Spencer Rattler is as self-aware as any hyped, high-profile prospect. Arizona's high school career passing leader was the No. 1 quarterback in the Class of 2019. Oklahoma's redshirt freshman quarterback had his own "entourage" in eighth grade according to his high school coach. Rattler ran his own apparel business before getting to college.
"The first thing I say about Spencer, he is a larger-than-life kind of kid," said that coach, Dana Zupke of Pinnacle High School in Phoenix. "A lot of moxie, cocky, definitely believes in himself, but he's also earned the right to do those things. He works his ass off."
There are two levels to Rattler's work ethic. As the Sooners' presumed starting quarterback, he is Lincoln Riley's first high school recruit to have that designation. As a social media superstar, he is about to break the bank having thrown all of seven career passes.
Welcome to the updated world of name, image and likeness.
While college football tries to fight its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, the implementation of NIL has quietly progressed behind the scenes. By this time next year, it is almost assured the likes of Rattler will be leading a new wave of millionaires.
Only a portion of it will have to do with their on-field accomplishments.
That's where Rattler's self-awareness comes in. Before throwing that eighth career pass, he has already built up a social media following that would earn him more than $740,000 this year, according to an estimate by Opendorse, a technology-based social media firm from Lincoln, Nebraska.
"I don't think, I know he is savvy about that value," Zupke said. "That's something he created. … I would tell these guys, 'Take it. Ride her until she bucks.' What a great opportunity."
Rattler already developed his own apparel line in high school (NappyHeadz). He was the subject of a Netflix documentary, "QB1." He is a YouTube regular. Rattler was the Elite 11 MVP in 2018. SportsLine has him among the top five Heisman Trophy candidates before starting a game.
The $740,000 estimate on Rattler would place him third nationally among college football players in social media earnings. That is, when the NCAA allows it. It won't until next year. Still, you should get used to this new culture.
"Spencer Rattler gets it, and he hasn't even played a down yet," said Opendorse CEO Blake Lawrence, exaggerating just a little. "He just gets it."
It should be no surprise Rattler was the least experienced of 18 top college players whose potential social media earnings were calculated for CBS Sports by Opendorse.
Of the top 10 players on that list, the other nine combined for 247 career games and more than 40,000 total yards from scrimmage. Rattler has played in three games and gained all of 104 yards.
The surprise is Rattler had the third-highest Potential Annual Earnings (PAE) behind only Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence ($1.431 million) million) and Ohio State QB Justin Fields ($1.368 million), largely thought to be the two Heisman frontrunners. Lawrence and Fields are both expected to be in the NFL by the time the NCAA allows name, image and likeness rights to be cashed in upon.
Rattler is also in the top five in Twitter and Instagram followers. He has barely seen the field, but he sees the future. This is new information in a new age. Someone is going to have to tell the NCAA what fair market value is in the social media space. Opendorse is among those that will.
"In order to do that, it takes a sophisticated and complex solution to track every single dollar that every single athlete makes from July 2021 [when NIL could be allowed] onward," Blake Lawrence said. "From getting a free Subway sandwich in exchange for selfie that you post on Instagram to getting a $10,000 check to be an ambassador for a local bank."
PAE Estimates (via Opendorse)
|Player||Program||Followers||Potential annual earnings|
QB Trevor Lawrence
QB Justin Fields
QB Spencer Rattler
WR Ja'Marr Chase
QB Sam Ehlinger
QB Ian Book
RB Najee Harris
QB Mac Jones
WR Jaylen Waddle
QB Kyle Trask
Lawrence, 31, was a starting linebacker at Nebraska. But after suffering four concussions in a calendar year, he had to give up the game in 2009. A few years later, former Nebraska teammate Prince Amukamara called for help with his social media.
"We literally built this technology for Prince," said Lawrence, who founded Opendorse in 2012.
A month later, the NFLPA called. Now there are relationships with the MLBPA, PGA and LPGA. In 2019, Opendorse was on track to become the largest sports content publisher.
"You've either got to be crazy or give a shit to fight through eight years to be a centerpiece in an industry that doesn't even exist," Lawrence said.
That Amukamara opening got Opendorse access to NFL players. In 2014, a partnership was forged. Relationships evolved. Lawrence likes to tell the story of Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. The moment the Oklahoma wideout was drafted this year, Opendorse tweeted his image advertising "Madden NFL 20."
