The SEC features three of college football's top quarterbacks and plenty of intriguing depth going into the 2021 season. Matt Corral of Ole Miss tops the SEC quarterback rankings, but Georgia's JT Daniels and Alabama's Bryce Young aren't far behind. Breakout seasons should be expected from Florida's Emory Jones, LSU's Max Johnson and Missouri's Connor Bazelak.
Ranking the quarterbacks by conference or nationally is no easy task. To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2021. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks based only on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors — pure talent, supporting cast, having a clear hold on the No. 1 position, previous production, 2021 projection, and scheme changes (just to name a few) — were considered to rank the quarterbacks in the SEC for 2021.
Ranking the SEC Quarterbacks for 2021
14. Luke Doty, South Carolina
South Carolina’s offense is expected to be a work in progress under new coach Shane Beamer and coordinator Marcus Satterfield. The one-two punch of Kevin Harris and MarShawn Lloyd at running back and a solid offensive line will have to carry the offense early on, especially with Doty needing time to develop and a lack of playmakers at receiver. The South Carolina native played in eight contests as a true freshman last fall, connecting on 43 of 71 throws for 405 yards and two touchdowns. However, he also averaged only 5.7 yards per attempt and had an average depth of target of 7.6 yards. Doty flashed his mobility by running for 91 yards in his limited playing time, which could be a key asset for Satterfield to deploy as the young (but promising quarterback) gets more comfortable in 2021.
13. Will Levis, Kentucky
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops hopes the hire of Liam Coen as the team’s new play-caller provides a spark for the passing game and helps the offense go to the next level in 2021 and beyond. But for Coen’s offense to take off, the Wildcats have to find consistent play at the quarterback position after the team’s passers averaged only 5.5 yards per attempt and tossed just seven touchdowns over 11 games last year. Terry Wilson opted to transfer to New Mexico, leaving Beau Allen and Joey Gatewood to battle in the spring, with Levis arriving on campus this summer. After using a redshirt season in 2018 at Penn State, Levis played in 15 games over the next two years. During that span, he threw for 644 yards and three touchdowns and added 473 yards and six scores on the ground. Levis has showed flashes of promise at Penn State, but there’s a lot of transition to overcome with a new coordinator and system.
12. Ken Seals, Vanderbilt
Seals was one of the few bright spots for Vanderbilt last season and is expected to be a key part of new coach Clark Lea’s rebuilding effort over the next couple of years. The Texas native started all nine games for the Commodores as a true freshman in 2020 and connected on 64.6 percent of his throws for 1,928 yards and 12 touchdowns to 10 picks. Seals had to work behind a patchwork line and the limited offseason certainly impacted the entire development of the offense. Vanderbilt does have weapons returning at receiver, so another step forward by Seals in his development could place him closer to the middle of the pack in the SEC.
11. K.J. Jefferson, Arkansas
Upside and potential. That’s the best way to sum up Jefferson going into the 2021 season after receiving playing time in eight games and making two starts since stepping onto campus in ’19. Jefferson played in five contests last season under first-year play-caller Kendal Briles and showcased his ability with a solid performance (18 of 33 for 274 yards and three touchdowns and 32 rushing yards and a score) in a 50-48 loss to Missouri. Jefferson connected on 20 of 41 throws for 295 yards for the entire year, which dropped his accuracy to 47.2 percent over two seasons in Fayetteville. In order for Jefferson to take the next step and finish higher on this list, he has to improve his accuracy and continue his overall progression as a passer under Briles. The mobility, arm strength and potential are all there for a big season if he can do just that.
Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2021
10. Will Rogers, Mississippi State
The Air Raid attack struggled to get on track in coach Mike Leach’s debut season in Starkville, but the Bulldogs are likely to benefit from a normal offseason and a full complement of practices to install and learn the system. Rogers enters fall practice as the front-runner after throwing for 1,976 yards and 11 touchdowns as a true freshman last year. The Mississippi native averaged only 5.7 yards per attempt but connected on 69.1 percent of his throws and seemed to give the offense a spark late in the year. Even though Rogers has the inside track, true freshman Sawyer Robertson and Southern Miss transfer Jack Abraham will get a chance to unseat him this fall.
9. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
Wide open is probably the best way to describe Tennessee’s quarterback battle under new coach Josh Heupel. The Volunteers feature two transfers (Hooker and Joe Milton) and a pair of signal-callers who were on the roster last year (Harrison Bailey and Brian Maurer) vying for the starting nod. Hooker and Bailey are likely positioned as the favorites, but Milton’s development this fall is the x-factor in the quarterback derby. Hooker was a solid performer from 2019-20 at Virginia Tech, throwing for 2,894 yards and 22 touchdowns to just seven picks and running for just under 1,000 yards and 14 scores in that span. Heupel can tweak his scheme to fit whichever quarterback wins the job, and the new staff should feel relatively confident in this position considering the options in Knoxville this fall.
8. Haynes King, Texas A&M
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher knows how to develop quarterbacks, so while King is largely unproven going into 2021, it’s safe to pick the second-year player to have a breakout year. Of course, he has to hold off Zach Calzada this fall, but after working as the backup to Kellen Mond last season, King likely has an edge to start. The Texas native ranked as the No. 131 overall prospect in the 2020 signing class and got his first taste of snaps at the SEC level with two appearances. King flashed his running ability with 43 yards on the ground against Alabama and finished his freshman campaign with two completions on four attempts for 59 yards and one score. In addition to the quarterback spot, Texas A&M also needs to quickly revamp its offensive line and continue to develop the returning talent at receiver.
