clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2017 SEC Unit Rankings: Quarterbacks

Stupid Alabama...

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama
The best in the SEC. Damn it.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

And.... we’re back. Let’s get the preseason kicked off right.

After last year’s pedestrian group, we should see some marked improvement in QB play in the SEC this season. Nine teams return their starting quarterback, and experience is usually one of the biggest factors in successful QB play. The teams with new QB’s brought in some big names, and almost all of the team’s breaking in a new QB will be using someone who had significant playing time last year. It’s still not a group of all-stars, but there’s a lot of depth here, and we shouldn’t have too many awful signal callers.

1 MISSISSIPPI ST. Nick Fitzgerald is the returning ATVSQBPI leader in the SEC, and he’s a legit dual threat. He threw for just shy of 2500 yards and he rushed for 1375. He’s not the most accurate guy in the world, but I love his running ability, and he’s not a liability in the pocket.

2 ALABAMA. Essentially Nick Fitzgerald with a better completion percentage and about two-thirds of the rushing numbers. Of course, Jalen Hurts also gets to play in Bama’s offense, so he has a lot more weapons around him, so some of his production is attributable to the rest of the talent.

3 AUBURN. Jarrett Stidham got out of Baylor before the excrement hit the air conditioning. He had to sit a year, but he is now the undisputed starter. It’s a bit of an open question how much of his production as a freshman was a mirage of the Baylor offense, but it’s not like Gus can’t create opportunities for a quarterback. If those freshman numbers are real, he’s the best QB in the SEC.

4 ARKANSAS. Austin Allen was exactly what he was billed as: an efficient if unspectacular quarterback. He’s a perfect fit for the Hogs offense, though he does need to cut back on the interceptions.

5 SOUTH CAROLINA. Jake Bentley came in off the bench last year and ignited a dormant offense. He completed over two-thirds of his passes and averaged 7.5 YPA. He guided USC to season-altering wins over Missouri and Tennessee, then threw for nearly 400 yards in the bowl game. He can sling it.

6 LSU. Danny Etling is solid veteran with limited upside, but he also has limited downside, which is a huge deal for Tiger fans, who have been burned by shoddy QB play.

7 TEXAS A&M. Jake Hubenak got over 100 reps against live action last year and he completed just shy of 60% of his passes at 8.5 yards/attempt. He struggled against better defense (cough) (LSU) (cough), but he’s got huge upside.

8 OLE MISS. Like A&M, they could make me look silly if their starter makes the leap he is capable of. Shea Patterson looked like he might have the goods in limited action last year, but he has a low completion percentage and was prone to boneheaded mistakes. He could go either way.

9 MISSOURI. Drew Lock is quietly productive. I’m not a fan of the 55% completion rate, but he’s another solid veteran. He’s a more inaccurate version of Danny Etling.

10 FLORIDA. I’m not nearly the fan of Malik Zaire as others are. I’m not even sure how he makes the team better, as all he really does is block Felipe Franks. Franks may not be ready, but Zaire was awful last year.

11 GEORGIA. I had faith in Jacob Eason last year, and he burned me. He’s a hyped prospect, but he put up the worst line for a quarterback outside of Nashville last season. I’ll give him a slight bump because this year can’t be worse, but QB’s normally don’t bounce back from a year as bad as his.

12 TENNESSEE. Quinten Dormandy is the only nominal starter without any significant experience. He was great in the Vols’ spring game, but there’s a big difference between that and the real thing. Ask Jacob Eason.

13 KENTUCKY. Stephen Johnson isn’t horrible, but he’s not that great either. He doesn’t throw for a high average, he has a low completion percentage, and he’s got a mediocre TD/INT ratio. He’s not bad, but there’s not much to build off of.

14 VANDERBILT. The rotating wheel of passing stopped on Kyle Shurmur last season, and he continued the Vandy tradition of some cover-your-eyes awful QB play. He had a negative TD/INT ratio and still hasn’t lost his starting job. That doesn’t bode well.

CRISSY

1. MISSISSIPPI ST. Nick Fitzgerald draws a comparison to Dak Prescott with his remarkable arm strength and ability to make plays with his legs. He led the SEC last season - beating out the likes of Josh Dobbs, Jalen Hurts and Chad Kelly - racking up 3,798 total yards. Fitzgerald threw for 37 total touchdowns and 10 interceptions for the Bulldogs on the season.

2. ALABAMA. Jalen Hurts has one of the best supporting casts in the nation, and the talent to match. The fact he led 'Bama to the College Football Playoff as a freshman, finishing with a 14-1 record speaks volumes. If Hurts is any more productive than he was last year, the Crimson Tide will be the biggest force in college football in 2017 (not that we didn't already expect that).

