The SEC is deep with proven options and talent at the quarterback position for the 2022 college football season. The rankings start with the defending Heisman Trophy winner, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, and there's a strong second tier of signal-callers with Tennessee's Hendon Hooker, Arkansas' KJ Jefferson and Mississippi State's Will Rogers. South Carolina's Spencer Rattler might be the league's most intriguing quarterback for '22. Auburn, Texas A&M, Missouri and Ole Miss and LSU have unsettled quarterback battles entering fall practice.
Ranking the quarterbacks by conference or nationally is no easy task. To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2022. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors — pure talent, supporting cast, having a clear hold on the No. 1 position, previous production, 2022 projection, and scheme changes (just to name a few) — were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the SEC for 2022.
Ranking the SEC Quarterbacks for 2022
14. Mike Wright, Vanderbilt
The Commodores were expected to have a quarterback battle between Wright and Ken Seals this fall, but coach Clark Lea ended the competition by naming Wright his starter at SEC Media Days. Seals started all of Vanderbilt’s nine games in 2020, while Wright attempted just 10 passes in a backup role. However, both signal-callers saw extensive snaps last fall, with Seals throwing for 1,181 yards and five touchdowns and Wright adding 1,042 yards and eight scores. Although Wright isn’t as polished of a passer as Seals, his mobility (376 yards in ’21) is a valuable asset for an offense that needs more playmakers and has concerns in the trenches. The Commodores scored 20 or more points just three times in SEC play last season, but all three came with Wright as the starter, and there’s optimism the offense can build off his ability with a full fall practice to work with the No. 1 group.
13. Brady Cook, Missouri
In an effort to boost an offense that averaged 22.6 points a game in SEC contests last year and add competition to a quarterback room that lost Connor Bazelak to Indiana, coach Eli Drinkwitz pursued some of the top transfer options this offseason. The Tigers weren’t able to land one of the top standouts but received a commitment from Jack Abraham from Mississippi State to join a competition featuring Cook, Tyler Macon and true freshman Sam Horn. Cook is likely the front-runner after starting in the Armed Forces Bowl against Army and throwing for 238 yards and a score after completing 27 of his 34 attempts. The postseason matchup was Cook’s first extensive opportunity to play for the Tigers, but he did see time against Georgia (14 of 19 for 78 yards) and SEMO. As a team, Missouri ranked near the bottom of the SEC in yards per attempt (6.7) and quarterback rating (131.1) last year. Better overall play and more ability to push the ball downfield are two priorities the Tigers need from their quarterbacks in ’22. Horn – the No. 139 overall recruit in the ’22 class – is the wild-card option to watch.
Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2022
12. Zach Calzada, Auburn
With Calzada, a Texas A&M transfer, sidelined due to injury, the spring didn’t provide much insight into Auburn’s wide-open quarterback battle. Of course, that will change in fall, as coach Bryan Harsin has to narrow and sift through his options before the opener against Mercer. Three transfers – Calzada, Robby Ashford (Oregon) and T.J. Finley (LSU) – are at the top of the list, with true freshman Holden Geriner also in the mix. Finley replaced Bo Nix as the starter for the final three games after his season-ending injury in November. During that stretch, Finley completed 53 of 95 passes for 552 yards and four touchdowns. However, Finley connected on just 54.7 percent of his throws and averaged 6.5 yards per attempt in that span. Calzada was also unexpectedly pressed into action after starter Haynes King was lost for the year for Texas A&M in Week 2 but fared better than Finley. Capped by a 285-yard and three-touchdown performance in an upset over Alabama, Calzada threw for 2,185 yards and 17 scores over the full year and connected on 56.1 percent of his passes. Ashford impressed in the spring game, but Calzada is likely the best option for Harsin.
11. Myles Brennan, LSU
Injuries have derailed Brennan’s season in each of the last two years, and after opting to enter the portal, he later returned to Baton Rouge for one more season and a chance to end his playing career on a high note. The Mississippi native was handed an impossible task in 2020: Fill the void left behind by Joe Burrow. Brennan guided LSU’s offense to at least 34 points in each of the first three games and posted solid numbers (1,112 yards and 11 TDs) but suffered a season-ending injury against Missouri. A year later, Brennan appeared poised to retake the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. However, an arm injury prior to training camp ended his ’21 season, and LSU turned to Max Johnson for the starting job. Johnson left Baton Rouge for Texas A&M this offseason, and new coach Brian Kelly added former Arizona State signal-caller Jayden Daniels from the portal to add competition for Brennan and redshirt freshman Garrett Nussmeier. This battle should extend deep into the fall, but the guess here is Brennan takes the first snap.
