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Cord Sandberg: A Scouting Report

photo via twitter

One of the strangest signings in recent memory for Gus Malzahn occurred this summer when 23-year-old Cord Sandberg decided to give football another try. Sandberg spent six years inside the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization before deciding to head back to the gridiron. Sandberg visited and ultimately committed to Auburn over LSU and NC State. Originally a Mississippi State commitment in the 2013 recruiting class, the four-star dual-threat QB chose baseball, as many multi-sport athletes do. According to sources, most schools offered him a spot as a preferred walk-on. Auburn offered a full ride. With senior Devin Adams receiving scholarship this week, Auburn now has five quarterbacks on scholarship. LSU, who also wanted Sandberg, currently has two. 

“When [coach Malzahn] gave me a call maybe a month or so ago and said he would have interest in me, obviously the scholarship wasn’t a deciding factor at all because if the best situation had been somewhere else that’s what I would have done. But when I talked to him and kind of knew playing quarterback at Auburn was a possibility, it was obviously something I grew up watching. The Iron Bowl is something pretty special, and I grew up watching a lot of them. To have the opportunity to potentially play in one of those games and really all of the games that Auburn has a chance to play in and the venues the SEC has, it was definitely something that I knew was going to be tough to pass up. When I visited we were (Sandberg and his fiancé) even more confident with the coaches and everything Auburn football is.”

This isn’t the first time that coach Malzahn has attempted to dabble with a baseball player turned football recruit. He narrowly missed on Russell Wilson when the NC State QB chose Wisconsin over Auburn in 2011. However, his time away from football was less than half the time Sandberg spent away from the game.

The addition of Cord Sandberg provides an interesting dynamic for Auburn’s quarterback room.

Jarrett Stidham is the unquestioned starter with Malik Willis being named the second teamer behind him. Joey Gatewood was highly heralded coming out of high school, but very little has been said about him since the spring A-Day game that saw him completely lost. Auburn will welcome newly minted five-star legacy Bo Nix after this season. 

What about the player?

You can view his senior year highlights (2012) here on YouTube. But in terms of broad strokes, he reminds me a lot of Tim Tebow and not just because he is a left-handed quarterback from Florida. His high school stats show that he was a stat monster at Manatee. Over a three-year career, Cord Sandberg threw for over 7,500 yards and 79 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. This also included a “down” year where his pass attempts and completions went up, but yardage and touchdowns were down. However, his rushing attempts, yardage, and touchdowns more than madeup the production. 

The Bradenton, FL native checks in at 6′ 2″ and 200 pounds, though he is reported at various places as being anywhere from there to 6′ 4″ and 225 pounds. One thing that beat reporters haven’t reported on is the state of Cord’s physique or any extra training he could have afforded himself. This isn’t some kid fresh out of high school, nor is he a guy who hasn’t been playing sports for several years.

It would be interesting to know how being a professional baseball player has prepared Sandberg to be a football player and if he used any of his own money for player development. It would certainly change the narrative a little. 

What are his strengths and how does he affect defenses?

Just watching his tape, you see the same game play over and over. Sandberg makes defenses freeze due to his ability to run the ball, which creates wide open throws provided he makes the right read. After putting up 813 rushing yards and scoring 10 touchdowns as a junior, you can see the fear the defenses had of him running the rock his senior year. If it appeared that Sandberg was going to tuck the ball, defenses frequently froze and the Manatee receivers would run right by the defensive backs. Sandberg delivered time and time again, in fact 35 times, that year.

Yet, as a runner, he isn’t very elusive. He doesn’t have the quick twitch or cutting ability that strike fear in the perimeter of defenses. Instead, that fear is because of his long-stride ability and physicality. Sandberg isn’t going down on first contact, and he can cover a lot of ground when he steps into the pocket and bolts. 

The greatest fear defenses had was for Sandberg to climb the pocket and then release the ball downfield at the last moment. At the high school level, defenders could not adjust from treating him as a runner versus a passer, and Sandberg was able to put just enough zip on the ball to fit it into a window before the defense could close. He also could do this while scrambling, which is something that he will have to cut back on at the college level.

Sandberg may have a baseball arm and possess the ability to get the ball to its destination on the run, but physics matters in the college game, and it is difficult if not impossible to deliver it with enough velocity to beat SEC-caliber defensive backs. 

What I like best about him:

 He has the ability to read defenses, make the right decision on where the ball is going, mislead the defense with his eyes, and then deliver the perfect ball. By far his best play is spreading the defenses out, misleading the defense with his eyes down the field, and to deliver a wheel route on the sideline.

While most people would claim that anyone can make a touch throw to a wide open receiver, it was what was done pre-snap and pre-throw that sets up what was an easy big-time gainer. He didn’t always have to hit wide open streaking receivers due to his eyes and fear-inducing ball tuck. Sandberg was quite effective on timing throws. Some of them look to be risky at times, but he fits them where they need to go. 

With that being said, a couple of things should be mentioned.

For one thing, the offensive system in place suited Sandberg perfectly, and the offensive coach had the defense playing reactionary football. Even without Sandberg, his team was an offensive juggernaut. Secondly, Sandberg was surrounded by a terrific offense, both at the line and at the skill positions. He played in a very good offense than made him look great. 

What will Cord Sandberg have to work on?

First, he was a monster compared to most players he faced, but that won’t be the case anymore. At the college level he will just be an average-sized quarterback. If he wants to run the ball, he will have to be a lot smarter. Secondly, he will not be able to throw without his feet set as he did in high school. In watching his footwork, his base never seemed set, nor did he really have a three-or five-step drop. Most times he either climbed the pocket to throw or fell back into the pocket and threw. He won’t be able to do a lot of that at the SEC level. Some of that will come with understanding that even the best offensive line won’t hold an SEC defense for long. He’ll find he will have to get the ball out and do with a firm foundation. 

In the end, what are the chances that Sandberg ever sees the field?

Conventional thought would be with the stable of quarterbacks at Auburn, Sandberg doesn’t have a chance. I’m not so sure that’s the case. I believe there is a one-year window for Sandberg, which will open around January 2019 when Jarrett Stidham declares for the NFL.

Malik Willis is a good change-of-pace QB, but the jury is still out on whether he could win in the SEC. Joey Gatewood, by all accounts, isn’t ready and doesn’t look to be ready next year. Asking Bo Nix to be a true freshman starter in the SEC is a recipe for disaster. In that scenario, Sandberg could be a great bridge for Auburn. 

3 Comments

  1. HamiltonAUfan HamiltonAUfan says:

    Good report Zach. I always enjoy these. I think Sandberg could be No.2 before the year’s out. But I hope we don’t have to go to a No.2. I want to see Stidham have a great year.

  2. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I tried to be optimistic after A-Day, but the truth is pretty much what you said above. A second team quarterback for any significant portion of the coming year will likely spawn another 8-5, 7-6 season.

    …..I do not have a problem with having 5 scholarship QBs on the team, at this time. It’s become SO common for guys to bolt to another school, if they aren’t starting. You need a few extras in the tank, these days.

  3. Jhob_Tiger says:

    Good stuff Zach.
    I'm glad we got Sandberg.

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