Texas A&M Aggies: AJ McCarron
Here's what he's looked at so far:
Now, we're taking a look at Kiper's top quarterback and cornerback draft prospects. We'll start with the quarterbacks and look at the corners later today.
Manziel is getting all sorts of draft attention after his record-breaking, Heisman-winning season. He's the most talked about quarterback in the country and while he doesn't have an elite arm, he's extremely athletic and slippery. He's looking to develop more into a passer, but his ability to improv will continue to help him when his arm can't.
McCarron is someone who could have left for the NFL this year, but decided to stay in school. He makes great decisions with the ball (he threw 30 touchdowns to three interceptions last season) and certainly knows how to win. He has two national championship rings and is going for his third straight. He hasn't been asked to do a lot at Alabama, but he's put up some pretty good numbers and is easily the most talented quarterback Saban has had at Alabama.
Wallace has a tremendous amount of athleticism, but he had a lot of decision-making issues last year. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards, but threw 22 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. Fixing his turnover issue is the biggest thing Wallace has to work on this fall. He has good arm strength and can get out of trouble situations with his feet.
Then you have Murray, who isn't getting a lot of draft love. He flirted with heading to the NFL, but also decided to stay in school. Murray's height (listed at 6-1) has hurt his draft status, but he has a solid arm, moves around well with his feet and has really improved his decision making. He had the stigma of not coming up in big games, but showed improvements in 2012 with his second-half effort in the Dawgs' win against Florida and with the way he played against Alabama in the SEC championship game. He'll probably end the 2013 season with a handful of SEC/Georgia records and should become the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in four straight seasons.
Other draft-eligible quarterbacks I'm keeping an eye on this fall:
- Jeff Driskel, Florida: He wasn't great last year, but there's no denying Driskel has talent. He's more comfortable with the playbook, and he has a lot more confidence. He must have more command and develop better chemistry with his receivers this fall.
- James Franklin, Missouri: He spent most of last season battling injuries, but finally isn't dealing with excruciating shoulder pain. His confidence was up this spring and that will go a long way this fall.
- Zach Mettenberger, LSU: He really came along in November and has all of his receiving targets back. People at LSU feel like he's much more comfortable with Cam Cameron's guidance.
- Tyler Russell, Mississippi State: He's had an up-and-down career with the Bulldogs, but when he was on last year he was extremely efficient. He lost all of his receivers from last year and can't press like he did late last season.
- Connor Shaw, South Carolina: It's hard to find a tougher quarterback out there. Shaw has dealt with a lot of injuries, but when he's been on the field, he's had a lot of success. Here's a chance for him to really improve his draft stock.
I'm not sure it's realistic to expect that kind of haul next year, but it's never too early to start looking ahead to the 2014 draft class.
So, similar to a year ago, I've come up with our list of the SEC's top 20 draft prospects for 2014.
This isn’t a mock draft. Likewise, it’s not a ranking of who I think will be the best players in the SEC next season. Rather, it’s a projection of who will be the most coveted NFL prospects from the SEC when the 2014 draft rolls around in April. In coming up with this list, I’ve talked to several draft analysts as well as NFL personnel, SEC coaches and others who are clued in to the whole draft process.
Some players will obviously play their way onto this list next season, while others will play their way off it. Injuries undoubtedly will be a factor, and then occasionally, guys will come from nowhere to be first-round picks.
Among the prospects I nailed this time a year ago were Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, Alabama offensive guard Chance Warmack, LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo and LSU safety Eric Reid.
Among those I missed the boat on were Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker.
I had Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson No. 1 overall and South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore in my top five. So it never goes exactly the way anybody predicts, especially 11 months before the draft.
Here goes with our 2014 list. Again, we’re not suggesting all 20 will go in the first round or even the first two rounds. It’s simply the order we think they will come off the board in next April’s draft and includes only draft-eligible players:
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina, Jr.: The ultimate game-changer on defense, Clowney would have been a first-rounder had he been draft-eligible after his freshman season. Clowney then excelled in 2012, elevating his status as the 2014 No. 1 favorite.
2: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama, Jr.: A potential top-five pick in next year's draft, the 6-foot-6, 310-pound Kouandjio is everything you're looking for in a left tackle.
3. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M, Sr.: We know Matthews has the bloodlines, but he also has the game. He's shifting over from right tackle to left tackle for his senior season.
4. Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee, Jr.: The man they call Tiny has the size and athleticism to be a franchise left tackle. Clowney said Richardson was one of the best tackles he faced a year ago.
5. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU, Jr.: There's a reason they call him Freak. They just seem to breed great defensive linemen at LSU, and Johnson is next in line.
6. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida, Jr.: He's a pure cover cornerback with good size and an explosive athlete to boot. The Gators also will play him at receiver next season.
7. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M, RSo.: Yes, Manziel is shorter than the NFL typically likes its quarterbacks, but do measurables really matter when you make as many plays as Johnny Football does?
8. Dominique Easley, DT, Florida, Sr.: Easley is fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered at the end of the 2011 season. He's sliding inside to tackle next season and will be a force for the Gators.
9. Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama, RJr.: We saw his ability to get to the quarterback in flashes last season. Look for Hubbard to take that next step in 2013 and become a premier finisher.
10. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama, Sr.: As the saying goes, he's a football player. Mosley is a sure tackler. He's excellent in coverage and is always money whenever Alabama needs a big play.
11. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama, Jr.: In the past four drafts, Alabama has produced four first-round selections in the secondary. Clinton-Dix could be the top safety off the board next year.
12. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M, RSo.: In his first season in the SEC, the 6-5, 225-pound Evans was sensational with 82 catches and 1,105 yards. He'll be even better his second time through.
13. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama, Sr.: Sure, he's been surrounded by great talent, but McCarron also has an NFL arm, delivers in the clutch and takes care of the football.
14. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt, Sr.: The 6-3, 205-pound Matthews is so smooth that he makes it look easy. And talk about productive. He averaged 109.6 receiving yards in eight SEC games.
15. Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss, Jr.: One of the more underrated players in the SEC, the 6-3, 215-pound Moncrief has a knack for finding the end zone with 14 touchdowns in his first two seasons.
16. Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee, Sr.: This mountain of a man (6-8, 360 pounds) is still developing, but he should make an imposing nose tackle for a team that uses a 3-4 defensive scheme.
17. Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida, Jr.: The "other" Florida cornerback also has big-time skills and was second in the SEC in passes defended last season with 14.
18: Chaz Sutton, DE, South Carolina, RJr.: Clowney will get most of the attention next season, but don't be surprised if Sutton blows up and has a monster senior season.
19: Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State, Sr.: Jackson thought about coming out early this year. He returns as one of the top offensive guards in college football.
20: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia, Sr.: The opinions are mixed on Murray, who's bearing down on several SEC records. His numbers speak for themselves, and so does the way he approaches the game.
It’s one of the many things that makes him so good, so instinctive and so entertaining.
Hey, it works for him.
So as he embarks on life after the Heisman Trophy (both on and off the field), he’s not going to change a whole lot.
“It’s hard sometimes, but I’m at the point now that I don’t care what people say,” Manziel said. “Everybody’s watching, and I understand that. For me, the spotlight wasn’t there at all, and then just like that, it was everywhere I went. It took some getting used to, but it’s getting better.
“I’m not going to quit being me and quit doing all the things I love, but I check with a lot more people now before I do anything.”
In other words, Manziel rarely leaves campus without first checking in with Texas A&M’s compliance officials.
He’s also sought assistance on how to deal with the unrelenting requests for autographs and pictures. He’s taking online courses only this semester and won’t start back taking classes on campus until the summer session.
“No matter how badly you want to, you can’t make everybody happy,” Manziel said. “They brought in somebody to help me with that, learning how to say no, and yet, still be polite.”
There's been progress. Manziel said he and his roommate and best friend, Steven Brant, recently went to a restaurant to eat and walked in and walked out without much disturbance.
“Every day, it gets a little better,” said Manziel, who doesn't apologize for being one of those people who loves to have a good time.
On a college campus, how many people don't fall into that boat?
He’s become a celebrity among the celebrities. Rapper Drake tweeted at Manziel last week, and Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin joked that Manziel has LeBron James on speed dial.
Manziel has also become friends with several other high-profile college football players and is a huge fan of the game. He and Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron talked about hanging out together at spring break. But their breaks were one week different, and it didn’t work out.
