Pro Football Focus ranked all 130 FBS starting quarterbacks this week, which means they also predicted who would be starting at quarterback for each program.
Their pick for the Tennessee Vols‘ starting quarterback is probably not who most fans would expect.
PFF has Hendon Hooker, a Virginia Tech transfer, starting for the Vols in 2021 (they also ranked Hooker as the No. 29 quarterback in the country).
Hooker’s passing grade on play-action dropbacks was nearly 30 grading points higher than it was on straight dropbacks (85.9 versus 57.0) in 2020, and his completion rate differential led all FBS quarterbacks (+13.5%). Heupel led a UCF offense that dialed up play action at a top-10 rate in 2020 (45%), with many of the resulting passes targeting go-routes down the sideline. Hooker won’t consistently hit those nine routes as often as Heupel’s last quarterback, Dillon Gabriel, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still be a good quarterback for the Volunteers.
The Vols’ quarterback battle is currently a wide-open competition between Hooker, Harrison Bailey, Brian Maurer, and Michigan transfer Joe Milton.
At some point during fall camp, the battle will likely be narrowed down to two quarterbacks.
I’d expect those two quarterbacks to be Milton and Bailey….and I lean toward Milton winning the job (thanks to his size, big arm, and athleticism).
Milton transferred to Tennessee after spring practice for a reason.
And it wasn’t to be a backup.
Now, he’ll obviously still have to win the job. But he’s the first quarterback that Heupel brought to Knoxville and didn’t inherit. Heupel chose Milton. He didn’t choose the other quarterbacks on the roster.
As far as Hooker goes, I’m skeptical that he’s suddenly going to figure it out in the SEC.
After all, this is the quarterback who once threw three interceptions in one game to walk-on Wake Forest freshman Nick Anderson.
(Those three interceptions earned Anderson a scholarship after the game.)
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) July 17, 2021
No offense to Wake Forest, but the Demon Deacons aren’t exactly up to par with the defenses that Tennessee’s starting quarterback in 2021 will be facing.
Who knows. Maybe Pro Football Focus will be correct. Maybe Hooker will be the starter. There’s still a long way to go in this battle.
I’d be very surprised, however, if that ends up being the case.
Featured image via Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services