Quarterback Preseason Preview

Going into the 2023 season the top-rated prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft is USC’s Caleb Williams. One of the biggest reasons for this is his outstanding production having won the Heisman Trophy last season, and over his two seasons in college throwing 63 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. As a prospect, he shows a strong arm, quick release, and the ability to create something out of nothing. One concern with his game though is that he takes his time in the pocket if his first read is not available. 

In his one year as a full-time starter, North Carolina’s Drake Maye established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in college and a future first-round pick. On the year he completed 66% of his passes for 4,321 yards and 38 touchdowns. While he had stellar games on the season including throwing for 388 yards and five touchdowns vs. Pittsburgh and aganist Wake Forest throwing for over 440 yards. However, he also struggled against some of the top competition he faced including only completing 53% of his passes vs. Notre Dame and throwing two picks vs. Clemson. The trait that really stands out with Maye is his ability to throw the ball into tight coverage and also his ability to read a defense for a first-year player. 

A player I have rated high than most people is Oregon’s Bo Nix. Nix started his career off at Auburn where he set numerous records as a freshman and was named the SEC Freshman of the Year. However, his following two seasons were up and down for the Tigers. This led him to transfer to Oregon where he had the best year of his career. When looking at Nix I have him entering the year with a first-round draft grade for several reasons. One of these reasons is his ability to hurt teams with both his arm and legs. As a passer, he shows the ability to consistently throw off of platform and also the arm strength to be a high level starter in the NFL. He is also one of the more athletic quarterbacks in the 2024 NFL Draft having led all FCS quarterbacks with 14 rushing touchdowns and displaying the ability to escape out of the pocket when things breakdown. One area I would like to see him improve on this year is his pocket presence. In this area, he sometimes gets happy feet and panics when he still has time to make the big throw.

Another prospect who greatly improved his draft stock is Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. After struggling the last two seasons at Indiana, Penix had an elite season at Washington last year leading the FBS in passing yards per game. One of the traits that led to his strong season is his high football IQ which consistently led to him getting rid of the ball quickly and only taking five sacks on the year. He also showed he has the arm strength to easily throw any pass in an NFL offense. One area he needs to improve on this season is getting his body in a consistently good throwing position. When he doesn’t have a good throwing base his accuracy suffers significantly and it forces his receivers to make tough catches.

A quarterback who is flying under the radar despite having a strong season last year is Florida State’s, Jordan Travis. Last season, Travis was the top-graded quarterback last season by Pro Football Focus after throwing for 3,214 yards and also picking up 417 rushing yards. When scouting Travis the first thing that shows up is his athletic ability. Travis who holds the Florida State career record for both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns shows the mobility to pick up yards when things break down. He also has the ability to scramble in the pocket and buy time while his receivers get open due to this trait and his ability to throw from different platforms. One other positive with him is his arm strength. Despite being on the smaller side coming in at only 6-foot-1 and 201 pounds he displays the ability to throw any pass with ease. While there are plenty of positives with his game scouts will likely have concerns about his size and the fact that he is an older prospect.

Washington State’s Cameron Ward is a player who has been outstanding from day one in college. As a freshman at  Incarnate Word, he won the Jerry Rice Award which goes to the top FCS freshman. He followed that up by being named an FCS All-American in 2021 and then transferring to Washington State. In his one season so far with the Cougars, he threw for over 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns. When looking at Ward’s game their are a lot of positives with the first one being the zip he has on the ball and the second one being his ability to make plays when things break down. Unfortunately, his tendency to try and always make plays has also hurt him when it came to pocket awareness evident by him being sacked 46 times last season. If Ward can show better pocket awareness and overall footwork this season he could be a late first-round pick in 2024.

A player who is primed for a big season in 2023 is Tennessee’s, Joe Milton III. While this will be Milton’s first year as a starter at Tennessee he was extremely effective last season when pressed into action and has all the tools to be a high draft pick. In 2022, Milton started the last couple of games of the season when Hendon Hooker went down with a season ending injury. While he had just an average game against Vanderbilt he played lights out against Clemson in the Orange Bowl. In this game, he completed 68% of his passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns.  The top trait with Milton is his strong arm which allowed him to finish 14th in the nation in passes over 50 yards despite starting only two games. In addition to his strong arm, he also has ideal size, the athletic ability to make him a dangerous runner, and also impressive strength. A couple of areas he will need to improve in though is throwing with more touch and also being a more constantly accurate quarterback.

A player who I would not be surprised if he turns into a first-round pick is Georgia’s, Carson Beck. When looking at his spring game performance and his limited playing time Beck showed the traits to be one of the best quarterbacks in college football. When watching him the first thing that stands out is his ideal NFL size coming in at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds. He also has the arm strength to throw any pass in an NFL offense and has a much stronger arm than the man he is replacing Stetson Bennett. He also shows impressive accuracy which was backed up by his 74% completion rate last year and going 18 for 22 in Georgia's spring game. 

While Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers has the potential to develop into a first-round draft pick, he has yet to produce anywhere near a top ten pick that numerous places including USA Today project him to go. Last season, he had an up and down season looking like a high-caliber quarterback against Alabama but also looking like a day three pick at times including in his game against Oklahoma State. Overall, on the season he completed just 58% of his passes and tossed 15 touchdowns. It does sound like Ewers had a great spring though so we should see improved play from him next season. As a prospect, he is a pocket passer who has a strong arm but needs to improve his accuracy and doesn’t have the smoothest throwing motion. 

A Group of Five quarterback who could end up getting drafted on the second day of the draft is Michael Pratt of Tulane. The first trait that stands out with Pratt is the nice tight spiral he throws. He has top-notch zip on his midrange throws and can also place the ball into tight coverage. Another trait with Pratt that stands out is his crisp throwing motion. He has a quick release and follows through on most of his passes which helped him throw for 3,010 yards last season. If Pratt can have another strong season look for him to earn an invite to the Senior Bowl where if he has a strong week he could be a second or third- round pick.

Another quarterback who goes into the 2023 season overrated is Michigan’s, J.J. McCarthy. The main reason he doesn’t deserve the first-round grade some people are giving him is his spotty accuracy. This questionable accuracy was evident at the end of the season as he completed 50% or less of his passes in three of the final six games. Another issue he has is that he needs to learn how to throw with more touch. He made too many throws last season, where he rocketd in a short pass which the receiver dropped because it was too hot to handle. On the positive side though he does have the tools to develop into a high quality starting quarterback in the NFL. The first positive that stands out with him is his athletic ability which allows him to create plays when things break down. He also has one of the stronger arms in the 2024 NFL Draft class and has no trouble throwing the deep ball. Another positive with him is when he does set up in the pocket and throws from a clean pocket he shows good accuracy. 

A team looking for a Jalen Hurts type quarterback is going to want to pay close attention to Arkansas’s KJ Jefferson. Like Hurts, Jefferson is an average passer coming out of college and NFL scouts will have concerns about how quickly he makes his reads and overall accuracy. However, he is a threat with the ball in his hands as a runner. In this area, he shows the quickness to speed past the line of scrimmage and also the power to run through tackles. It will be interesting to see how he develops under new offensive coordinator Dan Enos, who has a background of developing NFL quarterbacks.

LSU’s Jayden Daniels is yet another prospect who improved his draft stock significantly by transferring. Daniels who spent the first part of his career at Arizona State threw just 10 touchdowns in 2021 to go along with his 10 interceptions. However, this past season at LSU he was able to toss 17 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions and according to Pro Football Focus led all quarterbacks in FBS with a 0.6% turnover-worthy play rate. If he is to take the next step forward this year as a passer he will need to be more consistent when throwing the ball downfield. In this area, he lacks the accuracy you want to see from an NFL quarterback, and he was also is hesitant to throw the ball downfield.  

A player who has the tool to be great yet currently lacks the maturity and football intelligence to reach his potential is Spence Rattler. Rattler started his career off on a high note at Oklahoma being named a 2020 Freshman All-American and All-Big 12 choice. However, 2021 didn’t go the way he wanted it to losing his job midway through the season which later led to him transferring to South Carolina. In his first year with the Gamecocks, he had an up and down year throwing 18 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions. His best game of the year easily was his effort vs. Tennessee when he threw for 438 yards and six touchdowns, but unfortunately, he also had some horrible games like his effort vs. Texas A&M where he just completed 48% of his passes and didn't account for any touchdowns. If he can go to a coaching staff that can work on his mental game both on and off the field we could be seeing a future starting quarterback, but if not we could be looking at a future starting quarterback in the XFL.

A Power Five quarterback not many people are talking about but NFL scouts are well aware of is Riley Leonard of Duke. The first trait that stands out with Leonard is his size coming in at 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds. He also is a proven pocket passer who combines arm strength, mobility, and sound technique to make him a legitimate NFL prospect. In addition to those traits, he has also put up solid production for the Blue Devils throwing for 2,967 yards and 20 touchdowns last season.

An intriguing day three quarterback is Jaylon Daniels of Kansas. When healthy Daniels is one of the better quarterbacks in college football. Last year, in just nine games he threw for 2,014 yards and completed 66% of his passes. Unfortunately, Daniels has had trouble staying healthy missing four games last year due to a shoulder injury and also missing time with other injuries during his college career. When watching Daniels the first trait that stands out is his mobility. While Daniels is still a pocket passer he shows the mobility to keep plays alive and also be a running threat on quarterback designed runs. He also shows impressive accuracy on short to mid-range passes. On the downside along with being injury prone, he is also on the smaller side coming in at 6 feet. He also lacks the elite arm strength some quarterbacks in this class have.

Northern Iowa quarterback Theo Day is my sleeper of the year going into the 2023 season. Day has several traits that will attract scouts attention including his strong arm, 6-foot-5 225-pound size, and overall accuracy. Last season, he was named All-MVC and was recently named the second-best quarterback in the FCS by Hero Sports. He also had some elite games last year including Throwing for 330 yards and five touchdowns vs. Southern Illinois and accounting for six touchdowns and 442 yards against South Dakota. If Day can get a Senior Bowl invite and has a strong week he could be a possible day two pick.

