Back in March, I asked if the Los Angeles Rams should trade up to draft quarterback Anthony Richardson. Why? Because the potential payoff on drafting a star QB makes it the ultimate “reach” position. But what about the rest of the 2023 draft class?
They’re the coolest kids in school and the brightest nova’s in a star-studded NFL galaxy. Coaches build offensive schemes around them and fans create fantasy scenarios to add them to their team. Riches and adulation await, good work if you can get it, right?
Hold your horses. First, there’s limited availability, only 32 jobs and second, it’s very competitive. While many candidates show up with the relatable tools to compete, if you want to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, there’s one trait that is a “must have”. The most important commodity is draft pedigree, you must get drafted in the Top 100 picks. Over the the last 10 years, 62 quarterbacks have been drafted outside the Top 100 and only the Dallas Cowboys Dak Prescott (#135 2016) has won a regular starting gig from after Round 3.
Since 2013, 52 quarterbacks have been drafted within the Top 100, with only defensive backs (combined corners and safeties) having more. 40 players (77%) are still active. To be sure there have been numerous failures E.J. Manuel (#16, 2013), Johnny Manziel (#22, 2014) and Josh Rosen (#10, 2018). Others like Trey Lance (#3, 2021), Jordan Love (#26, 2020) and Sam Darnold (#3, 2018) are still struggling to gain their footing. But the news is not all bad, right around 70 percent have been, are currently, or will be in competition to be future NFL starters.
Since I did the above research long after putting together a draft board, I have 10 quarterbacks with draftable grades, but only five in the Top 100. Oops. As the numbers point out, only those few have a realistic shot at carving out much of an NFL career, but then again, there are some career backup possibilities. Also included are some likely undrafted prospects who have athletic upsides and were fun to watch as college players.
Bryce Young, Alabama - 5’ 10” / 204 lbs.
Played in a program and offense that is as close to NFL grade as there could be. Poised patient, and unflappable, both in the pocket and when flushed. Although he appears to have the speed and athleticism to be a weapon running, he is mature enough to trust his arm and know that being a passer is his ticket. It was reported that his wide receivers accounted for 22 drops in 2022.
Bryce Young with a ball placement masterclass against Vanderbilt.— Luca Sartirana (@SartiranaLuca) September 26, 2022
By far one of the best traits of his profile. pic.twitter.com/FQtakpGb9G
C.J. Stroud, Ohio State - 6’ 3” / 214 lbs.
Two-year starter who played his best games on the biggest stages. Beautifully accurate with a smooth, quick release. Patient and vision in the pocket and distributes the ball amongst all his weapons. Played behind a superior offensive line, so his chances to show how well he can create and throw on the run when things got off script were limited. Nor did he rack up rushing stats, but was a dual-threat recruit and certainly has the agility and quick feet to side-step oncoming rushers.
Anthony Richardson, Florida - 6’ 4” / 244 lbs.
My personal draft crush, but it is a stormy relationship. He is the epitome of projection vs. production. Simply put, he has all the tools to be an NFL quarterback, but what he lacks is game experience. It now becomes a case of how hard he is willing work and a willingness to hone his craft.
Will Levis, Kentucky - 6’ 4” / 229 lbs.
Spent his first three years at Penn State without distinction. Worked in an offense similar to the Rams at Kentucky. Stellar arm strength and generally accurate from both the pocket and on the move. Does a very good job of throwing into windows and putting the ball where the receiver can get it in tight coverage. I read other profiles that bemoan how he didn’t raise his team and struggled as a senior. I see a guy who led a mid-level SEC team to a 17-7 record as a starter and completed 66% of his passes. All while fighting through finger, shoulder, and ankle injuries. I think he belongs in the same breath as the other top prospects.
Herndon Hooker, Tennessee - 6’ 3” / 217 lbs.
An older prospect with well-coached technique/mechanics in the pocket. Accurate in all sectors, he has stellar arm strength with quick release considering his arm length. Patient in the pocket to the point of holding it too long. Not as good a thrower on the move as you might expect. His ACL tear last November needs to be monitored, but he has a history of being a threat with his legs as well as his arm. He was a draft riser before the injury. Who will have the time to give him a developmental year to heal and adjust to a pro offensive scheme? What is a fair draft slot?
On the fringe
Tanner McKee, Stanford - 6’ 6” / 231 lbs.
Last year and early in the draft process, McKee was considered one of the top prospects. He has all the needed traits to be an NFL quarterback— back in the 1970’s. His lack of athleticism and running ability are lead weights he’ll have to drag through the conscription mechanism. He has the arm to drive the ball downfield with a tight spiral, and is accurate. He was on poor college teams and is the prototypical pocket passer. I have a feeling some team will take a shot with him earlier than anticipated.
Jake Haener, Fresno State - 6’ 207 lbs.
