2015 SEC position rankings: Quarterbacks
SEC Position Rankings:
- Running backs
- Wide receivers/tight ends
- Offensive line
- Defensive line
- Defensive backs
- Special teams
Expect a ton of national attention on the SEC’s quarterbacks in 2015.
The media will tie the narrative of these players to the narrative of the conference’s title drought. If Mississippi State’s personnel losses drag down Dak Prescott or Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson can’t equal the hype, expect a deluge of columns pointing directly at this position.
The league is going through a huge transition at quarterback, one that should continue into 2016 and beyond as a vaunted recruiting class arrives. But if players like Kyle Allen, Patrick Towles and Joshua Dobbs continue to develop, the SEC should be deeper here than most outsiders think.
We’ve decided to rank every team based on their overall talent at quarterback. Again, for emphasis: this is not a ranking of the best quarterbacks in the SEC. It’s a ranking of each team’s overall quarterback position.
The starter holds more weight than the backups, since only one quarterback can play at a time. But injuries happen and players graduate, so depth does matter.
Here are the SEC teams best situated at the position group.
Predicting the starter: Jeremy Johnson
Key backups: Sean White, Tyler Queen
For those still doubting Johnson — despite the inability of the Tigers coaching staff to contain their excitement — remember that “unproven” players like Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston did pretty well in their first seasons as starters. I’m not expecting that from Johnson in the first year out. But by 2016, if he’s still around? Absolutely. He’s that kind of talent. Johnson won’t be as physical as Cam Newton or as elusive as Nick Marshall, but he’ll be able to run effectively in Auburn’s read-option. His biggest asset, his NFL-caliber arm, will thrive. The Tigers threw the ball deep a deceiving amount in 2014, and that will only grow. Meanwhlie, coach Gus Malzahn already is grooming a successor in Sean White, and the team seems to like freshman Tyler Queen as well.
2. Mississippi State
Predicting the starter: Dak Prescott
Key backups: Damian Williams, Nick Fitzgerald, Elijah Staley
Nick Fitzgerald raised some eyebrows at times during spring practice, and he’s one of several backups who have some real ability. But let’s be honest here. The (sizable) gap between Dak Prescott and anyone else on the roster is larger than the other schools in our top four. Still, Prescott enters the season as the SEC’s best quarterback. I expect to see a similar progression from him that we saw out of other recent, talented running quarterbacks like Manziel: fewer rushes and more passing yards. He looked in total command of the offense exiting the spring. Not to downplay the rest of the roster, but if the team finishes ahead of anyone else in the SEC West or threatens the Top 25, he’ll deserve a huge percentage of the credit. This is his NFL audition. If he maintains an All-SEC level, he’ll get a team to invest a decent draft pick in him.
3. Texas A&M
Predicting the starter: Kyle Allen
Key backups: Kyler Murray, Jake Hubenak, Conner McQueen
I toyed with rating the Aggies behind the Tide. Both teams feature a five-star true freshman, and Bama holds a numbers advantage. But I tend to place more relative value on the starter at quarterback — and less relative value on the backups — than at other positions. Allen is a proven starter. If he can emulate his bowl performance all season, the Aggies should be in great shape on offense. With those skill players, he could threaten 4,000 passing yards. And we don’t know, but it’s possible that Kyler Murray is better than anyone Alabama is going to start. Texas A&M is the only SEC team with a pair of five-star signal-callers.
Predicting the starter: Jake Coker
Key backups: David Cornwell, Blake Barnett, Cooper Bateman, Alec Morris
Don’t confuse uncertainty and inexperience with a lack of talent. In fact, by the recruiting numbers, Alabama is the deepest, most talented team in the SEC at quarterback. If the SEC staged a competition with all the fourth-team quarterbacks, the Tide would win. But only one of these players will step onto the field at a time. Bama will enter the season with an unproven starter. It could be Coker — a senior with NFL talent physically who has yet to seize the job as a leader — or Cornwell — similar physically and newer to the college game. The situation wasn’t all that different in ’14, and with big assists from coordinator Lane Kiffin and receiver Amari Cooper, Blake Sims played like one of the best in the SEC.
HAPPY WITH THE SITUATION
Predicting the starter: Patrick Towles
Key backups: Drew Barker
Towles did enough good things in 2014 to catch the attention of some NFL scouts, even though at times his fundamentals were less than average and his offensive line was suspect. That’s a testament to his natural ability. With new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson and a maturing cast of exciting skill players, Towles could post some strong numbers this season. The team has gone out of its way to give Drew Barker some public praise, and the “competition” may not be as close as UK originally let on. But the Wildcats should be more than OK at the backup spot as well. One could add Reese Phillips (Achilles) to the list as a backup if you believe he’ll recover in time to play in 2015. It seems unlikely.
Predicting the starter: Maty Mauk
Key backups: Eddie Printz, Drew Lock, Corbin Berkstresser, Marvin Zanders
Maty Mauk has started 17 games. At times he’s flashed the potential of a much better player. On the cusp of elite, even. At times it’s been a struggle to throw for 100 yards in an entire game. He’s healthy entering 2015 and operating behind a veteran offensive line. Last season gave him a clear snapshot of his faults. So there’s a chance he could make a significant progression. But he also lost four of his top five pass-catchers. Behind him, the team is in pretty good shape. Printz is a good backup, and Lock has impressed those around the program already as a four-star true freshman. The Tigers rate ahead of Tennessee due to superior depth.
