Should I stay or should I go?

It’s always been a complicated question for college quarterbacks with remaining eligibility. It’s perhaps even more complicated by NIL money that could entice certain quarterbacks to run it back for another year.

As it stands, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mizzou, MSU, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt all have starting quarterbacks who are eligible for the NFL Draft at season’s end. So basically everyone who isn’t Ole Miss (Jaxson Dart) and Texas A&M (Conner Weigman) has a QB1 who could theoretically bounce at season’s end.

Of course, some of those are less realistic than others. I highly doubt there’s any world in which Robby Ashford, Brady Cook and Mike Wright leave early for the NFL Draft. Of course, Hendon Hooker and Stetson Bennett IV are out of eligibility.

That leaves us with the following quarterbacks who’ll have an NFL Draft decision to make:

  • Bryce Young
  • KJ Jefferson
  • Anthony Richardson
  • Will Levis
  • Jayden Daniels
  • Will Rogers
  • Spencer Rattler

Remember that Jefferson and Rattler technically have 2 years of eligibility left after this year because he took a redshirt in 2019 and 2020 didn’t count against anybody. Actually, Jefferson, Rattler, Richardson, Rogers and Young all still have 2 years of eligibility left after this season.

Here’s what I think each of those SEC quarterbacks will do at season’s end:

Bryce Young, Alabama

Staying or going — Going

There will always be durability concerns surrounding Young because of his narrow frame, so I doubt that’ll impact his decision to leave early. Two years in a pro-style system with a Heisman Trophy on the mantle suggest that he’s gone. The only 21st century quarterback to stay in school another 2 years after winning the Heisman was Tim Tebow, though, obviously, his mechanical traits were at the root of his polarizing NFL Draft discussion. Young’s ability to make things happen when plays break down is a mix of athleticism, poise and an unteachable savvy to play the position at a high level. I’ll be surprised if he’s not a top-5 pick.

KJ Jefferson, Arkansas

Staying or going — Staying

This year didn’t turn out the way Jefferson hoped it would. In addition to battling injuries, he also battled game flow issues with a struggling defense. That didn’t favor a run-heavy offense. Kendal Briles operates a unique scheme with the tempo. Jefferson certainly has the size, mobility and arm strength, but think about what makes him so effective. It’s being a physically imposing runner who can take advantage of a defense that’s gassed and/or selling out to stop the run instead of respecting Jefferson’s arm. My guess is that Jefferson will seriously consider his NFL prospects but return for another year to polish his skills as a passer … and cash in those NIL dollars as arguably the league’s best returning QB.

Anthony Richardson, Florida

Staying or going — Staying

This is perhaps the toughest one to predict because while I think Richardson absolutely needs to stay, I also see that there are respected NFL Draft insiders like Mel Kiper Jr. and Matt Miller who have Richardson as 1 of the 5 best quarterback prospects in the field. I’m not there. I say that as someone who believes Richardson is currently in the midst of the best stretch of his career as a decision-maker, which he could ride all the way to the NFL bank. But here’s what gives me pause. It’s not just that he’s No. 12 among 13 qualified SEC quarterbacks in QB rating. It’s that he only has 324 college pass attempts. Even compared to some of those recent 1-year starters who went in Round 1, that’s not very much:

  • Dwayne Haskins, 590 college pass attempts
  • Mitch Trubisky, 572 attempts
  • Mac Jones, 556 attempts
  • Kyler Murray, 519 attempts
  • Anthony Richardson, 324 attempts

I think that Richardson, who is already a millionaire and would be in line to make a whole lot more in NIL if he returned, could have an extremely intriguing option to stay for Year 2 with Billy Napier. Of course, there are still NFL teams who would absolutely use an early-round pick on Richardson despite those processing issues. It’ll be as intriguing of a decision as any quarterback in America.

Will Levis, Kentucky

Staying or going — Going

With Levis, I don’t blame him for bolting. He still has enough people who think he’s a Round 1 guy despite some regression issues (he still ranks No. 3 in the SEC in quarterback rating). Injuries have perhaps limited that mobility a fair amount, and we know the Kentucky offensive line has been a disaster. But with that arm strength and the 2 years in the Sean McVay/Kyle Shanahan offense, you’d better believe Levis is gone. There’s no denying that Levis will crush the pre-draft process and he’ll get some Josh Allen comps because of what he does well. Would I be more comfortable taking a late-Round 1/early Round 2 shot on Levis in a place with an established offensive line? Absolutely. But he’s impressed too many NFL evaluators to return for another year.

Jayden Daniels, LSU

Staying or going — Staying

It’s been a bit of a mixed bag for Daniels, who deserves tons of credit for helping lead LSU to a division title in Year 1 of the Brian Kelly era. If you’d told LSU fans in the spring that Daniels would start every game for the SEC West champs, every one of them would’ve been ecstatic. But the problem is that Daniels still hasn’t shown that he can work through his progressions consistently. He relies a lot on his athleticism when his first read isn’t there, which often moves the chains in college, but it doesn’t always translate to NFL success with the increase in speed in opposing defenses. Daniels, with another year with Kelly, could return to a potential top-5 team and continue to develop with a young, talented group of receivers.

Will Rogers, MSU

Staying or going — Staying

While the Air Raid is more prevalent than ever in the NFL, I think it’s fair to say that the Mike Leach level of Air Raid is a different story. The system and the size will be the biggest knocks against the prolific MSU quarterback. Yes, he already has set the SEC completions record, which is darn impressive. But obviously, the vast majority of those throws are within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Rogers doesn’t necessarily have a weak arm. The scheme just doesn’t call for him to stretch the field vertically like we see with Hooker. Hence, why Leach has never had a quarterback picked in the first 5 rounds of the NFL Draft. If he starts to rack up more SEC career records, Rogers could probably earn more in NIL money than he could as a late-round pick, which is what I think he is at best.

Spencer Rattler, South Carolina

Staying or going — Going

Would I draft Rattler? No. I also don’t think I’d run it back with him if I were Shane Beamer. He’s 11th in the SEC in quarterback ratings, and while he certainly has similar offensive line issues to Levis, there are too many frustrating mechanical issues with Rattler. He drifts, he doesn’t have that sense for pressure and he forces too many throws. When healthy, Levis can at least make up for some of that with his legs while Rattler really doesn’t. So then why do I think Rattler is gone? I believe he’ll still get feedback that suggests he could be a mid-round pick. I also wonder if there’s an understanding from South Carolina that both parties should perhaps go their separate ways, which for Rattler would probably mean going to the NFL instead of going to his 3rd school in as many years (he’d be eligible immediately as long as he graduated this school year).

As strange as it sounds near the end of a frustrating offensive season, my best bet is that Rattler’s college days are numbered.