Post-spring SEC quarterback ratings: Who would you most want starting for your team tomorrow?
Don’t set these in stone.
Quarterback rankings are as fluid as the stock market. They change constantly, they make you doubt yourself and in many instances, you just end up hoping not to look like a total idiot.
That applies to our annual post-spring quarterback rankings. We’re ranking and projecting starters at the same time. There’s a chance that a certain someone in my top 5 won’t even win the starting job. Hey, it happens.
Sometimes you project Malik Willis to be a middle-of-the-pack SEC quarterback and then it’s announced he’s third-string and transfer portal-bound just a few weeks later. Oh well. By the way, that take hasn’t aged nearly as bad as some of the others I’ve had. If anything, it’s turned into a “see, I told you so.” If you could have Willis or Bo Nix to lead your team, who are you taking? Give me the former.
That premise — who do I want leading my team in a game played tomorrow — is how I do these rankings. I’m not projecting who they are by late-November or which guy is the best NFL prospect. It’s about who do I feel gives me the best chance to win a game played tomorrow.
Now part of that can be how much I believe in a guy to rally back from 21 down. Some guys could be mistake-proof quarterbacks, but they just don’t have that in their arsenal. The great quarterbacks can do that.
So here are my post-spring SEC quarterback rankings:
14. Beau Allen, Kentucky
To be clear, Allen is going to rise on this list. Significantly, I expect. But is he a massive unknown in terms of facing SEC competition? In some ways, yeah. Of the 14 quarterbacks on this list, 11 have started at the Power 5 level. One of the 3 who hasn’t is Allen, and the 2 others are Bryce Young and Emory Jones, both of whom have significant reps. Allen doesn’t. He played in 2 games and attempted a total of 7 passes as a true freshman last year.
All signs out of camp are that Allen is going to be a nice fit in Liam Coen’s offense. He stretches the field well, he has a good feel in the pocket and with Wan’Dale Robinson and Chris Rodriguez, he’s surrounded a pair of All-SEC candidate skill players, which is rare at Kentucky (I mean it’s rare to have multiple in the same year). But we still have to see it. Will we? I bet. But Allen still has to fend off Joey Gatewood and Penn State transfer Will Levis, who will arrive this summer.
13. Luke Doty, South Carolina
For South Carolina fans/all humans who don’t understand why I’m not higher on Doty, it’s pretty simple. You have to be able to consistently sustain drives with your arm to win in this league. Doty, in the limited sample size we got last year, basically had 1 long completion in the 3 games he started, and it was on a trick play to the tight end. He has yet to lead a 20-point offensive effort, which was partially because of South Carolina’s depleted roster down the stretch.
He’s mobile, but he’s not mobile to the point where you can build an offense around it. At least he wasn’t in 2020. That was an odd season for a true freshman like Doty to take over. I almost want to wipe that from my brain and let him start over after he averaged 5.7 yards per passing attempt. Marcus Satterfield’s offense could do him wonders. Or it could remind us that there aren’t a whole lot of options in Columbia.
12. Ken Seals, Vanderbilt
Seals actually surpassed my expectations to a certain extent. Given how much Vanderbilt struggled just to get above the minimum threshold with scholarship players, the guy could’ve been much worse. In 9 games he hit 64% passing 6 times, and he hit 300 yards on 3 occasions. You can’t really put an 0-9 record on Seals. Talk about being dealt a brutal hand as a true freshman.
But he gets the nod above Doty because he showed he could push the ball downfield, and he could hang in the pocket and make some big-time throws.
Ken Seals 5/5 and a score on Vanderbilt’s first drive🎯
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) November 21, 2020
I thought he was excellent against Florida, and if he could’ve put together another drive in the third quarter, that game could’ve been much more interesting down the stretch. Seals working with David Raih and Joey Lynch will be interesting. It doesn’t sound like Mike Wright is fading from the picture anytime soon, so there could be a short leash on Seals if he doesn’t come out of the gates ready to go.
