Entering 2021, quarterback play in the SEC was a question mark. A big one. It makes sense why that was the case. Georgia, Mizzou, MSU and Ole Miss were the only programs that returned their starting quarterback and their offensive coordinator. On top of that uncertainty, the league had 4 different signal-callers finish in the top 10 of the Heisman Trophy voting in the previous 2 years. That wasn’t to say that it was absolutely going to be a bad year for SEC signal-callers — we just didn’t know.

Two months in, we now know a lot more.

It’s not just the fact that Bryce Young and Matt Corral are heading into the second weekend of November at No. 1 and No. 4, respectively, in the latest Heisman Trophy odds.

Among the Power 5, the SEC boasts 4 of the top 9 leaders in quarterback rating. Those guys — Hendon Hooker, Young, KJ Jefferson and Corral — have a combined touchdown-interception ratio of 81-10. On top of that, 3 of them rank among the top 9 Power 5 quarterbacks in rushing.

Pro Football Focus has 7 SEC quarterbacks among the top 21 highest-graded Power 5 signal-callers (it’s those 4 aforementioned guys along with Will Levis, Will Rogers and Stetson Bennett). Just for a little perspective, the ACC has 5 in that group, the Big 12 has 4, the Big Ten has 3 and the Pac-12 has 2.

None of those stats include Max Johnson, Bo Nix or Anthony Richardson, all of whom have had plenty of moments in which they looked like All-SEC signal-callers.

What should we take from that? Well, SEC quarterback play has been excellent.

Dig a little more and you’ll see that the position should be at a totally different place going into 2022 compared to 2021.

The guys who are very likely gone

  • Matt Corral, Ole Miss

Let’s assume that Corral is gone at season’s end. If you can find a current mock draft in which he isn’t a first-round quarterback, I’d be surprised. He’s in Year 4, yet he actually has 2 years of eligibility left. Yeah, crazy. That’s because he redshirted in 2018 and the pandemic meant that 2020 didn’t count against anyone’s eligibility.

But again, let’s assume Corral is gone. Other than that, is there any sure-fire NFL departure among SEC quarterbacks? Nope.

The draft-eligible guys who probably don’t know either way yet

  • Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
  • JT Daniels, Georgia

Remember that Hooker could still return in 2022 as a Year 6 guy because he redshirted in 2017 and the pandemic meant that 2020 didn’t count against his eligibility. What an intriguing thought that is for Tennessee fans, who have watched Hooker blossom into a stud in Josh Heupel’s offense. Hooker ranks No. 1 among qualified Power 5 signal-callers in quarterback rating (190.0) and yards per attempt (10.2). If the season ended today, he’d be a third-team All-SEC quarterback.

Will Hooker come back? That’s anyone’s guess. This is someone who had a heart condition discovered in the middle of the 2020 season, so it’s possible that he capitalizes on what’s easily been his best college season. I mean, the guy is gonna be 24 years old in January. He isn’t showing up in mock drafts yet, but the 6-4 veteran did crack Mel Kiper Jr.’s top quarterback prospects at No. 7.

Daniels, however, wasn’t on that list. We really don’t have much of an idea how the rest of the season will play out for him. It could probably go 1 of 3 ways. Either he’ll continue to ride the bench, he’ll get into games but not play better than Bennett or he’ll take over and become a star. He’s in his 4th year of college, but he also skipped his senior year of high school to start early at USC, so he’s essentially the age of a junior.

It’d be different if poor play earned him a spot on the bench. Just like at USC, that wasn’t the case. He just got hurt. Is there really enough film on him for next-level scouts to think he’s worth anything but a late-round dice roll? My guess is no. The preseason All-SEC quarterback has quite the dilemma on his hands.

But if he were to come back for another year? It would only add to the belief that the SEC has a deep, talented group of quarterbacks.

The draft-eligible guys who probably will be back for at least another year

  • KJ Jefferson, Arkansas
  • Will Levis, Kentucky
  • Bo Nix, Auburn
  • Connor Bazelak, Mizzou

(And I’m gonna not include Emory Jones or Zach Calzada there because while they are technically draft-eligible, I’m not even sure if we can call them starters if their teams had healthy quarterback rooms.)

This group is fascinating on a couple of levels.

