SEC will roll out impressive group of young quarterbacks


South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley vividly remembers the hit that welcomed him to the Southeastern Conference.

He was throwing a screen pass last season when Tennessee's 6-foot-3, 260-pound Derek Barnett burst through the line and slammed him to the ground. 

"That didn't feel too good," Bentley said with a grin Thursday at Southeastern Conference media days. 

But Bentley proved to be a quick learner as a freshman, winning four of his seven starts. Now he's part of a group of young SEC quarterbacks that could represent the league's next generation of stars. 

Though the SEC always has multiple first-round NFL draft picks, there's been a drought at the quarterback position. The last SEC quarterback taken in the first round was Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel in 2014 — and his brief stint in the NFL was disappointing. 

The one recent success from the SEC is Dak Prescott, but he was a major surprise for the Dallas Cowboys after being drafted in the fourth round out of Mississippi State. 

It remains to be seen if anyone from the current group — which includes Bentley, Alabama's Jalen Hurts, Georgia's Jacob Eason and Mississippi's Shea Patterson and Mississippi State's Nick Fitzgerald — can turn into the next Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford or Eli Manning. 

But the early returns are encouraging, especially as it relates to the upcoming season. 

"They have all the talent to be able to do it," SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy said. "And I like the supporting cast that a lot of them have coming back. It's just a matter of if improvements are made during the offseason and the rapport is developed with the receivers." 

"If it is, the offenses in this league could take a significant step forward." 

Hurts helped lead Alabama to the national championship game before losing to Clemson. The 6-foot-2, 214-pounder threw for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns while also running for 954 yards and 13 touchdowns. 

The ability to throw and run is a common theme for the league's young quarterbacks. 

Fitzgerald was one of the biggest surprises in the SEC last season, winning the starting job during fall camp before throwing for 2,423 yards and running for 1,375 yards. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder is extremely quick for his size and once he got going in the open field, he proved very difficult to bring down. 

Eason led the Bulldogs to an 8-5 record in both his and coach Kirby Smart's first season. Eason had some ups and downs, but finished with 2,430 yards passing, 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions. 

Patterson, the Ole Miss freshman, was forced into action late in the season after senior Chad Kelly suffered a season-ending knee injury. He started just three games, but managed to throw for 880 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. He also ran for 169 yards. 

His relatively slight 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame and ability to improvise on running plays has drawn some comparisons to Manziel. He said he's studied tape of Manziel to see how he moved in the pocket, but he's especially partial to watching film of Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. 

"You find yourself doing what they do — without even trying to do it," Patterson said on Thursday at SEC media days. "But I want to be myself. I don't want to be known as a comparison to anybody else." 

Bentley earned the starting job at South Carolina midway through the season and started the final seven games of the year. He threw for 1,420 yards and nine touchdowns while completing nearly 66 percent of his passes. 

Auburn transfer Jarrett Stidham could have a big impact as well. The sophomore threw for more than 1,200 yards as a freshman at Baylor in 2015. He'll be competing with junior Sean White for the starting job. 

"Our quarterback depth has been our Achilles' heel," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "It's been a frustrating deal for everyone. We've got that solved now."


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Sports

Oklahoma State won’t split into teams for spring game
Oklahoma State won’t split into teams for spring game

Oklahoma State’s spring game won’t be much of a game, coach Mike Gundy says. Gundy met with the media on Wednesday. The coach said Oklahoma State’s injury situation won’t allow the Cowboys to split their roster into teams, per The Oklahoman’s Nathan Ruiz. Oklahoma State quarterback Keondre Wudtee is out with...
Alabama’s biggest recruiting needs after Tide’s most recent commitments
Alabama’s biggest recruiting needs after Tide’s most recent commitments

Alabama finished seventh in the recruiting rankings in the 2018 class, but expect the Crimson Tide to be back on top come 2019. SEC Country’s Chris Kirschner  will answer the Recruiting Question of the Day each weekday. You can ask him your questions on  Twitter or on  ...
NFL draft night waiting game next hurdle for Penn State’s Saquon Barkley
NFL draft night waiting game next hurdle for Penn State’s Saquon Barkley

There were moments in the 24 hours leading up to the 2000 NFL Draft when Penn State legend LaVar Arrington had to remind himself that it wouldn’t be like this for long. “Midnight of draft day like you’re now there and the draft is going to happen. It starts to move really, really, really, really slow,&rdquo...
Hayden Hurst reveals key things at South Carolina that ‘changed dramatically’ under Will Muschamp after Steve Spurrier left
Hayden Hurst reveals key things at South Carolina that ‘changed dramatically’ under Will Muschamp after Steve Spurrier left

Former South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst pinpointed some key things that Will Muschamp introduced to the program to help the Gamecocks win after Steve Spurrier moved on. On Wednesday, Hurst appeared on The Paul Finebaum Show and was asked to name something that “changed dramatically” after Will Muschamp arrived...
Predicted NFL draft landing spots for Baker Mayfield, other former Oklahoma players
Predicted NFL draft landing spots for Baker Mayfield, other former Oklahoma players

NORMAN, Okla. — The NFL draft begins Thursday, marking the start of a three-day run that will likely see at least six former Oklahoma players selected. The bulk of the early attention will be on quarterback Baker Mayfield. He’s expected to be a first-round pick. The 2017 Heisman Trophy winner could go anywhere from...
More Stories