In ESPN's 2021 recruiting rankings, Caleb Williams was the 17th overall recruit. Jaxson Dart was the very next QB ranked after Williams, the 20th best recruit in the nation. Two years later, Caleb Williams is widely projected to be the number one overall pick in next year's draft. Meanwhile, Dart is generally ranked as an UDFA prospect. Dart began his career at USC, but instead of being the starter there, Williams is now USC's star QB. For 2 players who were supposed to be nearly equivalent to each other coming out of high school, in a short period of time their careers have diverged into opposite directions.
Dart is in a 3 way battle for the Ole Miss starting QB job. Spencer Sanders transferred from Oklahoma State, where he started for 4 seasons. On most draft boards, Sanders is ranked higher than Dart. The 3rd candidate is former 5 star recruit, Walker Howard, who transferred from LSU. Howard has 4 seasons of remaining eligibility and is the least experienced of the trio.
Sanders was hampered by a shoulder injury in spring practices and reports point to Dart taking the lead in the race. When Sanders transferred, many observers predicted that he'd be the one to win the starting job for 2023, raising the possibility that Dart would transfer if he was beaten out. Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss's HC, said that Dart was one of the team's most improved players during spring practices.
In 2022, Ole Miss and Dart began the season 7-0, but lost 5 of their last 6 games. Dart was in a QB competition early in the season, but the other guy was slowed by injury, giving Dart the edge.
I could only find one draft board that lists Dart as a draft worthy prospect.
NFLMDD consensus big board 30th QB, 378th overall (UDFA) (Spencer Sanders is the 24th QB on this board)
Shane Hallam 41st QB (deep UDFA) (Spencer Sanders is the 16th QB on this board)
Ryan Fowler (TDN) big board 200th overall (6th round)
BuffaloFAMBase big board 363rd overall (UDFA) (Sanders is 306th overall on this board)
NFLDB 23rd QB, 303rd overall (UDFA) (Spencer Sanders is 314th on this board): Very confident. Strong arm. Tough, stands tall in pocket. Puts too much air on deep balls. Slow going through progressions. Lacks prototypical size.
PFN draft simulator not ranked among 39 QBs, outside top 439 prospects (UDFA)
Jake Rigdon (Fanspeak) big board not ranked among 23 QBs, outside top 406 prospects (UDFA)
Steve Shoup not ranked among 29 QBs, outside top 376 (UDFA) (Spencer Sanders is 280th on this board)
In other words, Dart is such a fringe prospect and either not ranked at all or ranked so low by experts that he's likely on the same tier as Dresser Winn in the 2023 draft. My NFL comp for Dart is Brett Rypien, who is now with the Rams, a 2019 UDFA out of Boise State. Like most experts, I have Dart graded as an UDFA.
Name: Jaxson Dart. Turns 21 years old in May of 2024. True junior.
School: Ole Miss. Transferred from USC in 2022. Studying business. Studied communication at USC.
Size: Listed 6'2'' tall, 220 pounds. NFLDB 4.85 second 40 time. Sports Illustrated 6'2 1/8'' tall, 4.72 second 40 time. Was listed at USC at 215 pounds.
4 star recruit from Utah. Was the 2020/2021 Gatorade National Player of the Year. Past winners of that award include Garrett Gilbert, Peyton Manning, Kyler Murray, JT Daniels, Max Browne, Matt Barkley and Tim Couch. His dad was a college safety. Played baseball in HS.
Graduated early from HS and enrolled at USC in spring of 2021.
2021 (3 starts for USC): 61.9% completions, 1,353 yards, 7.19 ypa, 9 TDs, 5 INTs, 22-43-2 rushing. Fumble, 5 sacks.
2022 (13 starts, 8-5 record for Ole Miss): 62.4% completions, 2,974 yards, 8.22 ypa, 20 TDs, 11 INTs, 128-614-1 rushing. 7 fumbles, 14 sacks.
Had surgery in September of 2021 for meniscus injury in right knee. Possible concussion December 2021. Undisclosed injury in 2022 bowl game.
Dart is a smart guy, but he is young in age and doesn't come across as being mature beyond his years. Dart was still 19 years old during spring 2023 practices. He's more like a high school student, not like a player ready to be a professional football player. He was dismissive of the potential QB competition, referring to the other 2 QBs as "backups" brought in for depth and said that he was the team's starter.
Very young player who only has had one season as a starter. Currently, he's only 20 years old.
