Ranking the Top 10 SEC quarterbacks entering the 2016 season
By far the game’s most important position was woefully underrepresented a few weeks ago at SEC Media Days.
Only three of the 42 players invited to Hoover, Ala., line up at quarterback, which says a lot about the current crop of signal callers. Half of the conference’s 14 teams are yet to name a starter.
To repeat what I was told at The Wynfrey Hotel by CBS Sports college football analyst Gary Danielson, this is a difficult league to break into for a QB. Not only are defensive linemen bigger and defensive backs faster, but expectations are higher and leashes shorter. There is a lack of experience overall under center.
The three passers on hand for Media Days were Chad Kelly of Ole Miss, Joshua Dobbs of Tennessee and Trevor Knight of Texas A&M. Knight was at Media Days in 2015, albeit Big 12 Media Days. He was still at Oklahoma.
Aside from that trio, our Top 10 quarterbacks for the 2016 campaign required an awful lot of speculation.
10. Drew Lock, Missouri: Originally a four-star recruit from the Show Me State, he was thrown to the wolves as a true freshman once Maty Mauk flamed out of the Tigers program for off-the-field issues. The highlights were few and far between, although Lock did chuck it for 244 yards and a touchdown to beat BYU and stop a four-game losing streak. Mizzou can’t possibly be as bad offensively in 2016, so there may be good things ahead for the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder.
9. Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt: Finally wrestling the starting job away from the now-departed Johnny McCrary, like Lock, Shurmur was overmatched in the SEC a year ago right out of high school. He was 13-of-26 for 166 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs in a 21-17 defeat of Kentucky, although he went a dreadful 3-of-12 for 19 yards and a pick seven days later against Texas A&M. However, coach Derek Mason has expressed confidence in him, and not having to look over his shoulder any longer should be a positive.
8. Drew Barker, Kentucky: Throw Patrick Towles into the purgatory of passers chewed up and permanently spit out by defenses in this conference, but at least Barker had a chance to redshirt for a season before taking over in Lexington. Formerly the No. 1 QB recruit in the Bluegrass State, he was a serviceable 16-of-29 for 129 yards in a 58-10 beatdown of Charlotte. The 6-of-22 he put together the following week vs. Louisville can’t be repeated, though.
7. Austin Allen, Arkansas: If he turns out to be anything like his older brother, the highly underrated Brandon Allen, then the Razorbacks could continue their ascent in the SEC West. Reports out of Fayetteville suggest that Austin Allen has just as much arm and a little more mobility inside and outside the pocket. That being said, Brandon Allen became a great player in part due to all the experience he accumulated, while his younger sibling is yet to throw a pass that matters.
6. Luke Del Rio, Florida: The son of Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, he is nothing if not well-traveled. After starting his college career at Alabama, he transferred to Oregon State and completed 8-of-18 passes for the Beavers in 2014 without a touchdown or an interception. Del Rio will more than likely get the Week 1 nod over fellow transfer Austin Appleby and the freshman duo of Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, probably because he is the safest choice.
5. Jacob Eason, Georgia: Here come the boo birds from anyone not sentimentally attached to Athens, as Eason is only a few months removed from dominating at a prep program not exactly considered a powerhouse in Lake Stevens, Wash. But the five-star phenom proved that he can spin it with an eye-opening performance in the G-Day Game after just a few weeks of spring practice. He’s the most gifted Bulldogs passer since Matthew Stafford, with similar upside.
4. Brandon Harris, LSU: The fact that the much-maligned Harris comes in at No. 4 may be the loudest statement when evaluating this year’s SEC quarterbacks. Most everyone in and out of Baton Rouge believes that he’s single-handedly holding the Tigers back from being something special offensively, as Leonard Fournette is an all-timer in the backfield and both Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural will catch passes in the NFL. We’ve seen flashes, so now it’s time for consistency.
3. Trevor Knight, Texas A&M: If the former apple of Katy Perry’s eye never plays another game at the college level, he’ll always be a recognizable name in the conference for the way he lit up Alabama in a Sugar Bowl upset as a freshman. Following that magical moment, Knight endured more misses than hits at Oklahoma and rightfully lost his job to the sensational Baker Mayfield. But it only took Knight one offseason in College Station to gain the confidence of coach Kevin Sumlin and his new teammates.
2. Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee: With Jalen Hurd leading the way and Alvin Kamara providing a quality change of pace, Dobbs gives the Volunteers a three-headed monster in the running game. Needless to say, his ability to deliver the football downfield is questionable at best, even coming off a TD-to-INT ratio a year ago of 15-to-5. His average of 6.7 yards per passing attempt in 2015 was actually the lowest of his career, plus his completion percentage of 59.6 needs to spike, too.
1. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss: There have only been three seasons of 4,000-plus yards passing in the illustrious history of the SEC, and Kelly already owns one of them (4,042). Tim Couch (4,275) and Johnny Manziel (4,114) managed to do it just once, so Kelly can become the first in conference annals to cross that plateau multiple times. Long on confidence and also an effective scrambler, he’s the premier player in the league at the position by a country-wide margin.
MISSING THE CUT
Cooper Bateman, Alabama: He’s probably the guy in Tuscaloosa, although we keep hearing chatter about Blake Barnett, David Cornwell and even Jalen Hurts.
Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State: Expecting him to be anything close to what Dak Prescott was the last two years is borderline unfair.
John Franklin III, Auburn: Maybe he’s the next Nick Marshall, or maybe he’s just a receiver throwing passes like he was at Florida State.
Brandon McIlwain, South Carolina: Beating out a former walk-on like Perry Orth shouldn’t be hard for a four-star recruit, but he’s a wait-and-see case.