Last April, just one quarterback was selected in the first 73 picks of the NFL draft.
Things will be different next week in Kansas City, Missouri, where the consensus top four quarterbacks will attend the 2023 NFL Draft and are expected to hear their names called in the first round Thursday night -- quite possibly all in the first dozen picks -- even though, as numerous league sources emphasized over the past week, they all have flaws.
A fifth QB could slide into Round 1, too. And it won't be a surprise if at least a dozen quarterbacks in all come off the board before the draft ends.
Here's the full breakdown of the 16 quarterbacks with the best chance to get drafted next week, based on dozens of conversations with NFL executives, scouts and coaches, all speaking on the condition of anonymity for competitive reasons and to provide a blunt assessment.
PROJECTED: Round 1
PROJECTED: Round 1
At this point, it’ll be a major surprise within the league if the Carolina Panthers draft someone other than Young at No. 1 overall on April 27, his diminutive stature notwithstanding.
“The guy who can just play is Bryce Young,” an AFC GM said. “Is he going to be 185 pounds? He’s such a good processor and thinker and accurate, it probably works. They’re taking him. Just write it in. I would bet my house.”
Said an NFC executive: “I’d be shocked if Bryce didn’t go first. If I was Carolina and I wanted to win right now, that’s the guy I would take. I think he’s the most ready to do it. He’s a phenomenal kid. He’s unbelievably intelligent. (Former Alabama OC) Bill O’Brien holds him in really high regard, and it matches up when you meet with him.”
A two-year starter and team captain who won the Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award as a true sophomore in 2021, Young brings everything to the table that teams look for in terms of makeup and skill set. He’s just smaller than most NFL QBs, measuring in at 5-foot-10 1/8 and a beefed-up 204 pounds at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.
“Bryce is super talented. Good arm talent. Probably of all of them, seems to be the most groomed to play quarterback,” an NFC coordinator said. “He’s a super smart dude -- almost feels like talking to a coach at times. Bryce has obviously got the size issues that can become really real when it comes to the guys that’s going to be in front of you, being able to withstand contact and having to manufacture ways to change your arm angle, get a window. But when I watch his tape, if you didn’t tell me how tall he was, I wouldn’t know, because it never showed up.”
Scouts who went through Alabama last fall say Young was playing in the mid-180s, and he has a naturally smaller frame.
“If Bryce was bigger -- and I don’t necessarily mean taller, just if he wasn’t such a frail body -- it’d be, blowing away, him as the No. 1 pick,” another NFC coordinator said. “He’s a natural thrower. Accuracy’s easy for him. That’s the difference between him and the rest.”
Said an NFC scout: “Bryce is just the most natural processor, mover. I hate saying it, but that Steph Curry comparison is actually pretty good, because he’s so nifty and quick and smart and gets the ball out and is accurate. I don’t think the height affects his play at all. He has natural anticipation and field vision and somehow is able to see things a lot smoother than Russell (Wilson) even. Then it’s just kind of a risk, durability-wise. But you’ve seen him get hit, you’ve seen him get up. And he’s so instinctive -- how many times is he going to get a free rusher from the back side that he doesn’t see? He understands how to evade and get down and not get completely smoked.”
In 36 college games (27 starts), Young completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 8,356 yards and 80 touchdowns with just 12 interceptions. After playing as a reserve behind eventual first-round pick Mac Jones on the Crimson Tide team that won the national championship in the 2020 season, Young missed just one game over two seasons as the starter, with an AC joint injury to his right (throwing) shoulder last October that lingered for the rest of the season. He wrapped his collegiate career by opting to play in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Eve and was named MVP in a win over Kansas State.
Said an AFC GM: “I think Young is the most polished passer (in the 2023 class). I would be concerned about his frame, less from the perspective of 'Is he going to be able to perform?' and more from the perspective of 'Is he going to be able to hold up year after year?' We saw it with Kyler (Murray). We saw it a little bit with Baker (Mayfield). And [Young’s] not necessarily the freak athlete to avoid all sorts of contact. That wouldn’t prevent me from taking him high; I think he’s going to be a really good passer and a really good quarterback. I just think there might be some type of planning where you have to invest a little bit more in that No. 2 quarterback spot in the event [Young's] frame doesn’t allow him to be this 17-game starter for 10 years in a row.”
Despite the concerns over his stature, his hand size (9 3/4 inches) is solid for a smaller QB. One NFC quarterbacks coach praised Young's accuracy: "You haven't seen that coming out of the draft in a long time." Young also scored off the charts on the S2 Cognition test some teams use to measure players’ ability to process information.
“He’s got unbelievable instincts and awareness in the passing game,” another NFC QBs coach said. “If you threw out the height on this kid, I don’t think it’d even be a debate about who’s going No. 1. He’s just got such an unbelievable feel for the game when you watch him. You can see what he can do for your team in terms of being able to distribute the ball. His processing shows up on tape.”
