Texas Tech QB Payne Sullins/Photo By Steven Chapman

Critical 20: No. 20 Payne Sullins

Senior writer Joe Yeager ranks the 20 most critical players on Texas Tech's roster heading into the 2017 season. First up is quarterback Payne Sullins at No. 20.

Like any football team, Texas Tech has several players whose performance will be particularly critical to the squad's success. These players, whether by virtue of experience, leadership, importance of the position played, depth concerns, or sheer talent, are especially crucial. They may or not be the best players on the club, but they would be very conspicuous were they absent.

In the game of football, the backup quarterback is potentially a more critical player than starters at some other positions. Such is the importance of the quarterback, and such is the quarterback’s vulnerability, that the guy on the sidelines with the clipboard—or perhaps working signaling subterfuge—is always one snap away from becoming the team’s on-field general.

This football axiom is particularly true at Texas Tech, where the passing game is the program’s life-blood, and outlandishly outscoring an opponent is often necessary because of defensive deficiencies.

The Red Raiders will enter fall camp with untested walk-on Payne Sullins occupying this vital post, at least for the time being. (Highly regarded freshman recruit Jett Duffey will return from suspension, and should challenge for primary backup duties behind starter Nic Shimonek.) A walk-on being one unblocked linebacker away from running the show may concern some observers, but bear in mind that Texas Tech has had great success with walk-on quarterbacks before. 

Robert Hall earned All Southwest Conference honors in the early nineties after walking on from Dallas Carter, and walk-on Sonny Cumbie of Snyder, Texas led the Red Raiders to a victory over No. 4 California in the 2004 Holiday Bowl, among his other accomplishments.  It is far from out of the question that Payne Sullins can capably back up Shimonek.

He certainly looked more than up to the job in the Petroscrimmage in Midland where he ran the offense efficiently. Sullins looked fully in command, confident, decisive, and accurate on the short-to-intermediate stuff. He was less on point in the Frisco scrimmage, but received fewer opportunities, too.

Perhaps Sullins’ primary strength is the fact that he’s now in his third year learning Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. It’s a fairly complex scheme, and intellectual mastery of it can hardly be taken for granted. Should Sullins be pressed into duty next season, there is good reason for believing he can handle the job, as long as he’s not forced to do so over a protracted stretch. And that alone justifies his place in this series. 

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