The 2023 NFL draft and rookie fever dominated our timelines in late April. It was headlined by heavyweight (and lightweight) quarterbacks from the SEC.
The media speculated daily about who would win the quarterback battle to be selected first overall?
When the dust settled, Bryce Young from Alabama was selected first overall, whilst Anthony Richardson went to the Colts with the fourth pick.
Hendon Hooker and Will Levis were touted as first round prospects but they were eventually selected on day two.
On day three, two time national champion Stetson Bennett from Georgia, was a fourth round pick of the LA Rams.
Meanwhile college football hasn’t stopped. The cyclical nature of college football means as athletes move on, the teams are busy rebuilding for the coming season. Spring camps have been and gone and the summer off season programs are around the corner.
With so many openings at Quarterback in this 2 part post let’s look at the SEC’s most interesting Quarterback battles.
Carson Beck vs Brock Vandagriff
Let’s start with with the quarterback battle at the back to back national champions. It appears to be a two horse race to replace Stetson Bennett under centre in Athens.
Beck and Vandagriff split first team reps throughout camp and have been part of the program for a similar time.
The edge seems to be with Carson Beck as he has the most experience. He operated as Bennett’s primary back up last year. Vandagriff was a five star recruit and a leading QB in the 2021 recruiting class who flipped his commitment from Oklahoma.
The two players offer very different skill sets. Beck has poise and a good arm to spray the ball all over the field from the pocket, whilst Vandagriff’s strengths are his mobility and the ability to extend plays with his legs, though he’s still a pass first Quarterback.
Georgia have an array of star power on both sides of the ball, the Bulldogs don’t need their quarterback to be the star of the show. This leads me to think that Beck’s greater exposure keeps him in the driving seat. They don’t need an elite ceiling just a solid floor.
Verdict…. It’s close but I’m leaning with the safe floor of Carson Beck. With Gunner Stockton also on the roster and Dylan Raiola joining next year, will the loser of this quarterback battle test the transfer portal?
Ole Miss Rebels
Jaxon Dart vs Spencer Sanders vs Walker Howard
Last years starter Jaxon Dart has returned to Oxford but Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin has been active in the transfer portal as Dart was the only scholarship Quarterback on the team. Kiffin wasted no time adding Spencer Sanders a senior transfer from Oklahoma State and Walker Howard a redshirt freshman from SEC rival LSU. All three are viable candidates to lead the offense on a Saturday which makes this quarterback battle so interesting. .
Dart appeared confident and played mistake free football in spring camp. He is following on from a season in which he threw for 2,974 yards and 20 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions and is looking toward solidifying his stock as a draftable player in 2024.
“To be honest, I just see myself as the starter,” Dart said during media availability. “I had year one and I kind of established myself.”
Sanders is a four year starter who has over 9000 passing yards and 67 touchdown passes to his name, he won’t be giving up his spot in the competition lightly, but he struggled with a nagging shoulder injury from last season and it’s clear he wasn’t full go in spring camp.
Then there’s Howard. He has been brought across to be the future of the position in 2024 and beyond. The number nine Quarterback in the 2022 recruiting class possesses a fantastic arm with great zip and is accurate at all levels of the field and when given opportunities in camp this spring, he’s held his own.
The verdict… So far, Dart has performed exactly as he has needed to. Like an established starter. As long he maintains this and stays healthy, he looks a lock to keep his job. Not much of a quarterback battle here.
Graham Mertz vs Jack Miller III vs Max Brown
A year ago Billy Napier arrived in Florida and handed the keys to Anthony Richardson the physical freak of an athlete with the raw tools to be a star. Fast forward a year and Richardson is looking to lead the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South. Napier must decide who is next in line to lead the Gators.
There are three scholarship Quarterback on the roster but this is likely to be a two man race between Mertz and Miller. Brown on the other hand is one for the future. He has only played the game for a little over three years.
Napier has made it clear he’s looking for a leader and is giving both guys a shot to claim the job. They split first team reps all spring in all open practices.
Miller is a former Ohio State transfer and was on the Gators roster last year. When Richardson opted out of the Las Vegas Bowl, Miller took the helm. Whilst they suffered a 30-3 loss to Oregon State, Miller will be better for the experience.
Mertz was a three year starter at Wisconsin. He transferred to Florida this off season and has placed himself in the thick of the battle for the starting job. It’s been reported he’s a first in and last out of type worker which has impressed both teammates and coaches. He has a 19-13 record as a starter and his experience should give him a leg up in the battle.
The verdict… too close to call. Napier won’t be committing to a decision anytime soon. He will use summer training camp and OTA’s to give both the chance to win the quarterback battle and earn the right to lead the Gators when their season opens in Utah on the 31st August.