Said an AFC scout: “It was Bill O’Brien’s offense. [Young’s] like second behind (Tom) Brady in terms of football intelligence. He could handle everything at the line of scrimmage probably like an NFL quarterback. Super poised. He’s accurate. He’s got a good arm -- not a great arm, but it’s still good at all the levels. Super poised, too. You just don’t see him rattled. They didn’t lose that Tennessee game because of him. You’ve just got to worry about his size. He’s tough. He’s taken some big-time shots from some big dudes; he’s hopped up. It’s just, how many of those are you going to take?”
Coaches can manage that in part by the style of offense they build around Young.
“If you’re going for best combination of route anticipation/accuracy, you’re going Bryce Young -- but then also knowing you’re not going to do a lot of read-option/QB runs with him and you’re going to be willing to manipulate the pocket,” a second NFC executive said. “I always put accuracy and anticipation ahead of arm strength, [and Young’s] got the best combination of the two in the last several drafts. You’re just getting it in a 5-10 frame. He’s not Kyler, where he’s super twitched up and elusive. He’s an outlier, where he’s going to take shots because he’s not an elusive runner. So that off-schedule stuff -- he’s going to take contact. What does that look like over a 17-game season?”
Everyone who has interviewed Young during the pre-draft process has come away impressed, which makes sense: He has been groomed his entire life for this moment. And he’s still only 21 years old.
“He could be an offensive coordinator right now," said a third NFC executive. "He’s that calm, that mature, that special.“
PROJECTED: Round 1
A two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, Stroud threw 85 touchdown passes over two seasons as Ohio State's starter. He’s the consensus No. 2 QB in this class, and a few scouts and coaches rank him ahead of Young.
“Best player. Played from the pocket. Good arm. Good athlete. Good size. Tough. I don’t see very many flaws,” an AFC executive said. “Who would you pick if you had the first overall pick? I’d probably pick him.”
Stroud looks the part at 6-3 and 214 pounds with big 10-inch hands. He completed 69.3 percent of his college passes for 8,123 yards and threw just 12 interceptions. And his last game as a Buckeye was a solid NFL audition: a 42-41 shootout loss to Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinals in which Stroud was 23-of-34 passing for 348 yards and four touchdowns with an additional 34 rushing yards, showing off more ability to make plays with his legs than many scouts thought he had.
“Stroud’s very interesting to me because I think he’s still growing as a passer,” an NFC quarterbacks coach said. “He’s instinctive, accurate, a little bit more of a classic pocket passer mold, but has enough athleticism to get to do things for you there. The question everybody’s going to have with him: Was the Georgia game an anomaly? Or is that what he can be?”
Stroud had just 136 rushing yards and one TD in his college career. (Important note: Unlike in the NFL, the NCAA counts sacks against a quarterback's rushing total, so Stroud's yardage total is a little deceiving.) But he has shown an ability to make things happen outside the pocket, as noted by an NFC coordinator: "C.J. (throwing) on the move is ridiculous. It's just natural. It flicks."
Said an AFC GM: “This public knock about him (not) extending plays or using his athleticism or whatever -- from what I’ve seen, I don’t really buy that. I think you see it plenty on tape. I think he’s very well-rounded.”
Readiness remains a question mark on Stroud, who is still only 21 years old. Several scouts repeated the same early reports: Concerns about selfishness, his relationships with teammates and others around the building, overall leadership traits. One NFC scout who did extensive background work on Stroud explained it this way: “The first year he was at Ohio State competing for the job, he had to be about himself. Then, when he actually won the job, through the rest of ‘21 and on through the ‘22 offseason, he had to learn how to be a leader because he was always just driven to, I need to get this for myself, I gotta get this for my family, I gotta make sure I’m the starting quarterback. He was so driven that way, kind of with blinders on. Once he got the job, he had to go through a maturation of trying to figure out, OK, how do I lead a team? That part’s kind of been a work in progress. Smart kid, though. ... He’s like a sponge, tries to learn more every day, works on his craft. Always doing something in terms of throwing, organizing throwing, guys running routes, working on timing, touch, technique.”
Stroud has overcome challenges, most notably the incarceration of his father on a prison sentence of over 30 years when Stroud was 13 years old. He’s guarded about certain aspects of his life and that has been reflected in pre-draft meetings with teams. However, several GMs, scouts and coaches said Stroud grew on them the more time they spent with him. And Stroud is more highly regarded in terms of his passing ability and his football IQ than some other recent Ohio State QB prospects.
“The questions are going to be transitioning from that offense, because guys have had trouble (adjusting) from what they ask them to do (at Ohio State) to what we ask them to do in terms of setting protections and all that,” an NFC executive said. “He’s always had really good protection and he’s basically been driving a Cadillac -- he’s got [Jaxon Smith-Njigba], he’s got three first-round receivers, he’s got two first-round tackles. When he’s got space and time to throw, he carves people up and he’s ridiculous. When things have gotten tight -- when Michigan has gotten pressure on him, when he’s seen new stuff from Northwestern that they weren’t prepared for and the game gets tight -- he hasn’t played as free. And in fairness to [Stroud], he hasn’t been in that situation very often because they’ve been so good.”
