It's not often that the SEC features any quarterbacks with first round potential, let alone two of them. If you believe most national media outlets, conference standouts Drew Lock and Jarrett Stidham have a chance to be the first two quarterbacks off the board next April.
The former has serious work to do to get there, and the latter could be an even longer shot, but either way SEC quarterback evaluation should be a lot more fun this year than it typically is. For your viewing pleasure, my top 5 draft-eligible quarterbacks in the SEC.
1. Drew Lock, Senior, Missouri
You've heard the comparisons to Josh Allen, well I'm here to tell you to throw 'em out. Toss 'em. Lock ain't Allen, and Allen ain't Lock. The better arm and athleticism belongs to Allen, who lives and dies in chaos. Lock is a pocket passer, who has had some accuracy concerns like Allen, but has improved steadily every season at Mizzou.
Both quarterbacks have strong arms, but Allen's is a bazooka, Lock's might not even be as strong as Justin Herbert's. Either way, Lock checks that box emphatically, while also offering a tantalizing, yet semi-inconsistent deep ball. Unlike Allen, Lock's supporting cast had a disastrous effect on his completion percentage last year, dropping a multitude of passes every week.
There are some similarities to Matt Stafford, but I'm not yet ready to project that ceiling for Lock. Plus, Stafford took a big leap his final year at Georgia. We'll see if Lock can do the same.
2. Jarrett Stidham, RS Junior, Auburn
In Auburn's simplistic, play-action heavy passing attack, Stidham's job is simple: keep the offense on schedule and don't lose the game. He's typically pretty good at fulfilling both responsibilities. Stidham can throw on the move a little, hits the occasional deep shot and has enough physical tools to not be worried about him in the NFL.
Nevertheless, I keep coming back to two things with Stidham's evaluation. The first is this: if Auburn was going to win a football game, the least important aspect of their team is Stidham. The offense is built around the run game, creative schemes and a powerful offensive line, Stidham isn't asked to execute many high degree of difficulty assignments, and the Tigers' defense features a score of future NFL players.
If Missouri had to win a game, they'd lean on Drew Lock or they'd lose. If Auburn had to win a game, they'd lean on the running game, defense, receivers creating after the catch - and then maybe on Stidham.
The second aspect of Stidham's evaluation that scares me: when Auburn needed him to be big, he wasn't. At all. The Alabama game was his best showing, but even in that game he was more efficient than elite.
The SEC Championship game against Georgia featured an erratic effort by Stidham in the second half. Auburn tried to open things up to get back in the game and the quarterback crumbled. Against LSU, Stidham threw three straight interceptable passes on Auburn's final drive while attempting to lead the team for a game-winning score.
To prove he's a first round guy, Stidham will need Auburn to take the handcuffs off, and then he'll need to deliver on the "potential" narrative that has been following him around for years.
3. Kyle Shurmur, Senior, Vanderbilt
In my first glance at Shurmur, I was not that impressed. Then I chatted with my good friend and QB guru Mark Schofield, who told me thinks Shurmur has a legit chance to get drafted. I popped a couple more games on.
Then I got interested.
Shurmur's numbers don't look great, but his supporting cast was a complete tire fire. Vanderbilt's offensive line was totally overwhelmed in certain games, forcing Shurmur to play under duress consistently, which is not in any way conducive to his game.
I know, it isn't conducive to most quarterbacks, but ask a pure pocket passer to play with a dude in his lap every play, and you're going to see the worst of him. Shurmur isn't a big time creator, but he does have a great arm, and his ball placement in the short-intermediate areas of the field is typically on point. You even see flashes of anticipatory throws, typically resulting in a drop from his receivers, and glimpses of the senior working through progressions.
Shurmur has to get better under pressure, both as a mechanic and as a decision-maker, or he'll be doomed. He's not built to succeed in chaos, but if he can become a more consistent passer down the field, cut out the spiraling play when the pocket is invaded and refine his decision-making, we could be talking about a legit sleeper here.
4. Jake Bentley, Junior, South Carolina
Unless Bentley takes a major leap this season, he needs to go back to school. Right now, the accuracy, decision-making, mechanics and reckless play are just way too concerning to project anything more than an undraftable prospect.
Bentley has a strong arm, decent athleticism and a gunslinger mentality, but the polish and refinement to his game is just drastically missing right now. He graduated high school a year early to enroll at South Carolina, so technically he could have entered the draft last year. I'm not sure Bentley will have the patience to hold out again, so hopefully he gets some good advice following the season.
5. Nick Fitzgerald, RS Senior, Mississippi State
Fitzgerald is a poor man's Tim Tebow. Do I need to write anything else?
He's tough, decently athletic and will be heralded for his versatility in a college offense fitted to his strengths, but Fitzgerald just doesn't have the arm strength, accuracy, mechanics or decision-making skills to be considered a legitimate NFL quarterback at this time. I'll enjoy watching him lead Mississippi State to a top ten overall ranking at some point this season though.
Also add to watch list: Jordan Ta'amu, Ole Miss