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The Los Angeles Rams seem supremely confident in their selection of Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett from last month’s NFL Draft. Bennett instantly slots in as the team’s backup behind Matthew Stafford, and general manager Les Snead has made it clear that the former Bulldog was one of his favorite signal callers in this draft class.
But many in the draft community felt Bennett’s selection in the fourth round was a significant reach—overall he was the seventh QB off the board after Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Anthony Richardson, Will Levis, Hendon Hooker, and Jake Haener. The New Orleans Saints traded up to the selection before the Rams were on the clock at #128 overall to take Fresno State’s Haener, though Snead and the Rams maintained that Bennett was their guy all the way. These selections started a run on passers, as Aidan O’Connell was picked at #135, followed by Clayton Tune (#139), Dorian Thompson-Robinson (#140), Sean Clifford (#149), and Jaren Hall (#164). Who’s to say that Bennett would be left on the board by the time LA’s next pick rolled around at #161 in the fifth round? Waiting may have left the Rams with very few options at the position despite a significant need for a backup to Stafford.
Those who felt Bennett was over drafted are the same individuals that continually doubted him across his career at Georgia. Even his own head coach in Kirby Smart made several attempts to upgrade with D’Wan Mathis and JT Daniels. Instead the former walk-on defied the odds, held his own, and led the Bulldogs to two-straight NCAA championships. For better or worse, Bennett drove the Georgia bus, though he has a knack for playing his best when the stakes are at their highest.
Why it’s fair to be concerned with Bennett as a prospect:
While each mid-round quarterback selection brings new optimism to their team, the truth is that most fail. Brock Purdy’s success as the final pick in last year’s draft by the 49ers also brings a renewed sense of hope for each of these new signal callers, but history tells a cautionary tale.
The three biggest weaknesses in Bennett’s scouting report are his size (listed at only 5-11, 190 lbs.), which is similar to Young who was taken first overall, age, and his abrasive personality. It’s fair to wonder whether either player can hold up against hits from 300-pound defensive linemen over time, though even large-framed quarterbacks like Carson Wentz have struggled with injuries. There’s no predicting how a player will fare in terms of health.
With that said, being less than six feet tall increases the degree of difficulty playing in the pocket—requiring subtle movements for visibility and to create throwing lanes. Shorter quarterbacks struggled mightily last season, so wondering whether height places a ceiling on either’s development is fair at this point.
Bennett will be 26 years old by the time the upcoming season rolls around. Has he already reached his ceiling as an athlete, or is there room for him to develop? It’s also troubling that a player with an advanced age relative to other prospects is still addressing concerns with his maturity.
The questions surrounding personality are obviously more subjective, though the Rams seemed to be searching for a “gamer”-type quarterback after experimenting with Baker Mayfield a year ago. The off-field and maturity concerns such as his early-2023 arrest for public intoxication cannot be ignored, though it’s easier to dismiss claims that Bennett can be abrasive, self-absorbed, or generally rub people the wrong way.
Aside from the run ins with the law, Joe Burrow had similar questions in terms of personality coming out of LSU. After a few successful seasons, Burrow is now seen more as “Joe Cool” than painting his character in a negative light. Winning cures all wounds, and the personality questions will fade away if the play on the field warrants it. To a certain extent nearly all top-level quarterbacks are abrasive, which can often be conflated or misinterpreted for ambition or drive. Leading a 50-man football team isn’t an easy job either.
Why can’t Stetson Bennett be the future for the LA Rams?
Barring injury, I have difficulty seeing Bennett being outright bad in the NFL. His athleticism provides him with a high floor in the short-term while he learns to play within the rhythm and timing of a pro offense, and over time his ability to extend plays could be the differentiator between “solid” and “great”. Leading up to the draft, it was mentioned by several outlets that Bennett may have sandbagged the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine out of fear that teams may try to turn him into a gadget player—but take all reports from the draft season with a grain of salt.
Perhaps Bennett’s strongest trait is his ability to make something out of nothing, which is one of the most important facets of playing quarterback in this new generation of offense. While under center for Georgia, Bennett would use his lateral quickness to sidestep defenders and buy enough time to find the open man. His arm isn’t overpowering, but he can put enough on the ball to fit it through tight windows and throw receivers open. Some of Bennett’s best plays came on third and fourth down after the play broke down and he created outside of structure.
But high level quarterbacks in the NFL are successful because they make the routine look easy, and that’s truly where Bennett must show the most progress. Will his short stature limit his ability to see the field and keep him from hitting his target over the middle? If he has to navigate the pocket to find throwing lanes, does that throw off the timing with receivers? These are areas that both Russell Wilson (5-11) and Kyler Murray (5-10) have struggled with in recent years.
Can Stetson Bennett grow into a leading role for the Los Angeles Rams while Matthew Stafford’s career seemingly winds down, or does his NFL potential max out as a reserve player? Will the draft analysts that called him a “reach” in the fourth round be proven correct over the next few years?
It’s clear the Rams are excited about what Bennett brings to their team, and if Stafford misses time again this season the rookie should keep LA compelling and competitive. Time will tell if he factors into the plans beyond 2023, but why can’t he grow into a full-fledged NFL starting quarterback?