The Buckeyes lost just four of Stroud’s 25 starts, though two of those defeats came against rival Michigan. Stroud took the S2 Cognition test multiple times and posted low scores, but coaches who have watched the tape and put Stroud on the board were impressed with his processing ability. He has displayed toughness, starting all 12 games in 2021 despite separating the AC joint in his right (throwing) shoulder in the season opener. And as pure passers go, Stroud is one of the best in this class.
“You saw in the Georgia game he’s probably more athletic than people gave him credit for,” another NFC coordinator said. “Good arm talent. I think he’s good mechanically. And demeanor-wise, he’s a lot more likeable than I thought he was going to be. You watch his game-day demeanor -- he seems real standoffish, no personality. And he was like the exact opposite in person. Cool as hell, great communication skills, good recall. He can process. Ball kind of comes easy to him.”
PROJECTED: Round 1
A one-year starter who completed 54.7 percent of his college passes, Richardson has rare physical traits and profiles as a classic low-floor/high-ceiling prospect.
“It’s probably the hardest eval I’ve ever done, because 13 f------ [starts] and six wins, and (he) looks like a f------ pass rusher, runs 4.4 and he has some instinctive s--- on tape,” an AFC executive said. “Accuracy can be up and down. Decision-making can be up and down. But he’s got plays where he avoids pressure, steps up, makes a nice throw -- just instinctive plays.”
The 2022 Gators were undermanned in terms of talent amidst a coaching change and went 6-6 with Richardson at QB. (Richardson also started one game in 2021, a 34-7 loss to No. 1 Georgia.) But his measurables are impossible to ignore: 6-4 1/4 and 244 pounds with massive 10 1/2-inch hands. His 4.43 40-yard dash in Indianapolis was one of the fastest ever by a QB, and he also led the position in the vertical jump (40 1/2 inches) and broad jump (10-foot-9).
“You could argue [Richardson's] the best athlete to come out at the position maybe ever, in terms of size, speed, athleticism,” an AFC quarterbacks coach said. “If you’re willing, organizationally, to build the whole thing around him -- which Baltimore has shown you can do and have a great degree of success -- then I think you can utilize all those skills and build a pretty good dynamic if you’re going to run the quarterback and you’re going to invest heavily on defense and try to play the game that way. But that’s a major organizational commitment for a guy that’s only started 13 games in college.”
In those 13 starts (plus limited action in 11 other games), Richardson threw for 3,105 yards and 24 touchdowns with 15 interceptions, while also running for 1,116 yards and 12 scores. He missed time with hamstring issues in 2021, when he was injured on an 80-yard touchdown run, and was slowed by another hamstring injury early in the 2022 season.
“Man, is he a talented guy. He’s a playmaker. But he’s not accurate,” an AFC coordinator said. “You’ll watch him and you’ll see some stuff from him that you’re like, Wow, how could you make that throw? It was on point. And then he’s set up, got a good base, ready to deliver it and you’re like, Where the hell did you fire that thing? You’ve just got to know what you’re getting. But you’re getting an extremely talented dude with a f------ ham cannon, and man, is he an athlete. He's tough. He's everything you're looking for."
There are natural comparisons to Josh Allen, who had a similar build and completed just 56.2 percent of his passes at Wyoming. Richardson was exposed to pro-style concepts in coach Billy Napier’s offense last year and has done well in meetings and board work with NFL teams.
“I think he probably gets a little bit of unfair criticism in terms of his ability from the pocket,” an AFC GM said. “It’s not like this guy’s just this pure backyard-style football (player). I do think the accuracy is a bit of a concern, so you are really kind of betting on that he’s going to generate enough explosive plays, enough in the QB run game, to offset being below average as a passer from an accuracy standpoint. I think he can process and anticipate just fine. And he really is dynamic as an athlete. He’s like Josh Allen’s size and Michael Vick’s speed. He can really be a weapon.”
Said an NFC scout: “The whole Anthony Richardson conversation is a little bit overblown. He’s not as big a project as a lot of people make it out to be. Obviously he has one year and it’s 6-6 (2022 record) and it’s 55 percent. But he has natural pocket presence. He has quarterback instincts. He flashes everything you want to see. He can drop back, he can read a defense and he can throw it better than damn near anybody. He’s just gotta turn down the juice sometimes and not throw it 90 mph on a shallow crosser.”
Richardson’s highlight reel (SEE: his 360-degree jump fake for a TD pass against Utah) is outrageous. And it was fitting that he punctuated his pro day with a deep shot and a back handspring as he ran down the field with teammates.