A quarterback who is an interesting late round prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft is Dillon Gabriel of Oklahoma. Gabriel has been one of the top quarterbacks in college football for the past four seasons. He started his career off at Central Florida where he started 25 games and was named an All-ACC selection in 2020. He then transferred to Oklahoma and was named the  Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year. While Gabriel has put up strong numbers throughout his career and is a mobile pocket passer who shows solid arm strength, there are some concerns with his game. The first concern is his lack of size coming in at only 5-foot-11. Another concern with him is his injury history as he missed one game last season, and had a season-ending injury in 2021. He also needs to do a better job of taking what the defense gives him instead of always trying to make the big play.

A player who has a lot of hype going into the season is Shedeur Sanders of Colorado. Expectations are big for Sanders as he was dominant at the FCS level the past two seasons throwing for 3,723 yards last year and being named the Jerry Rice FCS National Freshman of the Year in 2021. However, his pro potential might be more hype than pure talent at this point. A couple of concerns I have with him is that he shows only average arm strength, has questionable pocket awareness as he was sacked 23 times last season, and must improve his technique especially when it comes to his footwork. While Sanders carries a second -round grade according to Mock Draft Database I only give him a late day three grade.

Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke had a disappointing season last year after being named the 2021 ACC Rookie of the Year. In 2022 Van Dyke battled injuries, poor production from his receivers and an offensive system that never hit its stride. Now that he has a new offensive coordinator and should see improved play by his offensive line, Hurricane fans are hoping to see the 2021 version of him again this season. When looking at Van Dyke as a pro prospect he throws a nice catchable ball and has ideal NFL size. On the downside though he lacks great mobility and has trouble creating when things break down. Due to these concerns even if he has a strong 2023 season he will most likely be a day three pick.

A Power Five player who is a sleeper in the 2024 NFL Draft is Taulia Tagovailoa of Maryland. The main reason Tagovailoa is being overlooked is his small size coming in at just 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, which is a concern but is still bigger than 2023 number one pick Bryce Young. He also only has average arm strength, but this can be improved with better footwork and playing with a better base. A couple of reasons I am higher on him than other people are his ability to create plays, accuracy, and leadership ability. If he can have another strong season like he has the past two seasons look for some team to consider using a sixth or seventh-round pick on him next April. 

Another quarterback who enters the 2023 season with limited playing time is Hudson Card. Card spent his first three seasons at Texas, and only started five games during that time. However, Card has looked solid during that time throwing for 1,515 yards and 11 touchdowns with just two interceptions. He will now get a chance this season to prove he is a quality NFL prospect since he will be a full-time starter at Purdue this coming season. There are several traits that should make him one of the better quarterbacks in the Big Ten next season, including being an impressive athlete for a pocket passer and having solid arm strength.

Things did not go the way DJ Uiagalelei hoped at Clemson. He struggled his first year as a starter and was benched during the 2022 season. Uiagalelei will hope a move to Oregon State will allow him to live up to the potential people saw in him when he was rated as the top high school quarterback by Rivals. One of the reasons he still carries a draftable grade and was so highly thought of is his strong arm. While he needs to improve his accuracy on the deep ball he definitely has the arm strength to challenge a defense vertically. He also has ideal size coming in at 6-foot-4 235 pounds, and shows good mobility for someone his size. One thing he will need to improve on this year though is his accuracy. In this area, he misses too many open receivers and when faced with pressure his mechanics break down which really hurts his ability to consistently deliver a catchable ball. 

A player who may lack elite physical skills yet is a true gamer is Cameron Rising of Utah. Last season, he led Utah to the Rose Bowl while completing 65% of his passes for 3,034 yards and 26 touchdowns while also rushing for 465 yards. Unfortunately, Rising may be just a solid college quarterback who lacks the traits to make it in the NFL. One of the traits he lacks is arm strength. He has a hard time throwing the ball downfield and also lacks zip on his mid-range passes at times. He also is just an average athlete who shows spotty accuracy at times. Despite these concerns though it would not be a surprise if a team used a late pick in the 2024 NFL Draft on him due to his toughness, leadership, and overall grit. 

A player who definitely needs a bounce-back season is new North Carolina State quarterback Brennan Armstrong who transferred over from Virginia. Last season was a disaster for Armstong as he threw 12 interceptions on the year compared to just seven touchdowns. He also showed spotty accuracy completing just 55% of his passes and didn’t produce many downfield big throws which. On the positive side though he was one of the better young quarterbacks in college football before the 2022 season. In 2021, he completed an impressive 65% of his passes including 31 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions. He also showed NFL glimpses in 2020 tying for the FBS lead with most single-season games (6) with 200+ yards passing and 45+ yards rushing. If he can have a good season this year look for teams to consider Armstrong on day three of the 2024 NFL Draft.