Power ranking the SEC quarterbacks and former SEC quarterbacks for 2019
Rankings season is officially here. Offseason* rankings season, that is.
It’s the time of the year when things slow down from a news standpoint, so we come up with rankings that you’d probably never see in the middle of the season. It’s entertaining, and it gets you through this dry time of year.
So fear not, starved college football fans. We have an interesting ranking today.
This is a power ranking of current and former SEC quarterbacks who transferred. There are a lot of them. For the sake of this list, I kept it at 11 transfers + the 14 quarterbacks who I expect to start on SEC rosters this year.
For the current SEC quarterbacks, I already ranked them after spring ball. To see that list, you can click here. I didn’t change any of their rankings in comparison to other SEC quarterbacks (you might recognize their description, too).
But the point of this list is to show where former SEC quarterbacks would fit in on this list compared to the current ones. I didn’t include JUCO quarterbacks, but I did dip into the FCS level for a couple guys.
And just to repeat what I always say with quarterback rankings, these are based on who I’d turn the ball over to if I needed to win a game tomorrow. There’s some projecting with guys in their current systems, but a lot of this is based on what we’ve seen and heard about them so far.
With that, here are the Top 25 current and former SEC quarterbacks who you’ll hear from in 2019.
25. Cole Kelley, Southeastern Louisiana
Go figure that we’re starting with list with a 2018 opening day starter in the SEC. But Kelley wasn’t a fit in Chad Morris’ system at Arkansas and he lost his job to Ty Storey (I’ll get to him later). Kelley will get to play immediately closer to home at SLU, likely with hopes of getting an FBS school to notice.
24. Quinten Dormady, Central Michigan
Dormady gets to be the face of Year 1 of the Jim McElwain era if he wins the starting gig. Dormady was Tennessee’s opening day starter for the final year of the Butch Jones era. I don’t know if Dormady will win the starting job at CMU; he didn’t at Houston, which is ultimately why he transferred again. But I do know that he needs to write a book on playing for Jones and McElwain. The world needs to know.
23. Brandon McIlwain, Cal
Remember when McIlwain was going to be the 2-sport star at South Carolina? Well, the former blue-chip recruit lost the starting job to Jake Bentley in 2016. That repeated itself at Cal last year when McIlwain lost the starting gig to Chase Garbers in the middle of the season. Perhaps even more frustrating for McIlwain, he broke his foot and is expected to miss the entire baseball season. But he still has 2 years of eligibility left to live up to his once-high billing.
22. Ty Storey, Western Kentucky
For a hot minute, it looked like Storey was going to be able to hold on to the job at Arkansas. He was the closest thing the Razorbacks had to a starter, but like Kelley, he still wasn’t a fit in Morris’ system. Storey will have a chance to play for former Tennessee offensive coordinator Tyson Helton, who will run more of a West Coast system at Western Kentucky.
21. Woody Barrett, Kent State
The former Auburn quarterback was a victim of the Jarrett Stidham sweepstakes. The idea of sitting behind Stidham for multiple years didn’t appeal to him, so he went the JUCO-to-MAC route. Here’s the good news: Barrett had nearly 3,000 yards from scrimmage last year, and he showed flashes (sorry for the pun) of being great:
WHAT. AN. ESCAPE.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) November 15, 2018
But the bad news is that Barrett was a quarterback who went 2-10 last year. It’s interesting to think about how crazy Auburn’s quarterback room would look if he was still a part of it, but I don’t think Tigers fans will feel too bad about the group that Gus Malzahn has to work with without Barrett.
20. Riley Neal, Vanderbilt
How fitting that the first current SEC quarterback on this list is a transfer. Neal will have great weapons to work with on the outside, which he didn’t necessarily have at Ball State. He’s extremely experienced, but not necessarily against SEC defenses. It’ll be a tall task replacing Kyle Shurmur, but at least he’ll be able to read defenses, make some nice throws and keep Ke’Shawn Vaughn from seeing nonstop loaded boxes.
19. Ben Hicks, Arkansas
Hicks will be an interesting study at Arkansas because he has the experience in Morris’ system at SMU (isn’t it interesting that now 3 Morris quarterbacks have come up and I’m not even at the top 15 yet?). I think that ultimately leads to Hicks getting the opening day nod. As for whether he can hold off Texas A&M transfer Nick Starkel and keep the job, that remains to be seen.
