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Grayson McCall could be the next Zach Wilson
I wanted to write something quick on Grayson McCall, while I was still buzzing from watching him play a few games last season. Then without intent to do so, I had written a novel-length biography based on his life. By now, I feel as though I am Grayson McCall’s dad (who I like to believe is named Jason McCall for rhyming purposes) and this is my best pitch for an NFL team to take a chance on my kid.
“Please, please, draft my son! He’s just misunderstood!”
But I’ll stand by everything you are about to read, if you so choose to cruise through thousands of words and dozens of clips of my favorite college quarterback, and I feel no less assured that if you give him a chance, Grayson McCall will also have you wondering “Why the hell do people keep ignoring this guy?”
Despite putting Coastal Carolina on the Division-I map last season, nearly leading them to an undefeated season despite being projected to finish last in the Sun Belt prior to Week 1, toppling a harder schedule than what Zach Wilson faced at BYU, and only four years after the school joined the FBS, McCall is only being projected as a seventh round pick or undrafted free agent in 2022 or 2023.
I think he has the chance to go top-10. Nobody else is saying this.
The following self-published book on McCall is why I’m saying this …
2022 NFL Draft Thoughts
Let’s take this year by year, starting with the story of the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. Actually, let me start with the Chanticleers’ pre-story story.
It was 2003 and Coastal Carolina played its first official football game. To put it another way, Tom Brady won a Super Bowl before Coastal Carolina even had a football program. And they were shockingly good at football immediately, going 10-1 and winning the Big South Conference in 2004. They won six more conference championships from 2005 to 2014, faring so well that they began the transition to FBS in 2015 and only started playing Division-I football in 2017, which is also when the team hired Jamey Chadwell as offensive coordinator.
Unless he decides to be the Mark Few of college football, Chadwell is not long for the Chanticleers.
Jamey Chadwell’s part in all of this
Chadwell’s first head coaching position came at North Greenville in 2009, a team that had gone 2-9 the year before, and he led them to a 7-3 record in his second season and an 11-3 record in year three. Chadwell led them to their first-ever Division-II playoff appearance in 2011. After one unsuccessful season at Delta State, Chadwell went Charleston Southern, a program that had gone 0-11 only two years earlier, and immediately coached them to 10-3 record and a top-25 finish in FCS.
That included a major 31-26 victory over fifth-ranked Coastal Carolina.
Chadwell then helped Charleston Southern win the Big South in 2015 with a perfect 6-0 conference record, going 10-3 overall and winning one postseason game. Charleston Southern again won the division in 2016, but Chadwell left after the season to become offensive coordinator at Coastal Carolina during their first season of Division-I football.
After two transition seasons (and six in total) under Joe Moglia, a former executive at Merrill Lynch and once the CEO at TD Ameritrade who left the financial industry in 2010 to pursue his dream of coaching football, Coastal Carolina turned over its program to interim head coach Chadwell; Moglia was on leave due to medical issues.
It was a rough first year for Chadwell, as Coastal Carolina went 3-9 and finished one win out of the basement of the Sun Belt Conference. One could have rightfully called them “the laughingstock of ESPN3” that year. Moglia returned to the helm in 2018 and the team improved its overall record to 5-7, but still went 2-6 in the Sun Belt. Citing a desire to do what was “right for the program,” Moglia stepped away in 2019 and permanently turned things over to Chadwell.
The beginnings of college football’s next great option offense
Chadwell gave offensive coordinator duties over to both Newland Isaac, an assistant who has basically followed the exact same path as Chadwell that I’ve outlined because the two are inseparable, and Willy Korn, a former five-star quarterback recruit who actually played at North Greenville from 2010-2011 after transferring from Clemson.
In his second chance at a first chance to be Coastal Carolina’s head coach, Chadwell didn’t intend to change much about the option offense that they had been running under Moglia. In 2017, Coastal Carolina averaged 25.3 pass attempts and 37.2 rush attempts per game. In 2018, they averaged 22.1 passes and 42.8 runs per game. And in 2019, they averaged 27.8 passes and 43.3 runs per game.
As you can see, in Chadwell’s first season, they didn’t run the ball less. In fact, they ran it six more times per game than they did during his first season as head coach. But they also threw it 2.5 more times per game and more importantly averaged five more completions per game.
Coastal Carolina’s option offense began to show signs of having rushing prowess with passing explosiveness, but they lacked a starting quarterback who was capable of making the all-important split decisions, off-balance throws, run-pass-option handoffs/fake handoffs, athleticism, vision, and accuracy that a triple option offense desperately craves.
The prospect living in the shadows of “the next great NFL quarterback”
Luckily for them, the number three dual threat QB prospect in the country was playing in nearby Charlotte, less than a three-hour drive from Coastal Carolina’s campus near Myrtle Beach.
And he was sucking up all the attention from a two-star prospect in the same area who also happened to be running the triple-option, to perfection, since he was a sophomore in high school.
Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall, like Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Herbert, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, Aaron Rodgers, and countless other examples, seems to be the next quarterback in line to expose the flaws in the recruitment process and rating process of high school players for the college and pro games.
Now, this article would only be semi-interesting if I was writing about Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, a former two-star recruit who is now being projected as a top-10 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. It would be downright boring if I was talking about Sam Howell, that other prospect in North Carolina, the one who is currently projected to be the top pick next year after two monstrous seasons for the Tar Heels. But as I write this to you on April 12, 2021, I pledge that there ain’t a dang soul that I’ve found who is willing to call McCall a first rounder.
Or a second rounder.
Or a third rounder.
According to one site, Grayson McCall’s aggregate projection for the 2022 or 2023 NFL Draft is … the seventh round.