“He’s my dark horse to be No. 1," an AFC scout said. "If there’s an owner watching at the combine that was watching that, he might be like, 'That’s the guy I want. I want that guy.' ”
No question, the general opinion among evaluators is that Richardson needs time to develop. But any team drafting Richardson in Round 1 -- potentially even in the top five -- figures to find some way to feature his skill set on the field immediately.
“Upside’s crazy,” an NFC GM said. “But I think you’ve got to use him right away. If you’re paying somebody that kind of money, especially a dude that has [abilities] like that, let’s get him on the field.”
Richardson was raised in Gainesville and has really never left. He told teams during pre-draft interviews that his mother, with whom he's very close, and his mentor will move with him to whichever NFL city he lands in to help ease the transition.
"None of the questions about Richardson are going to get answered (before the draft), because he's played such few games. But he's about as cool of a prospect as you could evaluate in terms of the potential and the upside,” an NFC coordinator said. “Outside of just the physical testing stuff, just his play on the field. The fact that he gets through reads and he gets to checkdowns and he has a pretty good understanding when you talk to him about defenses -- he’s got a good foundation. He’s just got such a lesser number of total reps at the whole thing, and then obviously the accuracy stuff. Can he keep building on that or is that what he is? The situation he gets put in will be so imperative for his development.”
PROJECTED: Round 1
If Levis were drafted off his 2021 tape alone, he might've been in the mix for the No. 1 pick. But the Wildcats offense had a talent gap even before Levis began battling injuries during his redshirt senior season, leaving coaches unable to operate the way they had planned and putting Levis' draft stock in limbo.
“He’s ‘sliding’ or whatever, which is kind of bizarre. I think people secretly like him and want to see him slide,” an AFC scout said. “Levis has played in a pro-style offense the last two years: call the huddle, call the full NFL play, make the checks at the line of scrimmage. Big arm, super tough, built like a linebacker, got a cannon. Knows pro-style reads. I think he was stuck trying to force some things [last] year, but he didn’t have the pieces around him like he did in the past. It sounds like he’s already a pro, living the pro lifestyle. He’s a Type-A guy, too. He [had] his whole day planned out to like the minute at Kentucky. Highly driven, highly motivated. You go out to practice (and) he looks like an NFL quarterback.”
In two years with the Wildcats, Levis (6-3 7/8, 229 pounds) completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 5,233 yards and 43 touchdowns with 23 interceptions while being coached by NFL-influenced coordinators Liam Coen and Rich Scangarello. His former coaches vouch for him as a player and a leader. He was another top performer on the S2 Cognition test.
“Levis had the unfortunate roller coaster of getting so much buildup from his previous season and then not winning as much this past year,” an NFC coordinator said. “But really, I know he played not quite as well, but it’s not like it fell off completely. He still demonstrates that he can make every throw. Can he protect the ball well enough down in and down out? Can he play loose enough in some of those critical situations? The way he plays, the style of person, the workout guy, eating bananas with the peel on them -- he’s just a little tightly wound.”
Levis missed one game last season and was limited the second half of the year by a severe turf toe ailment and an injury to his left (non-throwing) shoulder. Both issues required weekly injections, prevented him from practicing full-speed for roughly a month and effectively eliminated all the QB movement from an offense that leans heavily on it. (Levis ran for nine touchdowns as a junior and just two last season.)
“[He] definitely is confident and will tell you he’s confident," another NFC coordinator said. "He’s got a monster arm. Little robotic at times. You see him run around sometimes in college and try to be physical and finish runs. At this level, they’re going to break you in half, and you won’t have a very long career.”
Poise is a common question about Levis, who has generated mixed reactions from his pre-draft meetings. He’s known as very coachable, but his personality isn’t for everyone. Several coaches brought up the viability of his noticeably muscular frame, which contributes to a sometimes unnatural-looking delivery.
“He’s got all the tools, but everything’s a fastball,” an NFC quarterbacks coach said. “He’s a little bit of a different character. ... But he’s smart. The cool thing about his tape is he’s under center throwing strike routes. You can see if he gets into a Kubiak/Shanahan system, he’s done that on tape, so he can do it (in the NFL). If he can just learn to relax -- it’s like he’s so forced all the time, with everything. He wants [to succeed] really bad, and I think he feels pressure because he didn’t have a great year [in 2022]. Right now, (it seems like) he’s putting so much pressure on himself. I think if he just takes a deep breath and relaxes, you can see he can do it.”
Said an NFC scout: “The way he plays the game is super mechanical. He has obvious arm talent. It’s just the release -- you can see it in the pro day, there’s a certain I’m throwing the ball on this step on my rollout-type situation where it just doesn’t look natural. And then just the game tape, he doesn’t feel things as naturally as any of those other (top) guys. Pocket presence isn’t there.”
Teams also have dug into why Levis couldn’t win the job at Penn State over the less-talented Sean Clifford, who is regarded as a priority free agent in this draft class.
