National radar zooms in on UAB QB Tyler Johnston III
Updated: Aug 26, 2019
What do Feleipe Franks, Jake Bentley, Kelly Bryant, Kellen Mond and Joe Burrow have in common?
Let's see. They're all quality starting quarterbacks in the SEC. They've all led teams to bowl games and are expected to do it again.
Oh, and none of them is UAB's Tyler Johnston III.
That's the expert analysis of Pro Football Focus, which ranked the starting quarterbacks of every Football Bowl Subdivision program in the nation from No. 1 to No. 130 based on the voluminous data it records during each college football season.
It's no surprise that Clemson sophomore Trevor Lawrence and Alabama junior Tua Tagovailoa, the starters in last season's National Championship Game, stand 1-2 in those rankings as the 2019 season gets set to kick off next week.
Not far below those stars at No. 14 in the nation is Johnston, the UAB redshirt sophomore. He took over the starting job during last year's run to the C-USA Championship and wowed everyone when he shredded Northern Illinois for 373 passing yards and four touchdowns in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Only two SEC quarterbacks rank higher on the Pro Football Focus list than Johnston: Tagovailoa and Georgia's Jake Fromm at No. 9. Only one C-USA quarterback ranks higher: Mason Fine of North Texas at No. 5.
PFF's breakdown of the UAB quarterback:
Perhaps the first quarterback you’ve never heard of, Johnston has it all from a next-level standpoint and Lead Draft Analyst Mike Renner has pegged him as a top-10 QB for the 2020 NFL Draft. He puts the ball in the right place where his receivers can get it while limiting mistakes, doesn’t take unnecessary sacks and averaged a ridiculous 15.6 depth of target last year, a full 2.0 yards higher than the next closest returning FBS quarterback with at least 100 dropbacks.
That's high praise - even acknowledging that all rankings are opinions, no matter how educated - but it leaves out Johnston's best attribute. As UAB head coach Bill Clark said after the team's first preseason scrimmage last Saturday, his starting quarterback is "a playmaker" and "a winner."
The scoreboard doesn't lie. Johnston was 35-0 as a starter at Spanish Fort High School, leading the Toros to two state championships. He was 4-1 as the starter last season for UAB, his only loss at Texas A&M, where he threw for 306 yards. He led the way in all three championship victories: the overtime gut check over Southern Miss to clinch the division title; the thriller at Middle Tennessee to secure the conference title; and the rout of Northern Illinois to grab the program's first bowl win.
Despite that smashing debut, there was still a sense that he was operating well under the national radar. No more.
The next C-USA quarterback in the rankings below Fine and Johnston is J'Mar Smith of Louisiana Tech at No. 34. The closest SEC quarterback below the UAB signal caller is LSU's Burrow at No. 17.
You have to go all the way down to Troy's Kaleb Barker at No. 88 to find the next quarterback in this state. Auburn's Joey Gatewood comes in at No. 96 - even though Gus Malzahn has yet to name a starter - but in fairness, Gatewood appeared for only a handful of snaps in the Music City Bowl, generating virtually no data last season for PFF to judge.
Just the same, if you've been paying attention around here, it seems obvious based on proven production that the two best college quarterbacks in Alabama both reside in the UA System. In Tagovailoa's case, that's not a shock. As for Johnston, his fantastic finish to the 2018 season and this lofty preseason ranking guarantee he can't hide his light under Legacy Pavilion any longer.