SEC football: QB rankings ahead of the 2021 season

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Every offseason, several analysts make way-too-early predictions and release position rankings months ahead of the season that could end up aligning pretty close to reality or that could end up being entirely off-base.

In all of this, preseason quarterback rankings are among the most interesting to look at.

Will JT Daniels be the signal-caller he showed he could be and take Georgia to new heights in 2021? Could Will Rogers be the quarterback Mississippi State needs to ignite the Air Raid offense in the SEC? Will Max Johnson be an important piece to helping LSU return to its 2019 glory?

These are all questions with answers that could go in two completely different directions and that could have a major impact on how teams finish out in the conference.

Here’s a look at where each SEC quarterback stands ahead of the 2021 season.

1. Matt Corral, Ole Miss.

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Corral enters his second year under Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss after he won the starting job over John Rhys Plumlee in 2020, which ended up being a breakout season for him. He finished out the year with a completion percentage of 70.9% with 3,337 passing yards, 29 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Sure, Corral did have two particularly bad games last year where he threw multiple interceptions, but that's not indicative of how accurate of a passer he is given his given his impressive completion percentage. Expect the junior to only build off of the mometum he had in 2020, though he'll have to deal with loss of passing targets Elijah Moore and Kenny Yeboah. It's hard to imagine that being a major issue, though, considering Corral put up almost 400 yards of offense without Moore, Yeboah, Braylon Sanders and Jerrion Ealy against a top-20 defense in the Outback Bowl.

2. JT Daniels, Georgia.

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Daniels wowed a lot of us last year and seems to have the "it" factor you want in an elite quarterback, but the sample size we're looking at with him isn't incredibly large. There were only four games that we saw of the signal-caller at Georgia last year, but in that time, he showed notable arm strength, the ability to lead his receivers open and overall ignite the passing game in a way that could allow Georgia to be something special if he keeps it up in 2021. Daniels ended last season with a 67.2% completion percentage, 1,231 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. Note that he did that with a mostly inexperienced group of pass-catchers, and the idea of what Daniels and Georgia could in a complete and normal offseason becomes very exciting.

3. Bryce Young, Alabama.

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There's a lot of hype surrounding Bryce Young, who was drawn comparisons to the likes of Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson, heading into 2021. The highly-touted recruit passed for 333 yards and one touchdown in the Alabama spring game, putting on a good performance despite a completion percentage that could have been a bit better by Alabama standards. Young saw very little action last year with Mac Jones on the field, ending off 2020 with a completion percentage of 59.1%, 156 passing yards and one touchdown. There's tremendous upside for Young in Crimson Tide offense filled to the brim with talent (as it always seems to be).

4. Max Johnson / Myles Brennan, LSU.

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The quarterback competition at LSU is very much considered wide open between Max Johnson, Myles Brennan and Garrett Nussmeier. But Johnson seems to be the logical frontrunner, ending off last season with a 2-0 record as the team's starter and taking the first reps at spring practice. Just a true freshman in 2020, Johnson showed an impressive amount of mobility with upside (and room to improve) as a passer. He posted a stat line with a a 58.7% completion percentage, 1,069 passing yards, eight touchdowns and one interception. He also had 119 rushing yards on 54 carries with two touchdowns. Based purely off of seniority, Brennan has the upper hand as 2021 will mark the fifth season of his college career. But even after all this time, we still don't know exactly who Brennan is as a quarterback. He's only seen limited action as the starter, only taking the field on rare occasions behind Danny Etling and Joe Burrow. Brennan put on a mostly poor showing against Mississippi State in the 2020 season opener, showing positive progression in the games to follow, though those were against what many considered to be lesser opponents. Brennan sustained a severe injury to his abdomen against Missouri, ending his season. At that time, he had a completion percentage of 60.3%, 1,112 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions.

5. Emory Jones, Florida.

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2021 marks the first year we'll get a true look at who Emory Jones is as a full-time quarterback. Over his past three years with the Gators, we've seen Jones mostly in limited action or as a Wildcat quarterback. Jones has shown a good deal of mobility and the ability to make plays on his own with it, but there's something to be desired in the little bit that we've seen of him as a passer. Jones ended the 2020 season with a 56.3% completion percentage, 221 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception. It will be interesting to see what the Gators offense looks like throughout the season and how Jones fares in an expanded role.

6. Haynes King / Zach Calzada, Texas A&M.

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Haynes King is an intriguing prospect who could be a quick riser up the rankings in 2021. There's an equal chance he could tumble down them just as rapidly, granted that he does beat out Zach Calzada as many expect him to do in the fall. Regardless of which quarterback wins out, the next Texas A&M passer will be surrounded by a wealth of weapons with several players from the 2020 season returning. While this is a good thing for any quarterback, it also means they'll have little excuse if and when things go south. In the four career pass attempts we've seen from King, he's shown poise in the pocket, the ability to move the ball downfield with big plays and the ability to gain significant yardage on the run. We'll see if King becomes the "x-factor" some have pinned him to be in the conference this year.