10. Jaxson Dart, Ole Miss
The arrival of Lincoln Riley as USC's new head coach, and eventually quarterback Caleb Williams, prompted Dart to enter the portal in search of a new home. The Utah native still has to beat out Luke Altmyer for the starting nod but landed in a good spot to work under Lane Kiffin and an explosive Ole Miss offense that averaged 33.7 points a game last year. Dart ranked as the No. 69 overall prospect and No. 10 quarterback recruit in the ’21 signing class and was not expected to see a major role with the Trojans last fall. However, an injury to starter Kedon Slovis pressed Dart into action against Washington State, as he threw for 391 yards and four scores in a 45-14 victory. Dart was also injured in Pullman, as a knee ailment sidelined him for the next four contests before his return against Arizona on Oct. 30. He played extensively over the last five games (including three starts) and finished the year with 1,353 yards and nine scores through the air. Dart added two touchdowns on the ground and completed over 60 percent (61.9) of his passes on 189 attempts. Dart has the upside and talent to rank much higher on this list by the end of 2022. However, he still has to hold off Altmyer and adapt to a new supporting cast and scheme.
9. Max Johnson, Texas A&M
Haynes King had big shoes to fill in replacing Kellen Mond, but his 2021 season ended after just two games due to injury. The former four-star prospect played in two games as a reserve in 2020 and appeared poised for a breakout year last fall. In the opener against Kent State, King connected on 21 of 33 passes for 292 yards and two scores and added 22 yards on the ground. The Texas native did throw three picks against the Golden Flashes but still averaged a healthy 8.8 yards per pass attempt. Although King has the most experience in coach Jimbo Fisher’s scheme (three years), he’s not guaranteed to start over LSU transfer Max Johnson or incoming freshman Conner Weigman. Johnson played in 18 games over two years in Baton Rouge and threw for 3,884 yards and 35 touchdowns to just six picks. He also connected on 59.8 percent of his passes in that span. This battle is a toss up going into fall practice. The guess here is Johnson starts the '22 season, but King could easily win the job once again.
8. Anthony Richardson, Florida
Upside and potential are the two words most often mentioned about Richardson going into the 2022 season. New coach Billy Napier is tasked with harnessing and developing the enormous talent Richardson has, and the ’21 campaign provided plenty of insight into the type of player he can become. As a redshirt freshman last fall, Richardson ran for 401 yards and three touchdowns on just 51 carries and connected on 38 of 64 passes for 529 yards and six touchdowns. Although the Gainesville native made only one start (Georgia) and never attempted more than 20 passes in a game, he made the most of those opportunities with an average of 8.1 yards per touch. Can Richardson turn the upside and potential into more consistent (especially through the air) production this fall? If he can, this spot will be too low on our list by December.
Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2022
7. Stetson Bennett, Georgia
Despite leading Georgia to a national title and ranking first among SEC quarterbacks in yards per attempt (10.0) last year, Bennett probably won’t get the preseason credit he deserves in a deep crop of signal-callers in the conference. An injury to JT Daniels opened the door for Bennett to have more playing time, and the Georgia native took the opportunity to wrestle away the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Bennett had a few uneven performances last year (161 yards and two picks against Florida and two interceptions against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game), but still finished with 2,862 yards and 29 touchdowns to just seven picks. He added 259 yards and a score on the ground, finished second in the conference in quarterback rating, and ranked third with 24 completions of 30-plus yards. Bennett also delivered a strong performance in the playoff win over Michigan and came up in clutch moments to lift the Bulldogs over Alabama for the national title. Georgia’s defense might not be as dominant as it was (but still very good) in ’21. If that's the case, Bennett and the offense will have to play a bigger role in key matchups to help carry the team back to the playoff.
6. Will Levis, Kentucky
The arrival of Levis and coordinator Liam Coen had a massive impact on Kentucky’s offense in 2021. After averaging 5.2 yards per play and 21.8 points a game in ’20, the Wildcats jumped to 6.4 a snap and 32.3 points a contest last fall. Levis dramatically bolstered the passing game in Lexington, as the team averaged 224.5 yards through the air per contest – up from 121.5. Levis started his career with 367 yards and four touchdowns against ULM, later tossed three scores against LSU and Tennessee, and threw four in a blowout win over New Mexico State. For the season, Levis connected on 66 percent of throws for 2,812 yards and 24 touchdowns and added 376 rushing yards and nine scores on the ground. The Penn State transfer does have room to play better in SEC games (10.3 yards per pass attempt in non-conference vs. 6.5 in SEC contests) and has to cut down on the mistakes (13) picks. New play-caller Rich Scangarello is tasked with elevating Levis to the next level, and the senior has all of the upside and skills to get there.
