Some well-meaning Ole Miss fans still seem to think there's a chance Shea Patterson, the nation's No. 1 quarterback recruit, will come in and unseat Chad Kelly as the starter in 2016. I'm here to tell you that's not happening. Still, with the departures of DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan, Shea has a chance to be a critical backup.
With spring practice underway and Patterson getting his first reps as an early enrollee, let's take a look at the role he could end up playing in 2016.
No, Shea won't start.
Let's forget for a moment that Chad Kelly is around and assume that Patterson somehow becomes the starter this season. The best case scenario would probably be for Shea to have a year like UCLA's Josh Rosen, the No. 1 quarterback prospect from 2015 who put together an incredible freshman season. He passed for 23 touchdowns and 11 picks while garnering an adjusted QBR of 69.5, according to ESPN. Chad Kelly on the other hand passed for 31 touchdowns to just 13 picks. His adjusted QBR was 87, ranking him fourth in the country. All of that to say, the chances of Patterson as a freshman matching Kelly's productivity is slim to none.
If you're still not convinced, NOLA.com put together some illuminating numbers on the struggles of freshmen quarterbacks in the SEC.
Can he win the backup job?
Patterson is an electrifying prospect, definitely. He's 6'2 with pinpoint accuracy and can scramble pretty well. He doesn't make many poor choices and can make things happen when plays break down. His release is very quick, something that could help him when facing the defensive lines he'll see in the SEC. SB Nation Recruiting's Bud Elliot called Patterson the "least likely quarterback to bust." He just has all the tools you look for in a quarterback.
But there's this other player on the team... soon-to-be redshirt freshman Jason Pellerin. Pellerin was rated as a four-star by 247Sports and ESPN, but his composite ranking was that of a three-star player. Ole Miss' official site lists him at 6'4" 230 pounds. He can, um, throw the ball a very long distance. Pellerin led a run-heavy option offense in high school and didn't ever have to do much complex passing. I've heard from several sources that his arm has improved greatly at Ole Miss and that there are a lot of folks within the IPF who think Pellerin has a significant spot on the team moving forward.
Ultimately, it's very likely that Shea Patterson will overtake Pellerin for the full-time backup role to Chad Kelly, but Pellerin may be so good at running the option that he comes in more often than Patterson early in the season. In other words, if, God forbid, Chad Kelly were to miss a game, the staff would probably start Patterson. If the team was inside the five and just needed to shake things up a bit offensively, Pellerin might be more likely to enter the game.
Hugh Freeze is in a tough situation, tasked with playing to win games with Chad Kelly, developing a potential future star in Shea Patterson, and utilizing Pellerin's strengths in-game as well. Last season, the three quarterbacks contending for playing time were really all competing for the same role. This year, it appears all three may be looking for very different roles, and that's a good thing. It's possible that all three come out of next season happy with where they are.