Guarantano Graded as Second-Best Returning QB in SEC

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    Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

    RTI contributor Adam McCracken wrote this story 

    Last season, Tennessee starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was around the middle of the pack in the SEC when it came to on-field production. Heading into the 2019 season, it looks like he might be one of the top returning signal callers in the conference.

    The college division of Pro Football Focus recently released their grades for the SEC’s returning quarterbacks with at least 150 drop backs last season, and after a few graduations and transfers, some names moved up the ranks. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa sits atop their grading system, which surprises no one.

    What did come as a surprise was Tennessee’s Jarrett Guarantano being ranked behind the Heisman contender as the second-highest graded quarterback returning in the SEC.

    Pro Football Focus uses a system that grades a player based on each play in a game, with the scale being -2 through +2 for each play. A -2 is described as a “catastrophic game-ending interception or pick-six from a quarterback” while a +2 is described as a “perfect deep bomb into a tight window in a critical game situation.” Everything in between those marks are good and bad plays that are expected to occur in most games. These play grades are then converted into a 1-100 scale.

    Tagovailoa led the way with a 90.8 score, leading the group of returning quarterbacks by a wide margin. Guarantano came in second with a grade of 85.9. Rounding out the top five are Georgia’s Jake Fromm (84.7), LSU’s Joe Burrow (79.5), and Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond (78.1).

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    While some may be surprised Guarantano is ranked so high, it should come at no surprise considering his consistency. Though Guarantano only recorded two games with 200+ passing yards last season, he completed 50% of his passes in all but two of the 12 games he played last season. He attempted less passes than any starter with at least 100 attempts, and he only passed for more yards than three starters. But he consistently made smart throws and tossed a lot of deep passes, too.

    One of the surprising stats from last season was that Guarantano only threw three interceptions. Considering the problems on the offensive line last season and how often Guarantano was pressured and hit, that’s pretty impressive. Though he was sacked only 22 times compared to some SEC quarterbacks who were sacked over 30, he was hit or knocked down after releasing the ball far more often. Guarantano showed quick decision-making in not forcing throws under pressure.

    Guarantano has yet to light the league on fire, but he has consistently played his position efficiently. Quarterbacks like that keep teams in the game, and Guarantano did just that last year. Though he only had one electric game last season — his 300-yard performance against Auburn — he limited mistakes and controlled the offense throughout the year.

    This season, Guarantano shouldn’t be satisfied with just being a “controller,” though. As he enters his second full season as a starter, the redshirt junior should take a huge step forward. With a veteran receiving corps, an improved offensive line, a more experienced backfield, and the perfect mentor in new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, Guarantano is looking to go from efficient to potent.