11. Will Rogers, MSU
I know there are plenty of MSU fans who aren’t convinced Rogers is the guy, and that Southern Miss transfer Jack Abraham will come in and run away with the job. He might. Mike Leach said the competition is “wide open.” I’d still give the edge to Rogers, though. I think it’s hard to judge someone playing behind an offensive line that was that poor. There’s only so much you can do throwing against drop-8 coverage, which Rogers saw more than his fair share of.
The spring game wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for Rogers, though Zach Arnett has one of the league’s top secondaries to work with. Abraham performed better. The sample size is still small, but it’s clear that Leach didn’t want to put all of his eggs into the basket of Rogers or true freshman Sawyer Robertson, who won’t arrive until summer. Rogers wasn’t a Leach recruit. Did he run the Air Raid better than K.J. Costello? Sure, but that’s not saying much.
If he does get the nod, the efficiency (5.7 yards per attempt) must improve in order for Rogers to rise on this list.
10. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
This is a tricky person to rank because on one hand, he has more Power 5 experience than the vast majority of this list. He also had more rushing yards than any Power 5 quarterback in 2020. On the other hand, all of that was in the ACC in an entirely different offense. I hate to do the old “let’s see him do it against the SEC” thing, but to a certain extent, yeah. Outside of Joe Burrow, it’s pretty rare to see the upperclassman quarterback transfer come into the SEC and set the world on fire. Even someone as accomplished as Kelly Bryant didn’t become a 1-year wonder.
Having said that, Hooker’s size and ability to stretch the field should set up well to have success in Josh Heupel’s offense, which did nothing but crank out top-10 units at UCF. They’re going to attack, attack, attack and then attack downfield some more. We saw that in the spring game.
CEDRIC TILLMAN DIVING GRAB FOR THE WIN!! pic.twitter.com/kMg2CCAMyk
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) April 24, 2021
And no, I’m not necessarily bailing on Hooker just because Harrison Bailey had the more efficient day. They have some key pieces to replace on the line, and this is still a major schematic overhaul, but Hooker has the tools to win this job and become one of the league’s better quarterbacks after leading Power 5 quarterbacks in rushing yards. He just might not be set up to win a ton of games.
9. Bo Nix, Auburn
Ah, we’ve reached the Bo Nix portion of the program. This is the part where I remind the Nix supporters that if he didn’t have that “5-star” attached to his name coming out of high school, he wouldn’t be a starting quarterback at the Power 5 level entering 2021. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but Nix hasn’t been a decent SEC quarterback yet. His spring game performance wasn’t going to change my opinion of him, good or bad.
Before you tell me it was all the fault of Gus Malzahn/Chad Morris/the offensive line, consider this. Nix has been the full-time starter at Auburn for 2 years, and he has yet to:
- A) Average 7.0 yards/attempt in a season
- B) Finish in top 5 in SEC in TD passes, yards/attempt and QB rating
- C) Finish in top 8 in SEC in completion percentage
- D) Finish among top 20 FBS quarterbacks in rushing
- E) All the above
It’s “E.” It’s always “E.”
On top of that, Nix has 1 true road game with 250 passing yards (the 2020 loss to 2-win South Carolina), and he has 1 true road game with multiple TD passes (the 2019 win vs. 2-win Arkansas).
Is Nix Auburn’s best option? Absolutely. For now. There’s major pressure on him to figure things out in Year 3. Mike Bobo’s task of fixing Nix’s mechanics and turning him into a better pocket passer is priority No. 1. This is Nix’s last opportunity to get right and to maximize some of that unique ability he has to make plays. The floor just has to be higher.
8. Connor Bazelak, Mizzou
Here’s another guy on this list who could quietly rise and establish himself as a top-5 guy without really being a household name nationally. Bazelak isn’t on that level yet because as we saw against MSU last year, he didn’t show that he’s someone you want to rally the troops from a multi-score deficit and throwing 45 times per game. In his defense, it was Year 1 in the Eli Drinkwitz era. The Tigers let Larry Rountree carry that offense in the latter half of the year, especially in the red zone.
Bazelak’s role is different this year. He has to be more efficient (7.3 yards per attempt) and he has to improve stretching the field. I’m optimistic about that long-term. It’d help if we knew exactly how Ohio State transfer Mookie Cooper impacts this offense, though I don’t think he’ll make or break Bazelak’s ceiling. The good news? Bazelak was a 67% passer last year, he only threw an interception once every 54 passes and he only took multiple sacks in a game twice. The tools are there. It’s just a matter of Bazelak doing the cliché thing of making a significant Year 2 step in the system.