Adequate arm strength and touch. Drilled 12 yard pass to sideline with velocity. Falling backwards under heavy pressure, QB flings ball high and deep 35 yards downfield and WR runs under it, but can't hold onto the ball to complete catch. When he has space to step into throw, can drive the ball with velocity over the middle. Nice touch on backshoulder throws. Pinpoint 35 layered throw over middle, dropped in over LB. Beautiful 20 yard touch pass on wheel route.
Conscientious with ball placements on short throws, helping the WR to gain YAC.
Aligns feet properly towards target.
Enough speed and mobility to make some plays with legs. Can switch ball to proper arm when running.
Coaching staff schemed players wide open for the QB.
Average runner. Not elusive, lacks run strength to get yards after contract. Lacks burst and explosiveness. Won't beat fast defenders in races to the corner. A one speed runner. Adequate speed, but not dynamic enough to be a dual threat QB. Average on QB sneaks.
Inexperienced reading progressions. Bails on plays prematurely, tucking and running instead of being patient and reading the progression. Did not read progression on schedule, never realized that WR in middle of field was wide open. Simple route combination, the 3rd WR is wide open, QB stuck on primary read, doesn't have a plan when it isn't there, eats ball for sack.
There is no urgency in how he does things. Not polished or detail oriented. Lackadaisical footwork in dropback. Does not navigate pocket well to make best use of available space. Overstrides. Inconsistent lower body mechanics. Doesn't load back leg and transfer weight forward. At start of wind up, his center of gravity is too far forward. Feet sometimes drift too wide in pocket. In my opinion, issues with his lower body mechanics is a key reason why he can't throw the ball deeper and with more consistent power. Takes an extra hitch on some plays, late to get ball out to WR.
Doesn't have a plus arm. Bounced pass to SL from far hash, ball ran out of steam. Limited deep range, cannot throw more than 45 yards comfortably. 35 yard seam throw underthrown, requiring wide open WR to slow down for catch. 5 yard speed out by slot WR, pass is low and underthrown, requiring WR to stop and bend over to make catch, no opportunity for YAC. 45 yard deep post hangs up in air and is nearly picked.
Misses too many passes. Plenty of space to fit ball, but ball placement took WR out of bounds. Potential red zone TD, but ball placed behind WR towards the trailing CB. Underthrew wide open WR, forcing difficult sliding catch. Had WR open in end zone, but instead of touching it into open space for TD, tries to throw it flat and misses out of bounds. TE wide open on drag route, but instead of touching ball over defender, tries to throw it flat and pass gets deflected at LOS. WR beats CB on release, open on go route, 30 yard pass well overthrown, no chance for WR to attempt catch. WR is open on deep over route, but QB doesn't layer pass over the zone defenders, he tries to throw it flat and pass gets deflected. 25 yard deep fade, pass underthrown, WR can't even attempt catch. Throws too hard on some short passes, making it more difficult to catch the ball.
Makes poor decisions. He should throw slant to the outside guy, but goes to slot WR, throwing him into the safety. 1st down play, forces deep throw into double coverage, near INT. Outside WR open, QB forces it to slot WR even though LB is under route, pass deflected. 4th down, WR wide open in flat for conversion, QB goes deep, but doesn't have enough arm strength, ball hangs in air and is underthrown, broken up for turnover on downs. 1st down play in red zone, forced pass into double coverage. 1st down play, QB flings the ball deep off his backfoot, should have been INT, but WR turns into defender and is able to keep S from catching the ball. Costly INT thrown directly to zone LB. 1st down play, zone LB reading his eyes, QB tries to jam dangerous pass into tight window over the middle, between the LB and CB. Threw ball again to underneath LB, lucky not an INT.
Team had effective rushing attack with good RBs. Not a willing blocker.
Ole Miss travels to Alabama relatively early in the season, on September 23rd. They are at Georgia late in the season on November 11th.
Ole Miss lost Jonathan Mingo and Zach Evans to the NFL draft, but their young RB, Quinshon Judkins ran for 1,567 yards last season. Ole Miss is projected to have 2 good TEs in 2023. One of the TEs to watch is Caden Prieskorn, who transferred from Memphis, and is considered to be one of the top TEs in the country.
The first order of business for Dart is to beat out the other 2 QBs and hold onto the starting job for the entire 2023 season. If he loses the competition to Sanders or Howard, it is hard to see how Dart can improve his draft stock and he likely would remain in school.