Quarterback play has been underwhelming throughout most of the NFL this year, and the uneven performances from the headliners of the past two QB draft classes are partially to blame. The jury is certainly still out on the 2022 class, led by Pittsburgh Steelers starter Kenny Pickett, but early returns have not been promising for that group. And the much-lauded 2021 class has not yet lived up to expectations: Trevor Lawrence has been inconsistent, Zach Wilson still needs to make a massive leap, and Trey Lance has barely played after suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Justin Fields has shown major improvement in the past few weeks but still faces major questions, and Mac Jones has regressed badly.
All that is to say the league could use an infusion of fresh, young talent at quarterback. Can the 2023 draft be the solution? While there aren’t any can’t-miss, generational prospects on the list, this year’s QB class is bristling with potential. Let’s take a look at a few of the biggest names to track as we get closer to the draft.
Bryce Young, Alabama
The reigning Heisman winner, Young is an electric playmaker with a dual-threat skill set and an incredible feel for the game. He’s got almost everything that NFL evaluators are looking for at the position, combining a strong arm with accuracy, poise, and out-of-structure genius—but he does come with a pretty critical catch: He’s small. Listed at 6-foot-even and 194 pounds, he falls well below traditional size standards at the position, even when compared to a guy like Kyler Murray, who checked in at 5-foot-10 and a thicc 207 pounds at the 2019 combine. Still, I’m not convinced that Young’s lack of size will completely scare off teams in the draft. He’s just so damn good.
A five-star prospect out of Santa Ana, California, Young was rated as the no. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the country and no. 2 overall player in his class, per 247Sports. He wasted little time in living up to that prospect rating, leading the Crimson Tide to a national championship game appearance in his first year as a starter (2021), throwing for 4,872 yards, with 47 touchdowns and just seven picks, in that campaign while adding three scores on the ground. He’s played exceptional ball again this season, throwing for 2,234 yards, with 19 touchdowns and four picks, in eight starts, chipping in an additional 147 yards and three touchdowns as a runner.
Young has a live arm and throws with a quick release, showing the ability to drive passes to the sideline and whip accurate throws on the move.
One big question he’ll face is whether his lack of height will limit his ability to attack the middle of the field. That’s been an issue at times for shorter guys like Russell Wilson and Jalen Hurts, and could cap his effectiveness as a passer. But Young has certainly flashed the ability to hang tight in the pocket, wait for routes to develop, and push the ball down the middle. His ability to synthesize routes and coverage shows up on these throws.
Young has Jason Kidd–like vision, and that’s even more apparent on his out-of-structure plays. He has the athleticism to scramble and pick up yards with his feet, but he’s always looking to create big gains with his arm first. He has a good feel for pressure, eludes rushers, and keeps eyes downfield even when moving outside the pocket. He can reset his feet or make off-platform throws. And he has even sprinkled in a few plays where he almost looks like a point guard driving to the hoop and drawing the defense in before throwing an alley-oop to the guy downfield.
Young shows creativity in and out of the pocket to escape the rush and keep plays going. That ability showed up big time against Texas, when he avoided what might have been a game-sealing sack with 35 seconds left, ducking under a defender before running for a first down. Alabama hit the game-winning field goal a few plays later. If I had to guess, Young’s probably never lost a game of tag.
If you’re looking for negatives, Young’s deep accuracy can be a little hit-or-miss. He has a tendency to fall away from throws in the face of pressure. And he might be off a handful of teams’ draft boards altogether because of his size. But I think that’d be a mistake; Young has many of the traits that are required to play the position in the NFL, and he possesses the talent to mitigate his height disadvantage.
C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
Stroud is probably going to be the top quarterback on a lot of teams’ boards. He combines good size with a big arm, surgical accuracy down the field, and elite passing production. A Heisman finalist last year, Stroud took over as the team’s starter and threw for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns with just six picks, leading the Buckeyes to a Rose Bowl win over Utah with a truly absurd 573-yard, six-touchdown performance.
A four-star prospect who was rated as the no. 2 pro-style quarterback in the country by 247Sports, Stroud has a strong arm and throws from a wide, balanced base with a quick, over-the-top release. The first thing that jumps off the tape is his ability to drive a gorgeous, laser-beam deep ball down the field, which is frequently on display in Ohio State’s aggressive scheme.
It’s not just that Stroud has a strong arm, though. He shows the ability to put the ball on a dime at all three levels, frequently dropping a pass in where only his target can get it or leading his receivers away from defenders and into open field.
