ATHENS — Stetson Bennett leads Georgia into its first night game of the year at Missouri looking to help the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs make a statement after last week’s lackluster outing.
Bennett wasn’t sharp, throwing his first interception of the year, and neither were his teammates in a 39-22 win over a Mid-American Conference opponent that hardly seemed befitting of a program many believe to be the best in the country.
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The college football world will be watching, but so, too, will NFL scouts as they assess this year’s Georgia talent.
Bennett has aroused some curiosity despite his relatively small stature and the late bloom nature of his career.
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“I talked to a scout who said coming into the year, based off of last year’s tape, (he’s) seventh round (or) free agent,” ESPN NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay said on the SEC Network on Friday.
“And he said, ‘watching his first few weeks, and I know he has so much more talent around him than the opponent, but he’s playing different,’ " McShay said, quoting the scout. “’He’s bigger, he’s stronger, he’s more aggressive, he’s more decisive … it looks like the ball has a little more juice to it.’ "
Bennett has indeed improved his footwork and ability to throw from within the pocket, making him more accurate on the intermediate passes and deeper out routes.
Georgia fans certainly appreciate Bennett, and many followers race to statistical charts as proof of his talents.
But as veteran broadcaster Sean McDonough pointed out, many of Bennett’s throws do not necessarily translate to having the elite sort of skills required by NFL quarterbacks.
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“He’s definitely better, but to me, it’s hard to judge off this limited sample because he’s throwing a lot of these perimeter passes, short and intermediate passes, to guys who are wide open and are super talented,” McDonough told SEC Network host Paul Finebaum. “You and I could complete some of these throws.
“When we get into SEC play, we’ll find out.”
McDonough said he does believe in Bennett’s leadership intangibles and was impressed with his championship run but pointed out the NFL presents different challenges than Bennett has had to face with Todd Monken effectively scheming so many players open.
“The windows get a lot smaller, (and) when Stetson Bennett gets to the NFL, (Kenny) McIntosh and (Brock) Bowers and those guys aren’t running free all over the place,” McDonough said.
“The windows are tight, there’s very little separation. So, yeah, I think the question to me that he needed to answer is the arm strength part of it and I agree with you, I think he has a little bit more on the ball than we’ve seen in the past.”
Bennett could be challenged to use that extra zip on the ball he has added to his arsenal with his offseason improvement tonight with Missouri expected to load up on the run.
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It’s one of many intriguing games where quarterbacks will be challenged in the SEC.
McShay pointed out just how strong of a class of quarterbacks there is in the league this season.
“This year’s class, I’ve said it before Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Will Levis, those are the clear-cut top guys,” McShay said, singling out the Alabama, Ohio State and Kentucky starting quarterbacks.
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“You’re drafting them, giving them $25, $30, $35 million guaranteed in their first contract, to be your starter. All of these other guys we’re talking about, it’s either potential, Anthony Richardson, Tyler Van Dyke, or can they be great backups for us that maybe one or two of these guys develop into a good starter.”
Senior Bowl director and former NFL scout Jim Nagy made note of Hendon Hooker last week, and earlier this season, pointed out Bennett has grabbed attention.
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