Our examination of the SEC's lack of proven quarterbacks continues today with the young set of signal callers. These are the guys who either signed with SEC schools or came from states inside the footprint but who signed elsewhere.
Let's begin with the 2014 signing class. The players are ordered by their ratings in the 247 Sports Composite.
|Kyle Allen||5||Arizona||Texas A&M||Started, transferred to Houston|
|Deshaun Watson||4||Georgia||Clemson||Starter, Heisman finalist|
|Will Grier||4||North Carolina||Florida||Started, PEDs, transferred to WVU|
|Jerrod Heard||4||Texas||Texas||Starter in '15|
|Brandon Harris||4||Louisiana||LSU||Starter in '15|
|David Cornwell||4||Oklahoma||Alabama||Backup so far|
|Jacob Park||4||South Carolina||Georgia||Didn't play, JUCO, Iowa State|
|Drew Barker||4||Kentucky||Kentucky||Started 2 games in '15|
|Sean White||4||Florida||Auburn||Started 6 games in '15|
|Michael O'Connor||4||Florida||Penn State||Transferred to Canadian univ|
|Mason Rudolph||4||South Carolina||Oklahoma State||Starter in '15|
|D.J. Gillins||4||Florida||Wisconsin||Didn't play, transferred to JUCO|
As was the case with the 2012 (Jameis Winston) and 2013 (J.T. Barrett) signing classes, the 2014 haul has a clear One That Got Away. It is, of course, Watson, who was a Heisman finalist and nearly led Clemson to the national championship a year ago.
SEC schools did snag the other two of the top three in 2014, but they're gone now. Allen started parts of the past two years but left due to what he deemed was more or less a dysfunctional team culture. Grier was Florida's starter for half of 2015 but was suspended after testing positive for PEDs and chose to transfer away after the season.
Park, O'Connor, and Gillins didn't play at their respective schools and left, which will happen with some number of prospects every year. Cornwell has sat behind a pair of championship-winning senior starters, which says nothing poorly on him. Rudolph had a promising year as Oklahoma State's starter in 2015 and figures to be one of the Big 12's top quarterbacks this fall.
That leaves Heard, Harris, Barker, and White, who all spent part or all of 2015 starting without inspiring immense amounts of confidence. Heard was iffy on the way to the Longhorns missing a bowl. Harris showed enough flashes to be Athlon's preseason third team all-SEC quarterback, but his performance in conference play—55% completion, 6.8 yards per attempt, 119.8 passing efficiency—leaves a lot to be desired. Barker's passing up of Patrick Towles was enough to get Towles to graduate transfer to BC, but Barker was lackluster in his two starts despite one of them being against Charlotte. Finally, White had a 1/4 TD-to-INT ratio despite starting six games and spent the spring battling deposed starter Jeremy Johnson and Composite 3-star JUCO transfer John Franklin III.
It's worth mentioning that these guys were all second-year players, and quarterbacks rarely peak as sophomores or redshirt freshmen. All have a chance to be better this year as juniors or redshirt sophomores. None of the SEC's guys distinguished himself as Watson and Rudolph did, though, leaving them in the "unproven" bucket.
Finally, let's wrap up with the 2015 class.
|Blake Barnett||5||California||Alabama||Backup so far|
|Kyler Murray||4||Texas||Texas A&M||Started 3 gms, transferred to OU|
|Jarrett Stidham||4||Texas||Baylor||Started 3 games in '15|
|Deondre Francois||4||Florida||Florida State||Backup so far|
|Drew Lock||4||Missouri||Missouri||Started 8 games in '15|
|Jauan Jennings||4||Tennessee||Tennessee||Moved to WR|
|Ty Storey||4||Arkansas||Arkansas||Backup so far|
|Sheriron Jones||4||California||Tennessee||Backup so far|
|Quinten Dormady||4||Texas||Tennessee||Backup so far|
|Kyle Shurmur||4||Pennsylvania||Vanderbilt||Started 5 games in '15|
|Dwayne Lawson||4||Florida||Virginia Tech||Backup so far|
|Lorenzo Nunez||4||Georgia||South Carolina||Started 2 games in '15|
Not surprisingly, more than half of these guys didn't start a game at quarterback. Stidham performed the best of anyone who saw the field, but he also had the most stocked set of skill position players around him. If there's one apparent One That Got Away in 2015, it's him. Murray and Lock had some non-garbage time work before they got to take over starting. Shurmur took over late in the season and picked up a win over Kentucky. Nunez saw most of his action before Steve Spurrier retired, with his only real work afterwards being as a running option against Clemson.
Barring injury or other strange situations, Lock will be the starter this fall. Shurmur led in the race for Vandy's starting job coming out of the spring, while Lawson and Nunez each were in five-way QB battles during spring practice. Barnett and Francois were in the mix at their respective schools in the spring but trail behind older players. Storey will continue to back up an older player, while Jones and Dormady are waiting out an entrenched starter in Joshua Dobbs.
So what did we learn? The SEC has been hurt by attrition with these classes. Allen, Grier, and Murray all looked promising for players of their experience levels, but they are gone now. Either of those two from A&M and Grier (minus his PED suspension) would have been contenders for the preseason all-SEC teams, but instead we're in a situation where Athlon felt OK to put a 2016 signee in its fourth team spot (Georgia's Jacob Eason).
And putting those three transfers aside, the best looking three quarterbacks from these classes—Watson, Rudolph, and Stidham—didn't sign with SEC schools. You don't even have to put them aside for Watson and Rudolph to appear favorable to the conference's lot, and maybe not even Stidham depending on how you view his 2015.
These classes did produce some SEC starters who are still around. Barker and Lock will start this fall, while I'd say Shurmur will likely start Game 1 for Vandy and White has a pretty good shot at starting Game 1 for Auburn thanks to his experience edge over Franklin. Of course, it's not super great when one of the two entrenched starters from these classes (Lock) was last among regular starters in conference play in completion percentage, yards per attempt, passing efficiency, and yards per game—and he didn't play in the tougher half of the league.
We have to grade on a curve with the 2014 and especially 2015 classes, but it's clear that the SEC didn't get several of the premium players available from them. Maybe Harris will blossom with an upperclassman's experience at LSU, or perhaps Jones at Tennessee or Barnett at Alabama will prove to be excellent down the road. But for now, it looks like the SEC missed out on three of the best quarterbacks its footprint had to offer in those years, and it had three others who looked good but who have now left.
If a conference can't secure all of the quality quarterbacks in its region and can't hold on to the ones it does get, that's going to drive down the number of proven signal callers as we're seeing for the SEC in 2016.