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PFF: Texas QB Sam Ehlinger is the top returning player in the Big 12

For the last two seasons, the senior has been the sixth-most valuable player in the country.

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NCAA Football: Alamo Bowl-Utah vs Texas Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

While a fair amount of debate surrounds the positioning of Texas Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger within the pantheon of top players at the position in program history, there’s less question where Ehlinger ranks nationally and in the Big 12 thanks to the metrics from Pro Football Focus.

According to PFF, Ehlinger is the top returning player in the conference for the 2020 season and ranked as the sixth-most valuable player in the country over the last two seasons and the quarterbacks in front of him are unsurprisingly some of the top names in the game, including Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence, and Tua Tagovailoa.

In every sense, Ehlinger is the engine that drives the program to success.

Despite the gaudy passing numbers Ehlinger has put up in recent seasons, however, he still faces criticism about his accuracy, especially his downfield accuracy, which are now largely unfounded.

“His arm, though, is the reason why he lands at number one on this list,” writes Anthony Treash. “Ehlinger was forced to throw into a tight window at one of the 25 highest rates last season, and he didn’t let that hinder himself or the team. His tight-window passing grade was third in the country and his rate of accurate passes thrown was the eighth best.”

So, not only is Ehlinger more accurate than he normally receives credit for, he was forced to make highly difficult throws last season and did so at an elite rate. According to PFF, Ehlinger also finished third nationally with 33 big-time throws. And while his interception doubled from five to 10, Ehlinger wasn’t consistently putting the ball at risk and getting away with it — 14 total throws were considered turnover-worthy.

Now the question is whether new wide receivers coach Andre Coleman can help his largely inexperienced group create better separation this season following the departures of Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay.

PFF does cite a key area for improvement for Ehlinger as he enters his final season on the Forty Acres under the tutelage of Mike Yurcich.

“If Ehlinger can just cut back on his tendency to bail on clean pockets, improve his overall pocket presence and trust his arm, good things can happen for him and Texas,” writes Treash.

In 2019, Ehlinger was sacked 34 times as the team ranked No. 113 nationally in sacks allowed and 95th in standard down sack rate. Getting better in that area, whether it comes from Ehlinger or simply improved pass protection from the line, would do a long way towards keeping Texas in more favorable down-and-distance situations to extend drives.