In case you missed it, a lot has happened in the past couple of months.
Quarterbacks, and not just the backups who never played but the guys who did play and had some success, found new homes. It seems like there are more transfer quarterbacks than ever in 2019. Some like Jalen Hurts and Kelly Bryant will be allowed to play immediately as graduate students while others like Justin Fields and Tate Martell will need to get a hardship waiver from the NCAA in order to see the field in 2019.
Just for argument’s sake, let’s pretend that all of the high-profile graduate transfer quarterbacks will be allowed to play in 2019.
Here’s how I ranked them based on who’s most likely to succeed:
6. Austin Kendall, West Virginia
Kendall became a high-profile transfer quarterback when Oklahoma tried to prevent him from staying within the conference and transferring to Big 12 foe West Virginia. The irony of course was that was while the Sooners were courting Hurts, which caused quite the backlash on Wednesday when ESPN’s Jake Trotter reported that.
But Oklahoma caved and backed off its restriction, which means that one of Lincoln Riley’s disciples will try and succeed outside of Norman. That’s the upside in Kendall. Most dudes would have had to back up Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. The hope for West Virginia is that he can be like another 2-year grad transfer Joe Burrow, who was stuck behind J.T. Barrett and Dwayne Haskins. Burrow came in with a chip on his shoulder and helped LSU have its best season of the Playoff era.
Can Kendall do that as Will Grier’s replacement at West Virginia? Possibly, but it’s hard to go too crazy about someone with 39 career pass attempts playing in a new offense. New Mountaineers coach Neal Brown runs a balanced offense that won’t have Kendall throwing like Grier, Murray or Mayfield. That’ll limit his opportunities to put up numbers like others on this list.
5. Brandon Wimbush, UCF
Wimbush’s transfer news was sort of lost in the shuffle of the Kendall, Martell and Hurts news this week. But that seemed like UCF’s way of saying, no, the odds aren’t good that McKenzie Milton returns in 2019. If they were, Wimbush wouldn’t be spending his final year of eligibility in Orlando.
The good news for Wimbush is that he’ll get a chance to play in Josh Heupel’s offense against AAC competition. He should have a chance to put up numbers in that system.
But the numbers are the knock against Wimbush, who ultimately lost his job at Notre Dame because he couldn’t throw the ball like Ian Book. Wimbush is a career 50.5 percent passer who averages 6.8 yards per attempt. Those marks obviously have to improve in UCF’s system if the Knights are to retain their spot as the nation’s top Group of 5 team.
Maybe a change of scenery will be just what the doctor ordered after Wimbush had an up-and-down career in South Bend. Clearly, people like the guy.
1. His new #1 WR
2. The QB he’ll compete with for the starting job
3. His future Center
4. The injured QB that made UCF an option
5. The QB who replaced him as starter at Notre Dame
The comments of support, in order, on Brandon Wimbush’s announcement he’s transferring to UCF pic.twitter.com/PEnfQprgZl
— Jeremy Taché (@jeremytache) January 15, 2019
4. Tate Martell, Miami
Martell will reportedly lawyer up to try and become immediately eligible on the basis that Ryan Day’s takeover as Ohio State’s coach was why he had to leave Columbus. It’s not the craziest thing I’ve heard. Let’s not forget that it was Day who, upon learning that Dwayne Haskins was going pro, went out and got Fields. Martell’s path to the starting job in Columbus, despite what he said, was dependent on Fields losing his hardship waiver battle or an injury.
So now, Martell is heading to Coral Gables to get coached by the guy who was behind Tua Tagovailoa’s Heisman Trophy runner-up season. The appeal of playing in Dan Enos’ offense was why some believed Hurts would transfer to Miami.
Perhaps more important for Martell than what Enos did what Tagovailoa was what the former Alabama quarterbacks coach did with Hurts. Hurts developed significantly as a passer, which is what Martell needs to do in order to become one of the nation’s better quarterbacks, or even a starter. Martell was basically treated like Fields was at Georgia. It was usually run-only packages or garbage time work.