Allow me to interject just how befuddled I am by that estimation. Not only because of McCall’s stats (better than Trey Lance), his age (20, the same as Sam Howell), his immediate collegiate success (getting to that), his size (6’3 and my boy’s about to bubble), his Patrick Mahomes-like creativity and throws, his comfort with RPO, his vision and rushing abilities, and the fact that success seems to follow him around like birds that suddenly appear every time he is near … but also because draft pundits and NFL fans tend to drool gruel for players who take over games and beat big bad powerhouses in the name of the underdogs.
Nobody took over games and won them for an underdog more times last season than Grayson McCall. Not Zach Wilson. Obviously not Trevor Lawrence or Mac Jones or Justin Fields. Grayson McCall, the presumed backup at Coastal Carolina entering the season, a team projected to finish last in their conference, forced overtime in his most recent collegiate game and fell that win shy — against a top-20 Liberty team — of going undefeated in his first college season.
Nobody else but Grayson McCall.
There isn’t anybody I’ve found who is willing to say that McCall will be a first round pick, but I’m telling you today that if McCall builds upon the season that he just had, he will be a top-three Heisman finalist and a top-10 draftee. Top. Ten. And if you don’t believe me because I’m the only person who is on the record saying it today, which is a perfectly justifiable rebuttal, then at least concede that there will probably be at least one unheralded quarterback who becomes a highly-desired NFL prospect by January.
Zach Wilson and Mac Jones weren’t projected to go anywhere near the first round a year ago. Wilson wasn’t an NFL prospect and Jones was only being considered because of his connection to Alabama and the fact that people expected him to put up numbers and win games.
Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray, and Baker Mayfield, the three most recent number one picks, didn’t know for sure if they’d even become NFL players prior to their final collegiate seasons.
Grayson McCall has given me all the reasons in the world to believe he could be that next prospect to shoot up the boards, and almost no room left to doubt him. Now that I’ve done such an excellent job of over-hyping McCall, up to the point where it probably seems impossible that he could actually live up to this kind of evaluation and that I must be projecting a gigantic leap forward from a developmental project, let me lay out exactly why I am obsessing over McCall and you can tell me if this doesn’t sound like the type of person that teams covet in the starting quarterback role today or not.
If possible, remove the part in your memory where I said that McCall wasn’t highly rated coming out of high school, then see if the following description sounds like that of a future NFL quarterback.
Now let’s take it year by year for McCall’s side of things.
Grayson’s early beginnings
Born in December of 2000, McCall was a toddler when Coastal Carolina started playing football. McCall had an obsession with football from the time he was very young, choosing NFL Network over cartoons, and normally eschewing other sports for the chance to develop into a future NFL player. I know that “Loves football” seems like it shouldn’t be an important character trait for football prospects, as you’d assume it is a given, but I don’t believe it is nearly as commonplace as you’d expect.
Some players pursue pro sports for money. Some pursue it for fame. Some pursue it because they’re so fucking talented that they can’t not pursue it. Some simply pursue football for football. In 2020, I thought that the quarterback who most clearly exemplified an undying passion for football (and mild disdain for fame) was Justin Herbert.
In 2021, though he’s not draft eligible yet, that quarterback for me would be McCall.
As a freshman at Porter Ridge High School in Indian Falls, North Carolina, McCall was good enough to make the varsity roster but an injury set him back and he split time with JV. The varsity team went 1-10.
McCall then won the starting quarterback job as a sophomore and according to MaxPreps, threw for 931 yards and rushed for 590 yards, scoring a total of 19 touchdowns over 12 games. Porter Ridge also improved its record to 7-5 and made the playoffs roughly one year after losing a game 76-7 when McCall was on JV.
Here he is at 15:
In 2017, when McCall was a junior, he improved his completion percentage to 58% and rushed for 907 yards, scoring a total of 25 touchdowns with six interceptions. This time, Porter Ridge went 8-5 and won a playoff game. But in September of that season, Porter Ridge faced off against Sun Valley High School in a game that drew a lot of attention for one reason, and it wasn’t Grayson McCall.
Sam Howell played for Sun Valley and was already being touted as a future number one pick by that point because Dabo Sweeney was keen on him for Clemson since he was in the eighth grade. Howell’s footage from his high school days is almost awkward — think of LeBron playing versus high schoolers when he already appeared to be in his mid-30s — and there’s no doubt why people expect him to be the future of the Lions or Eagles or Texans one day.
But McCall is similarly freakish in the film and nobody was calling him. Not Dabo Sweeney, not Terry Sweeney, not Teri Garr, not D’Marco Farr, not Fargo, North Dakota, and not North Dakota State, where you’d think he would have been the perfect fit for that offense.
McCall, playing with a cast on his left arm, had a 42-yard touchdown run in the first quarter but the extra point was blocked. He then gave his team the lead again in the second quarter, and again the extra point was blocked. Howell kept coming back with scores, but McCall kept answering, including a 73-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to go up 27-20, then another score on the ground to go up by 15.
Eventually, Howell forced overtime and then gave Sun Valley a 42-35 lead. McCall pitched the ball to a teammate for a touchdown, but the two-point conversion failed and Howell, Sun Valley got the win.
Still, the underdog McCall battled head-to-head against arguably the top quarterback in the country — both come from a town of only 40,000 but appear to be future NFL players — and only lost 42-41 in OT because of multiple blocked extra points and a lack of faith in the kicker to tie the game in the first overtime.
This didn’t appear to move the needle for McCall’s number of stars as a recruit or the number of colleges that wanted to recruit him, however.
As a senior in 2018, McCall completed 86-of-156 passes for 1,337 yards (55% completions, 8.6 Y/A) with nine touchdowns and six interceptions, while also carrying it 175 times for 1,460 yards and 21 touchdowns. Porter Ridge went 7-3 in the regular season, then won three playoff games before falling in 4A West Regional title game.
A 1-10 team prior to his placement as the starting quarterback, Porter Ridge became a state power by the time he was finished. They went 6-5 the year after he graduated.
