Way-too-early SEC quarterback rankings: Is Brock Vandagriff good enough to contend?

The newly expanded SEC is loaded with quarterback talent, so it won't be easy for Mark Stoops's Kentucky Wildcats to compete with the top of the conference considering Brock Vandagriff's lack of experience. 
University of Kentucky quarterback Brock Vandagriff
University of Kentucky quarterback Brock Vandagriff / Clare Grant/Courier Journal / USA TODAY

Brock Vandagriff, a former five-star recruit, failed to beat out Carson Beck at Georgia last offseason and spent his redshirt sophomore year as a backup. This winter, Vandagriff transferred to Kentucky for a chance to start, with Beck established as one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC, but after a spring portal addition, Vandagriff could be forced into another quarterback battle in Lexington. 

Whether it is Gavin Wimsatt or Vandagriff starting for Mark Stoops’s Wildcats, Kentucky will have an unproven starter leading Bush Hamdan’s offense, and with the SEC stocked with elite QB talent, 2024 will be an uphill battle. 

On top of established stars like Beck, Jalen Milroe, and Quinn Ewers, the conference has up-and-coming talents like Nico Iamaleava at Tennessee and Jackson Arnold at Oklahoma. With so many contenders, quarterback play will determine the conference champs and College Football Playoff participants from the SEC. 

16. LaNorris Sellers. Redshirt Freshman. . . LaNorris Sellers. 6'3" 240 lbs. LaNorris Sellers. player. 533

There is a group of inexperienced first-time starters at the bottom of this list and with just four career pass attempts, Sellers naturally slots in at No. 16. Last season, Sellers backed up Spencer Rattler and regardless of how talented Shane Beamer believes Sellers to be, if he gets the same lack of protection that Rattler dealt with in 2023, it won’t matter. 

Sellers was a 2023 three-star recruit but has put on nearly 20 pounds in college, now listed at 240 pounds and that should help his durability if he’s taking big hits behind a shaky offensive line. To take advantage of Sellers’ dual-threat ability, South Carolina will likely shift to a run-heavy offensive scheme and if everything clicks for the talented passer, then he could shoot up this list. 

Redshirt Junior. 15. Brock Vandagriff. . 6'3" 210 lbs. Brock Vandagriff. . Brock Vandagriff. player. 528

When Carson Beck beat out Vandagriff for the starting job in Athens, it appeared to be a low point in the former five-star’s career, but with how well Beck played last season, that may not be the case. Vandagriff was valued in the transfer portal, was a big addition for Kentucky, and was seemingly entrenched as the team’s starting quarterback, which is why it was so puzzling when Stoops went back into the portal to add Gavin Wimsatt. 

Vandagriff still has potential, but his status as the starter is now in question and with no career starts, it’s hard to put him higher than No. 15. 

Senior. 6'2" 200 lbs. 14. Payton Thorne. . . Payton Thorne. player. Payton Thorne. 525

Last season, Payton Thorne ranked 11th out of 15 qualified SEC quarterbacks in ESPN’s total QBR metric at 61.6 just ahead of former Arkansas QB KJ Jefferson who is now at UCF. Thorne is a fairly accurate passer and has above-average mobility, with an adjusted completion rate of 70.2% and 39 scrambles, but when he faces pressure, big problems arise. 

Thorne had the second-highest pressure-to-sack ratio in the country at 35.6% and on the 90 dropbacks of his snaps when he was pressured, Thorne held onto the ball for nearly 3.71 seconds and went 19/39 passing for 226 yards with two touchdowns and four picks. 

Auburn has a talented group of receivers with two five-star freshmen Cam Coleman and Perry Thompson, along with transfer portal addition KeAndre Lambert-Smith from Penn State. However, Hugh Freeze is still searching for a solution at quarterback and if Thorne struggles, he could turn to four-star freshman Walker (not Walter) White. 

. 460. Senior. Blake Shapen. 13. . 6'1" 210 lbs. Blake Shapen. player. Blake Shapen

Blake Shapen was solid for Baylor and gave Dave Aranda’s team some hope when he was healthy, but injuries shortened his 2023 season. Shapen threw for 2,171 yards in eight starts with a 60.5% completion percentage and 13 touchdowns to three interceptions. He could be a good fit in Jeff Lebby’s air-raid system, but there is one big problem. 

Last season, while Shapen only turned the ball over three times, PFF had him with 12 turnover-worthy plays to just seven big-time throws. If Shapen can stay healthy, he can give Mississippi State a functional offense, but turnovers could become an issue against SEC defenses. 

Taylen Green. 524. . 6'6" 223 lbs. Taylen Green. player. Taylen Green. Redshirt Junior. 12.