18. Justin McMillan, Tulane
McMillan is a great transfer story. After Joe Burrow got to LSU, McMillan left the team in August and he was allowed to play immediately as a grad transfer at Tulane, where he took over the starting gig and finished the season going 5-1. Now, McMillan is a fifth-year senior who gets a new offensive coordinator and another chance to make his case to play professionally somewhere.
— Josh Lemoine (@LsuFBallTruth) January 29, 2019
17. Matt Corral, Ole Miss
A lot of Corral’s ranking is to be determined. We don’t know how he’s going to mesh with Rich Rodriguez, which isn’t always a given for blue-chip quarterbacks (ask Ryan Mallett about that). Ole Miss fans already like what they’ve seen from Corral because he has some of the Chad Kelly confidence and there’s certainly talent. But let’s see how he reads defenses and handles a new era of Ole Miss receivers before we move him ahead of some more experienced guys on this list.
16. Terry Wilson, Kentucky
As I’ve said/written with Wilson: The potential is there. I don’t doubt the arm or the running ability. I do, however, question the mental side of it. Without Benny Snell, Wilson needs to be more decisive as a playmaker. He needs to be better as a runner (2 games of more than 30 rushing yards in his final 8 games) and he has to make throws like he did against Florida on a more consistent basis. Then he can rise on this list.
15. Keytaon Thompson, Mississippi State
Thompson did something that few quarterbacks in America have done. He went toe-to-toe with a Heisman Trophy winner and beat him. But that was in 2017, and that was with an entirely different coaching staff. I’m confident that Thompson will be better as a downfield passer than Nick Fitzgerald was, but he needs to improve his accuracy or else MSU will continue to be a 1-dimensional offense.
14. Jake Bentley, South Carolina
Yikes. If I put Bentley this low on a list like this last year, I would have been laughed out of the room. But even South Carolina fans will tell you that Bentley still hasn’t progressed as they hoped. He had plenty of outside weapons the past 2 years, yet he was mediocre far too often for the Gamecocks to even sniff SEC West relevancy. The numbers are better than some ranked ahead of him, but the mistakes are still too prevalent at this stage of his career.
13. Malik Willis, Auburn
I took a lot of heat for putting Willis at No. 8 in the SEC quarterback rankings because many believe he won’t start. I do, and that’s with me being way higher on Joey Gatewood than I was last year and with Bo Nix looking like the quarterback of the future. But I just come back to the belief that Willis is going to run Malzahn’s offense like Nick Marshall did and that the Tigers will get back to a more successful, ball-controlling offense with the junior running the show. And yes, Willis can throw.
12. Blake Barnett, South Florida
It feels like Barnett has been in school forever, but the former 5-star Alabama quarterback still has 1 more year of eligibility left. I give him a bit of a pass for the tough end he had to the 2018 season because a shoulder injury limited him in his first full year as a starting quarterback. The guy still had over 3,000 yards from scrimmage with 20 touchdowns for a USF squad that was in the Top 25 before he got hurt. He’ll return for his final season as one of the best Group of 5 quarterbacks.
11. Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee
There are people who believe Guarantano is the third-best quarterback in the SEC. I think that’s a bit of a leap for someone who hasn’t been to a bowl game, thrown for 2,000 yards or finished with more than 12 touchdowns in a season. Do I like Guarantano and think he can rise on this list? Absolutely, especially with Jim Chaney in town. But there are other quarterbacks who have shown more as a downfield passer and as a true running threat.
10. Feleipe Franks, Florida
I’ll be honest. I didn’t think Franks would overcome all the peaks and valleys of being a season-long starting quarterback at Florida. Even though there were times when fans wanted Emory Jones or Kyle Trask to be the guy, Franks didn’t ever let it get to a point where Dan Mullen completely lost faith in him. He had the best season for a Florida quarterback since Tim Tebow, and he’ll be on draft boards because of his size, arm and numbers last year. He’ll still need to improve his accuracy to become one of the nation’s top signal-callers.
9. Kelly Bryant, Mizzou
Bryant seems like he’s going to be a great fit in Derek Dooley’s offense. That’s why he picked — and stayed at — Mizzou. The accuracy in the intermediate passing game is a strength, as is his ability to make things happen with his legs. He won’t be anywhere near Drew Lock as a deep-ball thrower, but the Tigers still have plenty of weapons around him to move the chains and light up scoreboards.