The two-star prospect without any serious offers
Though he hasn’t spoken to the media many times during his collegiate career (Chadwell doesn’t allow freshman to talk to the press), McCall’s high school coach predictably had nothing but praise for his former signal caller and the type of character he brings to his team as a leader.
McCall didn’t start for Porter Ridge until his sophomore year, when new head coach Michael Hertz arrived. “What really struck me about (McCall) was his learning curve,” said Hertz. “As a young player, he would make mistakes, but he would correct them very quickly and he has done that his entire career.”
Hertz describes McCall as an open personality, a charismatic young man with a great smile that drew lots of people in. Howell, according to Baucom, was very quiet in high school and a sponge for academics and football. Despite their different paths and personalities, the two signal-callers electrified fans for three years when their teams went to battle in Union County.
“It was high-intensity,” said Hertz. “It really stepped (the game) up to another notch because you had two really good quarterbacks and it’s unique to have those two caliber quarterbacks dueling each other.”
Almost every game came down to the wire and Howell’s arm talent was on display against McCall’s athleticism and knack for making tough plays.
“We all knew he was special,” said Hertz. “He’s inspired a lot of the young football players at (Porter Ridge) and (his success) has motivated them to work harder, knowing that if they apply themselves, they can hopefully have the same success that he’s had.”
Howell flipped his commitment from Florida State to UNC after the Seminoles assistant who recruited him left the school for another job. Howell could have chosen nearly any program in the country, including as a phenom apparent to Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence at Clemson, but McCall couldn’t have blackmailed his way into a Power-5 scholarship.
“There were people messing with him, but nobody ever laid that (FBS) offer out there like we did,” said Coastal Carolina coach Jamey Chadwell, whose own success this season just prompted a contract extension through 2027.
“I was never 100% sure why Grayson wasn’t more highly recruited,” said Michael Hertz, who started McCall for three seasons as Porter Ridge’s head coach. “He was a tremendous dual-threat QB for us. He had the size (6-3, 200). He had the grades. Maybe people felt he was more of a system quarterback or that he mainly just ran the ball. I don’t know. When the lights came on, he was great for us every time.”
Chadwell can easily praise his quarterback now that he’s become a college football mini-star (that quote is from December), but there was little reason to expect McCall to even become a starter when he took Coastal Carolina’s offer over what few others he had.
A rundown of Coastal Carolina’s 2019 recruiting class, from its own website, lists three quarterbacks who would be joining the program the following year: McCall was one. Drew Leszczynski, a prospect from Wisconsin who led his team to back-to-back state title games (and might be a future 49ers fullback with that letter combination in his name), was another. And Jarrett Guest, a 6’3 (but 170 lbs) quarterback who was rated 3-stars by ESPN was the third.
At the time, there was no better reason to believe in McCall than there would be to believe in Guest or Lesz… Lesz just say I know how to spell that … as the future starting quarterback of the Chants.
The redshirt year to learn the offense he already knew so well
McCall redshirted during his freshman season and as previously mentioned, Coastal Carolina stumbled to a 5-7 record with Fred Payton and Bryce Carpenter splitting time at quarterback. The Chanticleers averaged 30.3 points per game (sounds like a lot, is only 55th) with 6.5 yards per pass attempt by Carpenter and 7.6 Y/A by Payton.
Carpenter also rushed 109 times for 390 yards (3.6 YPC) with one touchdown, while Payton had 54 carries for 181 yards (3.4) and two touchdowns.
The pair combined to throw 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions on 329 pass attempts. McCall, perhaps stepping one tiny, minor step ahead of Guest, went 4-of-4 for 25 yards and a touchdown with two carries for 11 yards as third in line.
The lowest of expectations for Coastal Carolina
Going into the 2020 season, Athlon Sports predicted that Coastal Carolina would finish in last place in their division and they believed that the quarterback job would continue to be handled by Payton and Carpenter.
The Chanticleers finished 5-7 in Jamey Chadwell’s first year as the full-time head coach, but this program was on the cusp of something better with four losses coming by seven points or less. A run to a bowl game is within reach for 2020. Chadwell has two experienced quarterbacks to choose from in Fred Payton or Bryce Carpenter, with four starters back along a solid offensive line. Running back CJ Marable averaged 118.2 all-purpose yards a game last season and is one of the top returning playmakers in the Sun Belt for 2020. Six starters return from a defense that allowed 30.5 points a game last fall, but the secondary is under construction. End Tarron Jackson (10 sacks) is one of the league’s top linemen, and the return of linebacker Silas Kelly from injury is a boost to the run defense.
While that seems like a lot of praise, keep in mind that Athlon didn’t believe that Coastal Carolina had a top-4 unit at any position and at best thought they had the fifth-best offensive line in the conference. They had zero pre-season awards to hand out for the Chants either.
College Football News also picked Coastal Carolina to finish last with an expected record of 4-7, 2-6 in conference. Again, Pete Fiutak made no mention of McCall when discussing the quarterback position — and who would have? That would have seemed so odd at the time. He wasn’t a big recruit. He threw four passes as a freshman. He might have been seen as fourth or fifth on the depth chart by some outsiders.
The surprise 2020 starter that nobody saw coming except maybe Jamey Chadwell
In fact, days before Coastal Carolina’s Week 1 game against Kansas, Chadwell hadn’t named a starter; Payton was all set to take the reigns again but a sore Achilles was cited as the reason for him missing over a week of practice and opening the door for a competition to happen. First, Carpenter was obviously thought to be the replacement if necessary, but finally McCall was mentioned as a possibility.
Not much of one — the presumption remained that Payton or Carpenter would start the next day — but Chadwell had kept his best-kept secret a secret up until that Saturday’s game against the Jayhawks made it impossible to do so any longer.
On September 12, 2020, McCall made a surprise start against Kansas. By halftime of his first start, he had scored four touchdowns. When Kansas fought back to make it 28-17 entering the fourth quarter, McCall added a fifth touchdown to help Coastal Carolina pull away for good.