Predicting the starter: Joshua Dobbs
Key backups: Quinten Dormady, Sheriron Jones
Joshua Dobbs is likable, brilliant, athletic and hard-working. He’s the “CEO quarterback” about whom every coach dreams. Tennessee’s offense instantly got better last season when he supplanted Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman. But don’t take it too far. Dobbs still needs to make some decent progressions with his decision-making and with his ability to read defenses in real time. He’s got a chance to be one of the SEC’s better quarterbacks in 2015. Behind him, the Vols hold a slew of true freshmen that aren’t ready to lead an SEC offense.
ADEQUATE … AND THAT MAY BE ENOUGH FOR THE OFFENSE
Predicting the starter: Brice Ramsey
Key backups: Greyson Lambert, Faton Bauta
The Bulldogs have been excellent at hiding their intentions. The majority expected Brice Ramsey to eventually win the job after spring practice ended. Then Georgia got aggressive in pursuing Everett Golson and eventually Greyson Lambert. Some believe Ramsey still should secure the job, as he’s more familiar with the playbook and probably has a stronger arm. Others think new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, from the risk-averse NFL, will appreciate a veteran hand. Either way, UGA would be thrilled with a quarterback who avoids mistakes and gives the team a decent chance to convert on third down when necessary. Right?
9. Ole Miss
Predicting the starter: Chad Kelly
Key backups: Ryan Buchanan, DeVante Kincade
Coach Hugh Freeze has gone out of his way to recruit Chad Kelly, stand by him through a high-profile off-field incident and
essentially kidnap chaperone him for an overseas mission trip during spring break. Kelly wasn’t all that impressive during spring practice. In fact, he probably was behind Ryan Buchanan entering the preseason. But there’s a reason for all the hype and overlooked petulance. He’s capable of being an adequate starter on an Ole Miss team saturated with strong pass-catchers. Whether we see Kelly or Buchanan in an upset, if the quarterback avoids costly mistakes, the Rebels will be better in some ways than the team was with accomplished veteran Bo Wallace.
Predicting the starter: Brandon Allen
Key backups: Austin Allen, Rafe Peavey, Ty Storey
Brandon Allen should put up good numbers. He threw 20 touchdowns against 5 interceptions in 2014. He’s operating behind one of the best offensive lines in the SEC and benefits from one of the best power running games in the country. He gets to execute a lot of high-percentage play-action throws to tight end Hunter Henry. Yet his career completion percentage is 52.5, and he’s been less than adequate in the fourth quarter with the outcome at stake. Still, he’s an experienced senior with a solid arm who generally protects the football. He should post efficient numbers. Peavey and Storey may be capable by 2016, but there’s not much in the way of game-ready quarterbacks behind him.
NEXT YEAR SHOULD BE BETTER
Predicting the starter: Brandon Harris
Key backups: Anthony Jennings
The Tigers may have rated even lower on this list, but at least there are two potential options. If Anthony Jennings settles into a backup role, he becomes the most proven backup in the SEC. No, he’s not great, but it’s hard to imagine a huge drop-off should either player get hurt or be ineffective. Brandon Harris, though immature early in his career, holds some upside. And offensive coordinator Cam Cameron probably needed a year to adjust to teaching a quarterback so far from being NFL-ready.
Predicting the starter: Will Grier
Key backups: Treon Harris
The coaching staff insists that both players are indistinguishable thus far during preseason practices. Treon Harris isn’t a good fit for coach Jim McElwain’s pro-style offenses, even though he insists he fits his schemes to the skill sets of his players. Will Grier has yet to take a college snap. As much as we can tell, he’s got potential to blossom into an effective SEC quarterback, but that’s going to take some time. And there’s no depth at the position to speak of beyond those two.
13. South Carolina
Predicting the starter: Connor Mitch
Key backups: Perry Orth, Lorenzo Nunez
The Gamecocks have drifted down the quarterback ladder in each of the last two seasons, from Connor Shaw to Dylan Thompson and now to Connor Mitch. He’s the quarterback by default, but he’s the worst starter at South Carolina since before the streak of 11-win seasons. Perry Orth just recently earned a scholarship. Lorenzo Nunez is athletic and should get some snaps to run the ball, but he’s far from being an SEC starter as a passer.
IT CAN’T GET WORSE
Predicting the starter: Johnny McCrary
Key backups: Wade Freebeck, Kyle Shurmur
The Commodores already were last in the SEC. Then projected starter Patton Robinette left the team after spring practice. Four-star freshman Kyle Shurmur wasn’t an early enrollee and likely is ticketed for a redshirt. If you see him on the field this year, it probably is a “emptying my clip” measure by coach Derek Mason. Whether McCrary (51.3 percent completion rate, 8 INTs) or Freebeck (47.2%, 5 INTs) wins the job, Vanderbilt needs better accuracy and fewer turnovers from the position this fall.