INDIANAPOLIS – After a lackluster start to the season, the Indianapolis Colts stunned the NFL world by benching veteran quarterback Matt Ryan in favor of second-year QB Sam Ehlinger.
Without a doubt, Ryan has struggled this season. He leads the league in times sacked, interceptions and turnovers. The 15-year veteran came to Indy with high hopes, but the on-field production just hasn’t been there behind the Colts’ underperforming offensive line.
The Colts hope Ehlinger will provide them with a spark when they host the Washington Commanders at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday. Here’s what to know about the new Colts quarterback.
Last QB taken
The Colts selected Ehlinger in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft (218th overall). He was the tenth and final quarterback taken in the draft that year.
Here are the quarterbacks teams picked ahead of him: Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones (first round); Kyle Trask (second round); Kellen Mond and Davis Mills (third round); Ian Book (fourth round).
Ehlinger was a kid when Ryan was drafted
Ehlinger, born in September 1998, was just 9 years old when the Atlanta Falcons made Boston College’s Matt Ryan the third overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft held in April 2008.
Ryan was named the starting quarterback for the 2008-2009 season, starting all 16 games and leading the Falcons to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth.
Austin born and bred
Ehlinger was born in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 30, 1998. He played high school football at Westlake High School in Austin—the same school that produced Super Bowl champion QBs Drew Brees and Nick Foles (Ehlinger’s current backup). Colts tight end Kylen Granson also attended Westlake (they were teammates).
Ehlinger committed to play college football at the University of Texas in Austin, choosing the hometown team over other suitors including Florida State, Houston, Oklahoma State, SMU, Texas Tech, Wyoming and McNeese State.
Solid college career
At the University of Texas, Ehlinger led the Longhorns to 27 wins as a starting QB. He was a two-time team captain.
He threw for 11,436 yards, rushed for 1,907 yards and tallied more than 120 touchdowns in his time in Austin (94 passing and 33 rushing). His college career high for touchdowns was in 2019, when he threw 32 of them.
It was hard not to notice Ehlinger in the preseason. In his rookie year, he led the team to a comeback win against the Carolina Panthers.
But it was his performance in a 2022 preseason game that really got the attention of Colts fans. Against Tampa Bay, Ehlinger scrambled 45 yards for a touchdown and went 5-7 for 65 yards.
During the 2022 preseason, he went 24-29 for 289 yards with four touchdowns and, perhaps most importantly, no interceptions.
It’s important to note that Ehlinger has yet to attempt a pass in a regular season NFL contest. He appeared in three games last season, rushing three times for 9 yards. That’s the extent of his NFL experience.
He’d already won one QB competition in the NFL
In the 2020 NFL Draft, the Colts used a fourth-round pick to take Washington’s rocket-armed Jacob Eason, with the general thought being that Eason would develop into a backup and maybe an eventual starter.
Eason, however, struggled in Indianapolis. Despite his prototypical size and strong arm, he rarely saw the field for the Colts. When Carson Wentz went down with an injury in training camp in 2021, Eason and Ehlinger (then a rookie) effectively split reps, to the surprise of many.
Eason was forced into action in Week 2 that season and threw a backbreaking interception on his second career NFL pass against the Rams to seal a loss. Wentz had started the game but left with an injury.
Eason didn’t spark much confidence after that; the team eventually used Brett Hundley as their No. 2 QB. The Colts ended up waiving Eason in October 2021, choosing to keep Ehlinger on the roster instead.
An injury stalled his rookie season
It’s entirely possible Eason would’ve been cut earlier if Ehlinger hadn’t suffered a knee injury late in the 2021 preseason. He landed on injured reserve on Sept. 2, 2021, with a sprained ACL and was activated on Oct. 19.
It’s no coincidence that the Colts waived Eason on Oct. 19—the same day Ehlinger returned.
Colts like him – and he’s improved
People within the Colts organization have said there’s just something about Ehlinger that elevates him above other players, an “it” factor that’s hard to define.
The biggest question mark about Ehlinger has been his arm strength. He spent time in the offseason strengthening his arm with quarterback guru Tom House and working on his throwing mechanics.
Those sessions improved his accuracy and arm strength, according to coach Frank Reich.
Move was weeks in the making
The Colts elevated Ehlinger to the backup spot on Oct. 14, in a move that raised some eyebrows. Nick Foles, the veteran backup who has close ties to Reich, was relegated to third quarterback and a gameday inactive.
It meant, if Ryan struggled or got injured, Ehlinger would enter the game for the Colts. After Ryan’s struggles in Sunday’s 19-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans, the team decided to make the move and designate Ehlinger as QB1.
A grade 2 shoulder separation meant Ryan would miss some time, leading the Colts to move Foles back into his spot as the primary backup. Reich said the team would’ve made the move to Ehlinger regardless of Ryan’s injury status.