Martell is a former Gatorade National High School Player of the Year. He can definitely sling it, but we haven’t seen him do that significantly in game action just yet, which is why he’s not higher on this list.
3. Kelly Bryant, Mizzou
No, Bryant wasn’t as talented as Trevor Lawrence. He wasn’t the next Deshaun Watson and he’s not the next Drew Lock. He’s Kelly Bryant, who has excelled as a runner and as an intermediate passer, but has struggled in the downfield passing game.
That’s not a lazy narrative. Those are facts.
Here's a look back at Kelly Bryant's career passing chart at Clemson. pic.twitter.com/UJ4ZTVgLGb
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) September 26, 2018
Here’s the good news, though. Even though Bryant won’t throw the deep ball like Lock did, Derek Dooley’s offense asks for the quarterback to complete a ton of intermediate passes. And with the talent around him — Mizzou returns 3 of its top 4 pass-catchers including Albert Okwuegbunam — there will be plenty of playmakers to distribute the ball to.
What I like perhaps more than anything else about Bryant’s chances at succeeding is the circumstances around him. He no longer has to worry about being the next Watson, and he no longer has Lawrence looking over his shoulder.
And in case you forgot, the last time Bryant was the unquestioned starter in 2017, he led Clemson to the No. 1 overall seed in the Playoff. He should have plenty of success in his lone year in Columbia.
2. Justin Fields, Ohio State
I want to clear something up. If this list was based on “who has the most upside in 2019,” Fields is my guy. The former 5-star recruit is a good bet to put up monster numbers in Day’s system, which just yielded arguably the best season ever for a Big Ten quarterback. I’m a believer in Fields’ short- and long-term outlooks, and assuming he gets a chance to play in 2019, he could take the college football world by storm.
So why isn’t he at No. 1?
Because while it’s exciting to think about the possibility of Fields in Day’s offense, there’s some risk. We’re still talking about someone who has never started a college game. Because Jim Chaney basically played him like a wildcat quarterback at Georgia, Fields wasn’t given many chances to read Power 5 defenses and throw. That matters. Fields needs mental reps dissecting coverages and picking up blitzes.
There’s also the fact that Ohio State lost 3 of its top 4 receivers from a season ago. He doesn’t have the experienced playmakers around him that others on this list have, including the guy ranked ahead of him.
Is Fields’ ceiling still through the roof? For sure. But is it fair to have at least a couple reservations about someone without a career start no matter how talented he is? Definitely.
1. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
Again, this is “most likely to succeed.” It’s hard for me to imagine Hurts not working out at Oklahoma. Throw out the 26-2 stat if you want, but we have 3 years of data on Hurts, the last of which was really good. For all the knocks on him as a passer coming into 2018, Hurts completed 73 percent of his passes for 10.9 yards per attempt. His body of work in the SEC Championship showed his maturation working with the aforementioned Enos.
So combine all of that with the fact that Hurts will now work with the coach who produced 2 different Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks in his first 2 years on the job and yeah, the floor is suuuuuuuper high.
Even if the former SEC Offensive Player of the Year doesn’t win the Heisman, here’s something to consider. Lincoln Riley has been the offensive coordinator or coach at Oklahoma for the past 4 seasons. His quarterback went to New York as a Heisman finalist all 4 years. That might even be more impressive than the 2 different Heisman winners in 2 years stat.
Hurts is neither Mayfield nor Murray in terms of arm talent, but he definitely has the true dual-threat abilities that Riley covets in that system. That’s why he went out and got Hurts on a last-minute official visit to Normal that resulted in his commitment. Go figure that Hurts is actually going to be the first quarterback since Riley took over as head coach that he hand-picked to run his offense.
Will Hurts throw for 40-plus touchdown passes and 4,000 yards like his Oklahoma predecessors? Probably not. But against Big 12 defenses with Riley at the controls, will Hurts put up his best statistical season yet?
I’d say those chances are strong.