SEC football: Exploring the myth of ‘bad SEC quarterbacks’ in the NFL

SEC football is known for winning but not for producing great NFL quarterbacks

In the last 40 years, SEC football teams have produced 14 national championship teams and ten Heisman Trophy winners. Not a bad record at all.

The SEC has also had 60 quarterbacks selected in the NFL draft over this time period,14 of them being taken in the first round, and seven of those being number one overall picks in the draft.

60 quarterbacks, 15 first-round picks, seven number one overall picks in 40 years, and you can count the number of truly great NFL careers from that list on one hand.

If you ask the casual fan, you’ll probably be told that all the SEC has given the NFL in terms of quarterbacks is the Mannings. You’ll hear everything from every SEC quarterback being either a system quarterback to just being a game manager in a league dominated by defense and running.

Thus, the narrative of “SEC quarterbacks can’t succeed in the NFL” became a commonly repeated stanza among fans and analysts. But does it really ring true, or has the power status of the conference simply brought more of these players to the national spotlight?

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Looking at the success stories from the past 40 years, there are a few former SEC quarterbacks who have made an indelible mark in the NFL, some probably headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Peyton Manning, No. 1 overall pick in 1998 out of Tennessee
Eli Manning, No. 1 overall pick in 2004 out of Ole Miss
Matthew Stafford, No. 1 overall pick in 2009 out of Georgia
Cam Newton, No. 1 overall pick in 2011 out of Auburn

If you wanted, you could even throw 2016 fourth-round pick Dak Prescott out of Mississippi State into that bunch, although some would say the jury is still out on his NFL career.

Then there were the busts. Guys who came into the league with the highest of expectations and fell with a resounding splat (we won’t count Blaine Gabbert, as Missouri was still a member of the Big 12 when he was drafted in 2011).

Johnny Manziel, No. 22 overall pick in 2014 out of Texas A&M
Tim Tebow, No. 25 overall pick in 2010 out of Florida
Jason Campbell, No. 25 overall pick in 2005 out of Auburn
Tim Couch, No. 1 overall pick in 1999 out of Kentucky
Heath Shuler, No. 3 overall pick in 1994 out of Tennessee

Of course, there was the bust of all busts, the guy who’s name and face have become synonymous with the phrase “bad draft pick”, JaMarcus Russell, No. 1 overall pick in 2007 out of LSU.

Beyond that, you have a maze of names littered with middling-to-substandard NFL pursuits, with a few showing small pockets of greatness in careers that consisted mostly of agonizing seasons (hello, Rex Grossman).

So it’s clear that SEC quarterbacks have run the gamut when it comes to success in the NFL. Superstar to bust and everything in between.

SEC football actually produces good quarterbacks

So why then the continual bad rap? Why do people seem to pick on SEC quarterbacks?

Because, in plain language, SEC football fans proudly wave their banners regardless of what school they support. Like battling siblings, fans from opposing SEC schools may hate each other, but if an outsider tries getting in on the act it just doesn’t fly – and that grates on fans all over the country.

So, any chance to take a shot at the SEC — anything to bring the conference down a notch — is considered fair game, and since the quarterback is the most visible and important position on the team, what better way to “prove” the SEC isn’t all that.

Despite how putrid some of the numbers (and names) listed above may look, it’s really not all that bad.

Truthfully, Washington and Washington State have had just as many (if not more) flops than all 14 SEC teams over the last 40 years, but no one ever really puts the kibosh on drafting a QB from one of those two schools. In fact, they’re both looked upon as a hotbed for finding great NFL quarterbacks.

So what school has the most failed first-round quarterbacks since 1980? In case you’re wondering (and we know you are), that honor would go to USC who has had five quarterbacks taken in the first round, with the only one salvaging a decent career in the NFL being Carson Palmer (and Sam Darnold yet to be determined).

Oregon is not far behind with three of their four first-round picks at quarterback doing essentially nothing based on the expectations given (Justin Herbert being the wait and see of that group).

Overall, the Pac-12 has had far more busts and marginally bad picks at quarterback than any other conference. Those are pretty low percentages for schools that are generally considered good places to find a quarterback.

When you break things down into those percentages, you actually see that SEC football is probably more adept at providing a great quarterback in the NFL.

Seven number one overall picks, including Joe Burrow who was just selected in this year’s draft, and only two of them have been complete busts. The other four (excluding Burrow) have Hall of Fame resumes (or darn close to it) and have won four Super Bowls between them.

Removing Burrow, since he has yet to play a snap in the NFL, that’s a 66.67 percent success rate being taken as the top pick in the draft.

14 first-round picks can be listed.

Heath Shuler
Peyton Manning
Tim Couch
Rex Grossman
Eli Manning
Jason Campbell
Jay Cutler
JaMarcus Russell
Matthew Stafford
Tim Tebow
Cam Newton
Johnny Manziel
Joe Burrow
Tua Tagovailoa

Removing Tua and Burrow, you have 12 first-round picks, with five of them failing spectacularly. Others, such as Grossman and Cutler, may not have put together legendary careers, but they were still great NFL quarterbacks. That’s a success rate of 58.33 percent if you take an SEC quarterback in the first round.

See where this is going?

Yes, there are names of quarterbacks who had a lot of success in the SEC who scouts never bought into as prime NFL candidates like Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron, Greg McElroy, David Greene, and Jesse Palmer. But these quarterbacks were never looked at as “sure things” in the NFL. There were flaws in their game or their physical traits that weren’t exposed as college football players.

There was a reason they were taken later in the draft. To say guys like them give SEC quarterbacks a black eye in the NFL is like saying there are no great defensive backs anywhere other than LSU. The numbers simply don’t lend themselves to that theory.

But for all the buzz heard each season about how quarterbacks are a crapshoot, and it’s hard to really evaluate quarterback talent based on the college game, it seems scouts — for the most part — get it right when it comes to SEC quarterbacks.

If a quarterback out of the SEC seems worthy of a No.1 overall pick, the chances are you found a franchise QB. If scouts say they’re worth taking in the first round, you have a better than average chance of not being disappointed.

The rest are just hopefuls, some panned out and others didn’t, but no one really expected them to be more than they were – except the over-supportive fans from their colleges.

SEC football produces bad quarterbacks? Consider this myth…busted.