Spring practice has come and gone, and now we have to wait three long months before fall camps begin around the SEC.
There’s only so much to take away from spring ball. Many practices are closed, and most spring games aren’t much more than glorified scrimmages. But — and you knew there was a “but” coming — the arrival of summer marks a convenient time to take stock of the talent around the SEC, and in particular the conference’s quarterbacks.
With a couple of exceptions, most of this spring’s SEC quarterback battles offered a good bit of clarity regarding who should start where in 2017. So with that in mind, let’s dive into a set of power rankings.
Tier IV: The unknowns
- Feleipe Franks, Florida
- Quinten Dormady, Tennessee
- Nick Starkel, Texas A&M
- Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
We haven’t seen any of these guys play a meaningful snap, so I won’t bother putting them in any sort of order.
Dormady, a junior, attempted 39 passes in two seasons as Josh Dobbs’ backup, just about all of which came in garbage time. Still, Dormady emerged as the favorite over 4-star redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano following a 10-for-10, 120-yard, 2-TD passing performance in the Vols’ spring game. He profiles as a potentially above-average SEC quarterback.
Franks, a former 4-star prospect with a blue-chip arm to match, made a strong push to lead Florida’s offense following a quality spring game showing. Luke Del Rio will get a chance to reclaim his spot when he returns from injury this fall, but he seems to be behind Franks for now.
Starkel and Mond are both in contention to snag the Aggies’ starting job. Neither has separated himself in the three-way battle with Jake Hubenak so far and, interestingly enough, each features a completely different profile. Starkel signed as a 3-star pocket passer out of small-town Argyle, Texas, in 2016 and redshirted last season. Mond is a 4-star dual-threat who put up big numbers against elite competition at powerhouse IMG Academy in Florida; he has the most potential but is less familiar with the playbook than Starkel.
Tier III: The game managers
12. Jake Hubenak, Texas A&M
For a program that loses quarterbacks left and right, Hubenak was a constant over the past two seasons. He made a couple of spot starts in 2015 after Kyler Murray and Kyle Allen flew the coop, most notably throwing for 307 yards and 2 touchdowns in the bowl loss to Louisville. He also filled in when Trevor Knight was injured last November, and passed for 884 yards and 6 touchdowns in 6 appearances in 2016.
Now a senior, Hubenak has experience but offers far less excitement than his younger competitors. The Aggies know exactly what they have in Hubenak, and given how many reps Starkel and Mond received this spring, you’ve got to think coach Kevin Sumlin would prefer to start one of them over Hubenak if at all possible. He’s not awful; he’s just pretty limited in his skill set.
11. Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
Shumur’s first full season as Vandy starter was not without its ups and downs. On the positive end of the spectrum, the sophomore had 416 yards passing and 2 touchdowns in the upset win over Tennessee. On the “SMH” end of the spectrum, he went 19 of 46 with 3 interceptions in a cringe-inducing bowl loss to North Carolina State. As a whole, his season averaged out to a weary “meh” for Commodores fans.
What can we expect from Shurmur in 2017? He’ll have ball carrier Ralph Webb back along with solid receivers in seniors Trent Sherfield and C.J. Duncan. Three of five offensive line starters will be back as well, so Shurmur has tools at his disposal. But it’s anyone’s guess whether Vandy, which fielded the nation’s 110th-ranked offense last season, can make any sort of significant step forward. Alabama is on the schedule, as is a Kansas State team that was 9-4 in 2016 and the usual SEC East suspects.
10. Stephen Johnson, Kentucky
For a junior college signee who wasn’t even supposed to start, Johnson fared reasonably well for the Wildcats. He didn’t wow us every week, but he did do enough to help Kentucky make its first bowl game in five seasons. A 338-yard, 3-touchdown performance in the Louisville upset along with a 292-yard, 2-touchdown showing against Mississippi State highlighted his pleasantly surprising campaign.
Of course, the Wildcats never had to ask for too much out of Johnson in his junior season. UK’s bread and butter was its running game, and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran squeezed major production out of that group in 2016. Benny Snell and Boom Williams did the heavy lifting; Johnson simply kept defenses somewhat honest and hit the high-percentage throws.
That’s what Gran will hope for again if Drew Barker remains sidelined into the fall. If and when Barker is healthy, he could push Johnson for the starting job.
9. Danny Etling, LSU
It looks like we’ll get one more year of The Danny Etling Experience in Death Valley — don’t get too excited, folks. He’ll serve as a bridge of sorts as LSU tries to develop newly signed blue-chippers Lowell Narcisse and Myles Brennan.
Taking over for Brandon Harris in Week 2, Etling was solid in his first season with the Tigers, completing 59.5 percent of his passes for 2,123 yards, 11 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Like most of the other guys in this tier, he’s a journeyman with a low ceiling but won’t kill a team with mistakes. With top receivers Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural gone to the NFL and Etling’s limitations, no one should expect Matt Canada to turn this unit into a high-powered passing machine overnight. Derrius Guice power runs will remain the offensive focal point for now.
