Five SEC quarterbacks were selected in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Alabama’s Bryce Young was the No. 1 pick. Florida’s Anthony Richardson went in the first round. Kentucky’s Will Levis, Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker and Georgia’s Stetson Bennett followed. It was a banner year for the conference, but it also left a sizable void heading into this season.
Who will fill that? The conference returns six quarterbacks who ranked in the top 10 in the SEC in passing yards last season. LSU’s Jayden Daniels and Tennessee’s Joe Milton are among the top Heisman Trophy sleepers. Where is uncertainty? Alabama and Georgia will have new quarterbacks on national championship-caliber rosters. Graham Mertz, Payton Thorne, Tyler Buchner and Devin Leary are among the transfer portal QBs expected to make an impact this season.
It’s shaping up to be a wild year as a result. Sporting News breaks down the quarterback situations at all 14 SEC schools heading into the summer:
SEC quarterback rankings for 2023
Starter: Jayden Daniels, senior (43 career starts – 14 at LSU, 29 at Arizona State)
Backup: Garrett Nussmeier, redshirt sophomore
Situation heading into the fall: Daniels is the leading Heisman Trophy candidate in the SEC heading into 2023. That’s a nod to the development under Brian Kelly at LSU last season. Daniels passed for 2,913 yards, 17 TDs and three interceptions, and he added 885 rushing yards and 11 TDs. Daniels had eight games with a completion mark of better than 70%, and he had 277 total yards and three TDs in the 32-31 victory against Alabama. He’ll have to prove it all over again, but the Tigers are in great shape. Garrett Nussmeier also is back for another season, and four-star freshman Rickie Collins adds depth.
Starter: KJ Jefferson, redshirt senior (27 career starts at Arkansas)
Backup: Cade Fortin, redshirt senior; Jacolby Criswell, redshirt junior
Situation heading into the fall: Jefferson’s return was huge for the Razorbacks. He missed one start with a shoulder injury, but he is a three-year starter with Heisman Trophy sleeper potential. Jefferson blends efficient passing – he has 48 TDs and 10 interceptions – with the ability to break off huge runs – he averages 657 rushing yards the last two seasons. Arkansas has a new offensive coordinator in Dan Enos, so that’s one factor to watch. Cade Fortin also is experienced, and North Carolina transfer Jacolby Criswell is a solid addition. This is the best quarterback room yet under coach Sam Pittman.
Starter: Joe Milton, senior (7 career starts – 3 at Michigan, 4 at Tennessee)
Backup: Nico Iamaleava, freshman
Situation heading into the fall: Milton has a tough act to follow in Hendon Hooker, who brought Josh Heupel’s offense to life with 3,135 passing yards, 27 TDs and two interceptions. Milton stepped in when Hooker suffered a torn ACL, and the 251-yard, three-TD performance in the 31-14 Orange Bowl victory against Clemson was an eye-opener. Can the Vols do it again? Milton has arguably the strongest arm in college football, but his accuracy – which jumped to 64.6% last season – is the statistic worth watching. Iamaleava is a heralded five-star freshman who should have more time to develop. If Milton follows Hooker’s footsteps to the NFL, watch out. The Tennessee quarterback factory might be open for business. Four-star recruit Jake Merklinger is on the way for the class of 2024.
4. Mississippi State
Starter: Will Rogers, senior (32 career starts at Mississippi State)
Backup: Mike Wright, senior
Situation heading into the fall: Rogers – who has 1,689 passing yards – is back for another season. He’ll have a chance to break the SEC record for all-time passing yards held by Georgia’s Aaron Murray (13,166 yards). First-year coach Zach Arnett is moving away from the “Air Raid” offense, and that will be an adjustment for Rogers, who piled on 71 TDs and 17 interceptions the last two seasons. According to Pro Football Focus, Rogers threw 279 passes of less than 10 yards and just 40 yards or 20 yards or more. He also had 15 TDs and three interceptions in the 10-19 range. We will see how that distribution changes in the new-look offense. Still, having a reliable veteran will ease that transition.
Starter: Carson Beck, redshirt junior (0 career starts)
Backup: Brock Vandagriff, redshirt sophomore; Gunner Stockton, redshirt freshman
Situation heading into the fall: Beck appears to have the lead in the battle to replace two-time national champion Stetson Bennett. Beck had the most experience last season, and he finished 13 of 18 for 211 yards and a TD in the G-Day spring game. He’s comfortable in the offense with new coordinator MIke Bobo. Beck has a limited sample size, but he will thrive in this offense given the surrounding talent. The Bulldogs also managed to keep Vandagriff and Stockton out of the transfer portal. Georgia still has more than enough talent at the most-important position, and the Bulldogs are in the mix for Dylan Raiola, the top quarterback in the class of 2024.
6. South Carolina
Starter: Spencer Rattler, senior (30 career starts – 17 at Oklahoma, 13 at South Carolina)
Backup: Luke Doty, redshirt junior
Situation heading into the fall: Rattler is among the most-experienced quarterbacks in the SEC. He’s 23-7 as a starter between Oklahoma and South Carolina. Rattler struggled with turnovers through the first half of last season, but he heated up in a three-game stretch to end the season against Tennessee, Clemson and Notre Dame. Rattler averaged 348 passing yards with 10 TDs and three interceptions in those games. Third-year coach Shane Beamer has created momentum with the Gamecocks, and Rattler has one more chance to prove he’s a first-round talent at the next level. Doty is a reliable backup, and four-star quarterback Dante Reno from Cheshire Academy (Fiskdale, Mass.) is committed for the class of 2024.