"Never was consistent enough there either to do it," another NFC scout said. "It's just his physical traits beyond his strong arm, athletic, probably a little too muscular so he has stiffness to him at times. His (issue) is just the processing, man. Three offenses in three years. At times he can get streaky and get hot. He's always trying to be perfect. He just needs to go out there and let it rip."
PROJECTED: Rounds 1-2
PROJECTED: Rounds 1-2
The SEC Offensive Player of the Year and a third-team AP All-American in 2022, Hooker was one of the best stories in college football before an ACL tear in November ended his season.
“The guy that people are really sleeping on because of the ACL is Hendon Hooker,” an AFC scout said. “The guy was having a great f------ year, man. He was killing it. He’s a little bit older (Hooker turned 25 in January), but he’s mature and he can run into the huddle and lead men and have a presence about himself.”
Said an NFC quarterbacks coach: “Hooker is maybe my favorite one out of everybody. He’s so cool. And he throws the ball. I thought I was just going to see a bunch of bubble screens and stuff that you normally see out of those types of offenses. He pushes the ball downfield (and) throws seam routes as well as anybody.”
In 24 games (22 starts) for the Volunteers after transferring from Virginia Tech, Hooker completed 68.9 percent of his passes for 6,080 yards and 58 touchdowns with just five interceptions in Josh Heupel’s version of the Air Raid offense. He also ran for 1,046 yards and 10 more scores. He has NFL size (6-3 1/4, 217 pounds with 10 1/2-inch hands) and has been highly impressive in interviews.
Hooker is progressing through his rehab and remains on track to be cleared by the start of the regular season, though any team that drafts him surely would bring him along slowly. The biggest question is how he'll transition from Tennessee's unique offense to an NFL system.
“Fundamentally, that Tennessee offense is hard to evaluate because they’re kind of a gimmicky deal," an AFC coordinator said. "They just run a super wide spread set, they run a lot of plays that are coverage beaters, and they play with those really wide splits. The quarterback takes the same drop all the time. So you’re watching it [thinking], His development at this level will be playing in a progression offense, learning how to play within the rhythm and timing of a play. But he’s a smooth thrower. He’s got a quick release. Liked all the elements of him throwing the ball. The only development with him would be learning how to play in a real NFL offense, as opposed to that offense where you play 'pick a side' and you’re throwing to really fast guys.”
That was a change from the more rigid, timing-based scheme Hooker ran under former coach Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech, where Hooker played in 25 games (15 starts) from 2018 through 2020 and wasn’t nearly as efficient as a passer, leaning more on his running ability (1,033 yards, 15 TDs).
"With the weird-ass offense at Tennessee that Heupel’s running, [Hooker] said he was able to play more loose because the receivers are the ones having to read all the coverages out on the perimeter when they’re way out past the numbers,” an NFC scout said. “They were playing a game within a game.”
Hooker’s play and leadership during two years in Knoxville overshadowed some of the questions that scouts had surrounding his exit from Virginia Tech, where he left what ended up being his final game after fumbling twice on a cold day against Clemson and was seen on the TV broadcast visibly shaking on the sideline. (Hooker later said medicine used during a scope of his heart, performed for a lingering issue from COVID-19, "reactivated" and caused the reaction).
“It wouldn’t shock me if he ended up better than (Anthony Richardson and Will Levis)," an AFC QBs coach said. "The two offenses he’s played in in college don’t look like NFL offenses. But he plays fast within what they ask him to do there, and he’s mature and he’s got leadership ability and he’s got clean mechanics and he can run. When it’s third down and they know you’re passing and you’ve got to climb the pocket and progress through a full-field read -- those are the things he’s just going to need reps at, and he’s not going to get them early because of his knee. But the flip side of that coin is it could be good. Now he has some time to take a back seat and learn some of these things and get experience. I don’t question the capacity for him to grow in that area, because he’s really an impressive kid and I think he has the ability to do it.”
PROJECTED: Rounds 3-4
PROJECTED: Rounds 3-4
A first-team All-Mountain West selection in 2022, Haener has won fans during the pre-draft process -- including at the Reese's Senior Bowl, where he earned MVP honors.
"I think he's similar to Gardner Minshew," an NFC executive said. "He's got some gamer to him, he's accurate -- he just doesn't have a big arm. But he's got a little Drew Brees to him. The ball's going to come out. He knows where he's going with it. He's just not a big person (5-11 5/8, 207 pounds), so can he hold up?"
Haener spent two seasons at Washington, earning Offensive Scout Squad MVP honors in 2017 and appearing in four games as a reserve in 2018 before transferring, which required him to sit out a year. In 33 college games (29 starts) over three seasons with the Bulldogs, Haener completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 9,120 yards, 68 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, plus eight rushing touchdowns. His size is the biggest concern.