8. Drew Lock, Missouri
The advent of Josh Heupel’s spread offense certainly helped Lock, who put up 3,399 yards passing and 23 touchdowns as a sophomore. But a closer look at the stat line reminds us that much of his production came against weak opponents (see: Eastern Michigan, Delaware State) or in garbage time, as a horrendous defense often pegged the Tigers to early deficits.
Against his toughest competition — Georgia, LSU and Florida — Lock completed just 47 percent of his passes and threw 6 interceptions. He has the potential to continue improving as a junior, but Mizzou needs to support him on the defensive side; Lock threw 97 passes while his team trailed by 15-plus points last season.
Tier II: The high-upside sophomores
7. Jacob Eason, Georgia
The word out of Georgia spring practice was pretty consistent: Early enrollee Jake Fromm pushed Eason to get better this offseason, much to the delight of Kirby Smart. A former 5-star recruit, Eason played solidly as a true freshman, especially considering the team’s blocking woes, but there were also noticeable growing pains as Eason transitioned from a shotgun-reliant high school system to Jim Chaney’s pro-style scheme.
Now Bulldogs fans will expect tangible growth out of Eason, and with a pretty manageable schedule, that’s not out of the question. Georgia added big bodies up front during the 2017 recruiting cycle, and the skill positions sport talented targets including Riley Ridley, Javon Wims and Isaac Nauta. Oh, yeah, and those two running backs Georgia has are pretty good too. Eason and Jim Chaney just have to bring them all together.
6. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
The Stidham hype train picked up a dangerous amount of speed in recent weeks. Did he have a nice spring game? Yes. Is he better than the other quarterbacks on Auburn’s roster? Without question. But he also has all of three career games under his belt, so I’m certainly not putting him in the top three.
What Stidham does have is a 4-star pedigree, along with a strong supporting cast surrounding him. If he even puts together a respectable first year on the Plains, Auburn could be the team best-equipped to unseat Alabama in the SEC West.
5. Shea Patterson, Ole Miss
Don’t let Patterson’s November struggles fool you. He spent most of last season working with the scout team offense — the plan had been to keep him redshirted all year — and as a result he had precious little time to build rapport with the Rebels receiving corps. Now, with a full offseason under his belt, Patterson is much more comfortable and could be poised for a big year.
Ole Miss sports young studs at wide receiver like Van Jefferson, A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf, all of whom should make Patterson’s first year as starter much easier. Another big reason for excitement is Phil Longo’s Air Raid offense, which produced video-game-like numbers at Sam Houston State. Patterson should thrive in that system.
4. Jake Bentley, South Carolina
Perhaps the least-hyped high school recruit of any sophomore mentioned here, Bentley surprised some folks when he chose to skip his senior year and enroll early at South Carolina. He went on to unseat fellow freshman Brandon McIlwain under center and completed almost 66 percent of his passes for 1,420 yards and 9 touchdowns in 7 games.
Most impressive in all of this was the poise and touch that Bentley displayed in many of those games. He has a talented cast of targets at his disposal, highlighted by Deebo Samuel and Hayden Hurst, and might be the most underrated quarterback in the conference right now. The Tennessee upset showed us just what Bentley is capable of accomplishing under center.
Tier I: The SEC elites
3. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
Fitzgerald’s spring game might’ve looked awful on paper, but it’s worth remembering he was missing most of his first-team offense. He pretty much used the afternoon to chuck a few balls deep and get MSU’s younger receivers some live scrimmage looks.
Looking ahead to this fall, there’s plenty of reason to like Fitzgerald. A rising junior, he has already established himself as a very dangerous runner — his 1,375 yards rushing ranked third nationally among quarterbacks, and his 16 touchdowns ranked fourth. He didn’t blow the competition away as a passer, but if he can improve his accuracy and continue refining his throwing mechanics, the Bulldogs quarterback has a chance to earn All-SEC honors this fall.
2. Jalen Hurts, Alabama
Like Fitzgerald, we know Hurts can run the ball. He has one heck of an arm, too, but as the season wore on we saw opposing defenses adjust to the star freshman’s tendencies and keep him contained. LSU, Florida, Washington and Clemson all held Hurts under 200 yards passing.
Did Lane Kiffin coddle Hurts too much, as Nick Saban recently implied? Or did Hurts simply fail to get better? Regardless, his debut season makes him one of the best true freshman quarterbacks of all time, and the thought of an improved Hurts in 2017 has to terrify the rest of the SEC.
1. Austin Allen, Arkansas
This’ll probably rile up the Crimson Tide fans but, let’s be honest, Hurts had and continues to have a lot of help around him.
The Arkansas offense has its share of weapons, too, but that defense was awful and the pass protection wasn’t much better. Those circumstances put way more pressure on Allen to win with his arm than Hurts ever had to face, with exception to the national title game. And speaking of Alabama, Allen was one of just three quarterbacks to pass for 400-plus yards against the Tide last year (the other two were Chad Kelly and Deshaun Watson).
Allen’s arm might be the most accurate in the SEC, and he has tremendous pocket presence. Just take a look at this game-tying drive he orchestrated at TCU in only his second career start. You can’t teach that type of composure. He led the conference in passing attempts, passing yards and yards per attempt, and looked dang good doing it.
The post SEC quarterback power rankings: Post-spring edition appeared first on SEC Country.