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The Surreal Story of 2017 NFL Draft QB Prospect Kyle Sloter

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The Surreal Story of 2017 NFL Draft QB Prospect Kyle Sloter

Written by R.C. Fischer of College Football Metrics.com

 

The following story and analysis is likely the most improbable and bizarre player study I’ve done in my entire scouting career. Adding gasoline to that fire is my thesis that had this prospect had any semblance of a normal college career we might be talking about this guy as one of the five best quarterbacks eligible for the 2017 NFL Draft. As it is, he’s starting to get on the lips of NFL teams after blowing people away at his Pro Day. Whispers of ‘Kurt Warner‘ and ‘Tony Romo‘ have begun in some scouting circles.

You may have never heard of Kyle Sloter, and if you have – you very likely do not know the whole story. You’re about to find out the details behind one of the strangest college careers and enjoy a moment of redemption/glory that most of us dreamed about as kids (and maybe as adults). There are no injuries, substances, or arrests as the ‘antagonists’ in this story. It’s just… Well, you’ll see.

I had a chance to talk with the suddenly hot quarterback prospect extensively about his college career and sudden rise in draft circles. This is the true story of 2017 NFL Draft sleeper, quarterback Kyle Sloter from FCS Northern Colorado.

 

The Southern Miss years

It wasn’t supposed to be a strange story. It was pretty simple, in the beginning. In 2012, Kyle Sloter was recruited to play quarterback at D1 Southern Mississippi. The school was coming off their best season in school history…a 12–2 season in 2011, a Conference USA title, a bowl win over Nevada, a season-ending top 20 ranking – all of which launched their head coach Larry Fedora to ‘in demand’ status, and he left to take over as the head man at North Carolina.

Heading to Southern Miss was a pretty easy college choice for Georgia native Kyle Sloter. Kyle had been recruited hard by then Tulane assistant Ricky Bustle, and when Bustle wound up at Southern Miss to be the offensive coordinator – Sloter chose the Southern Miss Golden Eagles/Bustle and their new head coach Ellis Johnson over his offer from Tulane.

The 2012 season started out as planned for Sloter. The coaches decided to redshirt him in his freshman year with the general thought that Sloter would be in the QB competition the next spring, and with a chance to be the Golden Eagles’ 2013 starter as a redshirt freshman…and, hopefully, a starter for all four years.

This is where Sloter’s story starts going off the rails…

Sloter worked diligently during his redshirt season. After all, it was probable that he would be taking over the team at quarterback the following season. Everything was going well, but the team started out on a surprising losing streak. The 12–2 Southern Miss team from the year before started out in an 0–5 rut to begin the 2012 campaign. They then lost seven straight conference games to finish the 2012 season 0–12…a 12-game swing in one season – from the best season in school history to the worst, all in one year.

At Sloter’s season-ending one-on-one meeting with the head coach, Coach Johnson told Kyle he expected him to take over the helm next spring. Sloter was ecstatic, and he envisioned a four-year reign ahead. As Sloter left that meeting, he passed the athletic director who was heading in to meet with the coach – the AD was going into that very office to fire head coach Ellis Johnson after one season.

New head coach Todd Monken (now Tampa Bay Bucs offensive coordinator) was tapped as the replacement. New staff, new rules…new everything. Sloter did not have the same assurances with the new regime. From visions of a four-year run as starting quarterback to a new reality of fourth on the QB depth chart in a matter of months. Sloter was stuck. Sloter wanted to play, so the athletic, 6′5″/225 Sloter asked to work with wide receivers. The coaches reluctantly obliged. Sloter moved from bottom of the depth chart to starting wide receiver by season’s end, but with limited targets.

Sloter headed into his sophomore season (2014) feeling good about his progress at wide receiver. The new coaching staff was fully locked in to their own QB recruit, Nick Mullens (an eventual four-year starter for USM), to lead the offense so Sloter concentrated on developing his wide receiver skills. More bad news… New wide receiver recruits were added and Sloter found himself in a real battle for playing time. Once again, Sloter kept his nose to the grindstone and worked his way up the ladder. By the end of the season, Sloter was getting more time at wide receiver…but still with limited targets/opportunity.