"He's always going to have a deal with his size," an NFC quarterbacks coach said. "He has instincts and he has a good feel for the passing game. He doesn't play with the same poise as Bryce (Young), which is a big difference. Obviously, [Haener] doesn't have the same level of instincts, accuracy and all that [as Young, but] he's similar in his style in terms of that's how he's got to play. It's just the attributes are not as high."
Haener missed four games last season because of an ankle injury that severely limited his mobility once he returned. He's uber-confident, and his personality grew on many teams during the process. He has experience with pro concepts from playing in Jeff Tedford's offense.
"I just like the way he's wired, and love his play speed," an AFC QBs coach said. "You can see how urgently he plays the game, his feet in the pocket, just very disciplined, very much tied into his eyes and when the ball comes out. Knows where to go with it, diagnoses the defense quickly. Small dude -- that's always going to be an issue. Good athlete. The second half of last year, he's hobbling around on one leg and so it doesn't show. But if you see earlier the year before, he had a lot more run production. Above the neck, he's really good and he's got everything you need and want from a young guy in your offense. If you had to throw him out there, I don't think it would feel too big for him."
PROJECTED: Rounds 3-4
A two-year starter for the Cougars, Hall is coming off a career year with 31 touchdown passes and has impressed in interviews with NFL teams. He's just undersized (6-0 1/8, 207 pounds), older (25) and has missed a lot of time with injuries.
In 31 college games (25 starts), Hall completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 6,174 yards and 52 touchdowns with 11 interceptions, and ran for nine more TDs. He also was an outfielder on the BYU baseball team for two years after arriving on campus in 2018, following a two-year LDS mission in California.
“He’s a good enough athlete. He’s got a strong enough arm. He’s pretty accurate," an AFC quarterbacks coach said. "But it’s like, what is the one trait that’s going to let this 6-foot dude have success? And maybe it is the collection of all those things that’s going to let him do it.”
Said an AFC coordinator: “He plays with rhythm, he’s accurate. [But when] the pocket breaks down, his ability to see [is an issue]. You see the baseball player in him. There’s some stuff you like as far as the thrower. It’s just getting him out of doing some of the stuff we saw on tape, in terms of not feeling the rush and taking his eyes off downfield.”
Hall comes from an athletic family: His father, Kalin, played running back at BYU; his mother, Hollie, was a BYU gymnast; his older brother, KJ, was also a running back at BYU while his younger brother, Kyson, is currently a receiver on the Cougars roster. Hall is married and has a daughter, born in 2021.
“Older [prospect], really mature, great interview in terms of talking to him,” an NFC QBs coach said. “He is a good athlete for his size, throws really well on the run -- I’d say that’s his best thing. Has a good arm, especially for his size. Some of those smaller guys, you worry about their arm strength, and I don’t worry about it with [him]. And his athleticism and ability to throw on the run is going to give him a real chance early on to make some plays as a rookie.”
Reviews were mixed on Hall's practice week at the Senior Bowl (he sat out the game with an ankle injury). The medical report is long: Hall missed time with concussions in 2019; didn't play in 2020 because of a torn adductor (while teammate Zach Wilson played his way into the No. 2 overall pick); missed games with rib and ankle injuries in 2021; and did not play in the New Mexico Bowl in December because of a foot/ankle injury sustained earlier in the season.
“I love the kid,” an AFC executive said. “I wish he was longer and bigger.”
PROJECTED: Rounds 4-5
PROJECTED: Rounds 4-5
O'Connell's size (6-3 3/8, 213 pounds), accuracy and ability to process give him a chance to have success at the next level, despite concerns about his lack of mobility.
"Aidan O'Connell is that classic NFL pocket passer," an NFC quarterbacks coach said. "Really good feel for the passing game, good feet, good timing, good arm, good accuracy. There's a lot of good traits about the kid. Just nothing elite to put him in the conversation with the other guys. ... I would say he's down the list because he's not an athlete, but people are going to like him due to that familiarity -- they're going to see a lot of familiar concepts on tape."
O'Connell, who didn't start at QB until his senior year of high school, spent six years in West Lafayette after originally joining the Boilermakers' program as a walk-on. He redshirted in 2017, didn't play in 2018 and missed all but three games in 2020 because of a foot injury. But he made the most of his two seasons as Purdue's primary starter (second-team All-Big Ten selections both years), and earned an invitation to the East-West Shrine Bowl. He turns 25 just before the 2023 season kicks off. In 33 games (27 starts) for the Boilermakers, O'Connell completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 9,219 yards and 65 touchdowns with 30 interceptions.
"He plays super-fast. He makes really quick decisions. The ball comes out of his hand fast," an AFC QBs coach said. "He's very good from a football-IQ standpoint."
O’Connell also was a high scorer on the S2 Cognition test. Any team drafting him will just have to live with his limited ability to make things happen outside the pocket.
"That game doesn't exist anymore in the NFL," an NFC executive said. "I love [O'Connell's makeup] and all that. He's accurate, the arm -- that's going to be able to compensate for some of the [lack of athleticism]. But at the end of the day, dude, he's a tree. He can't move. And this game has evolved so much."
