Georgia Tech football’s 2021 spring practices were originally set to get underway on Tuesday but due to a few COVID-19 positive tests, the start of spring camp has been slightly pushed back. However, that doesn’t mean we have to push back our spring position previews as today, we begin our look at each position, beginning with the Jackets collection of quarterbacks.
Before diving into whose on the roster entering spring practices, let’s recap the two departures from the quarterback room since this time last year.
Those two departures are James Graham and Tucker Gleason, Graham left Georgia Tech after three years in the program where he saw playing time in 16 games. A majority of his playing time came in 2019 where he played in 11 games and was the Jackets starter in a majority of them during Geoff Collins’ first season in Atlanta. During that season, he completed 87-of-193 passing attempts for 1,164-yards and 12 touchdowns while throwing seven interceptions as well. In 2020, Graham was relegated to the backup role as Jeff Sims became the starter and as a result, only played in two games before entering the transfer portal. He’s now with the Georgia Southern Eagles where his skillset should better match the Eagles’ option-based offense.
Gleason, on the other hand, left The Flats before ever appearing in a game. The 2020 three-star signee likely saw the writing on the wall in terms of his chances of seeing playing time let alone starting for the Yellow Jackets in the future and decided to go join his former high school head coach Robert Weiner at Toledo. Weiner now serves as the Rockets co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
The Jackets brought in one quarterback in the 2021 recruiting cycle.
No.16 FR Chayden Peery
The true freshman out of California was an early enrollee for the Jackets and is an intriguing prospect. He’s a prototypical pocket passer with good size and great arm strength. We broke down his junior tape in our signee profile and based on that tape it’s easy to get excited about what he could bring to The Flats in the future.
That being said, Peery hasn’t seen the field in over a year as California’s fall season was canceled. Usually, the progression a player makes from his junior to senior year is key to his eventual impact at the next level so without that senior season, it’s hard to tell where Peery is in his development. Is he a player who could be ready to play sooner than later? Or is he a player that may not be ready to play for another two or even three years? That’s something that the Tech’s coaching staff truly won’t start to find out until spring practices do end up getting underway.
Georgia Tech entering the spring returns three scholarship quarterbacks. Though one of those quarterbacks is moving back to the position after spending the last two years on the defensive side of the ball.
No.10 FR Jeff Sims
The Jackets presumed starter for the 2021 football season is second-year freshman quarterback Jeff Sims. The Jacksonville, Florida native started in all 10 games for the Yellow Jackets in 2020, completing 141-of-257 passing attempts (54.9%) for 1,811-yards and 13 touchdowns. He also added 492-yards and six touchdowns on the ground. However, to go along with those 19 total touchdowns came his fair share of turnovers with 13 interceptions and five lost fumbles (10 total fumbles). It’s safe to say it was a season of ups and downs for the true freshman quarterback.
Overall, as a freshman, Sims showed glimpses of what could make him a special quarterback in the future but at other times looked very much the part of a true freshman quarterback. Early on in the season, he appeared to struggle with the speed of the college games. In some plays, he was completely lost and ended up either getting sacked, fumbling, or throwing dangerous passes often resulting in interceptions. Over his first three games, he threw an abysmal eight interceptions. It’s probably a safe assumption, that there were some freshman jitters early on
Throughout the season, Sims did show some signs of improvement including improving his accuracy and cutting down on turnovers. He would throw just five interceptions in the Jackets’ six remaining games in the season. Not great but certainly not as bad as the 2.66 interceptions per game he was throwing at the start of the season.
There’s no doubt that between the start of the season and the end, Sims made quality improvements even if the stat sheet doesn’t show it. That being said, more improvements must be made, especially if the Jackets hope to take a step forward in 2021. If there is one area that you would like to see improvement in a major way by the start of the season, it would be his ability to read opposing defenses, advancing through his progressions, and then getting rid of the ball promptly. While the Yellow Jackets offensive line at times last season didn’t provide much help for Sims, it was clear at times that he was simply holding onto the ball way too long.
Sims has the potential to be one of the best quarterbacks in program history, especially from a talent standpoint. He could very well take the program to places they want to be but we’re still likely at least a year away from seeing Sims being the quarterback, Tech fans believe he could be.
No.13 RS FR Jordan Yates
The once highly touted prospect is entering year three on The Flats in 2021 and will likely start next season as the Jackets backup quarterback. Yates over his first two seasons in Atlanta has appeared in five games including two games in 2020. For his career, he’s completed just 8-of-21 passing attempts for 54-yards while picking up nine yards on 15 carries.
This will be an interesting spring for Yates as when he first came to The Flats, it was speculated if he could start for the Yellow Jackets as a true freshman. Now, in his third year, Yates has seen minimal playing time and when he has played, the results haven’t exactly been there either, though it is a rather small sample size. While he does seem locked into that backup quarterback spot for the 2021 season, it is quite possible he could eventually be passed on the depth chart if he doesn’t show improvements by the end of the season.
No.17 SO Demetrius Knight Jr
It’s hard to say where Knight is as a quarterback at this point in his career. He came to Georgia Tech as a quarterback along with Jordan Yates but made the move to linebacker once he got onto The Flats. Now after two seasons on the defensive side of the ball, he’s made the move back to the quarterback. Coming out of high school, Knight was a dual-threat quarterback who still had quite a ways to go in his development as a passer and it’s hard to imagine he’s made any strides as a passer while playing on defense in the past two years. In reality, the move back to quarterback is one where the Jackets’ lack of depth at the position seemed to force the move especially with the losses of Graham and Gleason. It’s doubtful he’ll see anytime at quarterback in 2021 but that being said after two years away from the position, it will be interesting to see how he performs this spring. If anything he could provide some athleticism to the backfield in certain play designs.
Overall, the Georgia Tech quarterback room is decent but has some high upside. The biggest worry entering this season is the lack of quality accuracy and at the college level, it’s hard to be successful without being accurate. In most cases, you want your completion percentage to be around 60% and the Jackets over the past few seasons have fallen well short of that marker. The best pure passer of the group might be Peery but again, it hard to say where he’s at in his development without a senior season. The Jackets will roll with Sims this year and there should be some noticeable improvements from year one to year two, but if Sims were to go down, the lack of game-ready quarterback depth for the Jackets is quite concerning.
As it concerns the offense and the team as a whole, it’s safe to say that this team will go likely as far as Sims could take them. If Sims struggles again this season, it could spell disaster for this Georgia Tech team and would put the Jackets in an interesting predicament at quarterback going forward. If Sims does take those steps forward then the Jackets should see a noticeable uptick offensively and could push towards that five or six-win mark in 2021 as long as the defensive makes some positive strides this offseason.