Manziel has also developed a friendship with USC receiver Marqise Lee, and when it comes to watching college football, two of his favorites are Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd.
This week, with the Aggies having wrapped up spring practice, Manziel is going back home to Kerrville, Texas, for a ceremony to honor him.
“It’s the first time I’ve been back in a while, and it will be good to see everybody,” he said.
He’s fresh off throwing for 303 yards and three touchdowns in Texas A&M’s spring game last weekend. Granted, Manziel was going against the second-team defense, but he looked more polished in the pocket.
“I’m still going to be looking to make plays and still get positive yardage any way I can, but I want to play more within the system,” Manziel said. “I’ve honed in on my mechanics and honed in on the little things that make you a good quarterback.”
That said, don’t think for a minute that the streetball version of Johnny Football is going anywhere.
“I call it Michael Vick ball, and that’s always going to be a part of my game,” Manziel said.
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
Start date: March 16
Spring game: April 20
What to watch:
- Battling complacency: Alabama is gearing up for yet another title defense. Will complacency finally rear its ugly head? Not if Nick Saban has anything to do with it. The head coach will no doubt remind players of the targets on their backs and what little they've accomplished as presently constituted.
- Opening up the passing game: The return of AJ McCarron, coupled with a talented, deep crop of receivers, could mean a more wide-open passing game in Tuscaloosa. If true freshman tight end O.J. Howard develops as some expect, the offense could become even more dynamic.
So start casting those votes in our SportsNation poll, and we'll go over the results in the next few days.
Here are the five candidates:
Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama: He looked like a crimson-and-white bulldozer running over Notre Dame defenders on his way to 140 rushing yards in Alabama's 42-14 victory over Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship. His 20-yard touchdown romp three minutes into the game set the tone for what was an utter mismatch.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Johnny Football put on a post-Heisman Trophy show with a Cotton Bowl-record 516 yards of total offense in the Aggies' 41-13 demolition of Oklahoma. He accounted for four touchdowns and set an FBS bowl record with 229 rushing yards on 17 carries. Manziel joined Vince Young as the only two players in history to rush for more than 200 yards and pass for more than 200 yards in a bowl game.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: His start to the game was shaky, as Murray threw two interceptions in the first quarter. But he came roaring back to set Georgia bowl records with 427 passing yards and five touchdowns in the Bulldogs' 45-31 victory over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. Murray was lights-out on third down and threw two of his touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to break a 31-31 tie.
AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: McCarron obviously likes the big stages. After winning Most Outstanding Offensive Player honors in last season's BCS National Championship, he followed up that performance with four touchdown passes against Notre Dame last week to lead the Tide to their second consecutive national title. He directed touchdown drives on each of Alabama's first three possessions and was 8-of-9 passing in those three drives.
Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina: In what turned out to be Sanders' farewell to the Gamecocks, he scored three touchdowns in their 33-28 win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl. He had a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown and caught a pair of scoring passes. He also had a clutch fourth-down catch to keep South Carolina's game-winning drive alive and finished with nine receptions for 92 yards.
1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: What will Johnny Football do for an encore? After becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, after setting the SEC record for total yards (5,116), all eyes will be on Manziel in his second year as the Aggies' quarterback. He'll be without offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, left tackle Luke Joeckel and two big receiving targets. But Manziel will probably still be one of the slipperiest players in the country. If he grows more as a passer, watch out, because he'll be even more dangerous in 2013.
3. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: He didn't have the numbers Georgia's Aaron Murray had in 2012, but he won his second straight national championship and was the nation's most efficient passer with a QB rating of 175.28. He narrowly missed out on 3,000 yards and threw 30 touchdowns to just three interceptions. With Amari Cooper coming back and Chris Black and Kenny Bell returning from injury, expect McCarron to have an even bigger year in 2013. Making another national championship run won't hurt him, either.
4. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: Murray decided to come back and give college one last try. That just means that he'll have a chance to break even more records. Murray will be a part of a very explosive offense in Athens this fall and has a chance to put up some major numbers in his final year with the Bulldogs. He's second only to Danny Wuerffel when it comes to career touchdown passes in the SEC with 95. And Murray became the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in three straight seasons, and he's looking to make it four straight.
5. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: Murray's return could cut into Gurley's production, but even while he battled for time with Murray and fellow running back Keith Marshall, Gurley still led all SEC running backs with 1,322 yards in his first year of college ball. He also had 17 touchdowns and averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Gurley should be stronger and more comfortable in Georgia's offense in 2013, and that has to be a very scary thought for opposing defensive coordinators.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Standing tall in a crowded little media room tucked away deep inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, Ryan Swope could barely find the right words when asked about the statement Texas A&M made Saturday before Sean Porter spoke for him.
“We can play with anybody,” the senior linebacker nonchalantly said with his eyes still looking at the ground as he slowly slid his gloves off.
Porter didn’t even have to utter those five words because everyone in the room knew it. And everyone in the country knows it.
A team that was thought to be outmanned and overmatched with its move from the Big 12 to the SEC made all of the doubters look very silly with its 29-24 win over No. 1 Alabama. And this wasn’t a letdown loss for the Tide following an emotional win over LSU last week. The 15th-ranked Aggies dominated Alabama for four quarters.
The Tide were supposed to wear down A&M, but the players in the crimson tops were the ones huffing, puffing and panting deep into the fourth quarter, as the Aggies' up-tempo offense left Alabama's defense dazed, confused and susceptible to a handful of big plays.
Alabama was supposed to protect the ball after it entered the game plus-15 in turnover margin, while the Aggies were minus-7. Instead, A&M won the turnover battle 3-0.
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron's streak of 292 passes without an interception ended in the first quarter and his team’s national championship hopes all but ended when his second pick went to sophomore cornerback Deshazor Everett with 1:36 left in the fourth.
“It goes to show that we can compete with anyone in this league,” said Swope, who finished with a game-high 11 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown.
“We practice with confidence and you have to be a confident football team to do those kinds of things. You can tell guys played with heart tonight. It was unbelievable.”
What might be more unbelievable is how this team did it without having to rely completely on Johnny Manziel.
Sure, this team has excelled on both sides of the ball in recent weeks, but Johnny Football has been the center of every conversation.
On Saturday, he was just one part of A&M’s win.
“Not to take away from Johnny, but for us to come to Alabama and win, that is a complete team effort,” coach Kevin Sumlin said.
Manziel’s 253 passing yards, 92 rushing yards and two total touchdowns certainly helped, but his supporting actors were outstanding.
His receivers made a handful of tough plays, most of which came with players outmuscling Alabama defenders for the ball or to get extra yardage, like Mike Evans scratching and clawing toward the first-down marker in the first half.
And look at the defense. No one outside of College Station was quite sure if this unit was capable of containing Alabama’s running game or flustering McCarron, but it did both.
Alabama ran just 14 times in the second half and totaled just 122 rushing yards.
Of course, the play of the night was by the often overlooked Everett, who snatched away McCarron’s telegraphed fourth-down pass to the end zone after Kenny Bell had set up the Tide with first-and-goal at the 6-yard line with his 54-yard catch.
Texas A&M also didn’t succumb to the second-half failures that have routinely plagued this program. After squandering most of a 20-point first-quarter lead -- thanks to a 17-0 Alabama run -- this team held strong and didn’t panic after a two-quarter lull.
Manziel, who might have thrown his name right back into the Heisman picture while simultaneously pushing McCarron out, dazzled with his arm and legs in the first half, but picked his spots in the second. After racking up 200 total yards of offense and a touchdown in the first half, he was held to just 145 yards in the final two quarters.
Alabama contained him more efficiently, but he stayed calm and delivered some clutch fourth-quarter throws. Manziel made two beauties on the Aggies’ two-play, 66-yard drive in which he hit Swope for 42 yards down the right sideline before putting A&M up for good with a perfectly thrown flag pass to Malcome Kennedy for a 24-yard score.
“We did a lot of things that a lot of people said we couldn’t do,” defensive end Damontre Moore said. “Now, to prove them wrong does a lot for the program.”
It shows the SEC that the new kid on the block isn’t going to be a pushover. The Aggies were supposed to hit their stride with more time under Sumlin. They've hit that stride now, and teams are lucky A&M only just started playing so well.