First career start, against an admittedly awful team: 11-of-18, 133 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 11 carries, 73 yards, 2 TD.
I wish that I knew how to do a better job of sharing video in these newsletters, but at 1:13 in these Kansas highlights you can get an immediate example of how unique McCall is as a football player.
On his first drive as a starter, McCall is facing second-and-7 at the Kansas 12. After already establishing himself as a RPO threat on the drive, McCall is in shotgun as Kansas rushes four. As the announcer literally says the words “the epitome of a dual threat,” McCall sprints between five defenders and powers his body forward at the 1, colliding with 215 lb linebacker Dru Prox and helicoptering around him for his first career rushing touchdown.
They’ll compare the play to Elway. I’m fine with that.
Early in the second quarter, McCall has first-and-Goal at the 2 and out of shotgun, he fakes the handoff*, which causes the linebacker to hesitate, and he then pitches it to his second option (beautifully) for an easy score.
*McCall’s proficiency in quality RPO exchanges, while imperfect, is an underrated strength of his game and I believe that aspect of his profile was integral to Coastal Carolina’s success last season; I believe that McCall is a better seller of the play fake than 90-percent of NFL quarterbacks … right now.
It isn’t until there’s only one minute left in the first half that McCall actually displays some form of downfield passing, but when he does, it’s a pretty-looking 25-yard touchdown pass that is placed exactly where it needs to be. Of course, this is good, but here is where I must also admit that McCall will be destroyed by analysts for his mechanics and footwork.
He often runs into his throws, implying inadequate arm strength. On this pass, his feet even lift off of the ground as he lets go of it, a common theme during some of his most exciting highlight moments.
The game 1 takeaways and immediate star potential
That’s certainly part of the issue with McCall’s passing highlights: he appears to be laboring on each pass, similar to a young Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the ball seems to gravitate slowly out of his hand like a floating spade in Super Marios Bros. 3, rather than like red shell from Mario Kart.
However, I offer two potential reasons to not worry about this yet:
These are still highlights. I understand how the NFL is different than what Coastal Carolina faced in 2020, but McCall’s throwing motion isn’t necessarily a deterrent just because it isn’t pretty (nobody would be taught to throw like Philip Rivers) and the throws still ended up in almost the exact spot of the field that he was aiming at.
Good NFL coaching should be expected to help any prospect with his mechanics, and McCall has weaknesses and concerns just like Lawrence, Wilson, Jones, Lance, and Fields all do right now. But how many QB prospects have the strengths that McCall has? In my estimation, not many.
But it’s also not necessarily true that a team needs to coach all of McCall’s mechanics or footwork out of him. It could be that for this particular player, his perceived weakness is actually what makes him special. Though it would seem asinine now, I am confident that there are coaches out there who would have tried to teach Patrick Mahomes to be more “orthodox” if he ever wanted to make it to the pros.
As to arm strength, McCall was only 19-years-old in 2020. Mac Jones is currently being knocked for his arm strength and at 19 he was still a couple years away from even being named a starter. I like where McCall is at on his development curve as compared to many other prospects and I imagine that one thing that would be easy to count on, above all else, is that he’ll get bigger and stronger.
Games 2-3 help the legend grow
Following Kansas and a ridiculously easy matchup against a college called Campbell (11-of-16, 273 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT), McCall led Coastal Carolina to a 52-23 win over Arkansas State. The year before, Arkansas State had won the game 28-27.
McCall went 20-of-29 for 322 yards with four touchdowns, one interception, and 17 carries for 44 yards.
Midway through the first quarter, in another example of “I’m not sure if it looked great, but it worked,” McCall launches a pass 40 air yards, leading his receiver past the defender for a walk-in score. I’ve just seen too many passes by 2021 draft prospects at this point (top-10 prospects) where the ball causes the receiver to stop or return. I have rarely seen that with McCall so far.
Another interesting, “ugly” throw comes midway through the second, when McCall shakes off his checkdown, then seems to “Happy Gilmore” his ass for a ball that has 36 air yards but is dropped by the receiver. I wouldn’t teach anybody to throw this way, but I wouldn’t necessarily want him to stop it either.
It becomes easier to digest when you accept that McCall can easily throw the ball around at will in the short and intermediate areas, making quick decisions and often putting it where only his teammates can get it.
There are issues. Overthrows are one. Turnovers are another. In spite of the fact that he only threw three interceptions last season, McCall probably should have had a few more and he is bonkers-off with his accuracy sometimes. So is Russell Wilson. And Wilson is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in history.
The best example of how McCall’s weaknesses could turn into future strengths comes at 4:20 in the third quarter. He takes the snap out of shotgun and immediately feels pressure from his blindside, escaping the pocket (McCall’s ability to sense pressure and to move in the right direction within the pocket is also noteworthy) and rolling to his left with the ball in his right hand. Now facing pressure coming right at him and less than a half-second to throw, McCall attempts something that Mahomes might do, side-arming the pass to whip the ball around the defender and zipping it a good 20 yards downfield towards a teammate.
Giving Arkansas State a stupid-easy interception.
It’s a stupefying decision to contemplate at first, but ultimately who can blame modern high school and college quarterbacks from attempting to mimic the greatest quarterback in the world? Better for McCall to attempt those throws now and to refine those decisions and those mechanics than to see a quarterback put it on display for the first time while in the pros, right?
And as you’ll see, McCall did complete similar Mahomes-like throws as the season went on.
Finally, McCall did show that he could drop a fairly casual and accurate 50-air-yard bomb while standing inside the pocket if he wants to.
I’ll also highlight this play against Campbell because it would be illegal for me to ignore it, even if the opponent is not Division-I. McCall has a number of impressive strikes in this game but it’s this Mahomes-ian flip-while-being-sacked flicker for a first down that will have people second-guessing their evaluation of him.
