Quarterbacks: There are a lot of them! Each week, QB Curve will keep you up to speed on the game’s most important position by putting a different SEC signal-caller in the spotlight and putting the rest of the field in perspective. Previously: Tua Tagovailoa vs. Jalen HurtsJake BentleyJordan Ta’amu

QB of the Week: Drew Lock

Typecasting: The Late Bloomer

It’s been a little more than a year since Lock’s last appearance in this space, and at the time the jury on his future was very much out. Not that there’s ever been any doubt about his potential: At 6-4, Lock boasted an NFL frame even as a recruit, and arrived at Missouri with the look and hype of a future pro from the moment he set foot on campus. Even adjusting for growing pains, though, his output in his first two seasons fell well below the curve for an aspiring draft pick as Mizzou limped to losing records in both years. After a rocky start in Year 3, it was fair to begin wondering if the light was ever going to come on.

Then the calendar flipped to October, and the switch on Lock’s career flipped with it. Over the final two months of 2017 he was the SEC’s most prolific passer, finishing as the league leader in total yards, yards per attempt, and overall efficiency. He passed for multiple touchdowns in nine consecutive games, an SEC record; his 44 TD passes for the season set the record and led the nation, edging Heisman winner Baker Mayfield. He led the nation in yards per completion (16.4) and passes of 50 yards or longer (19). Behind their quarterback, the Tigers rebounded from a 1-5 start to win six straight to close the regular season, averaging 51.3 points per game over the course of the streak. Opposing coaches voted him first-team All-SEC. By December, the light was all the way on and emanating directly from one of the hottest arms in college football.

This time around, the doubts that remain as Lock’s senior campaign unfolds are reflective of his growth. The NFL’s Draft Advisory Council reportedly advised him to return to school, indicating they didn’t see him as a first- or second-round pick among a crowded class of draft-eligible quarterbacks. The winning streak thudded to a halt in the bowl game, a 33-16 flop against Texas in which Lock was mocked on the opposing sideline; that left Mizzou 0-6 on the year against teams that finished with winning records, averaging just 18.0 points in the losses. Lock’s offensive coordinator, Josh Heupel, left for the top job at Central Florida; his favorite target in each of his first three seasons, J’Mon Moore, left for the next level.

But there’s no question anymore whether Lock will be following suit, only how high he’s going to go when he does. Just days before arguably the biggest game of his career — a nationally televised home date with Georgia that will likely make or break Lock’s Heisman cred, not to mention decide the SEC East — Lock is holding steady at the top of every stock report and mock draft. If he comes up as big against the Bulldogs as his talent suggests he can, he’s going to be hard to budge.

The Good

From a scouting perspective, the gaudy numbers in Mizzou’s high-volume passing scheme are fine, but don’t really do him justice. Lock fits the mold of the prototypical pocket passer to a tee, with the arm, mechanics, arm, bravado, and arm to match.

Did I mention the arm? Strictly as a long-ball specialist, Lock has few current peers in the college game, and possibly none in the prospective 2019 draft class who can match the ease with which he’s able to stretch the field. When he has the opportunity to set his feet and launch from a clean pocket, the result is usually a thing of beauty:

Admittedly, that’s some lackadaisical coverage on Georgia’s part, but the list of quarterbacks at this level who are capable of both a) recognizing the open window, and b) hitting their target in stride at that distance is not very long. From Lock’s hand to Hall’s the ball traveled more than 60 yards; it may as well have been guided in by a military satellite. And when the Bulldogs did reduce the margin for error later in the same game, it ended exactly the same way:

In addition to sheer distance, though, Lock’s most obvious growth has come on intermediate, middle-of-the-field throws that require timing, accuracy, touch, and — his specialty — velocity. At his best, he not only hits his target, but delivers the ball in exactly the right spot to lead his receiver into open space without breaking stride, turning a first-down play into a potential touchdown. Here are examples of three catch-and-run dimes from Mizzou’s past four games against Power 5 conference opponents, beginning last November with a 31-yard TD strike from Lock to Hall against Tennessee:


In the bowl game, Lock flashed some of his underrated mobility in the pocket, eluding the Texas rush and finding enough space to reset his feet and unspool an absolute rope to Johnathon Johnson:

And in last week’s win at Purdue, he delivered this heater between a pair of Boilermakers defenders to true freshman Jalen Knox, who easily dusted a late-arriving safety for a 59-yard touchdown — late, because Lock deliberately and successfully looked him off to the right before throwing back to his left:

It’s not that the poor Purdue corner didn’t try; it’s that he was expecting help that Lock effectively neutralized with his eyes and footwork. That’s the kind of savvy a four-year starter with next-level ambitions is supposed to bring to the table, and despite the turbulence of his first couple years at Mizzou Lock has graduated to that level.

