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Notre Dame Football

Film Don't Lie | Sam Hartman

January 5, 2023

It’s been months since everyone knew that Notre Dame needed to add a transfer quarterback this offseason. Everyone was anxiously anticipating who that might be.

Now we know. Notre Dame is adding one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, former Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman.

Irish fans may remember him from when he was a true freshman starting against them in 2018. He was a skinny kid going up against a defense that started seven future NFL Draft picks and beat him up that day. They hit him over 20 times and he kept getting back up until he couldn’t.

He’s a much different player than he was back then. Now 210 pounds and the leading touchdown passer in ACC history, Hartman broke several Wake Forest records and will be the heavy favorite to start for the Irish in 2023.

This is his sixth season. He could have left for the NFL and possibly been a late-round pick, but he’s gambling on himself by playing in a new offense that can help him upgrade his stock.

Why is a player so accomplished only considered a late-round pick at this time? A lot of it has to do with the offense he plays in. Wake runs a slow mesh RPO system that is unique to them and different from any others in college football.

It’s all post-snap reads as opposed to pre-snap when they run it. There’s also a lot less diversity with route combinations, the running game, and general pro-style elements found in an offense like Notre Dame’s.

It’s going to be an adjustment for him. There’s no doubt about that. But there are plenty of reasons to think he can not only make the transition, but also thrive. I watched a number of Hartman games over the last two seasons and I’m more convinced now of his potential to elevate Notre Dame’s offense. He’s more than a system quarterback in my opinion.

Ball placement

There may not be a better quarterback in the country at putting it on the back shoulder of his receivers. This receiver is covered against Clemson. The only shot he has to make this catch is if Hartman puts it up and away on a rope and that’s what he does.

This is against Clemson again and he’s got the rush in his face and he can’t fully step into this throw, but still puts it in the spot that gives his guy a chance.

This tweet says they are scheming guys open and it’s supposed to read “aren’t” (I curse the no edit button for tweets). He has to throw a lot more contested targets than other quarterbacks because teams are blitzing and playing man against them so often (46.7% of drop backs).

He threw 107 contested targets this season. Notre Dame threw 57.

The ball placement probably won’t have to be this good for him as often, but he is definitely capable of making these types of throws.

Look at how he layers this throw over top of the linebacker as well. Normally this looks like a ball that shouldn’t be thrown, but it works if a quarterback has the touch like this.

3rd down King

When it’s 3rd and long, the slow mesh is often out the window. He has to drop back and read a defense like everyone else. There just aren’t many better on 3rd down than him.

He finished the regular season first in 3rd down passer rating. His NFL passer rating on 3rd and 6+ is 125.8. That’s elite. And he’s out there succeeding by making difficult throws.

This is a tight window he has to fit the ball into and if he leads the receiver too much, he’s getting lit up by the safety.

Though I think there are times when he hangs in the pocket too long to let things develop, he can improvise and make plays outside of the pocket as well.

He’s unfazed by the rush. He does a really nice job of keeping his eyes down the field and that’s a major reason why he’s so good on the money down.

Feasting from a clean pocket

Anyone who watched their bowl game saw a glimpse of his protection. It’s not the greatest.

When he does have a clean pocket, he ranks fourth in the country according to PFF’s passing grades and 3rd in the Power 5.

The two Power 5 quarterbacks ahead of him? Bryce Young and Drake Maye. I’d say that’s pretty good company.

Teams won’t blitz him nearly as much at Notre Dame and his protection should be better overall. Even when it’s not, he can still make off-platform throws like this.

About those interceptions...

The one red flag with him has been interceptions. He’s turned the ball over too much and there really isn’t any way around it. He has five games with multiple interceptions over the last three years.

There is some context that needs to be added with that, though. In those games, Wake couldn’t run the ball and they leaned on him heavily to make up for it. The rushing averages in those games were 2.0, 0.68, 2.1, 2.64, and 3.2 yards per carry.

The offense he plays in also takes way more shots than a typical one. He finished 12th in the country in deep ball percentage (20 yards or more down the field) at 21.6%. For perspective, Drew Pyne was 86th at 14.2%. Half of his interceptions came on deep shots that were often 50/50 balls.

No one had a longer average depth of target than Hartman at 12.8 yards. That largely has to do with the scheme. That also has an impact on his completion percentage. I mentioned the contested throws, but those and the number of deep throws is going to make a difference.

He completed 63.1% of his passes and that’s less than someone like UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (69.6%). Anyone who has watched the two quarterbacks would not say that DTR is more accurate, though. His ADOT is 7.0. That’s almost six yards less on average, so those throws are a lot easier to make.

Deep balls are never high percentage throws. I think he is okay with the deep ball. He isn’t at the level where he’s dropping dimes and he underthrows his receivers a fair amount. However, he does give them a chance to catch it and he finished 9th in PFF deep ball grade in both of the last two years

Then there’s throws like this where it’s clearly a bad decision, but it’s also 4th and 11. That part matters.

I think he can take less chances on some throws, but he’ll also have more receivers running open as well. The interceptions are something I think he can cut down on.

What he isn’t

He’s not a dual-threat. He can move the sticks with his feet, but he’s not going to be a huge part of the running game. They can run zone-read with him and plenty of RPOs, but he’s not going to be the guy to have designed runs called for him.

He can stare down receivers and think he can thread the needle with his passes, but that can get him into trouble. His arm isn’t elite so it can’t bail him out of situations like it can for someone like Drake Maye.

Is size a concern? A little bit, but he navigates the pocket pretty well to find throwing windows. He does get some balls batted, but relative to how many passes he threw in 2022, the number he had isn’t a huge concern. Pyne had more batted balls than him on 176 less pass attempts.

What’s his ceiling?

It’s going to be one and down for Hartman, but he’s exactly the kind of quarterback you want to take in that situation. He has the experience, poise under pressure, and big game experience that you want from a player that started multiple seasons.

I think he can be a top-10 quarterback at Notre Dame and that would elevate their offense a lot. Wake Forest finished 12th in OF+ (combined FEI and SP+) rankings the last two seasons. They aren’t doing that without Hartman as their quarterback and he’s going to make Notre Dame better.

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