3. ARKANSAS. The Razorbacks couldn't ask for a better for a much better match to their offensive scheme than Austin Allen. The amount of interceptions he has is alarming though, as he was picked off 15 times last year. If Allen can lower that number, he'll be golden.

4. LSU. There's no denying Danny Etling revolutionized this Tigers' offense last year when he was given Brandon Harris' job. He picked apart the Louisville defense with ease in the Citrus Bowl, scoring 29 points on the team - the fourth highest the Cardinals' defense had allowed in a game all season. Etling makes smart decisions in the pocket, and is a solid pocket passer with sufficient athleticism. He's easily the best QB LSU has had in four years, but that's not saying a lot given how shaky the position has been since the end of the 2013 season.

5. AUBURN. Jarrett Stidham will be Auburn's starter without question this year. He had a nearly perfect A-Day game, completing 16 of 20 attempts for 267 yards. If he's able to be as productive for the Tigers as he was for Baylor, he may find himself closer to the top of this last by the season's end.

6. SOUTH CAROLINA. The Gamecocks' offense was stagnant until Jake Bentley took the reins. He's got the arm strength for sure, and a high completion percentage at 65.8%. Look for him to continue to improve South Carolina's passing game in a big way in the upcoming season.

7. OLE MISS. Shea Patterson is a total wild card. He showed flashes of just how great he could potentially be for Ole Miss last year, but also made his fair share of costly mistakes. Patterson comes off as a very mature QB who is able to stand tall in the pocket even when under pressure, but doesn't always complete as many passes as he should. He's either going to work wonders or go bust.

8. TEXAS A&M. Jake Hubenak put on a nice performance for the Aggies last season, and obviously has a very high ceiling. He saw a good amount of action, completing nearly 60% of his passes and averaging 8.5 yards per attempt. Hubenak provides the maturity and stability A&M has lacked in recent years.

9. GEORGIA. Jacob Eason had a less-than-satisfactory season last year, disappointing many people who had talked him up. He's a talented QB, but lacks consistency. If Eason doesn't redeem himself this season, he'll be out of a starting job sooner than later.

10. MISSOURI. Drew Lock has the experience you desire in a QB under his belt, but is a bit inaccurate with a completion rate of 55%. He does give the Tigers some sense of consistency at the position though, and played decently in last season's air raid offense.

11. TENNESSEE. Quentin Dormady looked excellent in the team's spring game, but lacks true college football experience. The question is if his success in the spring game will translate to the real deal. If so, Tennessee has a major talent on their hands.

12. FLORIDA. Malik Zaire will help provide a little bit of depth and experience to the Gators this season, but don't anticipate him doing much more than that. Even though he did have a few impressive performances with the Fighting Irish, his playing time was limited. It's all a question as to strong-armed passer can live up to the potential some Florida fans believe he has.

13. KENTUCKY. Stephen Johnson gives off a just-good-enough impression, and has a low ceiling overall. He lacks arm strength compared to other signal-callers, and doesn't complete a lot of passes with a completion percentage of just 54.7. Johnson's got almost half as many interceptions (6) as he does touchdowns (13). Not a good look to say the least.

14. VANDERBILT. The fact Kyle Shurmur has a negative touchdown to interception ratio alone warrants the decision to place him at the very bottom of this list. Despite that statistic, he still has yet to lose his starting gig, meaning Vanderbilt believes he's the best they've got at the position. This says a lot about just how worrisome the QB position is at Vandy.

PAUL

The SEC QBs were so bad early on in the season they actually became somehow underrated by end of season. Jalen Hurts and Nick Fitzgerald proved to be a legitimate starters, Austin Allen picked right up where his brother left off and Chad Kelly and Josh Dobbs pretty much did what they've done throughout their careers with wild swings in production depending on the opponent.

So you know what, I'll go on a limb here and say this will be one of the most derided position groups in the country and it will prove to be ill-thought by season's end. I think there's a group here with real breakout potential.

1 AUBURN. Ok, I'll be that guy. Well, I'll at least keep with my well established reputation of inflating that team on the Plains and hammering talent, talent, talent Auburn's offense has been a hot mess since Nick Marshall graduated and as a result its' immense offensive reputation has taken a hit. The fact is, this is proof that recruiting evaluations miss. Gus swung and miss on Jeremy Johnson and EVERYBODY swung and missed on Sean White, a former fringe 5-star prospect.

But look, Stidham is the real deal. He lit it up as a freshman in the Big 12, and yes, I know, "oooh Big 12 defenses... spooky." But Gus has finally found his man.

2 GEORGIA. I'll be that guy again. It's really hard to start as a true freshman in this league. And look, I know, another guy did it and did it with gusto over in Tuscaloosa, but I'll point back to Paul rule 1.0: Talent, Talent, Talent. Eason has it in spades. He sucked last year. There are zero doubts about that fact. But I still like Jim Chaney and I still like how he fits into that offense. Eason makes a big leap this year and proves he's better than Hurts.