7. Connor Bazelak, Missouri.

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Connor Bazelak was a player who quickly garnered attention in 2020 after he upset LSU with a 406-yard, four-touchdown performance against LSU. What came after that was a bit underwhelming, as he only threw three touchdown passes over the last seven games on Mizzou's schedule. Accompany that with five interceptions, and that's not a pretty stat line. Still, we can't forget that true freshmen will be true freshman at the end of the day, and there's no denying Bazelak has the tools to be a competent and consistent starter if he can continue to grow. One area we'd particularly like to see him get better in is throwing the deep ball, though it makes sense he struggled with it early coming from a triple-option offense in high school. Bazelak finished the 2020 season with a 67.3% completion percentage, 2,366 passing yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions.

8. Jack Abraham / Will Rogers, Mississippi State.

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Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach says the quarterback battle the Bulldogs have going is "wide open." Players like Daniel Greek and Chance Lovertich have shown some good things on the practice field, but it would be nothing less than shocking to see the starting job go to anyone other than Southern Miss transfer Jack Abraham or sophomore Will Rogers. Leach said last season that Rogers was "ahead of schedule" before he ultimately took the starting job from Stanford transfer quarterback KJ Costello. In his time at the helm, Rogers showed ability to manipulate defenses, learn quickly and push the ball downfield. But he'll have to continue to expand upon that in a big way in order to stay above a more experienced Abraham on the depth chart. Rogers ended the 2020 season with a 69.1% completion percentage, 1,976 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Abraham ended his final season with Southern Miss with a 65.1% completion percentage, 1,224 passing yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions.

9. Bo Nix, Auburn.

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Bo Nix may be the best choice Auburn currently has at quarterback, but that doesn't mean he's going to see a high level of success in the SEC. To this point, he hasn't. Throughout his college career, we've seen Nix struggle with things like throwing the ball behind his receivers and struggling to maintain overall accuracy. Nix finished out 2020 with a 59.9% completion percentage, 2,415 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. It's now or never for Nix to turn the corner.

10. Harrison Bailey / Hendon Hooker, Tennessee.

It's hard to tell exactly how Hendon Hooker will fare in the SEC coming from an out-of-conference school in Virginia Tech. Hooker had more rushing yards than any other quarterback in the ACC in 2020, and has prototypical size at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. Bailey had a completion percentage of 70.6% for 578 passing yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions over six appearances in 2020 before former starter Jarrett Guarantano officially transferred. Hooker had a completion percentage of 65.3%, 1,339 passing yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions. It will be interesting to see if the Vols decide to go with Harrison or Bailey when the season begins in the fall, and just how much either of them can help push Tennessee's offense in the right direction.

11. KJ Jefferson, Arkansas.

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With the departure of Feleipe Franks, this season will be KJ Jefferson's first as a full-time starter for the Razorbacks. Jefferson has shown issues mechanically speaking and where footwork is concerned, but he seems to have gotten better in both areas -- at least based on the glimpse we got of him in the spring. Jefferson ended off the 2020 season with a completion percentage of 48.8% with 295 passing yards and three touchdowns while Franks was in Fayetteville. If he can be a steady passer, stays as good on the deep ball as he's looked and can really get things going with wide receiver Treylon Burks, Arkansas could have something on offense.

12. Ken Seals, Vanderbilt.

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It's not easy being a true freshman quarterback at a school not known for producing at the position and one that doesn't have the most superior supporting cast. Still, despite the odds being stacked against him, Seals has put together some good drives against tough opponents, helping his offense move the chains and standing strong in the pocket. Sure, Seals showed plenty of signs of the freshman growing pains last year, but he also showed the makings of a foundation of a legitimate SEC quarterback. Seals finished out 2020 with a 64.8% completion percentage, 1,928 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

13. Beau Allen / Joey Gatewood, Kentucky.

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Like some of the other quarterbacks on this list, we don't have a true idea of exactly what Beau Allen is, considering he delivered just seven passing attempts as a true freshman. We hardly have had a better look at Joey Gatewood, who totals 43 career pass attempts between Kentucky and Auburn. The competition is tight between these two passers, who are both developmental prospects at this point. How they grow within offensive coordinator Liam Cohen's quarterback-friendly offense will be something to keep an eye on as Kentucky completely changes its identity on that side of the ball.

14. Luke Doty, South Carolina.

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It's kind of the same concept as the Auburn-Nix situation here. Luke Doty may very well be the best quarterback the Gamecocks have to put on the field, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be efficient against in-conference competition. To put it simply, Doty has been below-average as both a passer and a runner in what we've seen out of him and hardly has the ability to move the ball downfield. Doty ended 2020 with a 60.6% completion percentage, 405 passing yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions in limited action.

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