"Within minutes, he gets an alert from EA Sports that they would like to pay him to push out a tweet promoting his joining the Dallas Cowboys," Lawrence said. "We manage that whole process from pitch to payment."
In the college space, NIL would allow a backup running back to make more than his coordinator. A Nebraska walk-on receiver (Elliott Brown) already has the fifth-highest earning power on his team because he was rumored to be dating Nickelodeon/Instagram star JoJo.
NIL would also allow Rattler to become something close to the baddest man on the social media planet just because of his … vibe.
"I think about something like Spencer's autograph," Zupke said. "Already that has significant value. I get people hitting me up, 'Hey, can I send a couple of jerseys to Spencer to get them signed?'"
We haven't yet discussed commercials or promotions or billboards. For now, it's about social media. An NCAA working group is still trying to wrap its mind around it. Opendorse is one of the leaders in the industry, specializing in metrics like PAE and Post Value Calculation (PVC).
"It's not related to performance [on the field]," Lawrence said. "The backup quarterback can make more money than the starter. That's the beauty of NIL. Be marketable. Make money."
Lawrence got the idea for Opendorse during his playing days. After practice, he noticed the media gravitated toward the starting quarterback. So did the women in the bars after hours.
Those kind of athletes have it. Archaic NCAA rules left that value untapped. Until now.
With NIL, it's not necessarily about being paid for touchdown passes. It's about being paid per post.
Trevor Lawrence's social media activity (and thus his earning power) dips during the season because of a social media ban. Coach Dabo Swinney says that is a long-standing rule adopted each year by rising seniors.
"That's where the debate for years will be," Blake Lawrence said. "Is Trevor Lawrence popular because of Clemson, or is Clemson popular because of Trevor Lawrence? No one will ever know that."
The measurement metrics of it will spin the head of a rocket scientist. It's an economy of scale. There might be 40 marketable women's soccer players in the U.S. That compares to 1,500 marketable NFL players. That means there's going to be a lot of social media money concentrated around those 40 female soccer players.
Think of Opendorse as a travel agent who get a fee for booking that cool Airbnb for the weekend. In this case, Opendorse is the expert that can expertly evaluate that PVC.
It might not be widespread, but it will be something. The No. 18 player on that list is Oregon All-American offensive lineman Penei Sewell. He is projected to make less than $19,000 in annual social media earnings.
Sewell has won the Outland Trophy and is generally considered the best offensive lineman in the game. Rattler's value is being determined basically before he puts on his shoulder pads.
But Rattler plays the most important position on the field. Magic orbits him. He became that Arizona career passing leader on his 18th birthday. He is a personality, a kid with that it who knows how to promote his brand.
"My career was cut short in a damn day," Lawrence said. "Basically, most student-athletes will never sniff the professional ranks. If they can do everything they can to build up an audience and monetize it, that's why we started the company in the first place."
Rattler, then, is an entrepreneur in waiting. His status as an Oklahoma quarterback counts. But so does just being him. So far, 215,000 folks have watched what amounts to a hype video.
"Spencer, in theory, could have uploaded that video to his YouTube channel. … He gets 200K views. That's $1,000 in revenue," Lawrence explained. "That video will stay on his channel for the rest of his life. Anytime anyone watches it, he will make money. That's the stuff that's going to be the hidden dollars of NIL."
In 2015, Opendorse began licensing its software to colleges. Lawrence has met with some of the highest-profile coaches in the country. Both sides know what's coming.
"Schools are preparing an answer when a recruit asks, 'How are you going to help me?'" Lawrence said.
By this time next year, think of a coach sitting across the table from a marketing agent. That's something that had never occurred in the tightly regulated NCAA world. Now, it will be a regular occurrence.
The NCAA was forced to change its rules because of a myopic and stubborn approach. Myopic because for decades the association refused to allow players to ownership of their name, image and likeness. Stubborn because when they woke up it was too late. The NCAA was forced to implement NIL with states passing NIL bills on their own.
Opendorse isn't the only social media company about to open up to college athletes. That list obviously includes those Heisman frontrunners. There will be fierce competition.
They will go after Trevor Lawrence and Fields. They will pursue a kid who has played in three career games, a kid who is about to kill it throwing seven career passes.
"Did you have an entourage when you were eighth grade?" Zupke asked. "Were you a nationally-ranked quarterback? Did you have a TV show following you around when you were a senior? His ability to manager all that and embrace the hype is a good thing.
"But I worry sometimes for him that this whole thing will consume him in a bad way. His family, the support he has there, it keeps him grounded."