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Could Holton Ahlers be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the new third QB rule?

The undrafted free agent out of East Carolina is showing off some impressive tools in the preseason, but will it be enough to stick around in Seattle?

Minnesota Vikings v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Jane Gershovich/Getty Images

Holton Ahlers has gone from anonymity to local celebrity in just a matter of weeks. Unless you are a big follower of the East Carolina Pirates, there is a good chance Ahlers was off your radar until he started putting on a show in the preseason. Clearly, he is a raw, but physically talented signal caller who plays with passion and intensity. But a lot of players have fiery, passionate intensity on the field, so what could separate him from another impressive-but-ultimately-destined-for-the-practice-squad UDFA? Well... playing quarterback is likely a pretty big factor.

The league approved the “Third QB rule” for this season at the spring meeting in May. For those who may have missed it in the wake of the draft, Bryan DeArdo of CBS Sports paraphrases the language as the following:

...teams may designate an emergency quarterback who can be activated in the event that the team’s first two quarterbacks are either injured or disqualified. The emergency quarterback must exit the game If the medical staff clears either of the injured quarterbacks to return to action. The emergency quarterback would again be eligible to play in the event of another emergency.

Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers may have largely precipitated this change with the events during last year’s NFC Championship, but we all know that story too well by now; suffice to say, this is the type of rule change that we as fans hope never to have to see play out on our own team, but it is better to feel prepared than completely caught off guard. Having a third QB on the roster is good as emergency insurance, but could Ahlers really step in an lead the offense? There is a good chance it would look noticeably different under him than either Geno Smith or Drew Lock, but he certainly has the capabilities.

Dane Brugler said the follwing in the Beast:

SUMMARY: Holton Ahlers (AYE-lurrs), the youngest of four brothers, was born and raised in Greenville. He was a three-sport standout and four-year starting quarterback in high school, and he finished No. 2 in state history in total offense. A three-star recruit, Ahlers had offers from Florida and Georgia but wanted to stay close to home and picked East Carolina over NC State. He leaves ECU as the school’s all-time record holder in several categories, including passing yards (also an AAC record) and touchdowns responsible for. Ahlers is a competitive, sturdy passer willing to hang tough and make throws from a muddy pocket. A left-handed passer, his release is a tad mechanical and inconsistent delivery balance alters his accuracy. Overall, Ahlers efficiently works through his reads and plays with the aggressive confidence to push the ball downfield, but continued improvements with his footwork and ball placement are vital for him to stick in the NFL.

If you watch some of his highlights from his days at ECU, you can see much of what Brugler said above. Take the example below against the Cincinnati Bearcats in 2019, who finished the season 11-3 and ranked in the top 25.

Clearly, Ahlers can toss a deep ball. But as we have seen during his time in Seattle, he isn’t a one-dimensional passer, either. Take this play from the Saturday game against the Dallas Cowboys.

According to Pro Football Focus, Ahlers and the ECU Pirates utilized play action at a somewhat limited rate; PFF lists his play-action drop back rate at 23.8% in his final year in college — fewer than one quarter of his drop backs. Compare this to Geno Smith in 2022, though, and PFF only credits him with a 25.3% rate, which still lands in the top half of the league, but resides closer to the middle of the pack. Still, Smith was efficient on play action, so Ahlers would likely need to continue to improve this aspect of his game as he acclimates to the NFL.

Ahlers still has some work to do to make the roster in any capacity. The Seahawks have the 2022 comeback player of the year in Geno Smith, and a capable backup in Drew Lock. However, as we saw last Saturday, things can and will happen to players across the roster, and when Lock went down, that was a reminder that the same thing has the potential to happen during the regular season. As the woebegone Niners will attest, it is a lot better to be prepared and have an emergency passer than it is to put the ball in the hands of your star running back in some kind of a desperation wildcat alignment. Hopefully, we will never need to see Holton Ahlers play in 2023. Still, he is proving that cutting him may be a more challenging prospect than many of us would have assumed prior to the preseason. He will have one more opportunity to make a case for himself when the team takes on the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau — 10am, Saturday morning!