The Not-So-Good

There’s always been a quantity-over-quality aspect to Lock’s statistical success, just for the sheer number of times he puts the ball in the air; he’s on pace to lead the SEC in attempts for the third year in a row. But as I’ve pointed out before, the real, glaring asterisk that accompanied his 2017 breakthrough was the fact that it came overwhelmingly against the bottom half of the schedule.

Of course, all quarterbacks tend to fare better against worse opponents by definition. In Lock’s case, though, the gap between his gonzo output against the losers and his middling returns against the winners was more like a chasm that might be too large to bridge:

Maybe that was a coincidence — maybe the midseason surge really had nothing to do with the schedule, and the teams in the left column (all of them except Texas in the bowl game) were just lucky to have caught Missouri in the first half of the year, before Lock finally rounded into form. His success in losing efforts against Kentucky (355 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs in 40-34 loss) and Georgia (253 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT in a 53-28 loss) do suggest he was on the upswing before the abrupt reversal in the win column.

Still, the largely lame-duck effort against the Longhorns reinforced the pattern, and reintroduced some concerns that Lock hasn’t entirely outgrown some of his bad habits as an underclassman. There were moments early in his career — most notably in 2016 losses to LSU and Florida, on consecutive weekends — when he looked like he was on the verge of melting down.

It speaks to Lock’s resiliency and growth that he crawled out of those early craters to become a productive, decorated starter with a bright future. Yet the fact remains that in six career starts against ranked opponents (at the time of the game), he’s 0-6, with all but one of those losses coming by at least 18 points. Against teams that finished in the AP poll he’s 0-7, all by double digits.

That record’s not all on him, but regardless of the box score stats, it is going to be much harder to count Lock among the elite — in 2018, in Missouri history, potentially in SEC history — until it changes.

The Takeaway

Year 4 is the money year for seniors who pass on the draft. Three weeks in, there’s been no discernible drop-off under the new offensive coordinator, former Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, who came from the Dallas Cowboys’ staff with instructions to challenge Lock with more advanced, pro-style concepts. In Week 2, he racked up 398 yards with 4 touchdowns in a 40-13 blowout over Wyoming; last week, he went for 375 yards and 3 TDs in a wild, 40-37 win at Purdue, capped by a late drive in which Lock completed passes of 20 and 25 yards to set up the game-winning field goal.

Those are week-in, week-out numbers for Lock at this point, and given how badly Missouri’s defense was burned at Purdue they might be the bare minimum necessary to keep pace with Georgia. That’s a tall order, even for a potential first-rounder. But as he showed last year, if anyone on the Bulldogs’ schedule is capable of that kind of afternoon, Lock is the one. If he’s not, it’s safe to assume no one else even stands a chance.

Quick outs

3rd-and-long gone: If you want to quantify the absurdity of what Tua Tagovailoa is doing right now, there are a lot of ways to do it; the most comprehensive number is probably his overall pass efficiency rating (233.3), which ranks second among all FBS passers. But without a doubt the single most absurd number is Tagovailoa’s efficiency on third-down passes alone, which even given the small sample size almost defies belief:

Even more absurd: The majority of that stat line has come on third and extra-long (10 yards or more to go), in which case Tua is 7-for-7 for 139 yards, 6 first downs, and 3 touchdowns — all covering at least 25 yards. How are defenses even supposed to respond to that? On the rare occasion you get the first two downs right, on the third you’re still toast. It’s just not fair.

Sob Storey: The saga continues at Arkansas, where the Razorbacks’ determination to finally settle on a starting quarterback have led them to … a new starting quarterback. This week, the nod will go (back) to junior Ty Storey, who started the Hogs’ Week 2 loss at Colorado State, got benched at halftime of that game, and didn’t appear at all in Saturday’s 44-17 debacle against North Texas. He’ll replace (again) sophomore Cole Kelley, whose return to the top of the depth chart against UNT ended with his fourth interception of the day and a chorus of boos from the home crowd.

Coach Chad Morris clearly wants to name a starter and stick with him; his explanation for leaving Storey on the bench as things unraveled Saturday was that he felt committed to Kelley, and by the time he decided he’d seen enough the score was so out of hand he opted spend the garbage-time snaps on freshmen Connor Noland and John Stephen Jones instead. (Noland and Jones were each picked once, curbing their aspirations to the job.) But Storey was yanked from his first career start for a reason — he was 5-for-13 with two picks against a bad Colorado State defense — and it’s hard to imagine things suddenly turning a corner this weekend at Auburn, which is Auburn.

Beyond that, the Razorbacks have the bleakest outlook of any SEC team in conference play, by far. Like, 2-10, worst-season-since-the-Great-Depression bleak. Unless Storey is a revelation, pretty soon it’s going to be building-a-foundation-for-2019 bleak, which doesn’t bode well for the staying power of a fourth-year junior who’s already been benched once. Here’s guessing we haven’t seen the last of the young ‘uns.

