Will we ever see another SEC QB class like the one we saw in 2019?
He didn’t know it at the time, but Andy Bernard famously said something on the final episode of “The Office” that applies to how I feel about the 2019 SEC quarterback class.
“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”
Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Jake Fromm are all gone to the NFL, and frankly, I don’t know if we’ll see a group like that in the SEC anytime soon. All 3 racked up gaudy numbers at elite programs, they all won an SEC Championship and they all played for a national title. In the case of Burrow and Tagovailoa, both left as the undisputed best quarterback ever at their respective programs.
Burrow is set to become the 1st SEC quarterback drafted in the 1st round since Johnny Manziel in 2014 — all signs point to him being the 1st SEC quarterback to go No. 1 overall since Cam Newton in 2011 — and Tagovailoa is expected to follow suit.
Speaking of Manziel, he was part of the last truly elite class of SEC quarterbacks along with AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray. I’d argue that with 2 of the 2019 quarterbacks winning national titles and likely being 1st-round picks compared to just 1 in each of those categories for 2014, the latest SEC quarterback class has the advantage there.
Since the AFL/NFL merger in 1967, the SEC has never had 2 quarterbacks drafted in the 1st round.
Let me repeat that so when the SEC Network tweets out that stat after Tagovailoa comes off the board, you’ll be like, “hey, I read that 4 months ago on SDS.” This is going to be the 1st year since the AFL/NFL merger that the SEC has 2 1st-round quarterbacks. During that stretch, 6 SEC quarterbacks were drafted No. 1 overall. As far as SEC quarterback depth in the NFL Draft after those No. 1 overall picks, yikes:
Now compare that to the 2020 NFL Draft, where you’ll likely see Burrow go No. 1 overall and Tagovailoa somewhere in the 1st round. Shoot, even Fromm should come off the board before Mallett did at No. 74 overall. I’d say that qualifies 2019 as “the good old days.”
Sure, there have been great SEC quarterback classes like 2013 or 2010 (Newton, Mallett and Greg McElroy), but none with the top-end college and NFL potential of this group, I’d argue. There’s always been this expectation that 2019 was going to be a special year for quarterbacks in the SEC, but that was based mostly on Tagovailoa and Fromm, not Burrow, AKA the guy who just delivered the best season ever for a college football player.
Because of rare cases like Burrow, it’s difficult to definitively say that the SEC won’t have another year like this in the near future. Players develop, offenses change and new coaching staffs are often brought in. Also, guys transfer. For all we know, the SEC’s best 2020 quarterback isn’t even in the conference yet.
As it relates to next year, the 2021 draft-eligible SEC quarterbacks don’t look like a group that will touch what we saw this past year:
- Kyle Trask, Florida
- Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
- Jamie Newman, Georgia
- Mac Jones, Alabama
- Myles Brennan, LSU
- Terry Wilson, Kentucky
- Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee
- Emory Jones, Florida
Could one of those guys become a 1st-rounder? Sure, but none of them will go into the season with obvious 1st-round buzz. Those are just a few of the draft-eligible guys who are on SEC rosters. That list could look vastly different come August. As of right now, it doesn’t exactly blow me away.
And if we want to take it a step further and spin it forward to some potential 2022 draft-eligible guys, here are some others who could be coming down the pipeline:
- Ryan Hilinski, South Carolina
- Bo Nix, Auburn
- John Rhys Plumlee, Ole Miss
- Garrett Shrader, MSU
- Connor Bazelak, Mizzou
- Taulia Tagovailoa, Alabama
While there’s certainly promise with guys like Hilinski, Nix and Rhys Plumlee, it’s tough to look at any of those guys and say “yep, that’s a 1st-round quarterback.” After all, they’ve been on campus for a year. It’s definitely different than what we were saying about Fromm and Tagovailoa after what they did in the national championship as true freshmen.
Here’s the good news, though. The conference just added 4 offensive-minded coaches, 3 of whom specialize in developing quarterbacks. That includes Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach, who are considered 2 of the sport’s top offensive minds. Leach is the guy who took Gardner Minshew and turned him into an NFL quarterback while Kiffin is the guy who took Jake Coker and made him a difference-maker on a national championship team (don’t forget how good he was against Michigan State).
You could make a case that the conference is in as good of a place as its been in terms of recruiting and developing quarterbacks. Between Leach, Kiffin and Dan Mullen, the SEC has 3 guys who I know are going to absolutely maximize the potential of whoever their starting quarterback is moving forward. There’s also Jimbo Fisher and Gus Malzahn, who are still 2 of the sport’s better offensive minds.
LSU isn’t going back to its 20th century offense just because Joe Brady is gone. Alabama isn’t going to stop stretching the field vertically with Tagovailoa gone.
I have a feeling that this is going to be a vastly different decade as we talk about elite quarterbacks in the SEC. I’d be stunned with those offensive minds if the conference went 5 drafts without a first-round quarterback like it did from 2015-19.
Perhaps the good old days are just beginning.