The SEC chants that rained down from the Aggies’ student section with 8:37 remaining in the fourth quarter probably never sounded so right.
“We’re glad to be here and prove that we belong here and we’re not some other team that people made us out to be,” Moore said. “We proved that today.”
It's almost time for hundreds of media folk to pile into a swanky ballroom and kick off another year of SEC media days.
The festivities begin Tuesday at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., and last until Thursday afternoon. The event serves as the unofficial kickoff to SEC football season.
So what should we be on the lookout for this year?
Well, the biggest news is all the star power that won't be making the trip. Two of the league's top rushers -- Marcus Lattimore and Christine Michael -- won't be in town. Yes, they are both coming off season-ending injuries, but so is Arkansas' Knile Davis, and he'll be in attendance.
One of the league's best, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray won't be in Hoover, either. Nor will Bulldogs wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell.
Some other big names not on the list include Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Missouri quarterback James Franklin.
There are a lot of interesting storylines revolving around all those players, who serve as faces for their respective programs, and it's disappointing that they won't be around this week.
However, some quality names are on this year's roster, including Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones, Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, Texas A&M linebacker Sean Porter, Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray and South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw.
I'm sure they'll all have plenty to say and should keep us all entertained.
Here are some other things to keep an eye on this week:
- If you're coming into town, make sure you bring your protective gear for Thursday. That's when Alabama's up, and you'd better believe the lobby will be jam-packed with Tide fans. They come out in full force and expect things to be even tighter this year after that championship.
- Arkansas players will have to answer a lot of questions surrounding their former coach, Bobby Petrino. How much of a distraction will his exit be this fall?
- Also, what will new Arkansas coach John L. Smith say? He sure knows how to make a news conference exciting, so don't expect anything to be different in front of all those SEC scribes.
- One coach not afraid to put on a show while at the podium is South Carolina's Steve Spurrier. The Head Ball Coach has been chirping this year, and he probably won't stop in Hoover.
- Last year, there were a lot of questions about the quarterback talent in this league. This year, that isn't the case, as the league is as plentiful at the position as it has been in years.
- Although only Davis will be in town, expect a lot of talk about three of the league's best running backs all coming off major, season-ending injuries.
- Georgia has had an eventful offseason away from the field, and it's time to see how players and coach Mark Richt are feeling about all of the silly distractions. Also, what's in store for the Bulldogs' running game now that Isaiah Crowell is gone?
- I wonder how many times Nick Saban and his players will be asked questions about comparisons to the 2010 team. You know how much Saban loves comparison talk. ...
- Tennessee coach Derek Dooley should field a lot of questions about his job security this week. Regardless of how you feel about the time he's had and all the issues he's had to deal with, his seat is hotter than ever.
- Texas A&M and Missouri are now officially members of the SEC. How will their players and coaches react to being surrounded by all those SEC writers? And how many more questions will they get about adjusting to their new conference?
- LSU was on top of the college football world until last year's national championship. The Tigers bring back a boatload of talent, but can they finish things this year?
- The good news for Auburn, South Carolina and Tennessee is their coaches won't have to deal with NCAA questions, unlike last year.
Here are our top 10 SEC tight ends:
2. Philip Lutzenkirchen, Sr., Auburn: He only caught 24 passes last year, but seven of those catches went for touchdowns. He's a big-time threat in the red zone and is a solid blocker as well. The addition of fullback Jay Prosch will give Lutzenkirchen a chance to be even more active in the receiving game.
3. Jordan Reed, Jr., Florida: There's no doubt that Reed is extremely athletic, but he can lose focus at times on the field. Still, when he's on the ball, he can make plenty of plays. He's the Gators' top returning receiving target and with two young quarterbacks throwing this year, Reed has the chance to rack up receptions as a close-to-the-line safety net.
4. Mychal Rivera, Sr., Tennessee: Rivera is a very reliable and consistent weapon for the Vols. Even with Justin Hunter coming back and Cordarrelle Patterson jumping into the receiving mix, Rivera might not see his production drop too much if Tyler Bray can stay health. This team will throw it around as much as possible.
5. Michael Williams, Sr., Alabama: Williams only caught 17 passes last year, but there were a couple more proven players around him. This time around, his experience will be valued more by quarterback AJ McCarron. He's a solid player and can be a beast on the field, so the coaches are expecting to get a lot more out of him this fall.
