Power ranking every QB Florida will face in 2019
All you had to do was look around SEC Media Days, which featured 9 quarterbacks, and you could see that 2019 will feature the most quarterback depth the SEC has seen in years.
The league features multiple Heisman candidates at the position (Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Georiga’s Jake Fromm), a QB who has guided a team to the College Football Playoff (Missouri’s Kelly Bryant) and 2 other guys who have won New Year’s 6 Bowl games (LSU’s Joe Burrow and Florida’s Feleipe Franks). That’s an illustrious group — one you’d take against almost any collection of talent in the Power 5.
Florida’s defense will pose a challenge to each of these signal callers. The Gators finished 3rd in the SEC last season in pass efficiency defense, behind only Mississippi State and LSU, and only LSU intercepted more passes. With one of America’s best 1-2 tandems at corner in preseason All-American CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson, Florida has elite talent at corner and will force opponents to beat them with secondary options, meaning you’ll need depth to challenge the Gators’ secondary.
Still, the Gators have thin depth in the secondary, a problem magnified by a season-ending fall camp injury to corner CJ McWilliams, the departure of top signee Chris Steele late this spring and the recent dismissal of backup safety John Huggins. Florida has recruited well at the position, as always, but will need to stay healthy to handle a quarterback slate that features Fromm, Burrow and Bryant in SEC play and NFL sleeper Tom Flacco among other quarterbacks out of conference.
Here’s a power ranking of every QB the Gators will face in 2019.
12. Dresser Winn, Tennessee-Martin
Winn was a 3-star prospect who turned down Memphis and Mike Norvell to stay close to home at Tennessee-Martin, but the fact he was recruited heavily by the pass-happy Norvell suggests the junior has talent. Winn’s first full season as the Skyhawks’ starter was cut short by injury, but not before he threw for 12 touchdowns and completed passes at a 66% clip. Winn has good size and arm strength and impressed Missouri coach Barry Odom last year in the Skyhawks’ loss to the Tigers. In other words, this isn’t your typical FCS quarterback.
11. Riley Neal, Vanderbilt
Neal, the graduate transfer from Ball State, had a strong spring and has a great deal of experience, having started games in each of his 4 seasons at Ball State. Derek Mason hasn’t named him the starter yet, but Neal had the better spring and seems most likely to “do the least harm” on an offense that should rely heavily on All-SEC RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn and All-SEC WR Kalija Lipscomb. With a career 2-1 TD-to-INT ratio, Neal seems to fit that bill nicely and while he doesn’t wow you with ability, he’s good enough to get the ball where it needs to be.
10. Jarren Williams, Miami
For all the hype around Ohio State transfer Tate Martell and returning starter N’Kosi Perry, it would have been forgivable to lose redshirt freshmen Jarren Williams in the discussion around the 3-headed Miami quarterback battle this fall. That doesn’t matter now though, because Williams won the job and will start Saturday against the Gators.
Williams, a top 100 blue-chip recruit out of the Atlanta area, lacks the bravado of Martell or the experience of Perry. But he’s probably a more polished thrower than either, and in the end, maybe the fact he goes about his business quietly is a good thing, given new coach Manny Diaz’s consistent references to curing the “disease” of entitlement he felt pervaded Miami’s culture at times last season. The Canes don’t need a QB to run his mouth or try to win games by himself; they need a smart facilitator who plays with a coach’s confidence. Williams is cut from that cloth.
Williams has lost weight and added muscle, adding quickness that should help him extend plays in Dan Enos’ offense. He’s also been the one guy who has consistently made good decisions in practice and Miami’s scrimmages, a characteristic Diaz rightly values given he returns 7 starters from a defense that finished in the top 5 nationally in 2018.
9. Bo Nix, Auburn
The next Cam Newton will have to wait his turn. Gus Malzahn named Bo Nix the starter, not Joey Gateood.
Nix has a 5-star arm and was the No. 1-ranked dual-threat QB in the 2019 class.
8. Terry Wilson, Kentucky
Wilson was up and down for the Wildcats a season ago, but with a dominant power running game, he did enough to help Kentucky win 10 games for the first time since 1977. The word out of Lexington is that Wilson has looked far more comfortable in Eddie Gran’s offense early in fall camp, and that comfort, plus his ability to extend plays and impact winning with his legs, could mean he makes a significant leap in Year 2. When he’s confident and plays without overthinking, he can be splendid, as Florida found out the hard way last season:
— The Game Haus Sports (@TGHSports) September 9, 2018
The question we all have is whether he can do that consistently. If he can, he’s another QB who could end up higher on this list by the end of the season.
7. James Blackman, FSU
Blackman played relatively well in 4 games last season at Florida State but redshirted anyway, adding needed strength and muscle to a paper-thin 6-5 frame. Coaches have been impressed early in fall camp with his leadership and accuracy, and given his ability to move in the pocket, he seems a good fit for Willie Taggart’s Gulf Coast Offense. For all the issues FSU had up front a season ago, they return 6 offensive linemen with starting experience as well as electric running back Cam Akers and All-ACC WR Tamorrion Terry, who is an elite leaper and vertical threat. I’m bullish on Blackman, who took his lumps as the first Seminoles true freshman to start at QB since 1985 and appears to have come out better for it on the other side.
6. Tom Flacco, Towson
Not all FCS quarterbacks are created equal.
