By: Toby Martin-Kohls
The NFL draft concluded last weekend in Kansas City, with 259 players selected over 7 rounds (compensatory picks are included in this number). Here is a sum-up of the quarterback storyline at this year’s NFL Draft.
As the QB is the most crucial position in football, eyes are usually on the top signal callers when the draft comes around. This year there was no shortage of first-round talent, as 4 QBs were projected to go in the first round by almost every draft analyst.
It was a way stronger QB class than last year when Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett was the only first-round QB selection going to the Pittsburgh Steelers at pick 20. After that, the next QB wasn’t taken until Desmond Ridder in the 3rd round at pick 74 to the Atlanta Falcons.
This year, there was an early run on QB talent, as there were 3 selected in the first four picks. Bryce Young, who won the Heisman Trophy for best college QB in 2021, was selected first to the Carolina Panthers. He was widely expected to be the first pick in the draft, along with fellow QB C.J. Stroud. Young is a natural passer with an instinctive feel for throw location and play extension. He has the high-end intangibles and talent required to become an impact starter in the NFL. The one knock on Young is his size and durability, as he is vastly undersized standing at 5’10” and 204lbs.
The second QB taken was C.J. Stroud out of Ohio State with pick 2 to the Houston Texans. He was also considered to be a possible choice for the number 1 selection. As a redshirt freshman at Ohio State, Stroud was a Freshman All-American and First Team All-Big 10. He followed that up with his redshirt sophomore season getting named Second Team All-American, Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year, and First Team All-Big 10. Stroud is considered an outstanding rhythm passer with great touch, pacing, and ball speed control to carve up a defense. His weaknesses are his need to develop his athleticism and escapability to the modern NFL.
The third QB taken was Anthony Richardson out of Florida with pick 4 to the Indianapolis Colts. Richardson is considered to have the highest ceiling of anybody in the draft, with his freakish, one-of-a-kind, athletic ability. He displayed this superhuman athleticism at the NFL Combine, running the 40-yard dash in a time of 4.43sec, which was the 4th fastest by a QB at the Combine since 2000. But his size really made this unprecedented, as he stands at a towering 6’4” and 244lbs. He set a new QB Combine record with a 40.5in vertical jump and another QB record in the broad jump, jumping 10’9”.
Unlike the other two QBs picked before him, Richardson had an up-and-down college career, starting only a total of 13 games over two years. He was essentially a one-year starter at Florida, and his 53.8% completion percentage is awfully low for someone picked so high. That being said, the quality of his pass catchers did him no favors. He is also a year younger than Young and Stroud.
Overall, Richardson’s volatile accuracy and decision-making cloud his evaluation, but he is a freakshow talent with special size, speed, and arm strength, and he put enough promising plays on film to be optimistic about his potential ceiling. He fits an RPO or NFL vertical-passing offense that will also utilize his athleticism, but he needs on-field reps and a patient coaching staff willing to weather the early storm. The Colts are running a massive gamble, and we’ll see if it pays off.
The last QB thought to be selected in the first round was Will Levis out of Kentucky. Levis was thought to be one of the most prototypical NFL QBs in the draft, with good size and exceptional arm talent. He struggled with turnovers during his college career and needs to work on his read efficiency and ball placement to succeed at the next level. He has an NFL starter’s skill set with his impressive physical tools (size, arm, athleticism) and exceptional competitive toughness.
This is where the surprise of the first round was. Levis was projected by very nearly all draft experts to go in the first round. A solid amount even had him going top 10. In fact, Levis was the oddsmakers’ favorite to go No. 2 overall in the days leading up to the draft. This obviously did not end up being the case as he slid down all the way to the second round and was picked at pick 33 by the Tennessee Titans. ESPN had given him just a 0.1% chance to still be available at pick 23 of the first round. It will be interesting to see how he can develop behind starter Ryan Tannehill and fight for the backup job with 2022 third-round pick Malik Willis.
Personally, I think the best part of the draft is looking back at the selections in 3-4 years and seeing the inevitable busts and hits of the draft. Especially with this QB class, this year should be no different in the excitement level when looking back at these picks in the future.