The first top-25 opponent of the season
Next, in Week 5, McCall faced what could be his toughest test of the season, squaring off against the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. That might not seem like a tough test at face value, but Louisiana went 10-1 last season and ranked 31st in points allowed per game.
Their only loss came to Coastal Carolina.
I want to start by highlighting a play from McCall that isn’t even a pass or a run by him. It’s a pitch. But it’s a god damn good one. With his offense bunched to the left, and McCall in shotgun, he fakes it to his tailback with pressure immediately in his face. It seems almost like a miscommunication at first, but as he’s in the process of being tackled, McCall pitches it back to the back, who sprints to the edge for a gain of three.
That seems like such a small deal, but there are a lot of quarterbacks in the NFL who are afraid of that pressure and who would screw up that pitch. McCall’s six years of running an option offense has clearly made him elite at handling the ball in those moments and what could have been a disaster or a loss of a few yards turned into a gain because of McCall’s demeanor and skills.
Think of Taysom Hill as a 20-year-old prospect today, but with better refinement and accuracy and potentially the added benefit of knowing that Taysom Hill exists and could have been turned into a great quarterback if he was younger and had the right coaching.
To further emphasize just how much better McCall’s selling of the play fake out of RPO is than most quarterbacks, keep in mind that the following screenshot is of a play that turned into a 13-yard touchdown pass:
And to keep a record of when his receivers failed him, here’s a dropped pass that would’ve been a 43-yard touchdown:
Then in the third quarter, with the game tied 13-13, McCall throws a pass so good that it could have been two touchdowns: first the slot player lets it bounce through his hands, where it’s hauled in by Coastal’s outside receiver for a score. I don’t care if it’s ugly, why do McCall’s passes keep working?
It’s partly because he’s such a multi-dimensional threat. On one play, he can go from triple-option QB pre-snap, to pocket QB post-snap, to scrambling for a first down when the pocket collapses. Here he gains 22 yards on the ground by doing just that.
He’s not fast. And that’ll get him knocked too. But he is a good runner. He’s got a nose for the first down market and the end zone and defenses must account for him on every play.
I gotta keep the scoresheet balanced though, so here’s a dropped interception:
McCall can hit tight windows but that confidence will also get him burned sometimes.
Tied 27-27 late in the fourth quarter while playing on the road against a top-25 opponent, McCall calmly and confidently led the triple-option offense down the field against Louisiana. Passing wasn’t in the gameplan at that point, but it didn’t have to be. McCall’s offense put kicker Massimo Biscardi in position to kick the game-winner from 40 yards out and Coastal Carolina became ranked for the first time ever when the following polls came out.
McCall’s night: 17-of-24, 202 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 11 rush, 45 yards, 1 TD
After McCall missed one week with an upper body injury (a rough 28-14 victory over Georgia Southern in which Fred Payton threw two interceptions and showed how much differently Coastal’s season could have gone with him as the starter), he returned as 20th-ranked Coastal Carolina whomped Georgia State 51-0.
In a throwing motion that can only be described as “Yippee!” McCall chucks a 35-yard touchdown to open the scoring up in the first quarter.
But in what is likely another issue that will haunt McCall’s draft ranking, here is him taking a sack late in the first quarter. It may just be a byproduct of the triple-option, but it’s also not hard to find negative or broken run plays/sacks because of his style. Similarly, we know that Deshaun Watson and Wilson are more likely to take sacks than the average quarterback. It’s the rewards we focus on though.
Rewards for McCall include his touch on end zone throws. I don’t just watch highlights. I watch it all. And McCall’s touch is obvious once you compare it to the lack of examples where he’s inaccurate on those 5-25 yards throws to the end zone. Here he skies one 18 yards to his running back for a score:
Late in the game, McCall puts his team up by 47 with a 12-yard end zone throw, but this one is less of a moonshot and more of a rope, yet that doesn’t make it any less accurate. The placement in both cases is right where McCall wants it to be.
McCall finishes the game 18-of-24 for 254 yards, four touchdowns, no picks, and another score on the ground. At this point, the unexpected Week 1 starter for a team expected to be in last place has completed 69-percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns, one interception, and rushed for four scores as Coastal Carolina opened with a 6-0 record and ranked 15th in the AP poll.
Only a year earlier, with the same coaching and most of the same supporting cast, Payton led the team with 12 touchdown passes over the entire season.
Two reasons I expect Grayson McCall to be a future NFL starter: play action and pre-snap motion
In the first quarter of his Week 8 game against South Alabama, McCall displays another attribute to his game that I think would be conducive to the modern NFL quarterback. One thing that I learned about Sean McVay last year is that he had sort of dreamed of having an offense that would fit well with backup quarterback John Wolford. Unable to escape Jared Goff short of any injury, McVay stuck with Goff until he broke his thumb against Seattle, and finally Wolford got his chance to start in Week 17.
A spread offense quarterback out of Wake Forest who excels in shotgun and in handling pre-snap motion/eye candy, Wolford gave McVay some looks that Goff never would. Not McVay only looks at Matthew Stafford.
Grayson McCall reminds of the quarterback who I think Sean McVay would love to have. He’s like Wolford, but better in every way.
The Rams use pre-snap motion and movement more than any other offense in the league and that usually means Robert Woods is running in some direction and potentially confusing the defense or going right past them. McCall’s exceptionally comfortable with handling pre-snap motion and reads and here we see an early touchdown on a perfect flip-then-fake from the quarterback:
And here’s a fake that I think could really stand out as well. McCall, who is right handed like most quarterbacks, is able to fake the ball to a player running on his left, then spin his body back around with time to accurately throw pass 20 yards downfield. Like, I realize I’m not a scout and you can tell me to go to hell if you want to, but I don’t see how this isn’t a positive attribute that is rarely seen.
Conversely — and fairly — McCall doesn’t play under center. Maybe he will next year, I know that he’s working on improving his game this offseason and is well aware of what attributes NFL teams will want to see from him next time he’s out there, but admittedly McCall’s got no other track record besides option football.
