It’s unbelievable how long the offseason seems to last and how short the football season always ends up feeling. We’re about two months away from kickoff in Charlotte, which means we have about two more months of speculation before everything we think we’ve figured out goes out the window by October 1st.
While we’re still in speculation mode, we’re going to take a step back from all the questions surrounding the Tar Heels and take a quick dive into the quarterbacks they’ll be taking the field against. Aside from a few returning starters, there are a lot of teams who will be breaking in new quarterbacks with a new offense, just like Carolina.
For the record, since we can’t go without mentioning UNC’s QB situation, I see the range of possible outcomes for whoever ends up starting out of Howell, Ruder, and Fortin falling somewhere in the 5-9 range.
- Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
It should be no real shock that the golden boy from Cartersville, Georgia gets the top spot. He and Tua Tagovailoa have the top two quarterback spots in the country on lockdown. This will be Lawrence’s first full year as a starter after splitting time with current Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant for the first four games of last season. Lawrence can make every single throw; his arm talent is off the charts. He has really good pocket mobility and always has his eyes down field. He’s 100% as good as advertised.
2. Jake Bentley, South Carolina
This might be a surprise to some, but I’m higher on Bentley than about 97% of the good folks in Columbia, South Carolina. I think a lot of that has to do with quarterback fatigue, however. Last year, Washington fans were just about ready to run Jake Browning out of town, and all he did was win the conference twice, take them to the Rose Bowl and the College Football Playoff, and become the winningest quarterback in Washington history. Bentley’s relationship with the South Carolina fanbase is looking a lot like Browning’s with the Husky faithful, but there’s still a lot to like about his game. He made headlines right out of the gate by skipping his senior year of high school to enroll at South Carolina, so it does feel like he’s been at SCAR forever. He has a strong arm but can make change of pace touch throws. He’ll also stand in the pocket and take a hit, which a lot of college quarterbacks can’t do (Those two traits have him penciled in as a mid round NFL Draft prospect next year for me). The biggest flaw in his game that Bentley can correct this year is interceptions: he threw fourteen of them in 2018. If he can get that down to even single digits then South Carolina will be better than people expect this year.
3A. Bryce Perkins, Virginia
You’ve probably noticed at this point that I’m weighing starting experience heavily in these rankings. An Arizona State transfer via JUCO, Perkins started all thirteen games last year and accounted for 34 touchdowns, threw for about 2,500 yards, and rushed for slightly less than 1,000. Perkins is a big reason why Virginia is one of the early favorites to win the Coastal Division. When I reviewed his film from last year, he was actually more accurate than I remembered, and he was particularly impressive on throws rolling to his left. Throwing away from your body is usually considered the biggest no-no in sports that involve throwing, because it’s hard to generate power without your base. It’s exacerbated as a quarterback because your field vision is limited when you’re rolling away from your throwing arm to the play’s back side. Perkins has enough pop in his arm and the accuracy, however, to make him just as dangerous on the move in any direction as he is in the pocket, and that’s not even getting into what he presents as a run threat.
3B. Zac Thomas, Appalachian State
In his first year as a starter, Thomas accounted for 31 passing and rushing touchdowns. Even as a pass-first quarterback, he rushed for a lot of touchdowns and over 500 yards last season. The first thing that pops out about him on film is his unnaturally quick release. Especially in the red zone, the entire playbook was wide open for him. Former North Carolina State offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz will be the new head coach in Boone, so the Mountaineers could be running a more pro-style offense in 2019 and there could be an adjustment period. Thomas’s skill set will allow him to thrive in any system, though, and the App State game is going to be one of the most entertaining games of the year for Carolina fans.
5. Sam Hartman, Wake Forest
Hartman was the opening day starter as a true freshman for Wake Forest. He’s not guaranteed the starting spot this year, though, currently locked in a quarterback competition with Jamie Newman, who took over after Hartman suffered a season-ending leg injury against Syracuse. Both are capable options, but Hartman has a higher upside, which is why I think he’ll end up winning the job. Hartman doesn’t have the biggest arm and isn’t the fastest player, but he’s competent in both respects. What stands out about him is his decision making ability. Especially for a true freshman, Hartman didn’t make a lot of mistakes and seems to know the best pass to make almost all the time. For what it’s worth, Hartman participated in Wake’s spring camp, and people I’ve spoken to that are close to to the program aren’t concerned about his injury going into 2019.