7. KJ Jefferson, Arkansas
I wish I had bought a little more Jefferson stock last year. I’m buying shares now, especially if that price is lowered because of Mike Woods’ surprising transfer. Jefferson might be a first-time starter, at least full-time, but he has the tools to execute Kendal Briles’ offense. The deep ball looks so natural coming out of his hand, he has enough mobility to extend drives with his legs and he’s got the luxury of throwing to the league’s best receiver, Treylon Burks.
KJ Jefferson to Treylon Burks for 68-yard touchdown.
Burks has been unguardable at times this season.pic.twitter.com/a2YtmFCC9Y
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) December 5, 2020
Jefferson earned praise at the end of spring for improving his footwork and mechanics, which admittedly messed with his confidence at times last year. His accuracy must improve, and finding a couple of non-Woods options to stretch the field is a must with what Jefferson does best. That is, hang in the pocket, look off a safety and hit a receiver deep against single coverage. Burks can catch passes from anywhere, and for all we know, he’ll be in for 2020 Elijah Moore-like target shares in the Arkansas offense. Jefferson did connect with Burks for a 10-catch, 206-yard performance in his lone start last year.
Something tells me those 2 will form one of the league’s top connections en route to Jefferson becoming a breakout star.
6. Haynes King, Texas A&M
I’ll just say it. I’m a King believer. I wanted to be validated a bit by what we saw in A&M’s spring game. I’ll say this. It could’ve been much, much worse. King did have a pair of incidents in which he got banged up while wearing a non-contact jersey, he had 1 interception and possibly 2 if we had been able to review the play in the back of the end zone and King didn’t have as many in rhythm throws as Zach Calzada.
But no, I’m not selling my King stock. I love his mobility, which will be even more important with that line likely taking a step back after replacing 4 starters. I love the willingness to keep his eyes downfield and not just turn to his legs after the first read is covered. I think the way he works to the middle of the field and trusts a guy like Chase Lane will be big. A&M didn’t even have Caleb Chapman or Jalen Wydermyer, who are both going to vastly change how defenses defend them. King has all the tools to be a darn good quarterback in this league from the jump, even if that inevitably comes with more mistakes than Kellen Mond, who had 3 interceptions and 7 sacks taken last year.
I believe that with the weapons he has to work with, King can be the ultimate X-factor in the SEC this year. It just might take a minute before he harnesses all of that athletic ability and accuracy.
5. Emory Jones, Florida
There’s nobody in the SEC in a comparable spot to Jones. There might not be anyone in college football who has had to wait in a situation like the one in Gainesville. It’s a bit like 2020 Myles Brennan. Jones was the rare blue-chip quarterback recruit who waited until Year 4 to start at a big-time program. Dare I say, it could do him wonders. There was a section of Florida fans who believed he’d be the starter at this time last year. Then Kyle Trask led the nation’s No. 1 passing offense en route to a Heisman Trophy invite and Jones’ emergence was put on the back burner.
It’s crazy to think he’s the first Dan Mullen recruit to start at quarterback at Florida. That makes the pressure that much greater. Jones won’t be given the same leeway of many first-time starters because the guy is the same age as Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. And, well, he’s a Florida quarterback. It comes with the territory. Jones will be asked to run more than Trask and Feleipe Franks, but can he improve his accuracy (56% in 2020) enough to consistently beat teams with his arm? That’s the big question facing Jones in his highly anticipated first season as Florida’s starter.
4. Myles Brennan, LSU
Yes, I realize Max Johnson could win the starting job and end up making me eat my words. I’d probably put Johnson somewhere between Nos. 4-6 on this list. Long term, there’s a lot to like with the southpaw. But lost in the hoopla of LSU’s end to the season was that the guy nursing a season-ending injury, Brennan, was much better than what that 1-2 record indicated. After that first game, he stepped up in the pocket and was much more decisive. He made on-target throws into tight windows.
