It's a bye week, which means our overactive football minds are inevitably scrambling for some topic to talk about. Well, what better topic is there than the future of the quarterback position at Alabama?
Yes, AJ McCarron is still on campus, and yes, it is premature to start talking about his successor, but that's what we do here.
Before we get to that, though, let's take a brief look at how ridiculously irreplaceable AJ will have made himself by the end of his career. AJ is already in the Bama record books as having the most total yardage in a season, and within the next couple of games, he'll almost certainly become number one in total yardage and passing yardage in a career. He's already number 1 in total touchdowns in a single season, and whole career. He's not just being bailed out by superior talent, though, as reflected by his number 1 ranking in career pass completion percentage (66.7% (minimum of 200 completions)) and number 1 ranking in lowest interception percentage (both single season and career).
The TL:DR of the previous paragraph - AJ's pretty dang good. With that in mind, the next quarterback for the Crimson Tide will certainly be facing quite the measuring stick. So let's take a look at who might be taking on that challenge.
The Somewhat Known Commodities
Blake Sims - Blake is a fourth year junior, and we've seen a good bit of him over the last couple of years. He had a dreadful A-Day game this past April, but his in-game numbers have actually been pretty decent. His career numbers are right at 60% completion percentage, at 11 yards per completion, with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Blake's throwing mechanics were about as bad as they get in this year's A-Day game, but he seems to have shown a bit of development in this area during live action this year. Of course, it must be considered that Blake hardly ever faces the opponents' first string defense, and has never been in a game when the result was still in doubt. Still, given his experience, Blake is probably the odds-on favorite to start next season as Bama's quarterback.
Alec Morris - Alec is a redshirt freshman (3 star player from Allen, Texas) that has yet to see the field. Considering the fact that the only other eligible player this year (because of redshirts) is Blake Sims, it is really telling that Morris hasn't taken a snap. Unfortunately, at this point, I would be highly surprised to see Morris still on the team this time next year, much less actually captaining the team.
The Mystery Newbloods
Luke Del Rio - Del Rio joined the team as a walk on this past spring, and in the process declined scholarship offers from Oregon State and Oklahoma State. There has been a lot of positive chatter surrounding Del Rio, and it sounds like he might even be the backup this year, if not for the fact that we're trying to redshirt him. At any rate, he's supposedly third on the depth chart right now, and that means you have to think he's at worst right behind Blake Sims when it comes to fighting for the job next spring.
Cooper Bateman - Cooper was a four star player out of Salt Lake City, Utah, and his currently sitting out his freshman year as a redshirt. This is where the "mystery" portion comes into play. Bateman clearly has the credentials, as he is the highest rated quarterback currently on the roster that isn't named "AJ McCarron". However, it seems that Luke Del Rio may have passed him, despite the fact that they both arrived early to go through spring ball. While Del Rio seemingly has the early lead, it's still way too early to count out Bateman, and we may end up with a pretty close battle between those two, as they struggle to simultaneously top each other and overtake Blake Sims.
Parker McLeod - McLeod was a three star quarterback out of Marietta, Georgia, and is currently sitting out his freshman year as a redshirt. If you want to predict Parker's career path, go read up on Phillip Ely. They both came in very lightly regarded, no one expected either to actually be the "guy" at any point in their career, and within two years, they're somewhere else. If McLeod is in Tuscaloosa this time next year, I'll be surprised. If he's there two years from now, I'll be utterly amazed. I really don't mean that as a slight to McLeod, it's just that the position is frankly overcrowded at the moment, and there is just little chance that he'll ever see the field at this rate.
David Cornwell - Cornwell is a four star recruit from Norman, Oklahoma that has committed to sign with the Tide this February. I mentioned Bateman's credentials, and had to qualify it with the phrase "currently on the roster" because of this guy. Cornwell's credentials are even better than AJ's were coming out of high school, as he is considered anywhere from the 2nd to 5th best pro-style QB, and is roughly one of the top 50 players in the nation. For comparison, according to Rivals, AJ was the 7th best pro-style QB and was the 128th best player in the nation.
One major caveat here - Cornwell tore his ACL a few of weeks ago, and is thus sitting out the rest of his senior season. Reports are that he still intends to enroll early, and should be ready to participate in spring ball. While Cornwell certainly has the look of the quarterback of the future, I'm not counting on him getting his number called next year. The fact that he's coming off of an injury, that he's a true freshman, and that we have a number of more experienced guys already in the queue makes me think it's unlikely.
If I'm being completely honest, this is the category that was the impetus for writing this piece. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, The Wildcard...
If you haven't heard of him, Jacob Coker is currently a redshirt sophomore at Florida State University.
Coker is a quality player, that has decent experience, and good mobility. And if rumors are to be believed, that mobility extends beyond the playing field and may include an ability to freely transfer wherever he likes after this December. The rumor is that Coker is set to graduate in December, and will thus be eligible to transfer anywhere as a grad student without having to sit a year.
Now, if you're up to date on your SEC rules, you may be asking, "Wait a minute. I thought the SEC outlawed the graduate-exception rule that allowed a player to come in and play immediately after graduating?" Well, here's the thing, that rule applies to four year graduates, meaning graduates that only have one year of eligibility left. Graduates that have two years left? Best I can tell from the SEC rule book, that's still fair game.
14.1.15 Two-Year Eligibility. A student-athlete who, upon enrollment at the certifying institution, has less than two years of eligibility remaining, is not eligible for financial aid, practice or competition at the member institution.
I got in touch with Bud Elliot from Tomahawk Nation to ask him about the Jacob Coker situation, and while he wasn't able to comment on the veracity of the rumors that Coker is set to graduate this December (citing educational privacy issues), he was able to give us an assessment of Coker, since they evaluated him for months while Coker and Jameis Winston competed for the starting role:
Coker has one of the strongest arms in all of college football. He's a quiet kid, but is well liked. And he's surprisingly mobile for his excellent size. He battled in the fall after being injured in the spring. He did outplay Winston at times, though some of that had to do with Winston screwing around and throwing picks.
If he can for sure graduate, I think Bama will be an option.
Now, we still don't know for certain that Coker is going to graduate. I couldn't find any official confirmation of that. If he were to graduate and transfer, though, that could provide an incredible bridge for the quarterback position. Plug a talented and experienced Coker in for the next two years, and then let the super-talented trio (Bateman (RS SO), Del Rio (RS SO), and Cornwell (RS FR)) duke it out.
Sound like a plan?
Oh yeah, did I mention that Jacob Coker went to high school at Saint Paul's Episcopal in Mobile, the same high school where AJ played? Who better to follow AJ McCarron's footsteps than the guy that has already done it once?
All record stats taken from RollTide.com