Now that bowl season is (mostly) over, these are the SEC's top 5 QBs returning in 2022
Nope. It’s not too early to be excited about SEC quarterbacks.
It’s going to be that type of year for SEC signal-callers. Whether it’s going to be the best year we’ve ever seen for SEC quarterbacks remains to be seen. But what we can do is highlight the depth going into the season.
Ranking the top 5 SEC quarterbacks ain’t easy. Well, at least beyond No. 1. Spoiler alert — the Heisman Trophy winner is the league’s top returning quarterback. That much we know.
But what about Nos. 2-5? And how did bowl season impact that?
Let’s dig into it:
5. Spencer Rattler, South Carolina
I’m still not used to seeing that. “Spencer Rattler, South Carolina” will get normal eventually. I think. For now, though, look beyond the Oklahoma benching. The guy is far from a bad quarterback. He’s got haters. What does he also have? A 40-12 TD-INT ratio, a Big 12 Championship MVP trophy and more talent than any South Carolina quarterback that you or I has ever seen. He was considered the No. 1 overall pick in way-too-early mock drafts for a reason.
So why isn’t Rattler even higher? Well, he has issues to figure out. He gets a bit too greedy at times, and he still needs to figure out how to pick apart drop-8 coverage. We also still need to see what he looks like without such favorable surroundings. Well, let me rephrase that. He has some nice weapons at South Carolina, and an offseason with Marcus Satterfield could allow him to develop. But it’s still different from being coached by Lincoln Riley.
That’s going to determine whether he finishes the year as an All-SEC signal-caller and takes the South Carolina to new heights.
4. Will Rogers, MSU
If you had asked me before the Egg Bowl, I would’ve had Rogers at No. 2. There’s really not a ton of separation between 2-4 on this list, so don’t consider those last 2 games as a free fall. But while he didn’t get enough help from his receivers — those 3 red-zone drops against Ole Miss weren’t on him — we still saw him revert to some of his true freshman habits. The Texas Tech game was bad. He forced throws, he held the ball too long and he couldn’t find anything over the top.
But let’s not dismiss the fact that for about a month leading into the Egg Bowl, there weren’t 5 quarterbacks better than Rogers. We saw what the Air Raid was supposed to look like. He still helped the offense improve by delivering accuracy well above the Mike Leach threshold. Leach found receivers who could play in the Air Raid, and we saw how much it benefited Rogers.
In Year 3 as a starter, Rogers deserves to be considered a top 10 quarterback returning in college football. Monster numbers await … again.
3. KJ Jefferson, Arkansas
Can I start with the criticism? Of course I can. It’s my column.
Without Treylon Burks (opt-out before NFL Draft), Saturday’s Outback Bowl win showed us the whole Jefferson experience. Did he trust his receivers enough? Probably not. Did he take a few too many sacks as a result? Probably. There’s no guarantee that changes even with the addition of 5-star Oklahoma receiver Jadon Haselwood.
But we also saw the extraordinary rushing ability. We saw that Jefferson is so brutal to bring down. When he gets a head of steam, he’s such a weapon. That’s why his floor is so high. Unless it’s against a defense like Georgia, that’s there.
KJ Jefferson with a grown man stiff arm here pic.twitter.com/vEFdCqrqcf
— QB Spotlight (@QBspotlight) January 1, 2022
And the accuracy improved greatly. As versatile as Burks was, we didn’t get to see Jefferson play a full season with a deep threat quite as prolific as Mike Woods. Will we next year? We’ll see.
Jefferson might not ever look quite as natural on the tempo-based designed runs as Malik Hornsby, but that’s OK. That confidence should continue to grow for Jefferson, who could enter his redshirt junior season with sleeper Heisman buzz.
2. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
I’m all in. Yeah, it was a little off in the Music City Bowl. Look beyond the box score. Hooker would admit he missed throws. He wasn’t as crisp as he was at certain points during the regular season. He might not ever be a 75% passer. But he doesn’t need to do that in order to lead a top-10 offense for Josh Heupel.
Hooker still added more explosive plays than we’ve seen in recent memory in Knoxville. When he’s rolling, there aren’t many defenses that can disrupt him. He needs to continue to progress with his decision-making. He took too many sacks, and the deep ball can improve.
But Hooker is a legitimate star. Between his deadly head fake on keepers and his ability to drop that sideline deep throw into a bucket, there are countless Power 5 programs who are kicking themselves for not landing him in the transfer portal last year when he left Virginia Tech. It just took a year in Heupel’s offense for him to truly unlock his potential. With a full offseason with the first-teamers, we should see Hooker continue to progress and build on a banner 2021.
1. Bryce Young, Alabama
You already know. Just in case you forgot, Young isn’t draft-eligible yet. The Heisman winner is the unquestioned best quarterback returning in the country, despite what that post-Rose Bowl reaction might’ve suggested about CJ Stroud.
Young did what no Alabama QB before him could do. Now the only question is if he can do what no college football player has done since Archie Griffin in 1974-75. That is, win consecutive Heismans. If you believe that Young is simply propped up by the talent around him, you’re telling on yourself. His pocket presence, his poise, his ability to bounce back from mistakes and just his overall arm talent are all on such a superior level.
If you’re doubting Young as the best QB on any list in 2022, well, that’s on you.
And one thing on Will Levis …
I’m buying all the Levis stock. I think he and Jefferson have a lot of similarities in terms of their strengths and skill sets. He had a star go-to receiver and other than that, it was a challenge to find that second option. Like Jefferson, Levis is super confident as a runner. Levis has Joe Burrow-like toughness in the open field. Like Burrow, Levis enrolled in the summer. A full offseason in Liam Coen’s offense is going to do him wonders. Not Burrow-like wonders, but he’ll improve a lot.
The reason I don’t have Levis in the top 5 to start is we still need to see it consistently. He has the arm strength, but the turnovers and the pocket presence have to improve. For now, he’s got a bit too low of a floor to be on a list that loaded.