After a slow start last season, Green led Boise State to a Mountain West title, and in the championship game against UNLV, he went 12/15 for 226 yards and two touchdowns with one interception, and ran for 90 yards and two scores on eight carries. At 6-foot-6, Green is an athletic dual-threat quarterback who will fit Bobby Petrino’s offense perfectly. 

Green will never be a high-volume passer, but he averaged 8.2 yards per attempt last season and 46.3% of his passes traveled over 10 yards downfield. With a strong running game at Boise State, 79 of his 135 passing attempts came off of play-action, which Petrino will need to feature heavily to get the most out of his new QB. 

Diego Pavia. player. . 11. 537. . 6'0" 200 lbs. Diego Pavia. Senior. Diego Pavia

Taylen Green isn’t the only Mountain West quarterback who will be starting in the SEC. Vanderbilt typically has a tough time winning conference games, but Clark Lea was smart to pluck Diego Pavia out of the transfer portal because he’s an ultra-competitive and tough quarterback and the type of player who can lift a less talented team to a victory. 

Pavia is far from the perfect quarterback, he only completed 60% of his passes last season but he has mobility and a willingness to push the ball down the field which will translate to high variance in the SEC. Pavia will have multiple starts with two or more interceptions this year because of his aggressiveness, but he’ll also win Vandy a game or two that the Commodores should have lost. 

Graham Mertz. player. 526. . Redshirt Junior. . 10. Graham Mertz. Graham Mertz. 6'3" 215 lbs

Though he’s underwhelming physically, the former Wisconsin Badger Graham Mertz has become a model of consistency throughout his five-year college football career. Now, in Year 6, Mertz and the Gators will face the toughest schedule in the entire country, so a steady hand will be crucial. 

In 2023, Mertz threw for 2,903 yards and 20 touchdowns to three interceptions with a 72.9% completion rate. He also posted the sixth-lowest average depth of target in the country at 6.7 and is very reluctant to give his receivers a chance downfield. Florida will protect the ball well this season, but Mertz will fail to produce the type of dominant games the Gators will need to contend in the SEC. 

Sophomore. 9. Jackson Arnold. . 6'1" 212 lbs. . Jackson Arnold. Jackson Arnold. player. 464

With Dillon Gabriel off to Oregon and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby now at Mississippi State, Oklahoma will hand the keys to 2023 five-star Jackson Arnold. He was elite in limited action to start his career, going 11/11 for 114 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas State, but Arnold got his debut against Arizona in the Alamo Bowl and it didn’t go nearly as well. 

The Wildcats allowed Arnold to rack up impressive totals, throwing for 361 yards and two touchdowns on 26 completions, but Arizona’s defense also nabbed three interceptions. The Sooners lost 38-24 and if Arnold can’t protect the ball as a sophomore, it could be a long season in Norman. 

Garrett Nussmeier. 8. 529. Garrett Nussmeier. . Redshirt Junior. player. . 6'2" 198 lbs. Garrett Nussmeier

After the 2022 season, some LSU fans were calling for Nussmeier to start over Jayden Daniels, especially after his somewhat promising start against Georgia in the SEC Championship game. Then, Daniels came back and turned into the Heisman Trophy winner, keeping Nussmeier on the bench. 

Now, it’s finally Nussmeier’s turn in Baton Rouge, only he won’t quite have the same weapons that Daniels did. With Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr. gone, the Tigers will naturally take a step back after a historically great season. Nussmeier lacks the mobility that made Daniels unstoppable, but his accuracy will keep LSU on schedule, and if new top targets emerge, he will put together a strong season. 

Redshirt Sophomore. Conner Weigman. Conner Weigman. 7. 535. 6'3" 215 lbs. Conner Weigman. . . player

The interesting thing about Texas A&M’s 2023 season is that if Conner Weigman had stayed healthy, Jimbo Fisher may still be in College Station. Yes, Weigman quarterbacked an ugly 48-33 loss to Miami in Week 2 of the season, but that loss was much more on the defense. 

Weigman finished his four-game season with 979 passing yards, eight touchdowns, and two picks, and completed 68.9% of his passes. In each of his two collegiate seasons, Weigman has dealt with injuries, but if he can stay healthy as a junior then the Aggies can make some noise in Year 1 under Mike Elko. 

. 531. 6. player. . Senior. Brady Cook. Brady Cook. Brady Cook. 6'2" 205 lbs

The Missouri offense was top 20 in yards per play last season, not because of Brady Cook, but certainly not in spite of him either. Luther Burden III was the best receiver in the country after the catch and Cody Schrader turned into a dominant bell-cow running back, but Cook was the one who got the ball into their hands. 

