Where ESPN ranks Tennessee's quarterback situation against all 133 FBS schools

On3 imageby:Grant Ramey05/21/23


Tennessee QBs Joe Milton, Nico Iamaleava
(Ian Cox | Tennessee Athletics)

Tennessee quarterbacks Joe Milton III and Nico Iamaleava fell into the third tier of ESPN’s ranking of all Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks this week. ESPN’s David Hale used more than 20 tiers to rank all 133 FBS situations. 

Milton and Iamaleava were among the “never question the system” quarterbacks in Tier 3, along with Alabama’s Tyler Buchner, Jalen Milroe or Ty Simpson, Clemson’s Cade Klubnik, Georgia’s Carson Beck and Brock Vandagriff, Ohio State’s Kyle McCord and Devin Brown and Penn State’s Drew Allar or Beau Pribula.

Tier 1 — “The guys we’ll be dissecting withe every throw between now and next April — was USC’s Caleb Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye. Tier 1B — “The most prolific QBs not named Williams or Mays” — was Florida State’s Jordan Travis, Oregon’s Bo Nix, Utah’s Cam Rising and Washington’s Michael Penix Jr.

Tier 2 — “You may not have noticed, but these guys are really good” — included Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson, Kansas QB Jalon Daniels, Michigan’s JJ McCarthy and Texas San Antonio’s Frank Harris.

Joe Milton in 2022: 53-82, 971 yards, 10 TDs, 0 INTs

“There are questions about Milton after false starts at both Michigan and Tennessee when initially named the starter,” Hale wrote of the Tennessee quarterback situation in Tier 3, “but in limited time last year he averaged nearly 12 yards per pass with 10 touchdowns and no picks, beat Clemson in a bowl game and can throw a football farther than the average EV can travel without recharging.

“More important than Milton’s ridiculous arm strength, however, is the Josh Heupel system. In seven years as a coordinator or head coach, his primary starting QBs have averaged 3,300 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and six picks per season.”

Milton last season passed for 971 yards and 10 touchdowns, completing 65 percent of his passes over nine games. His opportunities were limited to mop-up duty behind Hendon Hooker until Hooker was lost to a torn ACL in November. 

Milton started in Tennessee’s 56-0 win in the regular-season finale at Vanderbilt a week after Hooker’s season-ending injury, then threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns in the 31-14 win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami in December, named the bowl game’s MVP.

Josh Heupel: Joe Milton III has ‘continued to grow as a man and as a leader’

Milton won the open quarterback competition before the 2021 season, when Heupel and his staff was newly hired at Tennessee. But Milton’s ankle injury in Week 2 against Pitt opened the door for Heupel, who took over the job and never let go.

“He’s continued to grow as a man and as a leader,” Josh Heupel said earlier this month during an appearance on Josh & Swain. “(He) continued to refine himself on the football field. I thought he was extremely efficient and effective inside of the pocket. Had great bounce. Eye discipline was really solid. Extremely accurate with the football during the course of our spring practice.” 

Iamaleava is expected to backup Milton after being the headliner in Tennessee’s 2023 recruiting class. The 6-foot-6, 200-pound Iamaleava, a five-star recruit of Long Beach, Calif., was the No. 1-ranked prospect in the On3 rankings.

“He’s handled himself in a very mature way,” Heupel said of Iamaleava. “It’s really hard to be 18 years old and on a college campus with the type of fanfare he has. He’s handled it in a really good way. His teammates absolutely love him. He’s continued to grow throughout the course of spring ball in his understanding of what we’re doing. 

“Day 1, the game was moving really fast for him. It continues to slow down every single day. He’s been resilient. And after a bad play, or maybe not his best practice, responding the right way and coming back the next play or the next day. I love his energy and his effort in trying to really be a man that really masters his craft at the quarterback position.”

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