The SEC hasn’t been known for its QB play the past few years – this is no secret. The QB talent, or lack thereof, has been indicative through the NFL Draft, in which just one SEC QB has been picked in the first three rounds of the past 7 drafts (Johnny Manziel, 2014), and we know how that turned out.

This season could be different though, as there appears to be more QB talent than there has been in a few years. In fact, depending on which underclassmen declare early, we could see a few SEC QBs picked in the early rounds of next Aprils draft.

So which 5 SEC QBs are the surest NFL bets? Let’s take a look. And bear in mind, there are no can’t miss-type guys in this class, so we use the term “surest bets” relatively speaking. In the past 20 years there were only 3 SEC QBs I thought were can’t miss-type of guys (Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Matthew Stafford), and I don’t yet see one of these guys being on that level, but much can change in one season.

1. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn

QBs taken in the first round of the NFL Draft (2012-18):
ACC: 5
Big 12: 5
Pac-12: 5
SEC: 1
Big Ten: 0
Other: 5

Stidham has all the makings of a first-round pick and I wouldn’t be the least surprised if he winds up as the No. 1 overall pick next April. The Baylor transfer has decent size at 6-3, 215 pounds and shows above average athleticism for the position. He has a very quick release and can get the ball out in a hurry, though some might be turned off by his tendency to lower his arm angle for a three-quarter delivery. He has good arm strength and can really drive the ball to the sidelines on out routes and comebacks, which are some of the harder throws to make and require the most velocity.

He goes through his progressions well, though the scheme he’s running doesn’t ask him to make very many reads. He has good accuracy on short and intermediate routes but is still improving touch on deep balls. Overall, he’s as close to a complete passer as there is in the SEC right now, though he really needs to start sliding more often when he’s on the run. NFL teams cringe when they see their QB take unnecessary hits in the open field, and what happened to Carson Wentz last year is the perfect example of why they need to slide.

2. Jake Bentley, South Carolina

Bentley has been criminally underrated by the national media in my opinion, but I think scouts will give him the love others do not. He’s a good athlete with nice size at 6-3, 220 and shows very good feet in the pocket. He’s always moving his feet, which is one of the things that helps his already good mechanics, aiding a lightning quick release. He has a nice, easy delivery and can really drive the ball to all three levels with touch and accuracy.

Due to his arm strength, he’s a confident passer who will take a lot of risks, which leads him to throwing into coverage more often than you’d like, thus more turnovers. Decision making is something he’s continuing to improve upon, which isn’t out of the norm for a young and confident QB. There’s an awful lot to like here and I think he’ll rapidly rise up draft boards, especially if he continues to make further progression this fall.

3. Drew Lock, Mizzou

Lock has received the most hype of any SEC QB, and that’s largely due to the astronomical numbers he put up last year, in which he set a conference record for TD passes in a season with 44. I’m not quite as high on him as others are, but I still think he has a lot of potential. He’s a very good athlete who held numerous D-1 basketball offers and has prototypical size at 6-4, 225. He has a very quick release and shows excellent velocity on short and intermediate routes.

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The scheme he’s been playing in hasn’t helped his development because he’s been making simple reads with few progressions, which is one of the primary reasons I’m excited to see what new OC Derek Dooley has up his sleeve. Lock’s accuracy has also been wildly inconsistent, so there’s work to be done there. Having said that, a QB with his size, athleticism, release and arm strength will always make scouts salivate. He would be an ideal fit in a scheme with heavy West Coast principles.

4. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State

Fitzgerald is a monster at 6-5, 235 and is a much better athlete than you’d imagine at first glance. Make no mistake, he’s a legitimate threat as a ball carrier and can be brutally tough to bring down in the open field. As a passer, he’s still coming along, though he’s shown steady improvements over the past two years, and I’m confident new HC Joe Moorhead will be able to take his passing game up another level.

Fitzgerald shows good arm strength and velocity when he sets his feet, but the line he’s been playing behind has forced him to throw off his back leg far too often, which has hurt his accuracy. He has a quick release and shows good touch on intermediate routes, though he has a way to go developing his deep ball. He has a lot of work to do improving his mechanics, but the raw tool set to be a highly effective QB at the next level is certainly there.

5. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

Putting him on here is more about projection than production because he’s essentially played one half of meaningful football at the college level. Granted, the stage was extraordinary and his play was downright heroic, but he still has a long way to go developmentally, particularly in his mechanics – which is to be expected from a kid who is only a year removed from high school.

He’s built more like a RB than a QB at 6-1, 220 but is light on his feet and has an excellent feel for the rush in the pocket, showing poise beyond his years. He’s a natural passer who generates good velocity when he sets his feet and when he’s on the move. He also shows good touch and accuracy, which will only improve as he continues refining his mechanics, particularly his slow, windup delivery.

What about Jalen Hurts?

Some might wonder where Jalen Hurts stands on this list, and whether or not he’s a QB prospect for the next level.

I’ll be honest, I still think he has the skill set to play QB at the next level, but he has a lot of work to do developing as a passer. He’s an extraordinary athlete with a powerful frame and elite speed for the position, and he’s a naturally elusive ball carrier. If QB doesn’t work out for him I think he could be a very good RB with his combination of burst, vision and power.

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As a passer, he has excellent arm strength and can really drive the ball downfield, and has underrated touch on his deep balls. And of course, he takes care of the ball, which can’t be understated.

I honestly think his biggest problem is that he doesn’t look confident as a passer. Too often he’s reading to tuck it and run at the first hint of a rush. Too often he’s ready to tuck it and run when his first read isn’t there. Too often he doesn’t seem to have faith in his very good arm strength and his ability to put it in a tight window. It’ll be interesting to see how Mike Locksley handles the QBs this fall, and what he does schematically to take advantage of each QBs unique skill sets.