Could Stetson Bennett Be the Next Brock Purdy?

Georgia Bulldogs QB Stetson Bennett
Georgia Bulldogs QB Stetson Bennett
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Draft - Stetson Bennett sprays the ball.

Bennett, Georgia's quarterback for two national championships, is also 5-foot-11, weighs as much as a sturdy towel boy, is literally more than halfway to receiving his AARP card, and was arrested for public intoxication during a weekend when many of his peers were traveling to the Senior Bowl. But if you need one more reason to doubt that Bennett is a pesky field general who can bring some magical winnersauce to the NFL: he also sprays the ball.

Bennett's on-target pass percentage, per Sports Info Solutions (the source for all splits in this feature), was 71.8% in 2022. That ranked 57th in the nation among quarterbacks with more than 200 attempts. Here are the figures for draft prospects of note:

  • Bryce Young: 77.1% (12th)
  • Will Levis: 73.8% (38th)
  • C.J. Stroud: 73.3% (40th)
  • Hendon Hooker: 71.9% (54th)
  • Anthony Richardson: 65.4% (106th)

Filtering out micro-passes does not help. On passes of 10-plus air yards, Bennett ranked 55th in the nation among passers with 100-plus attempts at 57.0%. Young ranked sixth (64.7%), Stroud seventh (64.3%), Hooker 45th (58.5%), Richardson 49th (57.9%). Levis only attempted 96 such passes, which is a yellow flag in its own right, coming in at 55.8%.

On-target pass percentage is not the be-all and end-all statistic for quarterback accuracy. But the quarterback of the 33rd-best football team on earth, who spent most of his college career protecting safe leads (and therefore easily avoiding risky throws), should have some tasty accuracy metrics. Richardson sits near the top of draft boards because he's built like Drax the Destroyer and five full years younger than Bennett. Bennett needs something in his portfolio to illustrate that he didn't spend the last two years driving daddy's Mercedes with a learner's permit.

Bennett's scattery delivery is evident on tape. When he's pressured, even a little (which is not all that often), his mechanics appear to break down. A wild misfire is often the result.

Bennett also sometimes just launches the ball into a crowd of defenders when pressured. Luckily, the Bulldogs are probably already leading 21-3 when it happens.

Stetson Bennett and the Purdy Project

Brock Purdy has forced us to take Stetson Bennett seriously.

Purdy was a scouting afterthought, if even that, despite the fact that he was a well-known, well-established college player. Purdy stands just 6-foot-1, his college production didn't stand out, and his greatest selling point was that he played lots of major-conference games. I will admit to not watching any tape/film on Purdy before the 2022 draft, though I was broadly familiar with his game from autumn Saturdays. Purdy just wasn't that relevant.

Purdy ended up starting for the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, of course. Even a seventh-round quarterback is just a pair of injuries away from being a major character in the NFL's annual drama. If Purdy can end up on a deep playoff run, so could Bennett, or Tanner McKee, Aidan O'Connell, or some of the other quarterbacks we covered in the first part of this series.

Bennett also makes a useful "reputation scouting" stress test, in both directions. Yes, there's an SEC superfan on a subreddit near you claiming he's a better prospect than Stroud. But there's also a risk of writing Bennett completely off based on his size, age, and the benefits of playing for Georgia. He's obviously not a Young-/Stroud-level prospect. But he's potentially draftable. And every draftable quarterback deserves a long look.

By NFL standards, Bennett has about a C+ arm and C-grade mobility. Mega-game experience and success in the SEC really do count for something. January's arrest is a real sore spot—we're talking about a 25-year-old wandering around knocking on stranger's doors when he's supposed to be drinking kale smoothies in a performance academy, not a 19-year-old enjoying campus hijinks—but Bennett addressed the incident with clear-eyed square-jawed honesty at the combine. He's probably not Johnny Manziel or Chad Kelly.

So who is he?