Myles Brennan throwing DOTS 😮 @MylesBrennan
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 10, 2020
I think a lot of people forgot how effective Brennan was because the ground game and defense around him were so brutal in his starts. But he did some impressive things running those empty-back sets. And sure, he threw a ton (44 times per game), but he was still efficient enough to win games at 8.5 yards per attempt on 60% accuracy. The Brennan we’ve seen in spring so far suggests that he’s throwing everything he has at this battle with the younger Johnson. I wouldn’t be surprised if that carried over into the season and he became an all-SEC quarterback.
3. Bryce Young, Alabama
Even though he never started as many thought he would as a true freshman, the early returns from the 5-star recruit were promising. You can’t teach some of the things Young does. The arm is next-level already. The ability to drop the deep ball on the sideline is, as well. It’s a matter of reps for getting Young comfortable with doing some of the little things better. Those little things, ironically enough, were the spots where Mac Jones thrived. It’s reading protections at the line of scrimmage and knowing when to step up in the pocket.
But that’s truly the biggest hurdle in the way of Young, who doesn’t really have a ceiling at this point. Once he gets to establish some rhythm in a game, we’ll see more of those traits come out. It seems inevitable that he’ll make more mistakes than Jones. He’ll throw a pass across his body that he shouldn’t, or he’ll try to force a throw when he had 15 yards of running room. That’s to be expected. Still, though. There’s nothing Young can’t do. It’s not hyperbole to say he’s capable of taking the league — and all of college football — by storm.
2. JT Daniels, Georgia
With or without George Pickens, I’m a Daniels believer. That’s not my way of saying I think he’s destined to end the 1980 jokes, but one couldn’t help but be impressed with what he did down the stretch last year once he became the starter in Todd Monken’s offense. That’s the key there. Monken’s offense is going to allow for Daniels to cover up some of those intermediate passing game issues with reading pressure (those areas looked improved in the spring game). The home run play will take some much-needed pressure off this offense. And with Georgia’s loaded backfield, teams can’t play Daniels with drop-8 coverage.
It’ll be interesting to see how guys like Dominick Blaylock and Arian Smith step up. I’m already sold on Kearis Jackson, and the route-running of Jermaine Burton should become a huge asset in the 2021 version of the Daniels-led Georgia offense. Oh, and if Georgia is actually going to throw to the tight end this year, Darnell Washington has All-SEC upside. So does Daniels. He’ll likely get that love in the preseason after posting what would’ve been a top-10 quarterback rating in college football if he had enough snaps to qualify.
If Daniels looks the part the season opener against a loaded Clemson defense, he’ll have an obvious claim for No. 1 on this list.
1. Matt Corral, Ole Miss
At this time last year, I was banging the drum for John Rhys Plumlee to start over Corral. Meanwhile, Corral was putting in 5:30 a.m. film sessions to learn Lane Kiffin’s offense. It worked. Somewhat lost in the shuffle with the years of Mac Jones and Kyle Trask was Corral, who was No. 4 among Power 5 quarterbacks in QB rating. Among Power 5 quarterbacks, Corral was also No. 8 in rushing. I’m not sure many returning quarterbacks have a throw like this under their belts wherein the ball traveled roughly 63 yards to an in-stride receiver:
Ole Miss QB Matt Corral told Lane Kiffin he’s returning for the 2021 season, per @JakeThompsonOE
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) December 2, 2020
Yes, he had the 2 bad games. (It’s 3 if you count Auburn, but he still had 88 rushing yards and 2 scores in a game that had the infamous missed fumble/no review call on the kickoff.) You can’t throw 5 or 6 interceptions and expect to win at this level, though it’s worth remembering that Ole Miss still had a chance to win late both times Corral did that. It would be more worrisome if we were talking about a 53% passer, but Corral isn’t that. He completed 71% of his passes last year in his first season working with Kiffin and Jeff Lebby.
All signs point to Corral still being one of the nation’s best signal-callers. Like Young, there’s nothing he can’t do in the offense. The battle for preseason first-team All-SEC will be decided between Corral and Daniels. If I’m filling out my ballot today, I’ll give the slight edge to the signal-caller in Oxford after a breakout season in 2020.