Originally signed at Washington. Tough as nails although built with smaller stature than standard. Prefers to sling it from the pocket and is not a true threat with his wheels. He does move well enough to extend broken plays, keeps his eyes working downfield when flushed and throws well on the move. At Fresno State he tasked with full-field reads and throwing into windows. Very competitive, he was at his best when playing against higher level teams.
Aiden O’Connell, Purdue - 6’ 3” / 213 lbs.
Started as a walk-on in 2017 and didn’t lock down starting role until 2021. One of those players where his total package is better than his individual parts. He wins with execution over elite talent. Arm strength is adequate, but rotates and extends through throws to get upgrade velocity. Plays best in the pocket and gets the ball out quick, is patient through reads when necessary, and hangs tough in the face of pressure. Not a creator, more of a smart decision. Yes, the dreaded “game manager” moniker.
Clayton Tune, Houston - 6’ 2 1/2” / 220 lbs.
Three and a half year starter in a pass-centric offense. Three-time team captain, considered an exceptional leader with numerous last-second and come from behind drives. Good, not elite, arm, quick release and generally quite accurate. Able to zip it and use touch. Patient in his progessions, but not afraid to bail the pocket. Needs patience and judgement not to force passes in. Threw too many interceptions.
Jaren Hall, BYU - 6’ / 207 lbs.
Naturally agile and athletic. Not a true threat with his feet, but very nimble, decent speed, and not afraid to exit the pocket. Good arm, not great. Accurate with stellar touch, almost to the point of being guilty of under-using his velocity. Only two years as a starter, but a mature leader. Has had eight fumbles in two seasons.
Undrafted dual threats
Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA - 6’ 2” / 203 lbs.
Ultra-competitive with a strong arm. Has the added asset of being an explosive open field runner with good vision. Needs more work on throwing mechanics, settling his feet and not forcing passes, but on film, has shown improvement over his college days. When throwing in rhythm, shows good accuracy and appears to go through progressions over the whole field.
Malik Cunningham, Louisville - 6’ 192 lbs.
Passing game seems to have digressed a little over his career. He is still a dynamic runner and his body of work shows that. Quite efficient and accurate in the mid/short, but doesn’t have the arm strength os accuracy for living in the deep areas of the field.
Lindsey Scott, Incarnate Word - 5’ 11” / 212 lbs.
Road warrior went through LSU, junior college, Missouri, and Nichols State before settling at Incarnate Word. Amassed over 10,000 yards passing and rushing with 130 touchdowns. Played in quick-timing pass offense and showed a quick release, touch and accuracy. Appears to be lacking arm strength. Agile and fast. Real long shot , but I haven’t done many under the radar this draft season.
What of the two QB’s on college football’s best teams?
Max Duggan 6’ 1” / 207 lbs. and Stetson Bennett 5’ 11” / 192 lbs.
Sorry, I will certainly give them their due as leaders, but am just lukewarm on projecting them as NFL pros. That is not to say they won’t get selected in the late rounds, they were, after all, the field generals for the two best teams in college football. Back in the old days, sure. Tough, gutty competitors were in demand. In today’s NFL, I just don’t think either has the arm talent.
Draft a backup?
It would great fun to see a quarterback with good running skills in the Rams offense, but finding one is easier said than done. Bryce Perkins had his moments as a play maker, but appeared to lack the polish to be much more than a backup or a package player. And of course, L.A. could certainly bring him back for 2023.
First, let’s set the parameters of what we want. A experienced backup who can come off the bench and win? A draftee with a high upside that needs a year, or two, behind Matthew Stafford? Or just a camp body who’s cheap and can play out the preseason games?
With the odds for mid/late round field generals of ever playing playing much in the NFL being so low, I’m going with experience. Why not grab a free agent QB that was a Top 100 draft pick a few years back. There are a few available, and with new batch of talent coming in, prices could range from league minimum to very-manageable, one-year “show me” deals.
The current crop aren’t real exciting, mostly a little long in the tooth. Chad Henne (#58, 2008), Blaine Gabbert (#10, 2011), Joe Flacco (#18, 2008), Mason Rudolph (#76, 2018), Teddy Bridgewater (#32, 2014), Matt Ryan (#3, 2008) and Carson Wentz (#2, 2016).
Things begin to heat up if you consider some of the possibilities from after the draft, salary dumps and losers of camp battles. There are a number of younger guys whose roster situation could become untenable and therefore available. For one reason or another, Jameis Winston (#1), Drew Lock (#42), Kyle Trask (#64), Ryan Tannehill (#8), Mitch Trubiskey (#2), Sam Darnold (#3), Will Grier (#100), Matt Corral (#94), Davis Mills (#67), and Kellen Mond (#66) could all be odd men out and in need of a new team. Maybe Zach Wilson (#2) in New York, too.