Stroud is a pocket passer with a good feel for how to avoid the rush. He senses pressure but keeps his eyes downfield, and has shown he can beat the blitz or make a throw with a pass rusher bearing down on him. In the first play below, when the defense brings an all-out blitz, he expertly attacks the vacated area in the deep middle of the field. In the second play, he gets a throw off down the seam despite pressure in his face.
The redshirt sophomore can throw with anticipation, releasing a pass before his target has made his break. He understands how to manipulate coverage with his eyes, holding a safety to one side before unleashing a pass in the other direction. And while he’s capable of picking up yards with his legs, he always keeps his eyes downfield when extending plays. His first priority is always to throw, and he’ll even run parallel down the line of scrimmage to try to let routes develop before taking off. He anticipates where his targets are going to be on scramble-drill plays and flashes the ability to make something out of nothing when the play breaks down.
Stroud’s smooth demeanor in the pocket can be a double-edged sword, as he plays with an almost robotic style that isn’t as effective when structure breaks down. He seems to predetermine throws at times and will let a pass rip into coverage as if he can’t see the defenders—sometimes leading his intended targets into massive hits. He frequently takes an extra hitch before throwing and will need to work on eliminating that crutch at the next level. And while he can scramble, he’s not a true dual threat.
Will Levis, Kentucky
Levis has generated plenty of hype in the past calendar year, and while I view him as a notch below Young and Stroud, he could challenge for the top half of the first round come April thanks to his combination of moldable traits. He’s a tough, rugged, strong-armed passer with good size, a flick-of-the-wrist throwing style, and the ability to make things happen with his legs. A three-star prospect who began his college career at Penn State before transferring to Kentucky, he burst onto the scene in 2021 by passing for 2,816 yards and 24 touchdowns with 13 picks, adding another 376 yards and nine scores on the ground while leading the Wildcats to a 10-3 record.
Levis is an effortless thrower who generates good velocity down the field. He’s most effective when he makes a decisive read and gets the ball out as he hits his back foot. He flashes the ability to throw with good touch and accuracy deep, too, taking a little mustard off the ball at times to give his receivers a chance to come down with the catch.
He is comfortable both under center and in the shotgun and is strong in the pocket, getting throws off when he’s taking a hit or when pressure is bearing down on him. He uses subtle pocket movement to buy himself time and keeps his eyes on the prize downfield.
Levis is experienced in play-action looks and on bootlegs, and can generate some torque throwing on the move. He knows how to reset his feet and throw a dart when moving to his left.
While Levis’s tools are intriguing, he’s not yet put it all together when it comes to high-level, consistent quarterbacking. He takes too many sacks and will need to speed his internal clock up at the next level. He’s inconsistent with his touch and ball placement (i.e., he’ll hit his target on the wrong shoulder, throw behind his receivers, etc.), especially deep down the field. He’s a strong, physical runner but is a bit too reckless both with his body and with the football at times, lowering his shoulder as a runner or allowing defenders to load up and clobber him in the open field rather than sliding or running out of bounds. And while he’s praised for his work ethic and leadership, some teams may balk at the fact he’ll be a 24-year-old rookie.
Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
Hooker is the biggest riser at the quarterback spot this year. A four-star prospect, he began his college career at Virginia Tech, starting 15 games over three seasons there before transferring to Tennessee prior to the 2021 season. He broke out last year with a 2,945-yard, 31-touchdown, and three-pick passing line and opted to stay in school and build his draft stock—a choice that seems to be paying off. Despite a rough performance in Tennessee’s loss to Georgia last weekend, the sixth-year senior has put himself in both the Heisman Trophy and Round 1 discussion, showing off a big arm and aggressive style in leading the Vols to an 8-1 record. Hooker has thrown for 2,533 yards and 21 touchdowns to just two picks in nine starts this season, adding another 355 yards and four scores on the ground.
Hooker has a big arm and gets plenty of opportunities to show that off in Tennessee’s wide, wide open passing scheme, which creates space downfield and asks its quarterback to attack deep. Hooker does just that, frequently launching missiles downfield to the team’s talented receiver group.
Hooker is certainly helped by the Volunteers’ offensive scheme, but can identify soft spots in coverage and attack them. On this touchdown against LSU, he saw the safety to the right creeping down into the box and changed the play at the line, dialing up an isolation route into the vacated spot in the defense.
Hooker also can move and escape pressure to keep a play alive while keeping his eyes downfield. And he’s capable of generating velocity throwing on the run—both to the left and the right. On this third-and-10 play against Florida, he evades a free rusher, moves to his left, and fires a strike to his receiver at the sticks.