8. Joe Burrow, LSU
I hear you. The numbers aren’t there. You think he’s overrated. You don’t even think he’s one of the better SEC quarterbacks. I disagree. I see someone who constantly put LSU on his back in key moments and was a massive reason the Tigers made their first New Year’s 6 Bowl of the Playoff era. With nearly all of his receivers returning and with LSU expected to improve on the offensive line, I like Burrow’s chances of improving. He’ll be working with new passing game coordinator Joe Brady on implementing more RPOs, which Burrow is plenty capable of running. I’m buying stock in Burrow to take the next step and lead a top-20 offense.
7. Jacob Eason, Washington
Part of this is projecting, so yes, Georgia fans. I understand that Eason had his struggles as a true freshman in 2016 and Jake Fromm seized the opportunity when he suffered that injury in the beginning of his sophomore year. I like the odds of Eason looking much better as a junior in Chris Petersen’s offense. I know the NFL scouts already like Eason, despite the fact that he completed only 55% of his passes for 6.6 yards per attempt as a freshman. That has to improve. The good news is that the coaching is as good as he can ask for and the arm is obviously there. Never forget this little summertime gem from a couple years ago:
If Jacob Eason can continue to make throws as good as this one the rest of the Pac-12 is in trouble pic.twitter.com/Tvf1OGuYmr
— Barstool UW (@Barstoolhuskies) February 6, 2018
6. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
Does Mond have Eason’s arm? No. Is he the fastest quarterback on this list? Probably not. But what I like about Mond was that he took a massive step up in Year 2 and showed that he doesn’t have limitations in his skill set. He can pick you apart from the pocket, he can scramble when the play breaks down and he has poise in big-time moments. Add in the fact that he returns a ton of production at receiver and he’s got Jimbo Fisher in his ear, and yeah, I’m high on Mond taking another step up as a junior.
5. Shea Patterson, Michigan
I almost put Mond in this spot, but I gave it to Patterson despite the fact that he didn’t finish the season the way some thought he would. Patterson improved his accuracy and still helped Michigan win double-digit games last year. This year, he’ll have former Alabama offensive coordinator Josh Gattis running everything on offense. The former Ole Miss quarterback will also get the benefit of throwing to playmaking receiver duo Nico Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones, both of whom exceeded 600 receiving yards and 6 touchdown grabs. Patterson senior season proves to be his best and perhaps Michigan’s best of the Jim Harbaugh era.
4. Justin Fields, Ohio State
According to Ryan Day, Fields isn’t the starter yet. Right. Next he’ll tell us that college basketball recruiting is completely by the letter of the law. Fields is the man in Columbus and he’ll have a chance to do Dwayne Haskins-like things in his first season. Could he have a better career than Jake Fromm? Perhaps, but I’ll probably wait until he actually starts a college game before I get there. Fields is going to use his arm a ton, which is a scary, scary thought for defenses on Ohio State’s weak schedule this year. The Heisman Trophy narrative would certainly be there for the former 5-star recruit.
3. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
Inject this Jalen Hurts into my veins.
OK, so Hurts’ time at Oklahoma isn’t going to be determined by how much he can squat (a small neighborhood, apparently). But what Hurts really impressed with last year was his maturation as a passer with Dan Enos. Hurts was no longer the “one read and run” quarterback that he was in 2017 when he ultimately lost his job to Tua Tagovailoa. Hurts is now going to be in the perfect situation at Oklahoma, where he’ll be coached by the guy who helped engineer consecutive Heisman Trophy winners (and No. 1 overall picks). We’ll see if Hurts can continue to develop as a passer like he did in 2018 and complete what would be one of the most impressive hat tricks in sports history.
2. Jake Fromm, Georgia
I keep saying that Fromm’s run down the stretch didn’t get enough credit because of Georgia losing those final 2 games. But after the LSU game, he had a 17-2 touchdown-interception ratio and he faced a top 20 defense 4 times. His performance against Alabama was remarkable, regardless of what the final score said. Fromm took that next step and looked every bit like one of the nation’s best quarterbacks. He finished fifth in the country in quarterback rating after plenty of Georgia fans called for Fields to take his place after the LSU game. With Fields out of Athens and James Coley running the offense, there’s no reason Fromm can’t elevate his game yet again and potentially rise to No. 1 on this list.
1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Tagovailoa is still worthy of the No. 1 spot because when he’s at his best — that’s been most of the time during his young career — there’s simply nobody who makes the plays that he can. Sure, it helps to have arguably the best group of receivers in America (it’s Bama or Clemson), but it also helps to have the ability to read defenses and put touch on deep balls that make scouts drool. Tagovailoa still needs to show that he can be his pre-November self again, but I’d still bet on him to do that. The stage is set for Tagovailoa to once again take the college football world by storm.