I just happen to also think that in spite of his lack of experience throwing, he’s a much better and accurate thrower of the football than almost any other quarterback who gets labeled as a “dual threat.” I’d take his arm over Trey Lance. I’d say that doesn’t have the arm strength of Kyler Murray, but he’s a better thrower. I’d also concede that he doesn’t seem to be as much of an overall threat as Lamar Jackson, but again, I think he is a better passer. He looks a lot like Taysom Hill behind center, but Hill doesn’t even deserve to be labeled as a “quarterback” because of how poorly he throws the football. He’s not going to impose as much of a threat as Cam Newton in his prime, but like Josh Allen, I think McCall can develop his game to be much better than Newton as a passer.
This king can truly ding that thing.
McCall doesn’t nap against App
After a comparatively boring performance in a win against South Alabama (71% completions, 209 yards, 1 TD, 72 rushing yards), McCall faced off against Sun Belt powerhouse Appalachian State, a team that has averaged over 10 wins per season since 2015. Preseason, this was David vs Goliath, but by midseason it was Goliath vs Appalachian State.
The Mountaineers were not “off their game” last season either. They finished 9-3 and ranked 16th in the nation in points allowed per game. McCall only completed 12-of-21 passes (the only game all year that he was under 60-percent) but he again flashed poise, resiliency, and controlled explosiveness against a top-25 team.
On his first throw of the game, it’s ugly, flat-footed, off-balance, and resembles a 63-year-old man tossing a hot potato to his grandson. It’s also a 25-yard strike in the air to his receiver. Yes, he’s wide open and this may not always work in the NFL, but this is all day, every day with McCall. It’s the right read, the right decision, the right timing, and the “wrong” everything else.
But it keeps working often enough for me to think that with every other attribute that I love about McCall that so few other prospects consistently display, I can risk believing that the entire package will work for him just as it used to for Newton. They offer different components within that framework, but being able to scamper 62 yards for a touchdown is something that resides within McCall’s repertoire.
Now down 20-15 midway through the third quarter, McCall again pulls out a throw that makes me go, “Do I love it or do I really fucking love it?”
Facing second-and-17 from the APP 20, McCall grabs the snap, fakes a draw play run to lure in the linebacker who should be covering the middle of the field, then hitches back and jump-throws a 25-yard St. Louis Arch for a touchdown to his now-open receiver. This is the most exciting player in college football and last season was a Disney movie for Coastal Carolina because of him.
Yes, I’ll say it, I’ll say it, God damn it I’ll say it…”Intangibles”
And some people will absolutely loathe those who praise him, because they’ll never accept that the flaws can be overlooked. Perhaps the critics will be proven correct. There’s a reason that he isn’t being “too early mocked” to the Lions in 2022 and I’m aware that he may not pan out because of those parts of his game that need improvement.
But when more than 50-percent of first round quarterbacks fail in the pros anyway, what’s wrong with believing in the player who is consistently making plays in spite of those perceived flaws? Some scouts will hate him. “Twitter scouts” will hate him even more. And his coaches in college will echo the same things that his coach in high school has said:
I don’t get why people keep overlooking him. He always made plays for us.
He doesn’t remind me of Justin Herbert as a quarterback, but the intangibles as a football leader and the passion for helping his own team win above all else, as corny as that sounds, do make me think of the reasons I was so high on Herbert last year. Prior to the 2020 draft, I didn’t know much about Herbert at all. But after doing similar research for him as I’m doing with McCall today, I ranked Herbert as better than Joe Burrow (who I thought was a deserving number one pick too) and as someone who I believed would be a future MVP and Super Bowl champion.
(I didn’t rate Tua Tagovailoa as a first round pick.)
That’s not something you pick up in stats or on film. That’s something that I pick up when I read stories about prospects from their high school days, how they handled recruitment, what coaches and teammates say about them, and what they don’t say about them. It’s not always the same effusive praise, like you might expect. Some players just tick differently.
McCall ticks differently, to me.
After coming back from a 17-9 deficit to beat Appalachian State on a late touchdown drive (McCall had 269 total yards and three touchdowns, though he also had a late fumble into the end zone), Coastal Carolina next faced a Texas State team in ugly, wet conditions on the road. McCall’s first attempt of the game was true, but dropped.
Later on the drive, McCall shows a good example of his accuracy and poise when throwing on the move to his right:
Then later in the second quarter, McCall puts out a dart on a slant route, one of Coastal Carolina’s favorite touchdown plays last season because it was so difficult to stop.
Now up 28-7 and with the first half winding down, McCall is back on the field already and has converted multiple third downs on this drive to setup the Chants at the TXS 39. He takes the snap and opts off of his first read, finally running through pressure to his right and instead of opting to his next read — an open receiver who is 10 yards in front of him — McCall jumps 18 feet in the air and throws it to the player who is 25 yards away from him and who most quarterbacks wouldn’t have ever imagined throwing to in that spot.
And he goddamn nails it, putting Coastal Carolina at the 14-yard line with the clock stopped at :38. He’s the quarterback you’re looking for.
Two plays later, it’s touchdown pass city on an all-too easy toss for McCall, giving his team a 35-7 halftime lead.
He can toss, boss.
The current Zach Wilson vs the next Zach Wilson
Despite their undefeated record, Coastal seemed to be on track for their first loss when hosting eighth-ranked BYU and the present “Zach Wilson” Zach Wilson the following week. This was arguably McCall’s worst passing performance of the season, as he only gained 85 yards through the air on 15 passes, but similar to when he would face Howell in high school, McCall came away from the game looking like a fair matchup against an elite prospect.
And Coastal Carolina didn’t lose.
