- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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This was supposed to be one of the most talented crops of quarterbacks the SEC has put on the field in a long time.
Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson, Tennessee’s Tyler Bray and Georgia’s Aaron Murray all entered the season as potential high-round picks in the NFL draft, and there were others the NFL scouts were keeping their eyes on.
Who’s been the best to this point?
Better yet, if you were picking an SEC quarterback to finish out this season with, who would you pick?
Our ranking of the top 5 might surprise you. The usual disclaimers apply here. This isn’t a list of the top 5 NFL prospects to this point, nor is it a list that’s set in stone. Things are sure to change as the season plays out.
That said, here we go:
1. AJ McCarron, Alabama, Jr.: Yes, he’s playing behind an NFL offensive line, but his command of that offense has been as good as it gets. McCarron leads the SEC and is fourth nationally in passing efficiency, and he’s thrown 176 straight passes without an interception going back to last season. He also has 10 touchdown passes. The misnomer about McCarron is that he’s merely a manager of a Tide offense that’s so much better physically than everybody else. The reality is that McCarron’s arm strength ranks up there with anybody in the league and he’s the most talented quarterback Nick Saban has had at Alabama.
2. Aaron Murray, Georgia, Jr.: What sticks out about Murray right now is the confidence he’s playing with and the way he’s spreading the ball around to his playmakers. Murray is well on his way to a 3,000-yard, 30-touchdown season and doesn’t seem to be going for the big play as much. That’s gotten him in trouble in the past, but he looks the part of a third-year starter in this league and is really on top of his game right now.
3. Connor Shaw, South Carolina, Jr.: The only concern with Shaw is his hairline fracture in his right throwing shoulder and whether or not that’s something that will linger and limit his effectiveness later in the season. But his toughness is off the charts, and with his ability to run, he’s always a tough matchup for defenses. He missed the East Carolina game and parts of two others, but is completing 76.1 percent of his passes. He completed 20 in a row last week in the win over Missouri, and with a throbbing shoulder, led South Carolina on its game-winning drive in the season opener at Vanderbilt.
4. Jeff Driskel, Florida, Soph.: For a guy who had to earn a starting job this preseason, Driskel has played at an extremely high level and led the Gators to two SEC road wins. In both of those games, he made big-time throws to help seal the deal and is one of those quarterbacks who puts extra pressure on the defense because of his ability to scramble and extend the play. He’s only going to get better and has thrown just one interception in his first four games.
5. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas, Sr.: Even though placing too much of the blame for the Hogs’ struggles on Wilson is unfair, the fact is that Arkansas is 1-3 and has yet to beat an FBS team this season. He’s leading the SEC with an average of 327.3 passing yards per game, but missed a game and a half after suffering a concussion in the Louisiana-Monroe loss. He returned last week against Rutgers, but his 419 yards and three touchdowns weren’t enough. You also can't help but wonder how his comments after the Alabama loss genuinely went over with his teammates.
The next three:
Tyler Bray, Tennessee, Jr.: Based on sheer numbers, Bray belongs in the top three. He has 1,301 passing yards and 12 touchdowns. But he has to beat somebody that counts before moving up. He gets another chance this Saturday at Georgia. The guy can really throw the football, but the way he responded in the second half against Florida two weeks ago is not what you want to see from your third-year quarterback.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, RFr.: As Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said a few weeks ago, Manziel is quickly becoming a quarterback who’s a great athlete instead of a great athlete who just happens to be playing quarterback. He gets another shot at an SEC defense this week against Arkansas and is fourth in the league in total offense with an average of 301 yards per game. Manziel is so dangerous when he takes off and runs, but he’s also keeping his eyes downfield more now and improving as a passer.
Tyler Russell, Mississippi State, Jr.: His last game against South Alabama was not his best, but Russell has thrown for 822 yards and eight touchdowns in his first four outings with only one interception. He was at his best against Auburn the second week of the season. When he gets hot, he’s one of those pocket passers who can get in a groove and pick defenses apart. Consistency will be the key for Russell the rest of the way.