Jefferson went from being the promising but out-of-shape guy in the offseason to becoming a star in that first month. It’s been a bit touch and go since then, but there are a lot of tools to like. He has the size, the mobility and the arm strength. Can he improve his accuracy? And can he be a bit better with his footwork? Yes and yes. Like Bazelak, Jefferson technically has 3 years of eligibility left after this one. Barring something wild like a 5-touchdown, 400-yard performance in a win against Alabama, I’d be surprised if Jefferson bolted after 1 year as a starter.

The same goes for Levis, who isn’t necessarily as intriguing of a prospect as Jefferson. The Penn State transfer has had some bright moments and also some not-so-bright, turnover-heavy games. Remember that Levis enrolled over the summer at Kentucky, so he’s never even had a full offseason as a starter. Another year in Liam Coen’s offense could make him a lot more interesting at the next level, given his size, release and cannon for an arm.

We already know that Nix will be the 2022 winner for the “he’s been in college since the 1990s” award. It probably only helps that his dad was indeed, at Auburn in the ’90s. Despite what some speculated early in Nix’s career, he’s not NFL-ready. And that’s not to say Nix is the same player he was in his first 2 years. He fits better in Mike Bobo’s offense than he did in Gus Malzahn’s. There’s no doubt about that. He played well enough to fend off TJ Finley, but not nearly well enough to leave early for the NFL.

Bazelak’s future is in question. He has been Eli Drinkwitz’s guy, but his injury sort of allowed Mizzou to see its future with Tyler Macon and Brady Cook. Bazelak has been somewhat underwhelming in Year 2 as a starter. The odds of him transferring before the start of next season seem far more likely than him leaving for the NFL.

The guys who aren’t draft-eligible and who should be back as potential All-SEC candidates

  • Bryce Young, Alabama
  • Will Rogers, Mississippi State
  • Max Johnson, LSU
  • Anthony Richardson, Florida

I included Richardson there because there’s a scenario in which he plays lights out down the stretch and he gets the hype train rolling into 2022. Of course, we don’t know Dan Mullen’s future. We also don’t know if Richardson can avoid dance-related injuries.

But let’s discuss the other 3 because that’s really a big reason we’re having this conversation.

Young and Caleb Williams are likely going into enter 2022 in similar fashion to Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence before 2020. Unless one of them suffers a torn ACL in the home stretch of this season, they’ll be the obvious preseason Heisman favorites. Young, for all we know, could be an 8-figure NIL guy by then. He’ll be draft-eligible after next season, which means we’re going to get the way-too-early mock drafts in May 2022 that question his size.

(I don’t really have an opinion on that either way. Young isn’t as thick as fellow short quarterbacks like Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson or Baker Mayfield, but I’m already sick of the questions about his next-level durability.)

Rogers suddenly looks a lot more promising than he did a month or so ago. He appears to be in total control in Mike Leach’s offense. Well, at least when he’s not asked to throw the ball 60 times in a game when he’s dealing with a noticeable shoulder injury. Rogers has a decent shot at leading all Power 5 quarterbacks in passing yards this year, and he’s done a much better job at avoiding turnover-worthy plays (only 1 interception for every 60.4 throws).

My guess is that LSU’s new coach will gladly inherit someone like Johnson, who has been good, not great in his first full season as a starter. But it’s hard to fault him too much because of Kayshon Boutte’s season-ending injury. One would think whoever LSU’s new coach is won’t step in and be able to bring someone in who’s better than Johnson. As long as he doesn’t hit the transfer portal, Johnson should be in position to return and take another step as LSU’s starter.

And the other thing that I should mention …

If Corral and Hooker bolt, I think this year showed exactly why we should trust their respective head coaches to develop a quarterback. As long as Lane Kiffin stays in Oxford, he and Heupel might have their pick of the transfer portal litter. Myles Brennan? Spencer Rattler? Someone else?

Things can happen to prevent all of those aforementioned scenarios I laid out. Maybe offensive coordinators like Kendal Briles and Bill O’Brien leave for other jobs, or perhaps one of those returning SEC quarterbacks suffers a serious injury in spring camp.

But even if that happens, it’s shaping up to be a special year for quarterback play in the SEC in 2022.

And no, it’s not too early to be excited about it.