Heading into his junior season (2015), with Sloter once again feeling pretty good about his wide receiver role despite all the obstacles, another bombshell was dropped. In a meeting with the head coach, Sloter was told the team was changing the offense…and would no longer be using a third/slot receiver in its base offense (where Sloter had been working) and the team would use a tight end instead. As if that news wasn’t sour enough, Sloter was informed that his scholarship was being pulled. The 3.6 GPA student who could not recall ever missing a practice or workout in his Southern Miss career…now kicked to the curb. More than halfway toward earning his college degree, at a school he loved, and a three-year member of the football team in good standing – it was all being taken away because of ‘football logic’. It was devastating news.

Although Sloter was reeling, he quickly found that other schools had interest in him as a quarterback, and some as a wide receiver. Sloter craved to get back to his original love – playing quarterback. FCS Northern Colorado gave the best signals that he would have a chance to start right away (and he would not need to sit out a year if he went the FCS route) – so Sloter transferred to Northern Colorado to have a chance to finally play quarterback.

 

The Northern Colorado years

Sloter committed to joining the Northern Colorado football team, learning the offense and, hopefully, earning the starting job. Initially, there were four QBs (including Kyle) vying for the job, with the practice reps being split equally. But Kyle was about a year and a half behind the other three in the system, and he was further handicapped by the fact that he had missed spring practice at Northern Colorado (because he was still a student at Southern Miss and couldn’t enroll at UNC until the fall). So, he was given only two weeks to grasp the offense at a starter’s level, or, the coaches said, they would move him to wideout in order to get him ready to contribute at wide receiver. And that’s exactly what happened – in order to get his talent on the field, in his first season at Northern Colorado (2015), the coaches moved Sloter to a spot he was familiar with – wide receiver. He started to see more time on the field, but as it always seems with Sloter…there would be an unfavorable twist.

Halfway through the regular season, due to a variety of circumstances, the team was suddenly without a backup quarterback, so Sloter was asked to move back to backup QB…once again, playing opportunity taken away as Sloter held a clipboard for the rest of the season, attempting one pass in all of 2015…his first ever passing attempt in college and it was incomplete.  But – what seemed like an unfortunate twist, moving back to quarterback to be a backup his junior year, was the setup for a magical moment to come for Sloter. He just didn’t know it yet.

The spring of 2016 brought another set of unexpected problems. All the class credits Sloter and the Northern Colorado coaches believed would transfer over didn’t fully transfer. Sloter had to retake several classes, plus complete a summer internship, to meet the requirements for his finance major and remain eligible to play and to graduate. This meant that he had to miss two out of every three weekly spring practices…this would be a mountain not easily overcome. Sloter took/passed all the classes, but all the spring and summer work to get it done took him away from the team far too much, making it virtually impossible for him to create chemistry and to get the practice reps that he needed in order to compete. He worked out on his own during his summer internship in Atlanta, but fell behind the eventual starter at quarterback, Jacob Knipp. The coaches acknowledged how talented Sloter was as a QB, but Knipp had taken the vast majority of reps in practice and had earned the coach’s trust. Once again, Sloter’s dream of playing quarterback in college was fading away – not because of his play, but by circumstances beyond his control.

Entering his senior season (2016), Sloter was resigned to the fact that he would be the backup quarterback for yet another year. His final college football season. The coaches had their experienced QB returning (Knipp), and while Sloter performed well in practice…it was Knipp’s team. Sloter knew it. He prepared like a starter, watching three hours of film per day – just in case his number were to get called. He set out to be an upbeat team leader, to enjoy his final season, and to at least contribute to the team in the locker room and on the practice field. However, he had had the rug of opportunity yanked from underneath him so many times over the years, his expectations to ever play a meaningful down as a college quarterback were all but dashed. The guy who thought he would start for four years at Southern Miss and break school passing records was now a career 0-fer-1 passer, a backup quarterback on an FCS team…and about to be a backup for another, final football season.

The opening game in 2016 for Northern Colorado was a tune-up game with a school called ‘Rocky Mountain’. Finally, some good news for Kyle Sloter! The coaches told Kyle that he would play some quarterback in the opener. Finally, a chance! It might be in the second half of a mercy killing working with all backups…but at least it was a chance to play quarterback. At least, he’d have a chance to complete a pass in his college career! Not so fast my friend…

Northern Colorado jumped out to a 42–0 halftime lead, as expected, and Kyle Sloter did get into the game in the second half. Trying to not run up the score, there were a lot of handoffs with Sloter at the helm. Rocky Mountain started to move the ball some on the Northern Colorado backups, but were eventually put to sleep 56–27 in the end. Sloter played an entire half and threw only three passes. He went 0-for-3 with an interception.