Stetson's Wheel

Bennett led the nation in wheel route pass attempts in 2022 with 17. He completed nine of them for 353 yards and one touchdown, with two interceptions. No other quarterback gained more than 217 yards on wheel routes. Tight ends Darnell Washington and Brock Bowers and running back Kenny McIntosh were Bennett's favorite wheel-route targets.

The wheel routes are noteworthy because: a) they illustrate how Georgia's passing game operated in 2022 (they knew McIntosh and the tight ends could exploit major mismatches along the sidelines), and b) Bennett's most impressive throws tend to be deep touch passes along the left sideline.

The splits are about to get a little technical here, so bear with me. When throwing 15-plus air yards along the left sideline, Bennett was 18-of-30 for 580 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. He led the nation with 19.3 yards per attempt on such passes (minimum of 20 attempts), despite an on-target rate of 44.8%, which ranked 40th in the nation.

When throwing deep along the right sideline, Bennett was just 9-of-21 for 232 yards and two touchdowns. His 11.0 yards per attempt ranked 29th in the nation. His on-target rate of 55.0% was higher than when he threw to his left but still not very good.

Here's what those splits look like on tape:

  • Bennett throws deep up the left sideline, often to receivers running wheel routes, rather frequently. He throws up the right sideline less frequently. It's a reverse-Trubisky thing.
  • Some of those throws are wildly off-target. A few are obvious throwaways, which makes sense for a quarterback who is often protecting a lead.
  • Many are back-shoulder throws, or at least throws that Bennett's receiver had to slow/stop/turn to catch.

Those back-shoulder throws can be interpreted as accurate, well-timed touch passes or evidence that Bennett benefitted from receivers who could adjust and make difficult catches for him. The truth lies somewhere in between, but Bennett deserves credit for throwing lots of deep touch passes (particularly to his left) that only his receivers have a chance of catching. It's also noteworthy that Georgia, while stacked everywhere else, hasn't had outstanding wide receivers over the last two years; George Pickens, remember, was hurt for most of 2021.

Stetson Bennett and the Bulldogs Factor

If you want to make an ordinary quarterback look great—or a bad quarterback look capable—give him a safe lead. Playing with constant leads insulated Brock Purdy from being forced to make tough throws. It made Mac Jones look like a worthy Tom Brady heir apparent for about two months in 2021. It's one of the most reliable statistical and perceptual distortions in football. And it had an almost incalculably extreme impact on Bennett.

Bennett threw 115 passes when the Bulldogs led by 17-plus points in 2022. That's the third-highest figure in the nation, behind Will Rogers of Mississippi State and Austin Reed of Western Kentucky. Bennett protected 17-plus-point leads in 10 Georgia games to Rogers' seven games and Reed's six.

To compare Bennett's 115 attempts with a lead to quarterbacks you actually care about:

  • Stetson Bennett, 115 attempts with a 17-point lead;
  • Bryce Young, 99;
  • C.J. Stroud, 78;
  • Hendon Hooker, 56;
  • Will Levis, 24;
  • Anthony Richardson, 19.

Bennett led the nation with 1,093 yards when already leading by 17 or more points. That's 26% of his total yardage output! He threw nine touchdowns under such circumstances, one-third of his 27 touchdowns for the 2022 season; Stroud led the nation with a stunning 16.

Just to provide a sense of how wild Bennett's "winning huge" numbers are: Jalen Hurts led the NFL with 48 attempts and 342 yards when winning by 17-plus points in 2022.

Power-program quarterbacks often enjoy advantages that NFL quarterbacks do not, and it impacts the likes of Stroud or Young almost as much as Bennett. A quarterback should not be downgraded because his team kicked lots of butt; he's a major part of the team, after all. But if a quarterback's best asset is that he's some sort of winner/leader, it's instructive to determine how often he was coasting in win-more mode before turning things over to Carson Beck in the fourth quarter.

To turn things around: Bennett only threw 36 passes when trailing in the second halves of games last year, all of them against Ohio State and Mizzou. Georgia came back in both games, and Bennett threw two late touchdowns in the playoff victory over Ohio State (one where a defender fell down), but it's unusual for a starting quarterback to have so little experience when trailing even by a field goal early in the third quarter.