6. Tate Martell, Miami
He might be number six on the list, but Martell is number one in confidence. The Ohio State grad transfer is in a four-person quarterback battle in Coral Gables, which I expect to come down to Martell and part-time starter from last year, N’Kosi Perry. Perry’s first start, if you remember, was the Miami blowout of North Carolina. If that’s the only Canes game that you saw last year, let’s just say that the rest of the season went slightly downhill for Perry after his first start. Richt mishandled their quarterback situation and Perry should have had a better opportunity to succeed, but that’s another topic for another day. Reports out of Miami are that Martell has struggled to separate himself from Perry in spring ball, but he’s too talented not to win the job at least by the end of the season if not sooner. Martell had limited playing time at Ohio State, but when he’s on his game, he might be the most electric non-Perkins quarterback Carolina faces in 2019.
7. Ryan Willis, Virginia Tech
I feel like I could have justified putting Willis anywhere from three to nine, but I eventually settled on him here. Willis took over for the Hokies after opening day starter Josh Jackson got injured. Fast forward to February and Jackson announced he was transferring to Maryland, and so began the official Ryan Willis era in Blacksburg. Willis is mobile enough to be a running threat in the RPO game, and can pretty much do everything that Virginia Tech’s offense asks of him. Every once in a while, though, he’ll make one of those head scratching throws that you can’t figure out. I watched one interception he threw against Virginia about eleven times just trying to figure out the thought process behind it, and I just couldn’t do it. Having a full offseason as the starter will be extremely beneficial, and like with Jake Bentley, those type of throws should be cut down in 2019. He’ll also need to be better when the play breaks down.
8. Quentin Harris, Duke
This dude has a cannon. David Cutliffe always seems to play his back up quarterbacks just enough and Harris saw enough action to throw for almost five hundred yards while backing up first round draft pick Daniel Jones. One area that I expect improvement from after a full off season as the expected starter is getting to his third or fourth read. He showed a tendency to tuck and run if his first read wasn’t there or if the pocket collapsed. With a bit more pocket presence, he can be really dangerous this season, but that’s asking a fair bit of him.
9. Matt McKay, North Carolina State
Dave Doeren is rumored to be holding a four man quarterback competition. After watching State’s spring game, I thought it looked like like McKay and Devin Leary were the two to keep an eye on. Leary has more arm talent, but looks like a player who dominated high school just with arm talent and needs to figure out adjusting to the speed of college defenses still. McKay is a smart player, has a nice touch on his deep ball, and is a good runner when he needs to use his legs. He seems in control of the moment and to have a good grip on the offense. The State game is the last game of the year, so a lot could change between now and November, but McKay is State’s best option for 2019 as of now.
10. Tobias Oliver, Georgia Tech
If Paul Johnson was still running the show in Atlanta then Oliver would be pushing the top five. Just like every other quarterback on the Yellow Jackets’ roster, Oliver was recruited to play the triple option. Because of the schematic change, Georgia Tech has the largest range of possible outcomes for this season in the conference, and that extends to its quarterback play. Oliver is an electric play maker, but there will be some major growing pains switching from the option to playing within the pocket.
11. Kenny Pickett, Pitt
Remember how Matt McKay has a sense of calm and control about him? Well, Kenny Pickett gives off the opposite vibe. If he’s in a clean pocket, he has pretty good arm strength and nice timing with his receivers. When protection breaks down or a route gets jammed, however, everything goes to crap. The first word I wrote down in my notes while watching him was “jittery.” To be totally fair, it was his first full year as a starter, so hopefully for Pitt fans, he’ll show better pocket awareness in year two.
12. Robert Riddle: Mercer
Yes, this is the best picture of Riddle that I could pull up. Mercer had four quarterbacks who saw action last year, and in limited action Little was the most productive. He averaged over 200 yards passing per game with a 65.35% completion rate. In high school he showed an ability to play from outside the pocket, and is especially accurate throwing while rolling out to his right. Kaelen Riley played in eight games last year, and there could be competition for this spot, but all signs point to it being essentially Riddle’s job. It’s surprisingly hard to find game tape and team news coming out of Macon, Georgia, but people close to the program are reasonably excited about Riddle. He’s not to the caliber of the P5 guys (and Thomas) on this list, though.