Starter: Devin Leary, senior (27 career starts at NC State)
Backup: Destin Wade, redshirt freshman
Situation heading into the fall: Leary is coming off a disappointing season at NC State where he suffered a pectoral injury that cut his season short. The upside is high – like when he passed for 35 TDs and five interceptions in 2021. Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen – who was instrumental in developing Will Levis into a first-round talent – has returned to the program. That should be a nice touch for Leary, who is experienced and doesn’t commit a lot of turnovers. Leary was very good in play–action last season. According to PFF, he had a 60% completion percentage with seven TDs and one interception. It’s a prove-it year for Leary, and he should run with it.
8. Texas A&M
Starter: Conner Weigman, sophomore (4 career starts at Texas A&M)
Backup: Max Johnson, senior
Situation heading into the fall: Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher turned to Weigman, a highly-touted five-star recruit, over LSU transfer Max Johnson late last season. Weigman split four starts, and he averaged 201.2 yards per game with eight TDs and no interceptions in those starts. He also led the Aggies to a 38-23 victory against LSU in the regular-season finale. Weigman is the most-talented passer Texas A&M has had since Fisher arrived, and Bobby Petrino arrives as the new offensive coordinator. Johnson stayed as a solid backup. Weigman should be in line for a breakout season as a result.
9. Ole Miss
Starter: Jaxson Dart, junior (14 career stats – 11 at Ole Miss, 3 at USC)
Backup: Spencer Sanders, senior; Walker Howard, redshirt freshman
Situation heading into the fall: Lane Kiffin has the most peculiar quarterback room in the country – and it’s not a bad thing. Dart – a USC transfer – made 11 starts last season and appears to have a good shot at retaining the starting job. Dart passed for 302 yards and a TD in the spring. Sanders, however, could make a strong push for the starting job in fall camp. He was 31-11 as a starter at Oklahoma State, put up 265 yards and three TDs in the spring game and provides a threat in the running game. Walker Howard – an LSU transfer and five-star recruit – also is in the mix. Even if Dart wins the starting job, Sanders will see action.
Starter: Jalen Milroe, sophomore (1 career start at Alabama)
Backup: Tyler Buchner, sophomore; Ty Simpson, freshman
Situation heading into the fall: Bryce Young was the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and now Nick Saban has a somewhat uncomfortable quarterback battle heading into fall camp. Neither Milroe nor Simpson created separation after uneven spring game performances. Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner transferred after spring practice, and he will be reunited with offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. Which one of these quarterbacks can make plays downfield while limiting interceptions? Milroe’s play-making ability, especially in the running game, gives him the early advantage, but Buchner was brought in for a reason. Milroe (56.7%) and Buchner (56.8%) have almost-identical career completion percentages. It’s going to be an interesting fall camp in Tuscaloosa, and the winner will be successful given the surrounding skill-position talent, for at least a year. Four-star recruit Julian Sayin is committed for 2024.
Starter: Payton Thorne, junior (25 career starts at Michigan State)
Backup: Robby Ashford, sophomore
Situation heading into the fall: Hugh Freeze’s first year at Auburn will be entertaining. T.J. Finley entered the transfer portal after spring practice, and the Tigers added Thorne, a two-year starter at Michigan State. Thorne will have to catch up in time for a quarterback battle for Ashford, but it’s one the veteran quarterback should be able to take. Thorne has a 61% career completion percentage and 49 TDs against 24 interceptions for his career. Freeze is good with quarterbacks, and Thorne is a good first-year transition fix. Holden Geriner is a third option which gives the room depth.
Starter: Graham Mertz, senior (32 career starts at Wisconsin)
Backup: Jack Miller, sophomore
Situation heading into the fall: Anthony Richardson left after one season and was the No. 4 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Mertz, a Wisconsin transfer, will try to rejuvenate his career with the Gators. Mertz started through four seasons with the Badgers, and he had 29 TDs and 21 interceptions the last two seasons. Mertz’s career completion percentage stands at 59.2% percent, but that is the fit second-year coach Billy Napier will settle on. Is there something we’re missing? According to Pro Football Focus, Mertz had a 41.5% completion percentage and 18 big-time throws of 20 yards or more. Perhaps he’s a sleeper, but we’ll need to see it first. Miller, an Ohio State transfer, is in his second year with the program. Four-star quarterback DJ Lagway is committed for the class of 2024.
Starter: Brady Cook, junior (14 career starts at Missouri)
Backup: Sam Horn, freshman; Jake Garcia, sophomore
Situation heading into the fall: Cook is the presumed starter, but he underwent shoulder surgery in February and missed spring practice. If healthy, Cook should be the clear leader to be the starter in 2023. Cook showed tremendous improvement in the second half of the season. The Tigers were 4-3 in their last seven games – including the 27-17 loss to Wake Forest in the Gasparilla Bowl. Cook had nine TDs and one interception in that stretch. It’s all about his health heading into fall camp. Horn, a pitcher on the baseball team, dealt with an arm injury in spring practice. Miami transfer Jake Garcia could be a factor if Cook is unable to go.
Starter: A.J. Swann, sophomore (7 career starts at Vanderbilt)
Backup: Ken Seals, junior
Situation heading into the fall: Swann, a four-star recruit, took over the starting job for Mike Wright last season and had some encouraging moments. He had 255 yards and four TDs in his first start against Northern Illinois, and he threw just two interceptions on 198 attempts. He threw for 1,274 yards, which is the fourth most by a Vanderbilt freshman. Swann doesn’t offer much in the running game, but he gives the Commodores stability at the position. Wright transferred to Mississippi State, which leaves Seals as a reliable backup.
Published at Tue, 09 May 2023 12:33:37 +0000