Hey, we’re back for another year of ranking each of the SEC units in a misguided attempt to evaluate the talent across the conference. You know the drill. I poll my fellow ATVS writers, and then we compile the results. Then I make fun of their votes.
I start by looking at the returning starter’s stats, leaning heavily on their ATVSQBPI and yards/attempt. As a general rule, I don’t care much about depth because quarterback is the one position teams will try to ride their starter as long as they can. Obviously, there’s some exceptions.
1. Missouri. Has anyone noticed that Drew Lock is sort of awesome? Lock led the SEC in yards, QB rating, ATVSQBPI, touchdowns, and yards/attempt. OK, he could have a higher completion percentage, but Lock was the SEC’s best quarterback last season, and he’s back for more.
2. Alabama. Jalen Hurts, we hardly knew ye. Hurts had a very good last year, particularly when you consider his running ability, and he’s not even gonna start this year. Tua Tagavailoa is the man, but Bama has the luxury of an excellent running threat off the bench. The rich get richer.
3. Georgia. Jake Fromm State Farm was pretty much everything the Bulldogs wanted him to be, yet he still just ranks third. That speaks more to the strength of the position in the conference, not on Fromm. He’s only going to get better.
4. Auburn. Jarrett Stidham was another guy who lived up to every bit of the hype. His numbers were slightly more pedestrian than the other top quarterbacks, but he still played at a near elite level. There is a small concern with the offseason surgery, but nothing to get hung up on. He’ll be fine.
5. Vanderbilt. Yes, Vandy. Kyle Shurmer quietly had a nice year, and he’ll be back to bring the position some stability. Vandy is on a tier below those elite top four, but there’s something to be said for solid, dependable production.
6. Mississippi State. Nick Fitzgerald is a hell of a runner. But as a passer… he’s a hell of a runner. Fitzgerald’s passing numbers ranked near the bottom of the SEC in nearly every category and while he is a real threat with his legs, he needs to add something with his arm. He seems to be regressing as a passer.
7. Tennessee. Jarrett Guarantano came off the bench last year as a freshman and put up good not great numbers. That’s usually a good sign for a freshman, to simply not be underwater when forced into action. The good news for the Vols is that he likely won’t start, as Paul Chryst comes from Stanford to stabilize the position. Tennessee honestly has two good options here.
8. South Carolina. Jake Bentley was solidly middle of the pack in nearly every passing stat, which bodes well for a sophomore. Now entering his junior year, the Gamecocks need him to make the next step up in his game.
9. Ole Miss. Jordan Ta’amu has a decent reputation as a prospect and he was good against horrible teams, but he looked lost against State and A&M to close the year. I love Phil Longo and he could unleash the dual threat on the SEC, but this another one of those teams that is hoping talent will out.
10. LSU. A giant unknown going into this year, LSU has at least recruited well. Etling was a near perfect game manager, but the offense will expect something more from either Myles Brennan or Joe Burrow. Lowell Narcisse gives the team a running option as well. Could rank higher if you have faith in the raw talent.
11. Texas A&M. Kellen Mond was the worst starting QB in the SEC last year which is probably why he lost his job. Nick Starkel was a mixed bag, posting some decent games against lesser opponents while being horribly outmatched against the likes of LSU and Auburn. Both are freshmen so have a lot of room to improve, but someone has to step up.
12. Arkansas. Cole Kelley was decent in limited action as a freshman. Another guy who kept his head above water which is a good sign going forward, but still needs to take a major step up.
13. Kentucky. Stephen Johnson was a solid SEC quarterback and will be missed. Terry Wilson takes over the reins with, let’s be honest, low expectations.
14. Florida. For all the press LSU gets for its QB play, Florida has been a horrorshow since Tebow left. Feleipe Franks had an unspeakably awful ATVSQBPI of 4.453, two points below league average. Emory Jones was an early signee and the Gators need him to be a savior right away, which is never a good sign. A lot of SEC teams worked through their freshmen growing pains last year, now it is Florida’s turn, starting from ground zero yet again.
See, and if I’m ranking positions, I think the total depth chart matters. Not as much as the starters, but they matter in the overall scheme of things.
1. Missouri. Again, the starter matters more, and Drew Locke just had one of the most prolific seasons in conference history, and he returns three of his top four receivers. Yeah, new OC -- and a pretty questionable one at that -- but I’d be surprised if he didn’t have another top-shelf season.
2. Alabama. Here’s where the big picture comes in play. Alabama probably could win 10 games without completing a single pass, and they still get to have (I sure hope) a QB controversy this August. Jalen Hurts has somehow become so maligned he’s arguably underrated. Yeah, he’s a limited passer, but one hell of a dynamic runner. And limited as he might be, he still threw just one pick last year. And then there’s national title game hero Tua, who probably wins the starting job, and has much more upside as a passer.
3. Georgia. Jake Fromm improved consistently across his freshman season, and seemed to even be ready for Bama in the title game. And then there’s Justin Fields, one of the more impressive quarterback recruits of recent memory. It wouldn’t surprise me if things get a little awkward as Kirby Smart tries to keep both happy. Still, that’s what you call a good problem.
4. Mississippi State. Nick Fitzgerald is right there with anybody in terms of proven production. He’s probably the best true dual-threat QB in the conference. I do wonder how he’ll fit Joe Moorhead’s offense -- he’s not a Trace McSorley-esque bomber, but there’s a lot to work with.