In the second half of a cupcake game, Sloter got his first real chance to play quarterback in college and didn’t complete a pass…except to the other team. For good measure, the 4.6 40-time runner rushed for -9 yards on end-of-the-game kneeldowns. After the game, Sloter was a career 0-for-4 passer with 0 TDs/1 INT and -10 yards rushing at the college level.

When I interviewed Sloter for this piece, I had to ask him how he felt after the minor disaster in his first chance to play quarterback against a far inferior team. I have to share the answer from his own mouth, “Well, after that game I was getting dressed in the locker room and I just remember feelings of doubt more than anything. I had always been a very confident guy, but to have one chance and for it to go that way, there was just a lot of doubt. Not doubt in my abilities, but if I would ever get a chance again with a showing like that. The head coach was telling the media that we played so bad in the second half offensively that he was considering putting the first-string back in. I was angry but more so at myself. I’m a perfectionist, and even though I didn’t have much of a chance, I couldn’t help feeling like if I had completed that one pass that the offense would have been able to stay on the field and I would have been able to show more of what I could do. Because I didn’t complete the pass, I had limited opportunities. I remember going into that week angry at myself but with a chip on my shoulder, a new focus that if I ever got a chance again I would make the most of it. I studied Abilene’s [Abilene Christian was next on the schedule] tendencies on defense for about 3 to 4 hours a day depending on my school schedule and made sure I knew every single look they gave inside and out, what blitzes and stunts they were bringing based on defensive line and linebacker alignments. I redirected my anger to pushing myself a little more and to be more studious and look for the small hints that gave things away.” In addition to taking preparatory reps at wide receiver, Sloter increased his quarterback studies in case he ever got another shot under center.

You may have read that last statement and thought, “That’s a good, quality kid.” You may have read that last statement and thought, “Ha! Football clichés. Would a kid who threw four passes in four years, who was passed over multiple times, and who was a backup on an FCS team, really study like a maniac for the following week’s game?” I don’t know. You tell me…because you’re not going to believe this next part.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary heading into Northern Colorado ‘s week two road-game battle with Abilene Christian. Sloter would be the backup quarterback as the team was in for their first real test of the young season with Abilene, a team that gave Air Force a mild scare the week prior. On their first drive of the game, Abilene jumped to a quick 7–0 lead on Northern Colorado. On the following series, Northern Colorado with the ball, starting quarterback Jacob Knipp got nailed late on a play and stayed down on the field…trouble with his left arm/shoulder. Sloter had just moments to warm up and jump into the game. First play, handoff. Second play, Sloter lofted a 26-yard fade pass for a touchdown…his first college completion. Finally, an on-field positive in the college quarterbacking career of Kyle Sloter.

I asked Kyle what was going through his mind after that first TD pass, given the years of heartache and the disastrous week prior. Typical Sloter…he said, “I felt like – OK, well, that was awesome. I’ve done what I can to help my team out. I’m sure Knipp will be back next series.” Starting quarterback Jacob Knipp wasn’t coming back…not this game, not this season. Victim of a broken collarbone. It was suddenly Kyle Sloter’s time now.

Next series…Sloter led another touchdown drive. 14–7 Northern Colorado. Next series, a 22-yard TD pass by Sloter. He had two TD passes in the first quarter and the team took a 21–7 lead. Sloter added two more TD passes in the second quarter…four TDs in a half, all of them 20+ yard strikes. Eventually, Northern Colorado would win the game on a Sloter 59-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter…on what was his sixth passing touchdown of the game. Oh, and he added a 22-yard TD run as well.

Kyle Sloter’s first real opportunity to play a full college football at quarterback, off the bench, on the road, resulted in a seven-touchdown event. It was a school record tying 6 TD passes. He was named the Big Sky Player of the Week. He was named the FCS Offensive Player of the Week (the first time anyone at his school had been bestowed that honor). Not bad for his first outing as a quarterback in college.

Sloter would go on to throw 29 TD passes in 10 games for the 2016 season. His final college game saw him drop a school record 438 passing yards on Cal Poly, and another 6 TD passes in a game. An unbelievable end to an unbelievable career. However, it wouldn’t be a Kyle Sloter story without one or two more twists…

 

Path To The Draft

After Sloter started racking up numbers in 2016, and once people saw his size and effortless cannon of an arm…the NFL got interested.

