Three of the top five pro-style quarterback recruits in the Class of 2016 are heading to the Southeastern Conference. In fact, all three are already on their respective campuses.
While recruiting rankings are often a long way from wins on Saturdays, could this group of potential young stars shift the narrative in a conference that is often maligned — fairly or unfairly — for its struggles to develop recruits at the game’s most important position in the last few seasons?
“The feeling is that the SEC gets really good quarterback recruits and doesn’t develop them,” Rivals.com national recruiting director Mike Farrell said. “That will be put to the test with Jacob Eason, Shea Patterson and especially Feleipe Franks.”
Top-ranked Patterson from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., is at Mississippi. Eason, ranked second, from Lake Stevens, Wash., is at Georgia. Franks, ranked fifth, from Wakulla in Crawfordville, Fla., is at Florida.
“I don’t know if I would expect it to happen with a flick of a wrist or wave of a magic wand, but you could see in the SEC East some of the youngsters having greater early impact,” ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill said. “There’s a lot of player development that needs to take place at that position. One thing I would argue about the perceived development of SEC quarterbacks is the SEC is known for play in the trenches.
“These quarterbacks are facing defensive personnel that some of these other quarterbacks are not facing.”
RELATED: Composite Team Rankings
The SEC also features four of the top six dual-threat quarterbacks, including the top three. The group is led by Tennessee commit Jarrett Guarantano from Bergen Catholic in Oradell, N.J.; South Carolina early enrollee Brandon McIlwain from Council Rock North in Newtown, Pa.; Alabama early enrollee Jalen Hurts from Channelview, Texas; and Auburn commit Woody Barrett from West Orange in Winter Garden, Fla.
But developing pro-style passers and dual-threat college stars are different things.
“(The reputation) is warranted,” Scout managing editor Scott Kennedy said. “Yes, Cam Newton did develop in the SEC, but we’re in a time of: What have you done for me lately? The quarterback play in the SEC this year was dreadful. You had Chad Kelly at Ole Miss and Dak Prescott at Mississippi State, and Chad Kelly was by way of Clemson.
“I don’t know if two guys do it because there were two pretty good guys last year, but Shea Patterson and Jacob Eason have all the tools. The problem with the quarterback position is it requires the most amount of stuff you can’t scout. It’s not a bigger, faster, stronger position. … But if Patterson and Eason are not heading up All-America lists and the NFL draft, we will consider them to be misses.”
Patterson will play behind Kelly, who opted against entering the NFL draft. That will give him more time to learn. “The ability to probably be the No. 2 could be an ideal path to mature,” Luginbill said.
At times, the rankings flipped between Eason and Patterson in terms of who was the top quarterback in the class. Evaluators got a final look at each during the Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio. Patterson was named MVP and completed six of nine passes for 90 yards with two touchdowns.
Eason was 6-for-13 for 71 yards with an interception. He fumbled twice, losing one after he a sack.
“It was a tough debate,” ESPN national recruiting analyst Craig Haubert said. “The way I look at it personally is if I had go out and try to win a game tomorrow, Shea Patterson would be my guy. He’s a bit more of a gamer, more of a gunslinger and more college-ready.
“I think Eason has much more room to grow physically and as a player. He has outstanding tools that three or four years from now, he could be special. Three or four years from now, I don’t know that Shea is that different a player. What you see with Shea is what you’re getting with him.”
RELATED: Final Composite Player Rankings
The question for Eason is whether he will be Georgia’s starter from the season opener for new coach Kirby Smart or be eased into the lineup.
Franks, a former LSU commit who flipped to Florida, enters a situation in which there is no question the Gators need a quarterback. Can Florida develop Franks or fellow early enrollee Kyle Trask of Manvel, Texas?
“The quarterback position has to be fixed; it’s that simple,” Luginbill said. “If the quarterback position gets fixed at Florida, Florida is a different program to every opponent they play as a result of that one fix.”