PROJECTED: Rounds 4-5
A first-team All-American Athletic Conference pick who tied for third in the FBS with 40 passing touchdowns in 2022, Tune (6-2 1/2, 220 pounds) has played a ton of football and put up big numbers in coach Dana Holgorsen's brand of the wide-open Air Raid offense.
"I just see a guy that kind of, across the board, does everything well," an AFC quarterbacks coach said. "He is a good athlete. Watch him throw the ball on the perimeter and (he's) able to really open his hips as he's moving left and drop his arm angle and make some pretty impressive throws. I think he's pretty clean mechanically. He doesn't have a huge arm, but he's got enough arm. Experienced. The one thing that might count against him a little bit is just he hasn't probably been asked to do a lot of things in terms of adjustments in-game that a lot of NFL offenses are going to ask him to do. So that's going to take some time."
In 47 college games (44 starts), Tune completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 11,996 yards and 104 touchdowns with 41 interceptions. He also ran for 1,251 yards and 15 more scores. Reviews were mixed on Tune's pre-draft interviews with clubs; some coaches and scouts found it hard to warm up to his laid-back personality.
"Coming from that offense is probably the farthest thing you can get from being ready to play," an NFC quarterbacks coach said. "They don't talk protection. They don't talk run game. He probably has the farthest to go out of all of them."
Tune helped himself with the numbers he put up at the combine: a 4.64 40-yard dash, 37.5-inch vertical, 10-foot-2 broad jump and a 6.89 three-cone drill that ranked best among QBs.
Said an NFC scout: "He's got a decent arm. Accuracy is up and down. But what is he at the end of the day? Is he a backup or a starter? Probably a Day 3 guy."
PROJECTED: Rounds 5-6
PROJECTED: Rounds 5-6
A rare five-year starter thanks to the NCAA's COVID-19 eligibility rules, "DTR" had his best season in 2022, throwing for 27 touchdowns and running for 12 more on a Bruins team that went 9-4. And the word out of the school is he showed signs of improvement after struggling for much of his tenure with embracing the additional aspects that come with being a QB.
"I think somebody is going to be intrigued by him," an NFC executive said. "Good athlete. Kind of got gamer qualities to him. Streaky as a passer. But he's got enough size (6-1 5/8, 203 pounds) and he's a really good athlete and got enough arm. Can you harness all that and put it together?"
In 50 games (48 starts) for the Bruins, Thompson-Robinson completed 63.3 percent of his passes -- including a career-best 69.6 percent last season -- and set school records for total yards (12,536), completions (860), passing yards (10,710), passing touchdowns (88) and total TDs (116).
"Dynamic player. Super, super competitive and just jumps off the tape at you. A big arm," an AFC quarterbacks coach said. "Mechanically, a little bit long in terms of his delivery, but tons of arm speed. He struggles to take something off it every now and then. I think the accuracy's good enough; I don't think it's great. But a guy that can make stuff happen with his legs, get out on the perimeter. He's real cut up, but he's lean. He doesn't carry a lot of bulk. But he's an explosive athlete."
DTR’s combine numbers were solid, but unspectacular: He ran a 4.56 40-yard dash (fourth among QBs) with a 32.5-inch vertical (eighth) and 10-foot-1 broad jump (fourth). He was another high performer on the S2 Cognition test.
Some teams were turned off early in the scouting process by what they heard about Thompson-Robinson prior to the 2022 season, in terms of his maturity, leadership, focus and overall approach to being the Bruins’ QB. And while the word from the school was DTR improved in those areas and played better last season, he’s not regarded as a finished product. One NFL coach pointed to December's Sun Bowl loss -- in which DTR headbutted a Pitt player, threw three interceptions and left because of what the school said was a lower-back injury -- as evidence Thompson-Robinson still has growing up to do.
Said one NFC executive: “DTR had a really good workout, maybe gained a little bit of steam. But I still can’t see him overcoming the [initial] character stuff. ... They said he made significant strides this year. And he did in his play, too.”
PROJECTED: Rounds 5-6
A onetime walk-on who became a two-time national champion and a Heisman Trophy finalist, Bennett is undersized (5-11 3/8, 192 pounds), older (25) and has had to answer for his off-field behavior, including an arrest for public intoxication in January. But Bennett has been proving people wrong his entire career.
"He's done some dumb s---. But you kind of like [him]," an NFC executive said. "He's like, You know what? F--- it, here you go. Go ahead and not draft me or take me late and piss me off some more. But he doesn't even look at like it like he's got a chip on his shoulder. I just think I'm better than you -- he's talked himself into that. And you can poke holes in him all you want -- he's bigger than Bryce Young. He won more games than Bryce. I know he's older, but he's a sharp guy, can make plays with his feet and, at the same time, can make plays with his arm. Does he have a big arm? No. But he's good enough. He's tough as hell."