Schrader is beginning his career with the San Francisco 49ers, but both Cook and Burden are back and that makes the Tigers a legitimate darkhorse candidate to win the SEC and make the College Football Playoff. In 2023, Cook finished just outside the top 30 according to PFF in adjusted completion percentage while posting an average depth of target of 9.6, a rare combination. 

6'6" 210 lbs. Nico Iamaleava. . . . 534. Nico Iamaleava. Nico Iamaleava. 5. player

The bowl season serves a much different purpose than it used to. Once a culmination of that season, bowl games now serve as a preview of the future. That perspective made the Citrus Bowl a must-watch game because it was Nico Iamaleava’s first start, and the 2023 five-star did not disappoint. 

While Iamaleava only threw for 151 yards on 12/19 passing, he also ran the ball 15 times for 27 yards and three touchdowns. In Josh Heupel’s offense, Iamaleava’s talent will shine through and despite the established stars above him on this list, Iamaleava could end the year as the best quarterback in the SEC. 

Quinn Ewers. . . Redshirt Junior. Quinn Ewers. 4. player. 467. 6'2" 205 lbs. Quinn Ewers

Nico Iamaleava was the No. 1 quarterback in the country in 2023 and the No. 2 ranked passer was Quinn Ewers’s backup in Austin, Arch Manning. While there is a desperation to see Manning take the field, Ewers is back at Texas to improve his draft stock and improve upon the Longhorn’s College Football Playoff loss from 2023. 

Ewers throws a very pretty deep ball, but he’s inconsistent and has dealt with injuries in each of the past two seasons. In 2023 on passes under 10 yards downfield, Ewers ranked outside the top 50 among the 94 quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. That’s a glaring weakness in his game. 

Jalen Milroe. Jalen Milroe. . . Redshirt Junior. Jalen Milroe. 3. player. 523. 6'2" 220 lbs

Jalen Milroe was benched after Quinn Ewers and Texas beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa last season. However, then offensive coordinator Tommy Rees rebuilt the offense to accentuate Milroe’s biggest strengths, his athleticism and deep passing. Alabama’s offense took off from that point and Milroe turned into one of the best quarterbacks in the country. 

Kalen DeBoer is a good enough coach to build an offense that optimizes Milroe, but in the College Football Playoff, Michigan exposed a major weakness that he may not clean up. Milroe struggles to identify pressure and when the heat comes, he holds onto the ball for a staggering 4.35 seconds and is sacked 31.9% of the time. 

Milroe has many of the same issues as a passer that Ewers has, but his dual-threat ability gives him the nod. 

Jaxson Dart. 532. 6'2" 220 lbs. 2. player. . Senior. . Jaxson Dart. Jaxson Dart

When he began his career as a true freshman at USC, Dart built a reputation as one of the toughest quarterbacks in the country who behind an awful offensive line, wasn’t afraid to take a hit to make a big play. Now, heading into his senior season, Dart has a solid O-line, plenty of weapons, and two years of experience running Lane Kiffin’s offense. 

In the Peach Bowl after a 10-win regular season, Ole Miss went up against a depleted version of the No. 1 defense in the country. Penn State was without its top two cornerbacks, but still, Dart was jaw-dropping. The Nittany Lions brought constant pressure, in hindsight a questionable strategy with backups in the secondary, but after a shaky start, Dart quickly diagnosed every blitz and diced up Penn State with a precision passing game. 

He finished that one with 379 yards and four touchdowns, three through the air, and took just one sack. Quinshon Judkins transferred to Ohio State, so Dart won’t have an elite running game to fall back on, but he may not need it. Dart is my favorite pick to win the Heisman Trophy this year, but it’s just too hard to put him ahead of Carson Beck. 

Carson Beck. . 6'4" 220 lbs. player. . Senior. Carson Beck. Carson Beck. 1. 527

There may not be a more accurate quarterback in the country than Carson Beck. He finished 2023 third among qualified quarterbacks with an 80.6% adjusted completion percentage according to PFF, and his actual completion rate of 72.2% ranked in the same spot. The thing that distinguishes Beck from Bo Nix and Jacob Zeno who are ahead of him in both categories is his average depth of target of 8.5, three yards greater than Zeno’s 5.5, and nearly two yards more than Nix’s 6.8. 

Beck was protected by a great offensive line, so he didn’t encounter pressure much, but when he did, he excelled against it. Beck averaged 9.2 yards per attempt against the blitz and posted a pressure-to-sack ratio of 13.8%. Georgia won’t have elite wide receivers in 2024, but the Bulldogs will be a national title contender with an elite defense and possibly the best quarterback in the entire country.

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