7. Bo Nix, Auburn
Can new coach Bryan Harsin help Nix reach his potential in 2021? After ranking as a five-star prospect coming out of high school, Nix has posted two inconsistent seasons for the Tigers. As a true freshman in ’19, he threw for 2,542 yards and 16 touchdowns and ran for 313 yards and seven scores on the ground. However, Nix’s yards per attempt was only 6.7 and his accuracy checked in at 57.6 percent. As a sophomore, the numbers were only a tad better for Nix. He raised his completion percentage to 59.9 and his yards per attempt inched up to 6.8. Over 11 contests, Nix posted 2,415 passing yards and 12 scores and ran for 388 yards and seven touchdowns. Downfield passing might be a key area to watch early on to see if Nix has improved under Harsin. Last year, in throws behind the line of scrimmage and 0-9 yards downfield, Nix connected on 169 of 211 attempts. However, on attempts from 10 yards or more downfield, he only hit on 45 of 129 throws. LSU transfer TJ Finley is waiting in the wings if Nix doesn’t take a step forward this fall.
6. Connor Bazelak, Missouri
Interesting might be the best way to sum up Bazelak’s 2020 season. After receiving playing time in three games (and one start) as a true freshman in ’19, Bazelak emerged as Missouri’s No. 1 quarterback two games into the ’20 campaign. In his first start last fall, Bazelak torched LSU for 406 yards and four touchdowns in a thrilling 45-41 win for the Tigers. However, Bazelak proceeded to throw only one touchdown pass over his next six games and topped 225 passing yards just two times the rest of the year. Despite the statistical oddity, Bazelak finished with 2,366 passing yards and seven touchdowns through the air, providing optimism for Missouri going into ’21.
5. Max Johnson, LSU
With Myles Brennan out indefinitely due to an arm injury suffered in early August, Johnson is the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback in Baton Rouge. Johnson – the son of former NFL signal-caller Brad Johnson – played well as a true freshman last season, which included a huge road win at Florida and a monster performance (435 yards and three scores) against Ole Miss to close the ’20 campaign. Overall, Johnson threw for 1,069 yards and eight touchdowns and added 119 yards and two scores on the ground. Johnson may not have the strongest arm in the SEC, but the Georgia native has good touch and the right amount of accuracy to put the ball into windows where his receivers can make plays after the catch.
4. Emory Jones, Florida
Dan Mullen is one of the top offensive minds in college football, so don’t expect a major drop-off for Florida’s offense with Kyle Trask off to the NFL. After shining in limited snaps over the last three years, Jones is one of Athlon’s picks to have a breakout year in 2021. The Georgia native played in four games as a freshman in 2018 but upped that total to 11 contests in ’19. During that stint, Jones threw for 267 yards and three scores on 25 completions and ran for 256 yards and four touchdowns. As the backup to Trask last fall, Jones played in nine games and threw for 221 yards and two scores and ran for 217 yards and two touchdowns. He also averaged a healthy 9.1 yards in average depth of target in 2020. Jones is a better runner than Trask, so the offense will look a little different. However, with Mullen’s track record and Jones’ talent, Florida’s offense should keep performing at a high level in ’21.
3. JT Daniels, Georgia
It’s a close call for the top spot in the SEC between Daniels, Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ole Miss’ Matt Corral. The top-heavy depth of the conference at quarterback is on display when Daniels ranks No. 3 among SEC signal-callers but is a top-10 quarterback nationally for 2021. After suffering a torn ACL in USC’s 2019 season opener, Daniels wasn’t quite ready for the ’20 opener and didn’t play until Nov. 21 against Mississippi State. But when Daniels finally got on the field, it didn’t take long for the California native to make a difference. The Bulldogs averaged eight more points a game with Daniels at the helm than they did in the previous six contests. Additionally, the arm strength and willingness by Daniels to push the ball downfield had an instant impact on Georgia’s offense and ability to stretch the field. In four games, Daniels threw for 1,231 yards and 10 touchdowns to two picks and connected on 67.2 percent of his throws. Also, his yards per attempt (10.3) were the highest of any Georgia quarterback over the last 12 seasons. Look for Daniels and coordinator Todd Monken to build off last year’s strong finish in ’21.
2. Bryce Young, Alabama
Projection time. Yes, Young is still largely an unknown and doesn’t have the experience level of several players that rank behind him on this list. However, as a former five-star prospect in an offense that’s recently produced some of college football’s top quarterbacks (Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones), Young is primed for a huge year as Alabama’s starter. Working as the backup to Jones allowed Young to gain valuable snaps over nine contests last season, and he threw for 156 yards and one touchdown over 13 completions. Considering the track record of Alabama quarterbacks in recent years, along with Young’s talent, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he finishes ’21 as the No. 1 QB in the SEC.
1. Matt Corral, Ole Miss
Corral ranks as the top SEC quarterback, but it’s not an easy call to put the Ole Miss signal-caller at No. 1 with Georgia’s JT Daniels and Alabama’s Bryce Young in the mix for 2021. The arrival of Lane Kiffin helped Ole Miss emerge as one of the top offenses in college football, and Corral proved to be the perfect conductor for this attack. He started all 10 games for the Rebels last season, throwing for 3,337 yards and 29 touchdowns and adding 506 yards and four scores on the ground. Corral averaged a healthy 10.2 yards per attempt, connected on 70.9 percent of his throws, and led all FBS players in total offense (384.3 yards per game). He also paced the FBS in connections of 50-plus yards (11). The list of concerns for Corral is small, but he did toss 14 interceptions – all in losses last season. If he can eliminate the mistakes, challenging for All-America honors is a reasonable expectation for the junior.
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