Tom Flacco lacks the NFL prototype size of his FCS starter and Super Bowl-winning brother Joe, but after stints at Western Michigan and Rutgers, the younger Flacco has made his mark at Towson, where he led the Tigers to the FCS Playoffs last season in his first year as a starter. This year, with Flacco back for his senior season, the Tigers will begin the year in the FCS top 10.
Unlike his brother Joe, a statuesque pocket passer often the subject of jokes due to his lack of mobility, Tom Flacco is a dual-threat with good speed who averaged nearly 65 yards per game rushing a season ago to go with his 3,200 yards passing and 27 TD passes. He is a 2-sport athlete who might opt to play professional baseball at the end of the season. Flacco is projected to be a potential NFL Combine invite and middle round draft pick by NFL Draft analysts, largely thanks to his mobility and a huge and accurate arm that offsets size concerns.
His team will be overmatched in Gainesville, but Flacco will be one of the better individual talents on the field.
5. Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee
A blue-chip recruit with NFL prototype size and a huge arm, Guarantano came a long way in 2018, and it was his toughness and fire that led the Vols to their 2 high water marks of Jeremy Pruitt’s first season in Knoxville in wins over No. 21 Auburn and No. 11 Kentucky. In those games, Guarantano threw for over 500 yards and 4 TDs without a turnover. Guarantano wasn’t just good in those games. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, he was the best QB in the SEC on 3rd down — better than even Tua. That means he makes plays when his team needs him most. Those are outstanding numbers and certainly something he can build on as he works to build consistency. The presence of Jim Chaney, a coordinator with a nearly peerless QB development résumé, should help. The bigger question is whether the Vols can protect him. It’s hard to be consistent when you are running for your life, and unfortunately for Tennessee fans, Guarantano spent too much of 2018 doing that. If 2019 isn’t any different, we won’t see the type of leap Guarantano’s talent says he is capable of making.
4. Jake Bentley, South Carolina
I just don’t like the decisions he makes with the football, especially in big games.
It’s great that Bentley’s made a point to be accountable for all the interceptions — 14 last season, including an immense one late in a devastating loss to Florida.
But we need to see improvement to believe it.
If he limits the interceptions, it’s hard to question his competitiveness and ability. Bentley is a huge reason Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks finished 20th in S & P+ Offense last season, the best ranking for a Muschamp team since his 2012 Florida team. Another 3,000-yard passing season could be in the cards for Bentley, who is a rare 4th-year SEC starter. The question is can he eliminate mistakes that have limited his — and South Carolina’s — ceiling in his final trip around the league?
3. Kelly Bryant, Missouri
Bryant is 1 of 3 SEC starting quarterbacks who have started a College Football Playoff game, which tells you something about his talent and skill level.
Sandwiched between 2 generational QB talents at Clemson in Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence, Bryant was solid even if not spectacular in his lone full season as the starter at Clemson, throwing for 2,800 yards and 13 TDs as Clemson finished 12-2, winning the ACC Championship before dropping a College Football Playoff semifinal to eventual national champion Alabama.
Bryant lost his gig to Lawrence last season after an intense battle that raged through September. He opted to leave the program to preserve his final year of eligibility, a decision that generated great scrutiny and at times, unfair criticism.
Now, with a fresh start at Missouri, Bryant is eager to prove he’s a special talent in his own right. What’s clear watching him on film is Bryant can make all the throws and is an especially elite deep-ball thrower, which should be useful in an offense that moves the sticks well on the ground with Larry Rountree III. Gators fans are probably tired of being lit up by terrific Mizzou QBs, but with Bryant in the fold, Florida will face another stiff challenge.
2. Joe Burrow, LSU
I love watching Joe Burrow play football. Who else could take the kind of crushing hit Burrow took against UCF in the Fiesta Bowl last year and come back to drop dimes likes this?
Burrow’s toughness defines LSU football in the Ed Orgeron era: It penetrates every aspect of LSU’s operation and players gravitate toward it.
Oh and by the way, he’s pretty productive on the field: his 2,894 yards are 3rd-best among SEC returnees and he threw only 5 interceptions: fewer than Tua and Fromm despite more attempts. If he stays healthy (a preseason camp injury is an early concern), he’s absolutely an All-SEC caliber player.
1. Jake Fromm, Georgia
Strangely, a QB who is 23-5 as a starter and was a busted coverage from winning a national championship as a true freshman could finally be receiving his due, but such is the curious case of Jake Fromm, who as a junior is finally free of the 5-star competitions that defined his first 2 preseasons in Athens and receiving the recognition he deserves for all the wonderful things he can do instead of what he can’t.
What he has done is throw for over 50 TDs in 2 years as the starter against only 13 interceptions. What he has done is start consecutive SEC Championship games (winning one) and New Year’s 6 Bowl games, including leading an epic come from behind victory over Oklahoma at the Rose Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal in 2017. What he has done is win games despite relentless roster turnover offensively. Lose Sony Michel and Nick Chubb? No problem. Fromm simply delivered an even more productive sophomore season. Lose your top 5 passing targets from 2018? Fromm says it’s a challenge he’s embracing as the Dawgs search for an identity on offense.
The bottom line is Fromm, for all the criticism about mobility, the funky release, arm strength and the like, is a leader and a winner, a guy who can make all the throws and makes everyone around him better. If the Gators want the SEC East throne, they’ll have to take it from the best Georgia QB in school history — and a bonafide Heisman Trophy candidate. Good luck.