion rate. As a junior at South Carolina, he led the Gamecocks to eight victories including back-to-back wins over No. 5 Tennessee and No. 8 Clemson. He threw for 438 yards and six touchdowns against the Vols, 360 yards and two TDs against Clemson. Then, in the Gator Bowl against Notre Dame, he threw for 360 yards and two scores.

Last season, when South Carolina replaced much of its offensive line, Rattler was sacked 30 times but still threw for 3,196 yards and 19 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. Rattler was outstanding in the Senior Bowl, winning MVP honors.

A cynic might joke that the 30 sacks will be excellent preparation for the Saints, who hope to have solved some of their pass-blocking woes by taking Oregon State offensive tackle Taliese Fuaga with their first round choice. Fuaga did not allow a sack his entire senior season.

Rattler is expected to battle Nathan Peterman and Jake Haener for the back-up role behind Carr this preseason. Many, including Manning, believe he could project as a long-range starter down the road.

It has been amazing to watch the devaluation of the running back position in the NFL over recent seasons. Not a single running back was selected in the first round in the 2024 draft. Texas halfback Jonathan Brooks was the first back taken with the 14th pick of the second round, the 46th pick of the draft. Greenville native Trey Benson was the second running back taken (by the Arizona Cardinals) with the second pick of the third round. And get this: Benson’s high school teammate Dillon Johnson, the Washington Huskies running star, wasn’t taken in the draft at all.

Johnson, who runs with both power and speed, ran for 1,195 yards and 16 touchdowns, helping the Huskies to the national championship game despite a broken bone his right foot, a sprained left ankle and a ruptured bursa sac in his left knee. Seems to me the steal of the 2024 draft might be someone who wasn’t drafted at all. Also seems to me those injuries to Johnson are an indication of why running backs are not valued as highly as was once the case. The shelf life of NFL running backs is not particularly long.

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