A typical Brigham Young offensive drive looks something like this.
First down. Inside run for a gain of two.
Second down. Inside run for a gain of three.
Third down. False start penalty.
Repeat third down. Tanner Mangum throws a deep bomb for a gain of 47 yards.
Rinse and repeat.
For the most part, this is how BYU’s offense was run last year. BYU lived and died by how well its true freshman quarterback was able to hit big plays. The term “true freshman” is used loosely because Tanner Mangum is anything but your average true freshman.
Five years ago, Tanner Mangum was one of the most heralded quarterback recruits in the country.
He was rated as the third-best pro-style quarterback in the country, per the 247 Composite, and earned a four-star ranking from most recruiting sites. Mangum was invited to the 2011 Nike Elite 11 Quarterback camp and won the co-MVP award alongside Jameis Winston, who would later go on to win the Heisman trophy and be the first overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Mangum also played in the 2012 Under Armour All-American game and earned praise after selflessly switching teams at halftime after the Black team was left with only one quarterback. He did not lead them to a win — finishing with three interceptions to no touchdowns — but his selflessness earned him a special MVP award after the game.
Instead of following the beaten path that most blue-chip quarterbacks take — to enroll at a college of their choice and start their football career — Mangum decided to take the path less traveled.
He committed to Brigham Young University, not normally a school that hauls in blue-chip quarterbacks, and grayshirted his first year on campus, meaning he delayed his enrollment until the spring semester. All this was done so that Mangum would be able to preserve his college eligibility until after he got back from a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Antofagasta, Chile.
So while Winston, Gunner Kiel and the rest of the blue-chip quarterbacks from the 2012 class were playing football on Saturdays, Mangum was in Chile helping with earthquake and flood relief efforts and helping build houses for those in need. He would occasionally throw the football around with fellow missionaries, but the work of the church came first.
Mangum embraced the opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream. Per his personal blog post on Mormon.org, Mangum stated that his faith is very important to him and his mission trip was a life changing experience.
“As I strive to live how He would have me live, do what He would have me do, and go where He would have me go, I am led to countless opportunities to serve and help, and there is perhaps no greater feeling in the world than serving those who are in need.” – Tanner Mangum
Only a handful of quarterbacks have experienced success after returning from a two-year mission trip abroad, including Brandon Doman and John Beck.
In a 2012 article for the Deseret News, Doman stated that the transition back to football after serving on a mission trip is a very hard adjustment.
“It will likely take him a full 12 months to the point where he can legitimately compete for the starting spot,” said Doman. “Fortunately, we likely won’t need him to compete until after a year and he’ll have players such as Taysom Hill and Ammon Olsen to learn from, so we think it sets up well.”
But things didn’t exactly work out like that.
Olsen transferred from from BYU during Mangum’s time abroad and the oft-injured Hill suffered a lisfranc fracture during Cougar’s season opener in September against Nebraska. That meant Mangum, who had just returned to football in June after two years abroad, was thrust into action.
Fortunately for BYU, Mangum is a pretty damn good quarterback.
Trailing Nebraska 28-24 in the fourth quarter, Mangum led BYU down the field for a field goal to cut the deficit to one point. Then, with one second left on the clock and out of field goal range, Mangum shocked the nation.
With Hill lost for the remainder of the season, Mangum was pronounced the starter shortly afterward. His first start — a home game versus Boise State — went as one would expect from a first-time starter. He missed some throws and was erratic throughout the game.
However, with BYU trailing late in the fourth quarter, Mangum again reached into his bag of tricks to conjure up another improbable play.
While there were no more “Mangum Miracles” during BYU’s season after the Boise State game, they didn’t particularly need them. BYU finished with a 9-4 record and posted nine wins for the first time since 2011. Mangum, despite not playing organized football for more than two years, quietly had one of the better true freshman seasons in college football in the past 10 years.
He threw for 3,377 yards, the third most by a blue-chip true freshman quarterback since 2010 only behind Josh Rosen (3,670) last year as well and Jared Goff (3,508) in 2013. Mangum averaged 259.8 passing yards per game, good for 29th in the country despite playing only throwing 11 passes versus Nebraska and having a 55-yard passing performance versus Michigan.
