Lincoln Riley is known as the “quarterback whisperer,” a teacher who develops his quarterbacks to perform at greater heights, and they listen.
No coach has molded young men to greater heights than Riley, and currently, six of his pupils are starting in college and the NFL. I don’t know of any coach who has six starters starting at once across the football landscape.
Let’s begin with the obvious. Spencer Rattler is in his second season as Oklahoma’s starting QB. The redshirt sophomore was the preseason favorite to bring home OU’s eighth Heisman Trophy and third under Riley’s tutelage. Rattler completed almost two-third of his passes last year for 3,031 yards, 28 TDs, and 7 interceptions. He continues to be a work in progress as he had a fair game in OU’s season opener last week against Tulane. Rattler completed 30 of 39 for 304 yards but also threw two interceptions to only one touchdown.
Tanner Mordecai played in only 12 games for the Sooners the past three years, and with the arrival of five-star stud Caleb Williams, Mordecai decided to transfer to SMU. He won the starting job for the Mustangs and threw for 317 yards and 7 TDs in his debut last week—a 56-9 victory over Abilene Christian.
Austin Kendall also struggled to gain the starting slot for the Sooners, getting beat out by Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Kendall transferred to West Virginia before the 2019 season, where he earned the starting job for nine games. He got beat out by Jarret Doege after nine games in 2019, and Kendall was the backup for the rest of that year and 2020.
Kendall transferred to Louisiana Tech this year and earned the starting job for the Bulldogs. He threw for 269 yards with 2 TDs and an interception in a 35-34 loss to Mississippi State.
Three of Riley’s QB pupils are slated to start as the NFL opens this week.
Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma in 2017 and is in his fourth year as a starter for the Cleveland Browns. He was named the NFL’s Rookie of the Year by Pro Football Talk and Pro Football Writers of America and Offensive Rookie of the Year by Pro Football Focus. Mayfield returns to a Cleveland Browns team that reached the Playoffs last season and could have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.
Then, there’s Kyler Murray, who earned the Heisman in 2018 at OU and is beginning his third season as the starter for the Arizona Cardinals. He was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019 after setting multiple franchise rookie passing records for the Cards. Murray made the Pro Bowl in 2020. Under former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, Murray is trying to lead the Cardinals to the postseason in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL (NFC West).
And then there’s Jalen Hurts, who transferred from Alabama to Oklahoma for the 2019 season and finished second in the Heisman race. Hurts earned the starting slot for the Philadelphia Eagles late last year and begins 2021 as the starter under center for Philly. The NFC East is one of the worst divisions in football, meaning if things just break right in Philly, the Eagles could end up playing into January.
If Lincoln Riley goes 3-for-3 on QB’s making the NFL Playoffs, “Quarterback Whisperer” will be an understatement.