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Should Hartman Return for Another Year?

By Dave Holcomb
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If Sam Hartman returns, could he be the darling quarterback of the ACC next year?

It’s tempting to declare for the NFL draft if a player is eligible following a strong season. Even players that don’t have the best “game film” sometimes enter the draft and see their stock rise because of the NFL combine or intangibles.

The process is an inexact science, but one thing is for certain. The NFL pays its players, and the paycheck to play at the next level is enticing for anyone.

However, it can also be worthwhile to continue developing one’s skills at the amatuer level.

Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman will face this dilemma this offseason – go to the NFL or stay in college. His coaches, family, friends will surely help Hartman make the best decision for him, but he doesn’t have to look all that far for an example of the benefits he could receive should he decide to stay.

Hartman’s counterpart in the ACC Championship last Saturday – Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett – faced the same question last year and elected to return to the Panthers for one more season. The decision couldn’t have worked out any better.

Pickett dominated in 2021, throwing for 4,319 yards with a 67.2 completion percentage. He also had a new ACC-record 42 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. Pickett had multiple touchdown passes in every game, and against conference opponents, he posted six games with 300-plus passing yards.

With all this success, it was not surprising to see Pickett invited to New York City as a Heisman finalist for the ceremony this Saturday. Even if he doesn’t win the award and finishes second in Heisman voting, he’ll be the first Panthers player to be at least second for the Heisman since Larry Fitzgerald in 2003.

If Hartman returns, could he be the darling quarterback of the ACC next year?

It’s certainly possible. Hartman’s top two receivers A.T. Perry and Jaquarii Roberson are eligible to return to school if they choose. If one or both decide to leave, freshmen wideouts Taylor Morin and Ke’Shawn Williams, who both averaged more than 14 yards per catch this season, appear ready for bigger roles next year.

Wake Forest also has young running backs and an offensive line that didn’t have a single senior this season. The Demon Deacons were already in the Top 12 nationally in points scored and offensive yards, but with the potential to bring back the entire offense, Wake Forest could be even better offensively in 2022.

That should excite Hartman enough for him to strongly consider returning.

His play in big games should discourage his considerations to enter the NFL draft too. Hartman struggled down the stretch of the season when Wake Forest started facing tougher competition. He threw two costly interceptions in a loss against North Carolina and then three picks versus the elite NC State defense. Hartman had another poor showing against Clemson and then played terribly in the ACC Championship versus Pitt, throwing four interceptions.

He ended the season with 11 interceptions in the last five games. In his last two postseason games (the ACC Championship and 2020 Belk Bowl), Hartman has eight picks.

But, of course, no quarterback comparison is going to be entirely apples to apples. Pickett’s decision last offseason was made easier due to the fact he never posted elite college statistics and the stacked quarterback class in the 2021 NFL Draft. Neither of those will be the case for Hartman.

Pickett had 13 touchdowns versus nine interceptions and averaged 7.3 yards per pass as a junior. He returned to post 42 touchdowns and 8.7 yards per attempt as a senior. That improvement obviously raised his draft stock.

Hartman can’t see that kind of production rise simply because he’s already better than Pickett was last year. Even with his slump at the end of this season, Hartman averaged 8.4 yards per pass with 36 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

The area Hartman needs to improve the most is his 58.8 completion percentage. Still, his numbers this season were closer to 2021 Pickett than 2020 Pickett.

The deep 2021 quarterback class also made Pickett’s decision to return to school a smarter one. Five signal callers went in the first 15 selections, which meant Pickett had little chance of being an early pick last April.

It’s highly unlikely five signal callers go in the first round of this upcoming draft let alone in the first half of the top round. The lack of quarterback depth in the class means Pickett will be coveted all the more.

The same will be true for Hartman should he enter the 2022 draft. The 2023 quarterback class looks deeper. So even if he raises his stock with an even better 2022 college season, Hartman might not be able to move up the draft board if there are more quarterbacks available.

Hartman will weigh all of those factors before deciding where he will play football in 2022.

Only he can make the decision that’s best for him. But Pickett has made it more clear than ever the advantages to remaining patient and maximizing college eligibility.