Mangum also tossed 23 touchdown passes, which is tied for second with Josh Rosen for the most touchdown passes thrown by a blue-chip quarterback during their true freshman season since 2010. Only Brad Kaaya (26 in 2014) had more.
But the most surprising stat line? During the regular season, Mangum only threw seven interceptions despite attempting 322 passes. That’s good for a 2.2% interception rate.
For comparison, Deshaun Watson, widely considered to be the best quarterback in college football, had an interception rate of 2.7% during the regular season. Winston, who won co-MVP honors with Mangum at the 2011 Elite 11 camp, had an interception rate of 2.5% during the regular season of his Heisman winning season.
That is some pretty good company to be in.
When watching film of Tanner Mangum, it is easy to see a future professional player. This kid checks all of the boxes.
Does he have NFL-ready size? Yes, Mangum is listed at 6-3, 215-pounds per BYU’s official roster.
Is he a natural leader? Yes, BYU didn’t skip a beat when their senior quarterback went down with an injury. Mangum stepped in and led the Cougars to nine wins.
Can he throw the football? Well, let’s take a look at the clip below.
Rolling out to his right, Mangum unloads the ball across his body. Without a firm base to throw on, Mangum launches this ball roughly 56 yards through the air to his open receiver, who runs untouched into the end zone.
So can he throw the football? Unquestionably, yes.
Arm strength might be Mangum’s biggest strength as a quarterback. Although he doesn’t have the elite physical build of a player like Cardale Jones or Jameis Winston, Mangum rips each and each throw with unmatched velocity.
This, in turn, helps with Mangum’s favorite play: the deep ball.
Mangum loves to throw the ball deep, and he’s pretty good at it. At times, BYU’s offense really did run like the description above — a few short runs then a deep ball from Mangum to one of his many 6-5 receivers. Very rarely will Mangum check the ball down. If he has a man isolated one-on-one or with a step on his defender, he’s chucking that ball as far as he can.
Normally, this is a bad trait in quarterbacks. You want your quarterback to be protective of the football and only take their shots when the opportunity is right. But Mangum’s aggressiveness works. With 6-5 receivers like Mitch Matthews and Nick Kurtz, Mangum doesn’t just give his receivers a chance to make a play on the ball against shorter defensive backs. Mangum is so dangerous at throwing the deep ball because he is adept at putting the ball where only his 6-5 receiver can make a play.
For example, take this throw against Michigan. To put this throw in context, Mangum had a terrible game against Michigan. He completed 42% of his throws for only 55 yards. But there were some throws that he made against a vastly talented Michigan secondary that should have been caught by his receiver.
Mangum does a great job at identifying the free rusher and steps up into the throw. He lofts this ball just far enough so that the defensive back can’t get a hand on it, but his receiver can’t haul it in.
The throw below is an example of both his ability to put the ball in perfect places as well as his natural arm talent. With pressure in his face, Mangum is off-balance as he throws the pass but still lofts it 30-plus yards in the air across his body straight to the sideline. Mitch Matthews makes an incredible catch to stay in bounds, but it highlights Mangum’s ability to put the ball where only his receiver has a chance to make a play on it.
For a guy labeled as a “pro-style” quarterback coming out of high school, Mangum is very adept at throwing on the run. In fact, some of BYU’s most successful plays on offense are designed bootlegs where Mangum rolls out of the pocket and surveys the field before launching the ball. Because of his natural arm talent, Mangum does not need a stable base from which to throw a great pass.
But Mangum’s best plays come when the actual play has broken down. In a weird Brett Favre-kind of way, Mangum turns the scramble drill into the biggest gains. When on the run, Mangum does a great job of identifying the open receiver or a receiver who could potentially get open. The play below is a great example of this. Mangum is on the run and launches a 50-yard bomb through the air to an open receiver.
There are only a handful of quarterbacks in the game of football, collegiate or professional, who can make plays like these work. Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers immediately come to mind, simply because their freakish arm talent means that they can make any throw across the field.
