When we put together our list of the SEC’s best 25 players from this past season, there were some tough calls. But maybe none tougher than choosing between Chad Kelly and Dak Prescott for the conference’s top-ranked quarterback.
That’s why we’re breaking it down in this week’s Take Two.
Edward Aschoff: Chad Kelly had the stronger season. Prescott was great -- don’t get me wrong -- but if you look at the overall numbers and complete body of work, Kelly was the SEC’s top quarterback. Now, I know that Prescott’s line wasn’t as strong as Kelly’s, but Kelly also was working with a brand new team and offense. Both of these guys were handicapped in some way.
Kelly finished the season with the third-most total yards in SEC history (4,542) and became just the third SEC quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season (4,042). He led the SEC with 31 passing touchdowns and averaged an SEC-high 310.9 passing yards per game.
A first-year SEC quarterback, Kelly, who ranked second in the conference with a QBR of 87.0, went 4-2 in six road/neutral site games, throwing 14 touchdowns to just six interceptions. He also completed 64.9 percent of his passes during the final four games of the season (the Rebels went 3-1), throwing 11 touchdowns to just one pick.
Kelly also ran for 500 yards with 10 touchdowns and was one of just three quarterbacks nationally with at least 30 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns.
In his first year at Ole Miss, Kelly went to Alabama and won with 341 passing yards and four total touchdowns. He went 4-1 against ranked teams, including a 38-27 win at Mississippi State, in which he threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for another 74 yards and a score. Kelly was 4-1 against Prescott’s common opponents -- while Prescott was 2-3 -- and helped Ole Miss to 10 wins, including a blowout in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, compared to Prescott’s nine wins.
Both were spectacular, but Kelly’s improvement throughout the season was incredibly impressive, and it sent him to the top of the SEC’s quarterback chart in 2016.
Greg Ostendorf: In the month of November, Kelly was the better quarterback. I can’t argue that. He threw for nearly 300 yards per game. He completed 65 percent of his passes. And in three games, he threw seven touchdowns and no interceptions. The problem is that this isn’t the top 25 players in November. It’s the top 25 players from the whole season.
To me, one stat stands out when you compare these two -- interceptions. Kelly threw 13 on the year while Prescott threw only five. And before I hear about how much Kelly slings it and how you have to throw some interceptions if you want to make plays, Prescott finished with more passing attempts.
Taking care of the ball should be priority No. 1 for a quarterback, and for that reason, QBs should be rewarded for protecting the football.
But enough about Kelly. Let’s talk about the year Prescott had. Some thought he might take a step back after Mississippi State lost running back Josh Robinson, wide receiver Jameon Lewis and four starters along the offensive line. But he didn’t. I’d argue that he was even better than he was the year before when his name was being thrown around as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Sure, Prescott didn’t rush for as many yards or touchdowns -- though his 588 yards and 10 touchdowns were second only to Joshua Dobbs among SEC quarterbacks -- but that’s because he didn’t have to. He was a better passer. He threw for more yards (3,793), more touchdowns (29), fewer interceptions (5) and his completion percentage went from 61 to 66 percent.
And as good as De’Runnya Wilson and Fred Ross were this past season, Kelly had the advantage when it came to his targets. Can you imagine the numbers Prescott would have put up if he had Laquon Treadwell to throw to?
Both quarterbacks were great, but looking at the whole body of work, my vote goes to Prescott.