It’s always critical to try to reserve hyperbole when discussing any new quarterback.
That’s particularity true with freshmen, who are kind of like pitchers. They can look like world beaters the first time through the order, then struggle as hitters adapt and see more pitches.
Yet, watching Jake Bentley, it’s difficult to not get carried away. Through two weeks as a starter, he is throwing a perfect game, playing as well as any young quarterback in the SEC.
None of this should be a surprise. As Bentley’s high school coach told SEC Country’s Mike Wilson, being successful at the quarterback position is a lifestyle, and Bentley lives it.
What’s been most impressive is how Bentley is playing from the neck up. He’s not just putting up good numbers in a quarterback-friendly system, he is diagnosing defenses and making plays — doing so as should-be high school senior. In his three starts he has shown every trait that could make him a future star.
One thing that immediately jumps of the screen is Bentley’s intelligence. He does a nice job of moving and manipulating the secondary with his eyes, and works very quickly through a full progression to get to his checkdown. Rather than forcing a ball into a tight window, or waiting for a receiver to come open, he avoids negative plays by checking it quickly to running backs or just throwing it away.
Bentley has shown accuracy to all levels of the field. Of the top SEC freshman quarterbacks, Bentley has been the best at mixing up trajectories and velocities to make throws down the field. On passes of 20 yards or more he leads the SEC’s freshman group in accuracy percentage, completing 64.7 of his passes, per ProFootballFocus. Neither Georgia’s Jacob Eason nor Alabama’s Jalen Hurts are over 22 percent on the same type of throws.
But accuracy is more about ball location than it is completion percentages. Bentley made some “wow” throws against Missouri last week. Particularly in the red zone, where he made back-to-back back-shoulder throws. They gave his receivers a chance, but kept the defensive backs from being able to make a play on the ball. On the first throw the receiver could not stay in bounds, but the second one was a strike for a touchdown.
The next stage of development will be second-level throws. Currently, coordinator Kurt Roper has called either quick release throws, or taken advantage of Bentley’s arm talent down the field. It will be interesting to see how he develops on “bucket” throws: splitting the linebackers and safeties.
Bentley isn’t an elite athlete, but he’s good enough to move around and move the chains. Against Tennessee he continually extended drives by picking up first downs with his legs, or moving to create a throwing lane. In the pocket, he’s at his best. He uses subtle movements to evade pressure, can stick and slide and has a slippery running style that sees pass-rushers unable to get a hold of him.
Playing off script
When evaluating young quarterbacks the biggest thing to look for is how they play when they’re off-script, when things breakdown and they’re out of the structure of the offense. Bentley has been impressive whenever he has needed to throw off-platform or needed to move to create a play.
This throw, on second-and-long against Missouri, was rare. The predetermined read isn’t there, so he pulls the ball, steps up to evade pressure, and delivers a dime while on the move and unable to set his feet.
Against Tennessee he did similar things. As the Vols mushed the rush, forcing him to dissect different zone coverages, he used his legs to pick up first downs outside of the structure of the offense. On a critical fourth down play, Bentley reversed field on a called rollout, picking up a first down to extend the drive.
Each start has showcased his dynamic ability, with his arm and legs. And he has shown the innate ability to figure stuff out, getting the ball to where it needs to be by whatever means necessary.
His next test (Florida) will be his biggest yet. But based on his early performances, he shouldn’t be doubted.