UCLA head coach Jim Mora didn’t hesitate with his comparison when asked about Tanner Mangum prior to facing him.
“He makes plays down the field. He’s got kind of those Johnny Manziel qualities. He runs around and slings it and they come up with it.”
While Tanner Mangum had some amazing moments during his true freshman season, there were also times when he made some true freshman mistakes as well.
Although Mangum has arm talent, it comes back to bite him sometimes. Passes sail too high or are too far out in front of his receivers at times. His receivers were 6-5, but they weren’t necessarily elite athletes nor future NFL players. They could turn a high ball into a big gain at times, but they weren’t going to make the play every time.
Teams also caught on to his tendency to throw deep. Often times, underneath receivers would be left uncovered and Mangum would still launch the ball downfield, where a free safety would be waiting to pick it off.
Part of this stems from Mangum’s inability to read a defense, which isn’t abnormal for a true freshman, much less a quarterback playing football for the first time in two years. There aren’t many drives where Mangum takes the ball and leads the offense methodically down the field, picking apart the defense while he goes. Instead, the BYU offense lived and died by Mangum’s ability to hit the big play.
Is Mangum the perfect quarterback? Of course not. There are a lot of factors to his game that he needs to work on. He needs to be more consistent with his accuracy. He needs to learn how to recognize blitzes. He needs to learn when to step up in the pocket. He needs to learn how to read defenses.
But the tools are there, and that’s what makes people excited about his potential.
For the first time since high school, nearly four years ago, Tanner Mangum is solely focusing on football.
BYU is in the midst of a transition period with longtime head coach Bronco Mendenhall leaving to coach Virginia in the fall. The Cougars hired one of their alumni, Kalani Sitake, to be the next head coach and he will bring a new offensive scheme to BYU. Gone is the fast-paced, shotgun offense, instead replaced by a more pro-style, drop-back passing game. Mangum will have a chance to operate under center and the Cougars will be huddling more this season.
Why is this significant? Because, if he chooses to do so, Mangum is eligible for the NFL Draft after the 2016 season. He will be 23 years old by the time the 2017 NFL Draft rolls round, an older age for a quarterbacks.
Since the 2010 draft, there have been 19 quarterbacks selected in the first round but only five of them were 23 years or older at the time of the draft. Those names? Carson Wentz, EJ Manuel, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, and Christian Ponder.
NFL teams have an incentive to go after the younger prospect, especially at the quarterback position. A first round draft pick essentially means that a team could get a great quarterback talent at a cheap price for five years before having to sign him to another, presumably bigger, deal. For example, Winston is under contract with the Bucs until 2018, but they could pick up the fifth-year option on him in 2019 before signing him to a bigger deal. In 2019, Winston will only be 25 years old.
Meanwhile, the situation with Mangum looks a lot different. Hypothetically, if Mangum is selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, he will be nearly 28 years old by the time his first five-year contract runs out. Even if they are the same level of quarterback, Winston will have a much bigger bargaining tool with his younger age when negotiating his second contract than Mangum will have at an older age.
Although it remains to be seen if Tanner Mangum will declare for the draft after his sophomore year, he certainly presents an interesting case for draft evaluators and analysts. He has all the tools that a future pro requires, but is a bit of an older prospect as most BYU players are. Perhaps another season in Provo while running a pro-style offense will boost his draft stock.
In a different reality, maybe the story of Tanner Mangum changes.
Maybe he foregoes his opportunity to serve on a mission trip and receives offers from schools like Stanford, Oregon and Notre Dame.
Maybe he contends for the Heisman trophy or leads his team to a national championship.
Maybe he departs for the NFL and is drafted alongside Winston and Marcus Mariota.
But we’ll never know what could have been.
Tanner Mangum travels down the path less traveled. He didn’t take the conventional quarterback route and his wild, gun-slinger style of play embodies that mentality. A true leader on and off the field, he is everything BYU wanted and more back when they recruited him in 2011.
It took some time, but Mangum has proven that he is a damn good quarterback.