5. Ole Miss. Fun Fact: Jordan Ta’amu managed to outshine Shea Patterson last year, and I’m pretty sure he’d wind up as the starter regardless. Athletic runner, nice arm, and he has the league’s best target in AJ Brown.
6. Auburn. I’m not as sold on Jarrett Stidham has others are. He’s good, no doubt -- but the running game, particularly Kerryon Johnson, made that offense go last year, and when he was out in the last two games, that became very obvious. Call me skeptical he takes some big step up this year without that constraint.
7. South Carolina. Jake Bentley isn’t really unknown, but I think he could break out this season. There’s a lot returning around him, and he was able to make some plays last year.
8. LSU. Here’s where things drop off, conference wide. LSU has a lot of unknowns, but they also have a lot of raw talent -- and with Joe Burrow, they now have a more experienced hand to help the rest of the talent in that quarterback room mature.
9. Texas A&M. Nick Starkell throws a solid deep ball, and I would expect him to fit what Jimbo Fisher wants to do moderately well. Kellen Mond is a solid offense that could maybe grow into a job in other schemes, but I don’t see him doing mucu here.
10. Tennessee. Keller Chryst gives some veteran help here along with Jarrett Guarantano.
11. Vanderbilt. Kyle Shurmer isn’t incredibly efficient, but he was proficient last year.
12. Florida. Maybe Kyle Trask can grow into Dan Mullen’s offense, but Feleipe Franks seems to have a long way to go.
13. Arkansas. Cole Kelly doesn’t seem like much of a fit for Chad Morris’ offense, but he’s the only experienced hand here.
14. Kentucky. The Wildcats return nobody with any meaningful playing time, and the guys they lost weren’t exactly that good in the first place.
1. Missouri. Drew Lock is far and away the best quarterback in this conference by both the numbers and sheer talent. Really, he’s probably one of the best in college football as a whole. He’s got a top class receiving corps to back up that talent, too.
2. Alabama. Nick Saban’s team seems to be a good one every year, and this one is no exception. Between Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts, Alabama is faced with the best kind of quarterback problem you could have. Tagovailoa should take the starting job without much issue, but Hurts’ mobility makes him hard to totally write off.
3. Georgia. Jake Fromm hasn’t disappointed under center for the Bulldogs, and continues to improve at a steady rate. They also recruited well by acquiring Justin Fields, who could very well end up giving Fromm a run for his money.
4. Auburn. Jarrett Stidham is for real, and he proved that to us last season. He passed for over 3,000 yards last year, and had the highest completion percentage in the SEC at 66.5 percent. Expect him to continue to play at a high level in 2018 as well.
5. Ole Miss. When Shea Patterson went down, Jordan Ta’amu did more than just fill his shoes. There’s not a lot of depth behind him though, so that’s something the Rebels will need to fix.
6. Mississippi St. Nick Fitzgerald is a sound dual-threat quarterback. Sure, he could be better as a passer, but I don’t see anything to be overly concerned about here.
7. LSU. Joe Burrow provides an exciting option and I do think he has a very good year, but he’s still largely unproven. Who’s even more unproven, you ask? Everyone else in that quarterback room.
8. Tennessee. Jarrett Guarantano did pretty well last season - for a freshman being thrown to to the wolves. Keller Chryst is a bit more seasoned and will be the guy for the Vols this season.
9. South Carolina. How well the Gamecocks do at quarterback depends on which Jake Bentley we see.
10. Texas A&M. Nick Starkell has a good arm, but that will only get you so far. He’s still got a lot to prove, and needs to show some type of real consistency. As for Kellen Mond, he’ll need to do some major stepping up, considering he was the worst at the position in the conference last year.
11. Florida. If you want to talk about LSU’s quarterback situation always being a mess, you can throw the Gators in with them. Feleipe Franks has set the bar pretty low for whoever’s next to snatch the job from him.
12. Kentucky. Drew Barker, Danny Clark, Gunnar Hoak and Walker Wood remain. With Barker being the only one to see sufficient game time - if we can even call it that - the Wildcats have hit a snag here.
13. Vanderbilt. Kyle Shurmur is just good enough. Vanderbilt ranks low for another year in a row.
14. Arkansas. Cole Kelly was quietly unimpressive on his freshman campaign.
We completely agree on the top three of Mizzou-Bama-Georgia and in that order, so let’s skip past that and get to the fun stuff.
I’m the big outlier on Ole Miss, mainly because Ta’amu looked so goddamn lost in the season’s final two weeks. But maybe I’m being unfair to him, as he did light up Kentucky and Arkansas to an almost absurd degree. He’s got a few 300 yard game under his belt, so maybe he gets a pass for his sub 50% completion rate games. Counterpoint, he goes to Ole Miss.
The other big disagreement is on Vanderbilt and Kyle Shurmur. My colleagues believe the guy who ranks second in the league in yards/game and sixth in both yards/attempt and passer rating is one of the league’s worst QB situations. He also had a TD/INT ratio of 26/10, second in the league in TD passes. I look his solid numbers, though I willingly concede he is not going to compete with the league’s top passers. He doesn’t have the high upside, but he is closer to the sure thing of a fully developed product. Everyone else wants the promise of something better. I instead choose the bird in the hand.
5. Mississippi St.
6. Ole Miss
7. South Carolina
8. (tie) LSU
11. Texas A&M