6. Malcolm Johnson, So., Mississippi State: He was once a receiver, but has now found a home at tight end. He averaged 18.7 yards on his 11 catches last year and scored three touchdowns. The Bulldogs have a lot of receiving options, but Johnson should have plenty of chances to improve on last year's production.
7. Justice Cunningham, Sr., South Carolina: He'll continue to have Rory Anderson playing on the other side of him, but Cunningham's a bigger, more experienced target in the Gamecocks' passing game and will likely get more looks this fall with Alshon Jeffery gone. He's a solid blocker and will even line up as a fullback in two-back sets.
8. Chase Clement, Sr., LSU: He's on the John Mackey watch list, but has just nine career catches, with seven coming last season as a backup. Clement will be used to block often, which is needed with a team that runs the ball as much as LSU does. And with an offense that's expected to be more pass-friendly, Clement could see the ball thrown his way more often.
9. Nehemiah Hicks, Jr., Texas A&M: The Aggies have three tight ends they can use in their offense, but Hicks might be the most gifted of the bunch. He started seven games last year and is coming off of shoulder surgery, but if he's healthy he'll be a nice looking target for whichever quarterback takes the field for A&M this fall.
10. Jamal Mosley, Sr., Ole Miss: While he only caught 12 passes last year, Mosley is expected to be used more often in Ole Miss' new spread offense. He's another one of those more athletic tight ends and should help the Rebels with their depth issues in the passing game.
Again, we are looking at overall talent, game-changing ability and experience. We also looked at past performances and projections for 2012.
Here are our top 10 SEC quarterbacks:
2. Aaron Murray, RJr., Georgia: Murray has a chance to own a few more school and SEC records before his time at Georgia is up, but he does have to get over his turnover issues. Murray has some of the best technique and mechanics around, and when he's on and focused, he is one of the most talented passers out there.
3. Tyler Bray, Jr., Tennessee: Bray might have the strongest arm in the SEC, and has the ability to make some of the toughest throws in traffic. If he's healthy, he could go for 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. His focus hasn't always been great, but he made sure to correct that this spring and appears to finally be transforming into the real leader he's wanted to be.
4. AJ McCarron, Jr., Alabama: He has the tools and the moxy to be a real star. As last season progressed, he looked better and better, and capped things off with a marvelous performance in the BCS title game. If coach Nick Saban is really going to let him loose, McCarron has to improve some of his on-field decisions.
5. James Franklin, Jr., Missouri: If he's healthy, Franklin will be the SEC's top dual-threat quarterback. During a breakout season last fall, he passed for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns, and rushed for 981 yards and 15 more scores. Franklin wants to be a pass-first quarterback in his new league, but his shoulder injury is a concern.
6. Connor Shaw, Jr., South Carolina: Shaw showed his inexperience when he was first thrown into the starting spot last season, but seemed to improve and calm down every week after. Coach Steve Spurrier wants him to be more of a pass-first quarterback, and that seemed to be the case at the end of last season and this spring.
7. Zach Mettenberger, Jr., LSU: Mettenberger was a top quarterback prospect coming out of high school, but has very little experience outside of a stint at the junior college level after leaving Georgia. Still, he's certainly an upgrade for the Tigers, and showed this spring that he should make LSU's passing game stronger and more explosive.
8. Jordan Rodgers, RSr., Vanderbilt: Rodgers was an instant playmaker for the Commodores when he replaced the struggling Larry Smith last year, but he struggled with turnovers. This spring was all about him improving his leadership skills and his game management. Vandy's coaches left spring more confident in Rodgers' play.
9. Tyler Russell, Jr., Mississippi State: He bided his time during his first two years, but is now the guy in Starkville. The hope is that he'll be more consistent and more comfortable now that he knows he's the starter. It looks like the Bulldogs will have a more downfield passing game with Russell taking over.
10. Maxwell Smith, So., Kentucky: Smith played in eight games last season, but proved to be a much more effective player than former starter Morgan Newton. Despite averaging just 102.4 passing yards per game, Smith earned SEC All-Freshmen honors last fall. Smith looked even better this spring, and it appears the Wildcats' starting quarterback spot is his to lose.