Tulane’s Michael Pratt May Be 2022’s Most Underrated QB
Tulane knew it was time for a quarterback change late in the first quarter of 2020’s matchup against Southern Miss, and that decision paid off.
This marked Michael Pratt’s college debut in which he passed for 142 yards and two touchdowns, also recording a rushing touchdown, ultimately helping to turn the tide after the Golden Eagles got out to a 14-0 lead in less than five minutes to put Tulane in a bad position very early.
While the Oklahoma game in which Pratt completed 61.4% of his passes with 296 passing yard is largely looked at as a major turning point in Pratt’s career, it only showcased the things Tulane head coach Willie Fritz knew to be true of his quarterback from the start.
“I think as soon as we turned it over to him, he showed what he could be,” Fritz said. “The moment just wasn’t too big for him. That was probably what I noticed. He’s just excited to be out there and perform, and play.”
It wasn’t long after the victory that Pratt became one of the most intriguing freshman quarterbacks in the nation, helping guide the Green Wave to five wins in a 10-game COVID season while showcasing what he could do both through the air and on the ground adequately despite the not-so-ideal circumstances.
Despite some of the shortcomings from some of those around him, the hype surrounding Pratt lived on until it was overshadowed by quarterbacks in much better situations, which has become an unfortunate norm across college football.
So many quarterbacks are looked over by the national media because of numbers, but the stat sheet may be the least telling indicator of a quarterback’s talent.
The fact Pratt has never touched a 60% completion rate in a single season in addition to the small school stigma is a reason why several have passed over him. That’s something he’s self-aware of and that he believes will improve in the upcoming season.
“I think the film shows for itself. You know, statistics sometimes can be varied by different circumstances,” Pratt said.
“But that’s something that we’re definitely looking to get up. I think the system that we’re in that Coach [Jim] Svoboda brings, I think it’s going to be a lot of high percentage passes, we’re going to take what’s there, we’re not going to try to do too much with the ball, we got, you know, a great running back in Tyjae Spears back, and we’ve got Cam Carroll, we also have some really good weapons at receiver. So I think that being able to effectively run the ball is going to open up our pass game and vice versa. So I think that you know, the numbers are going to add up because of that.”
Pratt finished the 2021 season with a 57.6% completion rate, 2,381 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions over 11 games. The completion percentage from 2021 and 2020 (55.1%) would imply a quarterback had severe accuracy issues if depth of quarterback analysis was as shallow as just the numbers. However, this doesn’t factor in a thin supporting cast with several drops, an offensive line that had major issues or injuries that can notably alter a quarterback’s upper and lower-body mechanics, which is where true accuracy stems from.
Pratt was sacked 33 times in 2021, with one reported concussion while he took a number of nasty hits that would suggest he played the better part of the season badly injured.
“Just last season, he got beat up early in the year,” Fritz said. “It was hard for him… he just didn’t get the practice reps that we wanted to get in during a week.”
Between that and second-team quarterback Justin Ibieta tearing his labrum, Tulane faced a tough situation at quarterback last year.
“There were weeks where he practiced very little. And he still went out there and played,” Fritz said. “So we were kind of just week to week. He’s had a fantastic spring and great summer. Part of our job is to make sure that we do a good job protecting them, both in the pass game protections and him being understanding of where to go with it so he’s not holding it too long.”
Mechanically though, when he’s healthy, Pratt is a put-together quarterback who hasn’t been negatively affected by his baseball background.
“I think [his mechanics are] good,” Fritz said. “I think completion percentage is probably - people overrate that sometimes. A lot of times has to do with the offensive line or protection or getting receivers running the routes precisely.”
“We give a point for an accurate throw, or the receiver’s able to continue in stride with the ball. That’s what you’d like, every time we call it keeping him a runner,” Fritz said. “Where you throw the football to him, he completes it, but the receiver had to make an outstanding effort to catch the ball, you know, we don’t give that any points. And when it’s inaccurate, and it’s not where it’s supposed to be, that’s obviously a minus… Regardless if the ball’s completed or not, that’s how we’re trying to look at it, just to really see what the accuracy is with the quarterback. So, but it is important - don’t let me act like it isn’t important, but just I think there’s other ways to gauge accuracy.”
In just his second season, Pratt showed he was mentally ahead of where a lot of other quarterbacks with his experience level tend to be on top of what he brings physically and athletically.
“That’s the one thing that’s hard to really decipher, is, how does a guy go through his reads, progressions,” Fritz said. “How quickly he sees what the coverage is and where he’s gonna go with the ball… all those kinds of things. I think Michael does a superb job of that. He’s really smart, both as a student and also as a football player, and it’s a big key.”
With the way the NFL is trending, mobility – or at least some level of it – has become a point of emphasis for several teams. There’s the sense the trend is beginning to move away some from the Lamar Jackson-esque runners, shifting more to quarterbacks who are established passers from the pocket with the ability to make throws outside of it, evade pressure and make plays with their legs when called upon.
