The Indoor Football League defending champion Northern Arizona Wranglers have released the rights to their starting quarterback from the 2022 season. Kaleb Barker was signed just over a year ago by the Wranglers and had a solid season in 2022. Who have the Wranglers turned their offense over to, and how will they perform in 2023?
First Let’s Look at Barker’s Performance
Barker came out of college without the benefit of having a lot of playing time. In his first two seasons, he sat behind Brandon Silvers current quarterback for the Houston Roughnecks of the XFL. Silvers put up a 64% completion rate, 3,186 yards, 23 tds to just 11 ints. Running 48 times for 201 yards and 4 touchdowns in his final season.
Barker finally took over in 2018. He would suffer an injury after appearing in 6 games. In spite of the limited sample size, Barker managed to complete 73% of his passes racking up 1,013 yards, 10 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions showcasing his mobility with 57 carries for 358 yards and 4 touchdowns. Spending the rest of the season rehabbing. Barker showed what he was lacking as a passer he made up for in mobility.
As a senior, he really got a chance to show us all what he could do with a full season. He would ultimately put up a career year, along the way throwing for more yards, and touchdowns than Silvers did with four years as a starter. Unfortunately, Barker didn’t see the alternative league interest that Silvers did coming out of college signing with the Alliance of American Football. With the XFL playing in 2020 and 2023, as well as The Spring League, and later the USFL, Barker seemingly was passed over by all of these leagues. The Wranglers saw an opportunity to bring in a solid quarterback and develop him in a league that catered to his mobility.
Given an opportunity to be the full-time starter of an IFL team was a chance for Barker to show what he could do at the professional level. All he did as a rookie was take his second-year expansion team from worst to first and won a championship.
Playing in 18 games, Barker was second in rushing behind only Darius Peterson with 172 carries, 812 yards, and 17 touchdowns. He would end up leading the league in passing attempts with 357, a full 31 more attempts than second place. He would pass for 2,273 yards good for third in the league, and toss 49 touchdowns, 4th in the league. If there was one complaint to be had with Kaleb, it was his accuracy. He threw 14 interceptions and completed 57.1% of his passes.
To put this into perspective he was just 1.5% behind Ramone Atkins the IFL rookie of the year, who was recently signed by the Tucson Sugar Skulls and had comparable numbers to Cameron Dukes from Vegas, and Ej Hilliard from Quad Cities. Unfortunately, this didn’t stop NAZ from signing quarterbacks this offseason. Garrett Kettle from Benedictine College, and Nick Watson from Tiffin University.
Who are the new Quarterbacks?
Watson was the first player signed at the position this offseason. Hailing from Division II Tiffin, he began his career redshirting in 2016. He graduated following the 2021 season and declared for the 2022 NFL draft. Watson went unselected and didn’t find a home for the 2022 season. However, during college, Watson was a career 60% passer with over 12,000 career passing yards and a 3 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio. Just falling shy of 100 passing touchdowns (99).
He didn’t just do his damage from the pocket either, he collected 371 carries for 1,363 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. A concern would be fumbling where he lost 10 and fumbled 18 times in total. Known for throwing a beautiful ball, receivers love him, but defensive backs not so much. He’s an exciting young prospect who enters his rookie year in the IFL on a stacked roster looking to repeat as champions in 2023 despite many moving parts.
If you want a winner look no further than Watson. With Watson leading his team to a 6-5 as a redshirt freshman, there was room for improvement in his second season with the Dragons. He quickly willed his team to a 9-2 record including a 9-game win streak that featured four games in which the offense scored 39 points or more, in fact there was just one game all season long they managed less than 24 points. Season three as a starter…more of winning. 9-2 record, during this season they scored 52 points or more in five separate games, and scored less than 31 points just twice all season long, Watson was hitting his stride as a quarterback.
During 2020 Tiffin was limited to just six games, and Watson led his team to an undefeated record. Due to covid, Watson would gain an extra year of eligibility. This allowed him to play in 49 games from 2017-2021, meaning he is as experienced as it gets as a rookie. His transition to the indoor game is one I expect to go well. Watson on the surface has all the makings of a future great in the IFL. Now he needs to handle what he can control, and beat out Kettle for the QB1 spot.
Kettle attended Benedictine college to finish out college but originally was a JUCO product playing for Riverside Junior College. In just two seasons with Benedictine the IFL rookie never managed a 60% completion rate or better. With a cumulative number of 59.1% over 24 games. Despite his relatively low completion rate he still managed an average of 240 yards per game and 8.5 yards per attempt.
The thing I would question with Kettle is his accuracy, while he managed to still produce at least close to a 3-1 touchdown to interception ratio. His legs were a huge weapon for his offense as well. With 253 career carries he managed 1,100 yards and 22 touchdowns. He averaged 46 yards and 1 touchdown per game rushing, he also didn’t put the ball on the turf as much as Watson with just 2 fumbles lost.
When asked by an IFL writer Kettle said “My dad was my football coach growing up and in high school, I was surrounded by football my whole life and I fell in love with the game from an early age.” This coach’s son will be looking to add to an impressive college resume while acquiring his Bachelor’s degree. Kettle has tremendous size for the position at 6’4 210 lbs, quite contrary to Watson at 6’0 190 lbs.
Looking at these two players on the surface it would appear if there is a slight edge it would go to Kettle. His size and college production was solid and shows he has the skills to play in the IFL. The main separating factor here is the fact that he was originally signed in 2022 but never appeared in a game. He has had time to learn the playbook and adapt to the game.
However, don’t count Watson out. His game should translate indoors very well. What’s more interesting is that the defending champions have jettisoned both quarterbacks they carried on the roster in 2022 when they won the Championship. Tahj Tolbert resurfaced in Southwest Kansas with the Storm of the Champions Indoor Football League. Kaleb Barker should immediately be considered a hot commodity to teams looking for a mobile quarterback if they can woo him back to the indoor game.
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