3 ALABAMA. Look, I couldn't ding the kid that much. Hurts proved to be an efficient passer and a dynamic runner, capable of improvising and largely keeping his head, even when things may be unraveling. It helps to play on a super team, though. I'm curious if he can take the next step, though. He's lost his OC and his defacto back-up OC. He struggled to develop as a downfield passer and defenses caught up to that weakness later in the season. Can he take steps forward there? If so, he could very well be the league's best. If not... he's gonna drop like a rock and may lose his job.

4 ARKANSAS. Austin Allen quietly lead the league in YPA, ranked 2nd in TDs, 3rd in passing yards, and 5th in completion percentage. His penchant for throwing back-breaking INTs is worrisome. Hell, drop the back-breaking factor, and Allen still chucked way too many to the other guys. Part of that was Arkansas' insane and surprising inability to effectively and consistently run the football, which put Allen in positions to play from behind and chuck it. If the Hogs can revamp their ground game, Allen could be in discussion for the league's best QB.

5 MISSISSIPPI STATE. I'm not nearly as high on Fitzgerald as my cohorts. He played horrendously against any defense with a pulse and lit up a few of the league's whipping boys last season. I understand that gives State fans hope, but if he can't make serious leaps as a passer, he'll keep being the guy that puts up big numbers vs. Samford and takes a thumping vs. LSU, Bama and so forth.

6 SOUTH CAROLINA. Jake Bentley only played in 7 games last year, but he played well. completing 66% of his passes, a better than 2:1 TD:INT ratio, and perhaps most importantly he ignited one of the league's most dormant offenses into actual life. Bentley can play and gives USC some hope for 2017.

7 LSU. I am neither sold on Etling nor confident in any option to replace him at this point. If Etling stalls out as he did last year, LSU will be forced to turn to a 3-star program player or a pair of true freshman that each have issues working against them being immediate contributors. I would put LSU lower if we weren't about to dive into the true dregs of the league.

8 MISSOURI. Drew Lock does get credit for having starting experience, but I'm not going to celebrate 283 passing yards on 36 attempts. Lock is sort of like Fitzgerald in how he piled onto poor opponents, while he struggled against teams that actually cared to try on defense. His high point on the season is a 22/37, 59.5% 2TD 0 INT season vs. Vandy. So... yeah.

9 OLE MISS. Okay, I know you are thinking I'm violating Paul rule 1.0 here. Shea Patterson is more talented than Lock, Etling, and probably Bentley, Fitzgerald and Allen. My counter is this: Geaux to Hell Ole Miss.

Seriously though, Patterson wasn't particularly successful when he played. He danced on an A&M team that Danny Etling carved up to the tune of 20/28, 324 yards and 2 TDs. But his next two games are kinda my proving grounds. He put up some numbers... in a 3 TD and 5 TD loss. Ole Miss' supporting cast is going to be so bad, it's going to be really hard for Patterson to be productive. So while yes, a guy like Eason stunk up the joint, I like what Georgia has around him and the chance for that unit to move forward under Eason's improvement. Patterson on the other hand, I think could be prone to moments of sheer brilliance and moments of running around trying to find help to no avail.

10 TEXAS A&M. It might benefit A&M to not have so many eyes on the QB position as they've had in recent years. Most won't expect much from the Hubenak attack, and probably for good reason. He had 104 passing attempts and most came against the two Mississippi schools and UTSA. He was downright awful against LSU, when given the chance. Hard to find a reason for confidence here, but the Aggies do have some talented WRs, so that could help elevate his game.

11 TENNESSEE. I'd probably rank the Vols higher if they pulled the trigger on Guarantano, who I think will eventually overtake this job. Tennessee expected to field quality teams the last two years and failed to do so. Now they are rebuilding. Things don't look good for Butch Jones.

12 KENTUCKY. Stephen Johnson isn't the worst QB in the world and played a major role in their ability to upset Louisville last year. Still, it's hard to get excited about a guy who completes sub 55% of his passes as a Junior...

13 FLORIDA. Jim McElwain brought some lofty offensive credentials to Gainesville, all of which have been yet uncapitalized upon. The Gators were wretched on offense last season and it's hard to see them taking any steps forward installing a a QB who has thrown 6 total TDs in his starting career. Zaire lost his job at ND to a more talented player and doesn't face near that type of competition at Florida (at least not game ready, if they can tap into Feleipe Franks). They were flat bad last year and I'm not really seeing the pieces that make me think they take strides forward in 2017.

14 VANDY. After a disastrous year 1, Derek Mason actually has this program crawling in the right direction. They play hard for him, but the crew severely lacks talent on offense. Shurmur threw more picks than TDs, completed fewer than 55% of his passes and threw for the league's lowest YPA. There's not much to point to except a lot of room for improvement.