Pratt checks all of those boxes.
“I’ve had guys that have had average arm strength, and you know, maybe not the greatest athlete in the world, but they’re really smart, and knew where to go with the ball… oftentimes before the ball is even snapped,” Fritz said. “He does an excellent job of that… Physically, he’s gotten a lot bigger. When he came to our place, he was about 180 pounds, now he’s 210-215, 6-foot-3. Runs well, a legit 4.6 [40-yard dash] guy. So physically, he’s got the tools. Then reading coverages and defenses, that’s something that you know, it takes a lot of reps.”
Pratt echoed that mentally speaking, saying he feels he’s understanding the game at the college level better.
“I think the biggest thing going into year three is my knowledge of the game and how it slows down,” Pratt said. “That was a big difference between year one and year two, just the knowledge of the game and film study and knowing what to expect from the defense, which I think makes a huge difference.”
Just as important as what is put together on the field – if not more important – are a quarterback’s intangibles and ability to rally a team. That’s a quality Pratt possesses as well as anyone. The Green Wave may have finished out the season with a 2-10 overall record last season, but they’ve got high morale heading into 2022 and Pratt’s infectiously confident mindset plays a role in that.
Offensive tackle Joey Claybrook says his relationship with Pratt is the closest he’s ever been to a quarterback and that the relationship-building element he brings to the table makes a massive difference. Between a work ethic Claybrook says is matched by few and a commitment to making sure he’s close with his teammates, there’s a high level of closeness and earned respect.
“When he first got here and started playing, you know, he plays so hard and works so hard that - there’s something about the fact that you just want to block harder for him because of how hard he’s playing, and the energy that he puts off,” Claybrook said. “The energy that he brings is extremely important and it drives the whole team.”
The switch never really turns off for Pratt, even in the face of adversity and in a season filled with as many low points as 2021 saw. And that goes for the offseason, too.
“Last weekend we had a team event, last Friday night - and he worked the Manning Passing Academy all weekend,” Claybrook said. “He came, showed up for the team event, did the event, got an IV, and then drove back to Nichols for the Saturday part of the Passing Academy. That just speaks a lot about him and how hard he works.”
Regardless of what he goes up against, Pratt has never hit a wall or any obstacle he can’t overcome.
“He wasn’t burned out and he doesn’t get screwed up,” Fritz said. “He doesn’t play calm. He’s a very excitable guy, he’s fired up and into it all the time. But it’s in a good way, you know, it’s not where he’s panicking in any way shape or form.”
That mentality is present at all times, whether it’s in a spring practice or in the heat of the moment with the potential to upset the No. 2 team in the nation in the season-opener.
“He’s started a lot of games, practiced a bunch – and he loves practicing. I mean, he’s one of the best practice guys I’ve ever had, you know, particularly at that position,” Fritz said. “The quality I think he’s best at is - he’s just an incredible leader. He’s into it all the time. He’s friends with all the guys on the team - offense, defense, specialists. Always offering an encouraging word. He’s a servant leader. He’s always trying to do whatever he can to help other people.”
Pratt has a chance to really put himself on the map in 2022 even with a stacked quarterback class and Tulane has an opportunity to take a big step forward.
The Green Wave have a different coaching staff, with offensive coordinator Chip Long among those departing and Jim Svoboda brought on board.
“I don’t know how much we’ll be different schematically. It seems like everybody does a lot of stuff nowadays,” Fritz said.
“You know, call it what you call it, and how you do it might be slightly different. So I don’t think it’s gonna be much different schematically. Everybody’s gonna have, you know, quick game, drop back game, a play action game, RPO game, and your run game with the quarterback as well. You also gotta have a good running attack where you’re not just - where everybody in the stadium knows exactly what you’re doing.”
Having Svoboda could very well prove advantageous after the predictability of some of Long’s calls offensively. In addition to an OC change, Pratt is confident in the bolstered offensive roster of players around him, which includes one of his high school teammates that he’s already established chemistry with, in addition to Notre Dame transfer Lawrence Keys, who should be in for a breakout season sooner rather than later.
“We got a couple really good transfers,” Pratt said. “We got DeaJaun McDougle, who I played high school football with, obviously [star running back] Tyjae Spears will be back which will be huge for us. And then Ashaad Clayton, who brings a lot to the table with his speed and physicality. And I think the two receivers and the running back we brought in just really upped the competition. And that’s what we’ve seen throughout the spring and throughout summer practice and whatnot, is that everybody’s just working harder. I think the guys are pushing themselves and there’s more leadership within those rooms. So I think they’re all just getting better because of each other.”
Going into an offense in which some things will be similar while different in the midst of change, there are some things that remain constant. One of those is that Fritz couldn’t be more confident in who he has taking the snaps for his team.
“I think Michael is going to have a big year. We’re excited about it. He’s healthy, he’s ready. Tulane’s had some great quarterbacks over the years and he certainly can be another one to join that club.”