For the first time since 2013, Alabama has its starting quarterback returning. Jalen Hurts started all but the first game; and even then, he got the lion’s share of the snaps against USC. The Crimson Tide had four scholarship quarterbacks going into 2016. All four have eligibility remaining, but Hurts is the only one still with the Tide. A true freshman locking down the starting gig can tend to have that effect on the rest of the depth chart.
Blake Barnett left abruptly after just four games, going to a junior college and taking advantage of a loophole that will allow him to play for Arizona State - with former Bama wide receivers coach Billy Napier as his offensive coordinator - next season.
Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell both stayed and announced they were transferring. Bateman enrolled at Utah and is expected to walk-on as a wide receiver for the Utes. Cornwell is taking his talents to Nevada.
Jalen Hurts: He was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year and the SEC Freshman of the Year, and he’s just a rising sophomore. Hurts passed for 2,780 yards and added another 954 yards on the ground while scoring 36 times. While often electrifying, he did have his limitations. He’s got a cannon for an arm, but his downfield accuracy left a lot to be desired. His passing numbers dipped noticeably in the latter half of the season, and he completed a hair under 46% of his passes in the playoffs.
With those struggles, some have speculated that one of the blue chip QBs from the Class of 2017 could supplant Hurts. I generally try to stay away from absolute statements, so I won’t definitively state Hurts will be the starter next season. Nick Saban will play the best player and the guy who gives the team the best chance at winning.
That said, Hurts should absolutely be the favorite to start at quarterback. He put together an incredible freshman campaign and was seconds away from helming Alabama to a national title. He’s got an entire offseason to improve. Also, for what it’s worth, Saban has had two first year starting quarterbacks return the following year: Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron. Both improved their yards/attempt by a full 1.3 yards in the second year. I expect Hurts’ 7.3 yards/attempt will go up next season.
Montana Murphy: He’s a preferred walk-on from Southlake Carroll (Greg McElroy’s alma mater). With Hurts and the two true freshman already on campus, Murphy will remain nothing more than depth (there’s one of those definitive statements I usually abhor). But hey, he’s still on the roster; and the QB cup doesn’t exactly overfloweth.
Also, his bio lists him as a sophomore now, though he didn’t play any last season. I’m not sure why they wouldn’t list him as a redshirt freshman in that case.
Tua Tagovailoa: The five star from Hawaii enrolled back in January. He was the top dual threat QB in the Class of 2017. If anyone were to unseat Hurts, it would be Tagovailoa. Erik wrote up a nice profile of him in the lead up to National Signing Day, and I’d recommend going back and watching some of his film.
He graduated from Saint Louis School in Honolulu and has been compared to another Saint Louis alumnus, Marcus Mariota. In the process of leading Saint Louis to a state championship, Tagovailoa also broke Timmy Chang’s state career passing record. All in all, he combined for almost 10,000 total yards and 124 career touchdowns. Not too shabby.
By all accounts, Tagovailoa is ready to come in and compete for the starting gig. That’s exactly the attitude you want to see. He played in the Army All-American Bowl this past January, going 3-3 for 36 yards and rushing for 27 yards on seven attempts.
Mac Jones: Shortly after Tagovailoa committed to the Tide, Jones flipped his commitment from Kentucky to Alabama. The four star out of Bolles High School in Jacksonville, Florida never wavered, either, even as he watched a true freshman take the mantle and Tagovailoa earn a fifth star.
Unlike Hurts and Tagovailoa, Jones more fits the mold of a traditional dropback passer. Erik also wrote a profile for him; and, again, I recommend going back for another look. He’s also already on campus, having arrived in February. While Tagovailoa got all the hype, Jones will have ample opportunity to prove himself.
Depth Chart Projection
1st string: Jalen Hurts
2nd string: Tua Tagovailoa
3rd string: Mac Jones