Now, let's examine situations where the score was within seven points either way in the second half: close, nip-'n'-tuck games. Bennett threw just 17 passes in those situations in 2022! He threw just 15 passes in those situations in 2021! He has essentially only been in such situations against Alabama and Ohio State, plus the Missouri comeback and a few minutes early in the fourth quarter against Georgia Tech.

That's not normal:

  • Bryce Young, 96 late-and-close attempts in 2022
  • C.J. Stroud, 66
  • Anthony Richardson, 64
  • Will Levis, 52
  • Hendon Hooker, 38
  • Bennett, 17

For the record, Bennett threw two touchdowns in those 17 attempts, helping the Bulldogs pull out those close games.

A contrarian could cite the Troy Aikman Apology: Georgia was rarely challenged in the second half because Bennett was so awesome! We'll leave that argument to the Georgia message boards. Here on planet reality, Bennett's greatest selling point is his championship-caliber experience. But he almost never had to manage a close game or protect a narrow lead in the final minutes. The Ohio State comeback was thrilling, but it's not a draft portfolio in and of itself.

In Summary

Bennett would make an acceptable sixth- or seventh-round pick for a team with no question who their starting quarterback is for the present and future: the Chiefs, Bills, Bengals, etc. He has essentially zero chance of developing into anything but an absolute stopgap starter, but Bennett could fit as a pesky semi-mobile backup.

Teams risking controversy and brouhaha should avoid Bennett. The Falcons, certainly, don't want Georgia fans anointing him the starter after one viral video from a rookie camp 7-on-7 drill.

Here are Bennett's draft-round moneylines from DraftKings, as of April 15:

  • Not Drafted: +125
  • Seventh Round: +400
  • Sixth Round: +400
  • Fifth Round: +400
  • Fourth Round: +700
  • Third Round: +2000
  • Second Round: +5000
  • First Round: +10000

Bennett's odds of getting drafted at all plummeted over the last few weeks, as what little chatter coming out of the NFL about him has been negative. On the flip side, I am certain he'd be getting third-round buzz if he were an inch taller or a year younger, or if he had tossed some 7-on-7's in Mobile. All it takes is one owner who believes in Winnerz, and Bennett's film is not so tire-fire bad that any general manager or coach would pound the table AGAINST him late on Day 3. I would take that fourth-round action because of the juice.

After the draft? Bennett will be preseason cannon fodder and clickbait, a fake Flutie who kicks around benches for a few years before emerging triumphantly in the XFL.


8 comments, Last at 20 Apr 2023, 9:16am

#1 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 19, 2023 - 11:56am

He has essentially zero chance of developing into anything but an absolute stopgap starter, but Bennett could fit as a pesky semi-mobile backup.

Of course, that's what they said at the FBS level, too.

Points: 0

#5 by Muldrake // Apr 20, 2023 - 8:31am

That's the thing....he did hold off 4 and 5 star players to keep his job. I expect he's Mac Jones at worst and I'd spend a 3-4 round on someone who's proven he can maximize his talents to win a competition against more 'talented' players.

Points: 1

#6 by ImNewAroundThe… // Apr 20, 2023 - 8:49am

You think he's gonna be a pro bowler sometime in his first 2 years, at worst

Kirby chose Fromm over Fields too. He values experience. It's hardly impressive, it's just something college coaches do.

Points: 0

#2 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 19, 2023 - 11:57am

a fake Flutie who kicks around benches for a few years before emerging triumphantly in the XFL.

Is that not the actual Flutie?

Points: 0

#3 by BigRichie // Apr 19, 2023 - 3:30pm

Absolutely not. Flutie had the one year in Buffalo where he was absolutely a marginal starter.

Points: 1

#8 by Drivster // Apr 20, 2023 - 9:16am

Stetson doesn't hold a candle to Flutie until you can have Bennett Bakes for breakfast

Points: 2

#4 by bravehoptoad // Apr 19, 2023 - 11:18pm

So, all that work on late-round QBs, Tanier, and no diamonds.

Points: 0

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