The best way to make the most out of the NFL draft for someone who watches college football a lot: Come there for the powerful crying, stay for the glorious moment when that player manages to finally get paid for all that mostly uncompensated labor they put in for their team. Look, there’s Jaire Alexander, getting misty when his teammate Lamar Jackson gets drafted with the final pick of the first round! Masculine tears! Real, exuberantly shed masculine tears!
Midway through @JaireAlexander's interview, his college teammate @Lj_era8 was selected with the last pick in the 1st round.— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) April 27, 2018
Here's his reaction: pic.twitter.com/NPnkDf56R6
The draft on TV is great for that, especially to watch Alabama players get their money after four years working under the eye of Sauron himself.
But after the draft, there’s a bit of letdown—i.e., remembering that all those known quantities are now gone, and will now be scattered to the winds of the NFL. To head that off, it’s time to remember that not only will there be new players you’ve never heard of who turn random Thursday nights into spectacles of stunning athleticism. No, we also get some of those players who turned, say, random late night Pac-12 games into mandatory viewing back for another year.
This following video is extremely relevant to the topic.
Khalil Tate will be playing college football in 2018. He will surprise no one this time, as he did coming off the bench for Arizona in 2017 after Brandon Dawkins was knocked out of the game against Colorado.
In retrospect, knocking out the starter was worst thing Colorado could have done. Go back in time and undo that, Colorado, because Tate entered the game after the opening drive and then set an FBS rushing record against the Buffs defense by running for 327 yards in a single regulation-length game. That record belongs to you, too, Colorado, and we’re so, so sorry about that.
Tate finished the 2017 season seventh nationally in individual rushing. He did that despite only playing nine games as Arizona’s starter. That should be astonishing enough, but it gets even more mind-boggling when the average pops up: 9.22 yards per carry. Tate did not chip away at defenses—he tore huge holes in them, and did not get loose for anything less than severe damage when he broke free.
Tate did his damage pretty-like, too, running with a speed and an unearthly finesse. His running isn’t like Lamar Jackson’s, with big, jagged jukes and feints. Tate rarely misdirects. The lane is the lane. If Tate sees it, he sees all the way through to the endzone. Take a bad angle, and he’ll get there without even looking winded.
In 2017, only two games really ended badly for Tate. Oregon bottled him up mostly by playing assignment football, which sounds like a cliche until you see the film and realize that Oregon’s brilliance consisted mostly of sitting in the same place and refusing to chase the dive or give on read plays. Couple that with some good-to-great play by Oregon’s defensive ends, and it makes a lot of sense that Tate would struggle. He spent much of the game passing, either dumping the ball off to the flat wisely and nibbling away at the Ducks defense (smart!), or trying like hell to find something open in the middle of the field (bad, impatient, and ended badly with two picks.)
In the rivalry game to end the season, Arizona State missed Tate’s best when he left with a shoulder injury. In the Foster Farms Bowl, Purdue tried to copy Oregon’s strategy to keep Tate from tearing them in half. “Tried” is the operative word here. Tate and Arizona took all that open space the Boilermaker defense dedicated to staying within five yards of the line of scrimmage and passed into it. Tate may have only had 58 yards rushing on 20 attempts, sure. He also threw for five TDs and had 300 yards through the air, his best passing performance of the year.
Arizona lost that game 38-35 to Purdue to finish the year, and then lost head coach Rich Rodriguez to a sexual harassment scandal. Despite that, Arizona somehow might have ended up in a better place—-or at the very least, a better place for Khalil Tate in 2018, potentially.
Kevin Sumlin is the head coach now in Tucson. We had to check on this, too, but yeah: In the vast chair-shuffling this offseason, Sumlin did in fact end up in Tucson. Jimbo Fisher is at Texas A&M now, Willie Taggart is at Florida State, and Dan Mullen is at Florida. You forgot at least one of these happened, and that’s fine because a lot happened between November and February and no one can be expected to remember it all.
Unlike at A&M—where Sumlin struggled to find a QB after a blazing start with Johnny Manziel—there isn’t a lot of need or room to juggle QBs. Tate is the clear starter. This isn’t just because Tate is obviously an incredible player, but also because the rest of the depth chart has a combined two pass attempts on the books as college football players. This includes QB Rhett Rodriguez, who played in the spring game and shows no signs of transferring. (He is playing for a school that just fired his dad, and apparently handling all that really, really well.)
Vagabond offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone gets to mess with Tate and try to put him in the right spots. This should work pretty well, if only because keeping Tate in the pocket for four quarters is something very, very few college defenses can do. Mazzone runs what at least half of all college offenses run now: An RPO-friendly spread offense that plays a lot with numbers in the box, runs a ton of Air Raid concepts, and leans hard on inside zone running to get consistent production in the run game.
Translated: It will be nothing you haven’t seen before on paper, but also something you haven’t seen before because Khalil Tate will be running it. Because it’s Pac-12 football, it will happen in the dark of night for most of the East Coast. It will stall out from time to time. It will probably stall out against Utah, because Utah is usually a team with a defensive line capable of blowing up offenses at the point of attack, and reducing the game to a punt-y, kick-y scrum finishing somewhere in the dismal teens, score-wise. 19-17 is the score to every Utah football game ever, please don’t use math to disprove this emotional truth.
When it doesn’t stall, though? The Arizona offense will be Khalil Tate gliding effortlessly through baffled defenses, taking lanes that simply don’t exist for a lot of other players. That is why watching Tate work will be worth a strugglebus of a Sunday or Friday morning. He can and will do the other things he needs do to as quarterback to win. Tate can pass, and will most likely spend a lot of 2017 throwing screens and learning to take judicious, carefully scripted shots downfield. Tate can move a pile if he has to, as much as it might terrify a concerned viewer to see it happen live against a defense looking to put him on the sideline.
The real reason to watch him, though: that inexplicably direct, smooth Silver Surfer glide. We don’t talk enough about the players in college football, period. We especially don’t talk enough about them stylistically—how they move, what makes them different, why they’re striking to the eye on a level that leaps off the screen. We don’t talk enough about how the most unique thing about Khalil Tate as an athlete is his ability to find seams, and then looking so seamless passing through them at high speed.
We don’t talk enough about how—for lack of a better word—how utterly cool that is to see at this level. Unlike high school, Tate can be caught by the opposing team on a regular basis. Unlike the NFL, Tate won’t be blown out of the water as a runner (and onto the bench) by equivalent or better speed on defense. For at least the next year, Khalil Tate has a very promising lane ahead. Missing him hitting it with the long, pacing strides of a miler at full bore with plenty in the tank would be a crime.