Sloter received an invitation to join the PAC-12’s Colorado University Pro Day, a big opportunity. But, through an unavoidable scheduling circumstance, he had to participate in Northern Colorado’s Pro Day the day before – back-to-back Pro Days. Of course, at Northern Colorado’s Pro Day, 45-miles-an-hour winds kicked up and the players were told they had to run their workouts indoors on the basketball court. Sloter ran his 40-time (a laser-timed 4.65) and everything else in someone else’s sneakers, slipping around the slick gym floors. Scouts wanted to add time to his 40-yard dash and take away inches from his broad jump because of the indoor settings. It made no sense to Sloter. However, he did get to show off his arm and that got the few NFL teams there even more interested.

The next day Sloter went to the Colorado Pro Day event. He was ready to do his timings properly – he had been running in the 4.5s (at 6′4.8″/218+) with a sub-7.0 three-cone (and remember, he was recruited by some colleges as a wide receiver after he played there for Southern Miss). Of course, Sloter hit another hurdle; he’s used to them by now. He was told he could not do the timed/measured events because he was on record at the Northern Colorado Pro Day the prior day. His basketball court, borrowed sneaker workout times would have to stand.

The silver lining, as Sloter is also now accustomed to – he was allowed to throw the ball for scouts at the Colorado Pro Day. Once the scouts witnessed his effortless accuracy and clocked his arm speed at 58 MPH (timed at CU, officially), which was 1 MPH shy of the best clocked throwing speed at the NFL Combine among the QB prospects, he was ambushed by 15 NFL team representatives. He started to get individual calls from offensive coaches in the NFL. The Atlanta Falcons brought him in for a workout on April 5th, and more teams are asking for a meeting.

I started scouting Kyle Sloter before I had a chance to talk to him in more detail. It was his tape and the sudden explosion of output out of nowhere in 2016 that made me curious to find out more. Considering Sloter’s height, foot speed, arm speed, 2016 passer metrics (especially under the circumstances), his quick release and effortless accuracy, our computer scouting models have him among our top 10 graded quarterback prospects for the 2017 NFL Draft. I could make a case that he might be among the top five because it’s hard to fully project him to the NFL based heavy on analytics with such an unusual career pattern.

Comparing Sloter to the other 2017 quarterback prospects, I would describe him as a taller (by nearly three inches), more athletic version of Patrick Mahomes…and more like a cross between Davis Webb and Mitchell Trubisky. Throwing accuracy and character more like Webb, and the quick release, downfield accuracy and instincts of Trubisky…but far more ‘raw’ than any of the top guys, obviously.

You might think I’m overstating the Sloter scouting case, and I think we should all be skeptical – but we should also try to conceive of what we might think of Sloter today had he played four years at Southern Miss. If he could walk off the bench and break records at the FCS level…what would he have accomplished as the groomed starter who worked with the first-team players all year round? What if that had all happened at the D1 level, as it was planned originally? You put Sloter into the Texas Tech offense the past few years and I’d wager he’d perform similarly or better than Mahomes or Webb…go watch his tape and see for yourself.

The transition to the NFL is going to be a challenging one for Sloter. FCS quarterbacks who were off the grid for 3+ seasons and have a sudden lightning bolt of success…they aren’t at the top of anyone’s early mock draft list. How could a guy get passed over for years and then literally come out of nowhere to dominate? Sloter has a low scouting profile that’s just now starting to emerge; a buzz is starting to grow.

Sloter is likely either going to be a fifth to seventh-round pick or an undrafted free agent…either way he’ll be facing an uphill battle for a real chance to prove himself to an NFL team and earn a roster spot right away. The NFL deck is pretty well stacked against late-round and UDFA quarterbacks. However, I’m pretty sure Kyle Sloter is used to things being stacked against him by now. Eventually, Sloter finds a way to overcome. I look forward to writing the next chapter of his story in a few years – the rise from unorthodox FCS prospect to shock NFL starter.

 

*Additional note – after this article was finished, Kyle reported in that he scored a 38 on the Wonderlic. A critical measurement teams rely on to further evaluate quarterbacks. His score of 38 will place him near/at the top of all 2017 QB prospects (or any other position).

 

R.C. Fischer has been an independent football scout for over eight years, and is the head scout and writer for the NFL Draft prospect scouting subscription website College Football Metrics.com.

 

 

 

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