Since there aren’t many highlights to choose from, I’ll dive into some other moments. Early in the second quarter, after having fumbled an exchange on his previous drive, McCall has bunches to his right and the tight end — one of my favorite college football names, Isaiah Likely — to his left. While it is impossible for me to tell, it appears that McCall could be on his second or third read when he slings one to Likely in between two defenders for a first down.
When comparing McCall to Wilson, the best quarterback he was in a game against last season, the differences between a presumed second overall pick and a potential undrafted free agent are obvious. I’m not denying that Wilson, who was in his third year as BYU’s starter, plays smoother, is more fluid in his motions, seems to have advanced comfort with running the ball, and is a better passer. But when the same people who praise Wilson as the next Mahomes also say that McCall has ugly form, just remember that Wilson also has to jump off of the ground to attempt an end-of-half hail mary. (That was a tiny bit short and intercepted.)
Wilson proved to be a creator of opportunities in this game, just as McCall displayed late in the third quarter on this run-and-shoot first down throw to Likely:
This was the only game all year in which McCall didn’t throw a touchdown pass (Trevor Lawrence has thrown a TD pass in 39 of 40 career games) but he came only a yard or two short on this fourth quarter throw to Kameron Brown:
Coastal Carolina took the lead one play later with 10 minutes left in the game.
One thing that I’d like to see McCall improve on is his baseball slide. I’m not sure I’ve seen him slide once yet. I’ve only watched Zach Wilson for about two minutes today and I’ve seen him slide multiple times already. McCall is not going to be the fastest or the smoothest, but his running style has an Ichiro-like creativity to it that extends plays and tricks defenses. An example of that can be found as McCall picks up a first down with almost 3 minutes remaining, helping his team run down the clock to beat BYU and remain undefeated.
He can make people miss without being “athletic”.
There are two more McCall games for me to go over and the first one is the season finale against 5-5 Troy.
Already up 7-0, McCall repeats the same play I highlighted earlier. Nearing Troy’s red zone, McCall fakes the draw play run and moonshots it to his running back for an easy touchdown on what would be a difficult play to execute for many QBs.
It’s now late in the first half and Coastal is only up 14-13, facing third-and-1. The Chants put a man in motion (as always), he fakes the handoff to him, then has two defenders barreling down on him as he stands tall in the pocket and overhands it with underrated strength for a pass that surprisingly covers over 25 air yards. While McCall definitely has a lack of arm strength, there’s an unexpected effortlessness to his passes when he needs 25 yards.
I haven’t gained confidence when he needs 40 or 50 air yards, but McCall can sling it anywhere within 30 yards. That’s not something I can say for players like Goff, who I believe would’ve excelled for McVay if he had McCall’s skillset as an intermediate passer, runner, and decision maker.
I want to highlight another unbelievable pitch here, this time as McCall flings it with his right hand around a defender who thought he was about to get a sack.
Oh, I found one. McCall scrambles through multiple defenders for a first down run, then slides when all else is lost. He’s learning.
Coming with the advancement of technique is a touch of “don’t do that” as well. In a somewhat-wild fourth quarter, with Troy’s defense playing lights out now, McCall has third-and-8 while nursing a 35-30 lead and 2:36 remaining. He has five receivers but Troy sends five rushers anyway and McCall has less than two seconds to throw the ball. He heaves it as he’s being tackled (as often is the case, towards two receivers in the same area) and it is easily picked off. A poor decision for the freshman at this point in the game.
That play opened the door for Troy to take a 38-35 lead (TD+2 pt) with only 80 seconds left on the clock. Coastal Carolina was now 1:20 away from losing their undefeated season and not going to one of the premier bowl games, while a win would make Troy bowl eligible.
McCall needed about 50 yards to setup for a tie, and 75 yards to win.
Coastal picked up 26 yards on his first pass. Five yards on his next. Then four yards on a run. With the clock winding down from :47 seconds and at the Troy 39, McCall winds up and shoots it the right side for another 16-yard gain with his receiver going out of bounds and :40 seconds remaining.
Then, McCall overhands it to a receiver moving up the seam, connecting for a relatively easy 23-yard game-winning touchdown pass to keep Coastal Carolina undefeated.
Grayson McCall: 24-of-29, 338 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, 10 carries, 40 yards, 1 TD
The Liberty Ball
Projected to be one of the worst teams in FBS college football, Coastal Carolina turned a 4-7 projection into an 11-0 regular season finish and a trip to the Cure Bowl against Liberty.
It was not one of the premier bowl games (Coastal would’ve also played a rematch against Louisiana (ranked 19th at the end of the year) if not for the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling the Sun Belt championship game and so we never got that final “prove it” contest that could’ve pushed them into a January 1 game) but that doesn’t mean that Liberty was a weak opponent any more than the Chanticleers would be seen as a “weak opponent” if you were simply basing it on your pre-2020 conceptions about football programs you’d never heard of before.
Liberty, like Louisiana, Appalachian State, and BYU before them, was a high quality opponent for McCall and the Chants. Liberty was 9-1 entering the game, ranked 23rd in the country, and were only one blocked 39-yard field goal try away from beating NC State and going undefeated. To be completely honest, they had played an incredibly easy schedule outside of the Wolfpack, but the Flames had a dominant season for what they were given.
Down 14-0 to Liberty early, we got to see a version of McCall that is called upon to pass and command his team back into the lead. A combination of accurate intermediate passing and midfield scrambling helped the Chants score 13 points before halftime, cutting the lead to four points.
McCall came out firing in the third quarter but unfortunately that led to this run-and-shoot pass that overthrows his intended target and falls right into the lap of a Liberty defender for an ugly interception. Overthrows and risky attempts are a part of the package with McCall and this play displayed both, really hurting his team.
Thankfully, McCall can also help his team more than most college and NFL quarterbacks.
Now down 24-13 with 4:47 remaining in the third quarter, facing third-and-11, McCall takes the snap and while I usually seem him roll to the right, this time he takes off to the left. McCall winds up and throws across his body, with four defenders surrounding him, and heaves a strike to a streaking Chants receiver for an all-too-easy score with a level-of-difficulty of “don’t even try it” but he does and it’s perfect.
