Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer 191d

Who will be the SEC's 3,000-yard passers for 2017?

The early major storyline in the SEC this year deals with the return of the quarterback. These young guns appear ready to shed the recent stigma that this league can't throw the ball with the big boys.

While there are a few quarterback competitions to keep an eye on between now and the start of the 2017 season, the core of the returning passers isn't the concern it was last year.

So with more confidence in the guys under center, can the SEC make a bigger charge toward the 3,000-yard passing mark? Last year, the SEC produced just two 3,000-yards passers -- Arkansas' Austin Allen (3,430) and Missouri's Drew Lock (3,399). That was the fewest since the league had just two back in 2011.

Both Allen and Lock return in 2017.

So how many 3,000-yard passers will the SEC see this season? I'm going to shoot for the stars and go five.

Here's my list in order of the most likely to get to 3,000 yards:

1. Drew Lock, Missouri: Easy pick here. He was second in the SEC with 3,399 passing yards and returns all of his top receivers, including 1,000-yard wide out J'Mon Moore. Lock also has three starting offensive linemen back to protect him, so the longer he has to throw, the more he can pick apart defenses during his junior season.

2. Austin Allen, Arkansas: Allen led the SEC with 3,430 passing yards and tied Lock with four 300-yard performances. However, he won't have the same luxuries as Lock when it comes to returning talent. Of Allen's top six receiving targets from last year, only Jared Cornelius returns. The good news is that he caught 32 passes last year. The bad news is no one returns with even 16 receptions from last year. It's a total rebuild at receiver, but offensive coordinator Dan Enos will make sure the Hogs are still very active in the passing game.

3. Shea Patterson, Ole Miss: The super sophomore has a chance to be one of the nation's most exciting players. He was one of the nation's best quarterback prospects for a reason in 2016, and in the three games he played in place of Chad Kelly, Patterson threw for 880 yards. He averaged just under 300 yards per game, and with a slew of receiving talent and a stout offensive line returning, Patterson should light up the skies with ease this fall.

4. Jacob Eason, Georgia: Eason didn't come out of the gate as strong as many thought he would as a true freshman, but he still threw for 2,430 yards. Wide receiver and offensive line are still two question marks for the Bulldogs, but Eason is getting much more comfortable with Jim Chaney's offense. And if he makes better decisions with the ball -- as he should -- 3,000 yards should be in his future.

5. Jalen Hurts, Alabama: There were times when Hurts wanted to run before he wanted to throw, and it ate into his passing numbers. That looked like it changed some this spring, as Hurts meshed well with new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll's vision for this passing game. Despite being held under 150 yards in four of his last five games, Hurts threw for 2,780 yards on the season.

6. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn: Oh, that hype machine is churning away on the Plains! The former Baylor standout (even if he was essentially a backup), has the big arm and the legs Gus Malzahn needs in his offense. He threw for 1,265 yards at Baylor in 2015, but a leg injury ended his season early. Expect that number to go up a lot with the talent coming back at receiver for the Tigers.

7. Jake Bentley, South Carolina: He arrived at South Carolina when he should have still been a senior in high school. All he did was impress the instant he got on the field. Bentley passed for 1,420 yards in seven games of work. He's another quarterback who will benefit from an impressive group of returning receivers.

8. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State: With those legs, he might rush for 3,000 yards this fall. Fitzgerald threw for 2,423 yards last year, but he'll have to try and improve on that with a receiving group that lost its best weapon in Fred Ross. The running aspect could also cut into his passing numbers, but Fitzgerald is becoming a better passer.

9. Texas A&M's starter: When Kevin Sumlin is overlooking your offense, you have a chance. The Aggies have hit 3,000 passing yards every year Sumlin has been there, so if A&M can figure out a starter before the season, he'll have a great chance. Right now, it's a three-man race starring Jake Hubenak, Nick Starkel and true freshman Kellen Mond.

10. Malik Zaire, Florida: He's still waiting to find a graduate program at Florida, but if he makes it on campus and he's the Gators' starter, he'll have a shot at 3,000. Now, we haven't seen a ton of Zaire. He's played in 15 games and has thrown for 816 yards in his career, but with Jim McElwain's history with quarterbacks, he could make a push.

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