BILLY

It's funny how "hey the SEC might have a few pretty good QBs in 2017" trickle of hype in the spring really started to overflow in the last few months.

1. ALABAMA. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think we're all sleeping on Jalen Hurts a little bit based on his play in the playoffs. The guy did account for 36 touchdowns as a freshman. I mean yeah, he's limited as a passer, but even if he just matches last year's numbers, that's still better than the rest of the conference. At a minimum, I have to see somebody take this spot from him before I'll pick it.

2. AUBURN. Can I both believe that Jarrett Stidham is going to perform, and yet still think he's a bit overhyped? Is that allowed? Yes, he's talented, and we know that this is a staff that can take advantage of a good dual-threat passer. But, can he carry a supporting cast that, aside from Kam Pettway, is relatively average? That, I'm not so sure of. To be honest, I was about to put the Other Tigers No. 3 behind Mississippi State, but then I also remembered that as far as backups go, Sean White is a pretty good option should Stidham go down. That depth gives them the edge here.

3. MISSISSIPPI STATE. Fitzgerald was productive. Yes, he struggled against the best defenses he saw, but so did most of the guys on this list. But they can't match his numbers. Would expect him to continue to improve and produce, in an offense that is not only QB friendly, but fairly QB dependent as well.

4. ARKANSAS. Pretty much a lock here for the last spot in the conference's top tier. I expected Austin Allen to step in well last year, and he did. My one concern is his interception rate, and what that could forebode with a new supporting cast. Yes, there's some JUCO talent stepping in at receiver and tight end that should help quickly, but Rawleigh Williams took a lot of pressure off. Can Allen handle a larger burden?

5. SOUTH CAROLINA. Of the 2016 freshmen that showed promise in the league, Jake Bentley was a relatively clear cut above the rest.

6. LSU. Danny Etling is fine. Not great -- not enough to put the Tigers into the top tier at this position, but fine. He'll be good enough to beat almost every team on LSU's schedule. Not good enough to light up the best defenses, but I wouldn't expect him to throw up on himself too often, either. As bad as his game against Alabama was last year, it stands as a stark outlier to the rest of his time as LSU's starter. And of course, it's easy to draw a comparison to Nathan Peterman, who excelled in Matt Canada's offense last year at Pitt.

7. GEORGIA. Jacob Eason ran really hot and cold last year, and the accuracy issues (just a 55 percent passer) and really low YPA (6.6 -- that's even lower than anything LSU has produced recently) are red flags for me. He was a freshman with a new OC and a new head coach, who had to play a lot of catch-up ball last year, so improvement is reasonable to expect, but I have to see it first.

8. MISSOURI. Solidly productive in a passer-friendly offense with most of his supporting cast returning.

9. OLE MISS. I think one strong quarter against a really bad Texas A&M defense kind of blinded folks to the fact that Shea Patterson really struggled. Granted, he was pressed into service on a bad team playing out the string, but that creates a low bar for progress here. He does, however, still have a good group of targets to work with.

10. FLORIDA. Malik Zaire is a bit of a wild card, but he wasn't exactly all that impressive at Notre Dame. I think Florida's decision to bring Zaire in shows that they're not ready to turn things over to Felipe Franks yet, which isn't the worst idea in the world. I just don't know if it makes them appreciably better right now. Jim McElwain has squeezed a lot of efficiency out of some limitations here, but there needs to be a little more explosiveness.

11. KENTUCKY. Stephen Johnson flashed a little bit of talent as a runner and a thrower, and Kentucky has just enough around him that I can see him surprising a few people.

12. TEXAS A&M. Did this situation deteriorate quickly or what? Aggies are left with either a senior that's nothing special or a couple freshmen.

13. TENNESSEE. Josh Dobbs didn't exactly develop all that much during his time in Knoxville. I guess we'll find out if any of his backups did.

14. VANDERBILT. Vanderbilt has been just a total wasteland on offense under Derek Mason, but Kyler Shurmur has to catch some of the blame for that.


So we have some definite tiers in the voting. The first group is “As good as Arkansas.” We all like the Hogs solid production and general knowledge of what they are. We have a dissenter on State (Paul) and Auburn (Crissy), but these are our solid top four.

Our biggest disagreement is on Georgia, whose ranking ranged from near elite to near disastrous. Plus two votes in the middle. So, really, we have no idea, but they ended up middle of the pack with LSU and South Carolina.

From there, we have pretty clear consensus as we descend down the rankings, except for some mild spread on Texas A&M. But the only team we achieve true consensus on is Vanderbilt. They are the worst.

1 Alabama

2 Mississippi St

3 Auburn

4 Arkansas

5 South Carolina

6 LSU

7 Georgia

8 Ole Miss

9 Mizzou

10 Texas A&M

11 Florida

12 Tennessee

13 Kentucky

14 Vanderbilt