Matthew Stafford Arm of the Week: Jake Fromm

Fromm gets more credit for his accuracy and decision-making than his capacity for going deep, but against Middle Tennessee State he offered a reminder that when he decides to let it rip he has juice to spare:

That connection covered 65 yards in all, 50 in the air, and ought to serve as a warning to any safeties looking to creep against the run. Just one more thing for the scouts to love.

QB Curve Power Hour!

Ranking the league’s starting quarterbacks heading into Week 4.

1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama. Tired: Tua is good enough to win the Heisman if he wins the job full-time. Wired: Tua is good enough to win the Heisman without taking a fourth-quarter snap all year. (Last Week: 1)

2. Drew Lock, Missouri. I wouldn’t bet on it, but a major upset on his home field to launch a Heisman campaign would be a fitting turn in Lock’s ascent. It’s the logical next step … that is, if you’re willing to entertain the idea of a 15-point underdog knocking off the overwhelming division favorite as logical. (LW: 2)

3. Jake Fromm, Georgia. Fromm is 37-of-46 through three games, good for the best completion percentage in the nation. That pace isn’t sustainable over the course of a full season, but the SEC record (72.3 percent, set by Kentucky’s Tim Couch in 1999) is worth keeping an eye on. (LW: 4)

4. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn. Stidham threw 2 interceptions against LSU, one of which set up a short-field for LSU’s first touchdown, and made far too few plays down the stretch: After Auburn scored to go up 21-10 early in the third quarter, its next five possessions yielded three punts, another INT, and a missed field goal to close the game. His LSU counterpart, Joe Burrow, turned in the inverse of that performance, salvaging a mediocre but turnover-free afternoon with a late rally to win, and was named the conference’s Offensive Player of the Week. Sometimes, they only remember what you do last. (LW: 3)

5. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State. Fitzgerald accounted for 350 total yards and 6 touchdowns — 4 rushing, 2 passing — in the Bulldogs’ 56-10 romp over UL-Lafayette, all of that coming in about three quarters’ worth of work. He also flashed some encouraging downfield accuracy. That will have to continue in conference play if Fitzgerald has any chance of elevating his completion rate from the mid-50s, where it’s resided the past two years, to somewhere north of 60 percent as a senior. (LW: 5)

6. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M. Mond looked good Saturday in a routine blowout over UL-Monroe, extending the momentum of his breakthrough performance against Clemson. Next up: A road trip to Alabama, where good vibes go to die. (LW: 7)

7. Jordan Ta’amu, Ole Miss. Well, at least Ta’amu can tell his grandchildren about the time he bombed Bama for a 75-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game. From that point on, he went 6-for-21 with 2 interceptions — one of them a pick-six — as the Tide rolled up 62 unanswered points. (LW: 6)

8. Jake Bentley, South Carolina. Bentley spent the weekend on hurricane watch, so no movement here. Upcoming dates with Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Mizzou over the next few weeks present a golden opportunity to climb the ranks. (LW: 8)

9. Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt. Shurmur turned in a high-volume, medium-impact effort at Notre Dame, finishing with 326 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT on 43 attempts — i.e., the 2018 version of the patented Vandy Upset Bid that comes up just short in a game the Commodores never actually led or realistically threatened to. South Carolina’s on deck. (LW: 9)

10. Joe Burrow, LSU. On paper, Burrow looks like one of the most inconsistent and inefficient passers in the league. But he’s avoided negative plays (zero interceptions in 78 attempts), and the handful of positive ones he’s made in wins over Miami and Auburn have been timely and essential. That’s probably not worth making him the Player of the Week – over Tua? Really? – but as long as LSU’s defense is LSU’s defense it’s good enough to give the Tigers a chance in almost every game. (LW: 11)

11. Terry Wilson, Kentucky. It’s a testament to just how good the current crop of SEC quarterbacks is that Wilson remains this low on the list. Based on the early returns, he’s a legitimate, every-down running threat with an arm that stacks up against any UK passer in a decade. That might not add up to eye-catching numbers, but 9 wins is not out of the question. (LW: 10)

12. Feleipe Franks, Florida. Saturday’s Florida-Tennessee game is probably the least hyped in 30 years or more, and the nondescript quarterbacks are only one reason why. But even at its worst, this rivalry tends to bring the drama. (LW: 12)

13. Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee. Guarantano has been efficient so far in a run-first offense that hasn’t asked him to do very much aside from take care of the ball and remain in one piece behind a shaky offensive line. Both jobs get harder against the Gators. (LW: 13)

14. Ty Storey, Arkansas. Storey replaces Cole Kelley in the basement for the time being, but whoever’s taking snaps for Arkansas in a given week has a long climb out. (LW: NR)