Ranking the SEC QB depth charts
Signing day has passed, NFL early entries have entered (not that it made any different at the QB position), and we’re looking ahead to 2017 — and ranking the QB depth charts. A couple of things — we’re looking two-deep here, so don’t complain that your school has the best third-string QB in the SEC. And another thing — go easy on us in projecting these two-deep charts. At this time a year ago, we would not have guessed that Jalen Hurts would play at Alabama or that Stephen Johnson would’ve been the starter at Kentucky. Some things are unknowable in February. That said, let’s get ranking.
14) Vanderbilt—Jr. Kyle Shurmur, Sr. Wade Freebeck
Shurmur wasn’t awful, but he’s given the Commodores very modest returns. In spot duty as a freshman, he completed just 43 percent of his passes. Last year, he managed 54-percent passing with 2,409 yards, nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Backup Freebeck has played little but knows the system.
13) Florida—Sr. Luke Del Rio, r-Fr. Feleipe Franks
Del Rio missed part of the year with injuries, but when he played, he wasn’t very sharp, hitting on 57 percent of his passes for 1,358 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. Statistically, senior Austin Appleby was better. With Appleby out of the picture, redshirt freshman Franks may steal the job. He couldn’t be much more vanilla than Del Rio.
12) Tennessee—Jr. Quinten Dormady, r-Fr. Jarrett Guarantano
It’s been Joshua Dobbs’ team for four seasons, but somebody else has to step up in ’17. Dormady has been adequate but unexciting as a backup for the last two years, but might begin the year as the starter. Don’t be surprised if Guarantano wins the job, although there will be growing pains if he does.
11) LSU— Sr. Danny Etling, Sr. Brandon Harris
Hard to figure on this one. Etling has a leg up after taking over for the immensely disappointing Harris in ’16. Etling was solid, passing for 2,123 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. Harris posted similar numbers as the starter in 2015 but has never lived up to his much higher upside. Hard to know what Ed Orgeron/Matt Canada will do with this group.
10) Texas A&M—Sr. Jake Hubenak, Fr. Kellen Mond
Hubenak was solid as a reserve in ’15 and ’16, passing for 884 yards, six scores and two picks last year. He’ll get the first shot. But Mond could be the next Aggies QB to blow up as a freshman.
9) Kentucky—Sr. Stephen Johnson, Jr. Drew Barker
Johnson was a surprise starter for Kentucky after the injury to Barker, but he played well, passing for 2,037 yards, 13 scores and six interceptions while rushing for another 327 yards. Johnson isn’t always glamorous, but his mobility helps Kentucky run a ground-based attack. Pocket passer Barker was highly touted and could flourish in a passing attack, but will likely back up Johnson.
8) Auburn—Jr. Sean White, Jr. Jarrett Stidham
This situation will be fascinating to watch in the spring. When healthy, White keyed an amped-up Auburn attack. But Stidham will get a long look in the spring after transferring from Baylor and sitting out a year. Frankly, he’s a next-level talent, and if he can gel with Gus Malzahn and the Tigers’ offense, then Auburn’s ranking here might be way too low.
7) Missouri—Jr. Drew Lock, So. Jack Lowary
Lock showed huge progression in 2016, passing for 3,399 yards and 23 touchdowns in Josh Heupel’s pass-friendly attack. He struggled against top competition, but nonetheless will be one of the league’s top returning passers. Lowary is a guess — Marvin Zanders left the team, and the battle to back up Lock will be a story to follow this spring.
6) Arkansas—Sr. Austin Allen, So. Ty Storey
Allen was one of the pleasant surprises of 2016, nearly replicating the production of his brother, Brandon, from 2015. The younger Allen passed for 3,430 yards and 25 touchdowns, and helped key a high-octane Razorbacks attack. He should be fine in ’17, but depth behind him is questionable. Storey beat out some good competition but threw just four passes as Allen’s backup.
5) South Carolina—So. Jake Bentley, So. Brandon McIlwain
Lots of upside here for Carolina. Bentley was an early-enrollee who took the reins mid-season from McIlwain. Bentley passed for 1,420 yards, nine touchdowns and five picks, leading an upset of Tennessee that sprung Carolina into a bowl. McIlwain, a highly-touted baseball prospect, may or may not be back. He struggled as a passer but is a dual-threat possibility if Bentley struggles or Carolina needs a change of pace.
4) Ole Miss—So. Shea Patterson, So. Jason Pellerin
Patterson got the chance to play when Chad Kelly was hurt and gave fans a preview of the skill set he will bring to the Rebels in ’17. He passed for 880 yards and six scores, and rushed for another 169 yards. His comeback win over Texas A&M was impressive. Patterson should blow up in 2017. Pellerin played some off the bench in ’16 but won’t see much time this year, barring injury.
3) Georgia—So. Jacob Eason, Fr. Jake Fromm
Eason came off the bench in one game before being anointed as Georgia’s next QB. It was an up-and-down season, with a couple of last-minute wins but some struggles as well. Eason finished with 2,430 yards, 16 scores and eight interceptions. With most of his supporting cast returning, he should only improve. If Senior Brice Ramsey returns, he may get mop-up duty; but if something serious happens, Fromm likely would be the next man up.
2) Mississippi State—Jr. Nick Fitzgerald, Fr. Keytaon Thompson
Dan Mullen’s style of play is different than that of most teams, so the right personnel is key. Fitzgerald struggled early, but by the end of the year was sharp, passing for 2,423 yards and 21 scores, and rushing for another 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns. His consistency as a passer can and will improve. Thompson will likely redshirt but would be a serious Plan B consideration if Fitzgerald were to get injured.
1) Alabama—So. Jalen Hurts, Fr. Tua Tagovailoa
All Hurts did was steal the QB job as a true freshman, lead Bama to the cusp of a perfect season, and emerge as a Heisman candidate, passing for 2,780 yards and 23 scores, and rushing for 954 yards and 13 touchdowns. For an encore? We shall see. A veteran would likely see mop-up duty in 2017, but if something serious happened, true freshman Tagovailoa looks like the heir apparent to Hurts.