5. Spencer Rattler, South Carolina
All signs seemed to point to Rattler emerging as college football’s next star quarterback after a breakout redshirt freshman season at Oklahoma in 2020. The Arizona native threw for 3,031 yards and 28 touchdowns to just seven picks and connected on 67.5 percent of throws. However, Rattler got off to a slow start in ’21 and the combination of a couple of other factors – largely inconsistent offensive line play and a sluggish ground game early in the year – prompted coach Lincoln Riley to insert Caleb Williams into the lineup. Despite losing the starting job, Rattler still connected on 74.9 percent of his attempts (187) for 1,483 yards and 11 touchdowns last fall. Two numbers (plays of 40-plus yards and yards per pass attempt) provide some insight into the drop in production. After averaging 9.6 yards per attempt in ’20, that number fell to 7.9 last fall. Also, Rattler’s big plays (13 of 40-plus) were projected to decline after a slow start. A fresh start under former Oklahoma assistant Shane Beamer at South Carolina should help Rattler get back on track in ’22.
4. Will Rogers, Mississippi State
The combination of Mike Leach and Rogers working together for the third year in a row should equal more points and production for the high-powered Mississippi State offense in a very deep SEC West. Rogers directed the Bulldogs’ Air Raid attack to an average of 378.3 passing yards per contest last fall, with the Mississippi native throwing for 4,739 yards (third in SEC history) and 36 touchdowns over 13 games. He tossed only nine picks while attempting the most passes (683) of any signal-caller in the SEC. Also, Rogers led the conference in completion percentage (73.9) and finished second in completions of 20-plus yards (51). With 22 games of experience under his belt, Rogers should know all of the ins and outs of the Air Raid scheme and appears poised for his best season in Starkville.
3. KJ Jefferson, Arkansas
A strong performance against Missouri in 2020 (376 total yards and four overall scores) gave Arkansas a glimpse of what Jefferson was capable of and the potential for the offense once he took over the full-time role. The Mississippi native delivered on that potential (and then some) last year in his first year as the No. 1 quarterback. Jefferson started all 13 games and finished with 3,340 total yards (256.9 yards a game) en route to guiding the program to a 9-4 finish. His growth as a passer was on display with 2,676 yards through the air, along with a strong completion percentage (67.3) and yards per attempt (9.1). Jefferson also tossed only four picks over 294 attempts. Additionally, he paced the team in rushing attempts (146), yardage (664) and was second in scores (six). The departure of receiver Treylon Burks leaves a huge void, but Jefferson’s continued development will give the Razorbacks a chance to push Texas A&M for second in the SEC West.
2. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
Tennessee’s offense showed drastic improvement once Hooker took control of the reins of first-year coach Josh Heupel’s high-powered attack. Hooker – a transfer from Virginia Tech – surpassed Joe Milton on the depth chart, getting the final 11 starts and ended 2021 with 2,945 yards and 31 touchdowns. The North Carolina native tossed only three picks over 303 attempts and led all SEC signal-callers (conference-only games) in yards per attempt (9.8) and quarterback rating (179.6). Additionally, Hooker chipped in 613 yards and five scores on the ground. Tennessee lost two key weapons at receiver (JaVonta Payton and Velus Jones Jr.), but Cedric Tillman is back, and four starters return to protect Hooker along the line of scrimmage. Also, Hooker will benefit from a full offseason to work under Heupel and should be more comfortable at the controls in his second year as Tennessee’s No. 1 quarterback.
1. Bryce Young, Alabama
In his first year as the starter in Tuscaloosa, all Young did was lead Alabama to the SEC title, an appearance in the national championship game, set a new school record for passing yards and claim the Heisman Trophy. The California native didn’t need many snaps to emerge as the nation’s top quarterback, as he delivered a strong performance in the opener against Miami (344 yards and four scores), threw three touchdowns on the road at Florida, and threw for 369 yards and four scores on the road at Texas A&M. Young later torched Arkansas (559 yards and five touchdowns) and Georgia in the SEC title game (421 yards and three scores) to propel his season totals to 4,872 yards and 47 passing touchdowns. He averaged 8.9 yards per attempt (over 547 passes), connected on nearly 67 percent of his passes (66.9) and led all Power 5 quarterbacks with 18 completions of 40-plus yards. What’s next for an encore? Even though Alabama must replace John Metchie III and Jameson Williams at receiver, don’t expect much to change from Young’s production in Tuscaloosa. Winning the Heisman twice isn’t easy, but Young will have the numbers and team record to push for the trophy once again.