Later, down 31-19 early in the fourth quarter, McCall tests his deep ball accuracy and gets an A- on this bomb (43 air yards) to his receiver. It would have been nice to see it travel about three more yards, potentially leading his receiver to a touchdown, but it’s not what I would call an “underthrow” either.
A couple plays later, after he throws his team to the goal line, McCall uses his run-play fake technique to punch in an easy touchdown, cutting the lead to 31-26.
Down 34-26 in the final minutes, Coastal Carolina is looking for a hero and turning to McCall. In an example of “great runner, not fast runner,” McCall scampers 20 yards and into the Liberty red zone.
He then throws a touchdown with three minutes left to cut the lead to 34-32. Needing a two-point conversion, a McCall keeper gets it done.
After a Liberty player fumbled at the Coastal 1, forcing overtime, the Chants forced a field goal by the Flames to make it 37-34. McCall threw three straight passes to start overtime (the second one should have resulted in a pass interference penalty, I think) and they all fell incomplete. Coastal Carolina had a field goal attempt to go to another overtime, but similar to his nightmare against Sam Howell, a blocked kick led to a McCall loss.
And that’s how close Coastal Carolina came to a 12-0 season.
From the highlights you don’t see in the stats, to the stats that nobody seems to highlight: McCall has it all
Grayson McCall, 19-year-old freshman, Coastal Carolina:
Passing: 172-of-250, 68.8%, 2,488 yards, 10 yards per attempt, 26 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: 111 carries, 569 yards, 5.1 Y/A, seven touchdowns
By comparison, here’s Sam Howell’s stats last season:
Passing: 237-of-348, 68.1%, 3,586 yards, 10.3 Y/A, 30 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: 92 carries, 146 yards, 1.6 Y/A, five touchdowns
Nationally speaking, McCall ranked fifth in yards per attempt among quarterbacks with at least 200 passes. The four ahead of him were Mac Jones, Zach Wilson, Howell, and Ole Miss’s Matt Corral. I haven’t dived into Corral at all yet, but I’ve heard that maybe I should do that too.
McCall ranked 10th in passing touchdowns despite only having 250 attempts. Among quarterbacks who had fewer than 300 passes, McCall ranks first in touchdowns and had four more than second-place Justin Fields.
By comparison, here’s Justin Fields’ stats last season:
Passing: 158-of-225, 70.2%, 2,100 yards, 9.3 Y/A, 22 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: 81 carries, 383 yards, 4.7 Y/A, five touchdowns
Compared to another QB in the 2022 draft class expected to go early, here are the passing statistics for Spencer Rattler, a player with all kinds of offensive benefits in his corner at Oklahoma:
Passing: 214-of-317, 67.5%, 3,031 yards, 9.6 Y/A, 28 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: 81 carries, 160 yards, 2.0 Y/A, six touchdowns
McCall also ranked third in efficiency among quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts, only trailing Jones and Wilson. McCall also ranked fifth among all quarterbacks in rushing yards and was the only player in the top-10 of that category to also post any kind of top-10 passing numbers.
This would be interesting even if McCall was 22. It should be fascinating knowing that he was only 19. It should be a book when you consider that Coastal Carolina wasn’t even a Division-I football team five years ago.
Where he fits for now, but a list that will keep growing
I realize that I’m not the first person to recognize McCall’s special talents. PFF was hyping him in December. People who actually love college football (I only follow when it relates to the NFL Draft) have been singing his praises as a college football player. But maybe there’s only a couple other people out there who believe, like me, that McCall has given us every reason to believe that between now and next year, he’ll be the type of quarterback prospect that a team dreams of building around.
That’s the definition of a franchise quarterback.
There are a number of teams and coaching trees that I think already make sense for McCall’s talents and skillset:
The Rams and anything to do with Sean McVay, including the Seahawks (OC Shane Waldron), Packers (Matt LaFleur), and Bengals (Zac Taylor). Of course, none of those teams will be seeking a franchise quarterback next season. Well, we don’t think any of them will be. But if McCall enters the draft as a mid-round pick instead of as a first rounder, then the Rams, Seahawks, or Bengals would make sense as fits for him as a developmental project. Seattle might especially love him because I could sense that Pete Carroll would also be enamored with his intangibles and penchant for choosing to run the football.
If we’re looking at a scenario where McCall is projected to go in the first round as a franchise quarterback, then the landing spots might include teams that we expect to still need quarterbacks by then: the Lions, Texans, Panthers, Bucs, Falcons, Bears, Vikings, Eagles, Giants, Patriots, Steelers, Dolphins, Colts, Raiders, and Broncos could all apply. There’s no shortage of teams that lack guaranteed long-term answers at quarterback.
Within those 14 teams, I could probably identify New England, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Carolina, and Philadelphia as “more obvious” fits, but then I have no idea who the 32 NFL coaching staffs will be in 2022. And it would be irresponsible for any team to draft McCall if they don’t plan to play to his strengths. He has to be an exact fit for the coaching staff that selects him and that coaching staff has to say, first and foremost, “You’re the best option QB prospect we’ve ever seen and we don’t want to screw that up.” It means taking a philosophical risk with your offense, but perhaps no greater of a risk than drafting a pocket passer who lacks some of those amazing traits that McCall possesses.
Or maybe Jamey Chadwell winds up in the NFL one day soon and the pair can reunite. Disney loves a sequel.
There’s obviously a lot more I wanted to say about Grayson McCall. I wanted to tell you which quarterbacks he’s a mix of, but then that list also grew too long. And I realize that people will murder me for the names on it. I also wanted to list all the strengths and weaknesses, but eventually you have to know when to quit. We’ve got plenty more days to talk about Grayson McCall.
And then, one day, everyone else will be talking about him too.