LITTLE ROCK —Pop quiz. Name the best NFL quarterback prospect in the SEC in 2014?
Uh, hmmm. Need some names?
Returning starters include Auburn’s Nick Marshall, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, Mississippi’s Bo Wallace, and Arkansas’ Brandon Allen. Razorback fans protesting the inclusion of Allen, note he is identified only as a 2013 starter. Bret Bielema and his staff will sort out the qb competition.
At this point, no member of the aforementioned quartet appears to be a classic pocket passer with the ability to quickly read the defense and deliver. A superb athlete, Marshall has the size and speed to contribute somewhere, but there are questions about his arm and accuracy.
Other candidates include Missouri’s Maty Mauk, Georgia’s Hutson Mason, LSU’s Anthony Jennings, South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson, and Vanderbilt’s Patton Robinette. Each has played some; none have played enough to identify them as pro prospects.
At Alabama, Texas A&M, Kentucky, and Tennessee, apparently the quarterback competition will begin in the spring and could continue into fall practice. By default, Florida’s Jeff Driskel is No. 1 on the prospect list. Sidelined most of 2013, he was sacked 36 times and threw five interceptions vs. 12 TD passes in 2012.
The question came up while looking ahead to the NFL draft in early May. A dozen quarterbacks are expected to be selected and five of them are from the SEC. One of almost 100 underclassmen in the draft, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel should be among the first five players selected. LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, Georgia’s Aaron Murray, and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw also should be drafted.
Down the line, this will be the best group of quarterbacks ever to leave the league at one time.
On the job, I witnessed all five, although Murray was a one-time thing in the third start of a four-year career. Even though Manziel and Mettenberger only played two years each, the five of them combined for 41,000 yards and 352 touchdowns.
Manziel is magical. The first time around at College Station, I thought Arkansas’ defense facilitated his 557 yards total offense, but he was Houdini-like week after week. He stayed in the pocket more this year, but the mere threat of him getting outside helps his receivers and I am not convinced he has the arm strength to make certain throws from the pocket.
With that in mind, the no-risk projection is that all four of the SEC quarterbacks selected after Manziel might still be in the NFL after the Heisman Trophy winner is gone from the scene.
McCarron, Shaw, and Murray are guys perfect for any clubhouse. Anybody who saw the touching story of McCarron befriending cereberal palsy victm and fellow Alabama student A.J. Starr knows about McCarron, the man. Shaw’s storybook stuff in Columbia, Mo., defines him. Nursing a sore shoulder, he persuaded Steve Spurrier to put him in the game in the third quarter and he rallied the Gamecocks from a 17-point deficit while handing Missouri its only regular-season loss. Although Georgia was frustrated at the end, Murray’s work in the last-minute, length-of-the-field drive vs. eventual national champion Alabama in the 2012 SEC title game, was brilliant. A week later, he was still replaying the entire game in his head.
Georgia coach Mark Richt’s description of Murray is also a blanket for McCarron and Shaw: "… I don’t know if I’ve ever even heard him come close to tooting his own horn. … It’s always been about trying to win rather than get a record."
Despite that praise, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Mettenberger is the one in the group most likely to succeed spectacularly in the NFL. The question is his decision making, a skill that can be learned.
Repeating, this is a no-risk prediction. Nobody will bother to clip this and double-check in 2020.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.