While he’s not exactly a tackle breaker in the open field, Hooker can make a defense pay when they flush him from the pocket. A long strider with plenty of straight-line juice, Hooker brings some speed as a scrambler and red zone rusher.
Hooker has plenty of tools to work with but isn’t without a few blemishes. His accuracy down the field runs hot and cold and he’s a little too prone to air-mail passes. His ball placement is a bit scattershot and he can sometimes make things hard on his receivers. And while his extensive starting experience is certainly going to be a plus in some NFL evaluators’ eyes, he could get docked for the fact he’ll be a 25-year-old rookie.
Anthony Richardson, Florida
Richardson is the wild card of the 2023 quarterback draft class, possessing high-end athletic traits and a big, loose arm—but a marked lack of starting experience and plenty of inconsistencies to go along with that. A four-star prospect out of Gainesville, he’s a big, well-built signal-caller with explosive speed and twitchy movement skills. The redshirt sophomore has thrown for 1,839 yards and nine touchdowns and seven interceptions in nine games this year, adding 492 yards and eight scores on the ground.
Richardson is a highlight waiting to happen, bringing a live arm and aggressive style to the field. He is more than capable of launching a pass deep with just a flick of the wrist, both from the pocket and on the move.
Richardson has undeniable playmaking talent. He can escape pressure and keep plays alive, is a threat to take it to the house every time he runs, and can move outside the pocket and complete passes.
He’s still pretty raw and inexperienced, but flashes some instincts as a pocket mover, stepping up to avoid pressure, shifting from side to side to buy himself time, or drifting away from a rusher to let routes develop downfield.
Long story short, there are multiple reasons he sometimes draws comps to Josh Allen. Of course, that’s referencing the unrefined, still-developing Wyoming version of Allen—and the highlight-reel-type plays are too often contrasted by frustrating miscues. Richardson has a tendency to force throws, even when he’s got guys hanging on him, and he’ll sometimes seem to predetermine a throw regardless of coverage. His downfield accuracy is spotty, and he’s too erratic with ball placement. You watch some games and Richardson looks like a high first-rounder. And you watch others, and he looks like a guy who could benefit from another year in college. He’ll be one of the most interesting players to track when underclassmen start declaring for the draft.
Tanner McKee, Stanford
McKee hasn’t gotten a whole lot of help at the helm of the 3-6 Cardinal this year, but he’s got the size, arm strength, and accuracy to rise in the draft process over the next few months. A four-star prospect, he ranked as the no. 3 pro-style quarterback and as the no. 38 player overall in his class, per 247Sports. He got a late start at Stanford after serving a two-year LDS mission in Brazil, but put his name on the NFL map last year with a 2,327-yard, 15-touchdown, seven-interception line. McKee has thrown for 2,208 yards and 11 touchdowns against seven picks this season.
A high school volleyball and basketball player, he’s a tall, lanky signal-caller who is listed at 6-foot-6, 228 pounds. McKee’s throwing motion can look a little wonky and come out at weird angles at times, but it’s hard to ignore his ability to generate highlight-reel throws. He shows some pretty incredible touch in lofting passes into tight coverage, hitting his receivers where only they can get the ball.
He flashes plenty of arm strength to whip passes on deep outs, and he can layer throws over the middle of the field, too, putting the ball over midlevel defenders and into his target’s hands.
McKee is a bit gangly and isn’t going to juke anyone out of their socks, but he’s surprisingly quick-footed as a scrambler. If he gets outside the pocket, he’s more than capable of picking up some easy yards.
McKee’s numbers aren’t eye-popping and there might be some questions about whether he’s actually too tall (thanks, Brock Osweiler), but teams could be intrigued by his overall skill set and obvious throwing talent. He brings experience in both under-center pro-style schemes and shot-gun RPO looks, too. Despite missing two years on his LDS mission, he’ll be 23 years old as a rookie.
Other Potential Risers
This isn’t an exhaustive breakdown of every quarterback in the 2023 class, and there’s bound to be a handful of guys who’ll rise in the last month of the college season and as the draft process begins. Here’s a list of some other quarterbacks I’ll be tracking:
- Tyler Van Dyke, Miami
- KJ Jefferson, Arkansas
- Jalon Daniels, Kansas
- Jaren Hall, BYU
- Jayden Daniels, LSU
- Cameron Ward, WSU
- DJ Uiagalelei, Clemson
- Stetson Bennett, Georgia
- Phil Jurkovec, Boston College
- Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina
- Michael Penix Jr., Washington