A redshirt in 2017, Bennett transferred to Jones College for a year before returning to Athens. He got his first shot to start in 2020, beating Auburn in his debut, and then had two seasons for the ages: a 26-1 record, two national titles, and 67 total TDs. In 44 college games (32 starts), Bennett completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 8,428 yards and 66 touchdowns with 21 interceptions.
"He's a talented thrower, man," an AFC coordinator said. "He's competitive. He's got the ability to make all the throws. He's a playmaker. He's accurate. He has a high football IQ. He's just undersized. You see bad body language. He has a super-high opinion of himself. He's talented, but is he going to be one of those dudes that sits behind just thinking he's better than everyone else?"
Bennett's personality isn't for everyone. And scouts heard concerns about his activities away from the facility even before the January incident, which came on the same weekend players were reporting to the Senior Bowl. (Bennett declined an invitation.) Bennett reached out to all 32 teams individually via email to explain the situation and take responsibility; some teams followed up with phone conversations, as well.
"Wildly talented gamer that just can't reel it in," an AFC scout said. "He lives the life. He's the starting quarterback. You can't knock the ability and the talent he has. But at that position, when you have to be such a CEO, a figurehead, do all the right things -- he's just a true wild card."
Still, someone figures to take a shot on a guy who's won at the highest level in college football, albeit with a Georgia team that practically has an NFL roster.
Said an AFC QBs coach: "Obviously, I've got a ton of respect for what he's done. He's a different dude. He carries himself like he's got two national championships, and he does. He's going to walk into a building, it's like, OK, congratulations -- that's really awesome what you did in college. But none of that matters anymore. What is it that's going to translate? Now, I do think he's smart, I think he sees it and he's a good athlete. I question just overall arm talent a little bit. If he can come in and do everything he's got to do and it matters to him to the point he's going to embrace fighting it out to be a backup, which is the reality, and having to just slug it out for a year or two and hope for an opportunity ... If he's wired enough to do that, then he's going to have a chance. He's real small -- Bryce Young small. So he's got to overcome some stuff. But it's about winning. He's shown he can win. He had a lot around him, but you've still got to make the plays, and he did."
PROJECTED: Rounds 6-7
PROJECTED: Rounds 6-7
A two-year starter for the Cardinal, the 22-year-old McKee opted to enter the draft amidst a coaching change despite a disappointing junior season.
"Very smart, obviously a tall dude (6-6 1/4, 231 pounds). Just struggles to move," an AFC quarterbacks coach said. "I saw a good arm; I didn't see a huge arm out of 6-6-plus. Nothing jumped off for me. I think he's going to work hard (and) he's going to be plenty capable mentally. I think it was just a lack of mobility paired with (the fact that) I didn't see anything special as a passer. I think he'll compete for a backup job."
McKee, who beat cancer at age 16, served a two-year LDS mission in Brazil before beginning his college career. In 23 games (21 starts) at Stanford, McKee completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 5,336 yards, 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He missed two games in 2021 with a leg injury. The Cardinal went 3-9 in each of McKee's two years under center, though the program's issues extended far beyond the QB.
"In the NFL 25 years ago, he probably had a chance to be the guy," an NFC coordinator said. "He's so f------ big, and the list of 6-5 QBs who have had success in this league is low. But he has some arm talent, I think he sees the field really well and makes really good decisions. (If) you can do those two things at this level and you're on a good team with a decent coach, you should be a functional (No.) 2."
At 6-6, Chargers QB Justin Herbert is one of those taller QBs who has had success, but Herbert's a phenomenal athlete. McKee has to rely on his ability in the pocket.
"You saw (in 2021) that he has arm talent. This year, they couldn't block anybody and he didn't have an answer for it," an NFC executive said. "He throws it well enough. I think it's the mobility piece. Movement in the pocket, ability to escape and extend. Now, if you can really protect, maybe you feel confident about it, because he's really smart, he's diligent and he's a really good kid. He's (Davis) Mills with a little better arm, but not as mobile, not as good an athlete."
PROJECTED: Round 7/Priority Free Agent
PROJECTED: Round 7/Priority Free Agent
One of the most productive QBs in college football history, Bagent set an NCAA all-division record with 159 career passing touchdowns, including 53 as a junior in 2021 to win the Harlon Hill Trophy as the top player in Division II.
“You can tell he’s going to be a kid that absolutely lives in the facility and does everything in his humanly power to stick around -- and he might,” an AFC quarterbacks coach said. “I didn’t love his arm on tape, and then I saw him at the combine and I was like, all right, there’s a little more to this guy than I originally thought. I’d be surprised if he got drafted, but I think he’ll have three or four suitors after the draft where he can probably pick which place he wants to go to and he’ll get a decent signing bonus, because he’s a bigger kid that’s thrown for a million yards and has some tools.”
In 53 starts for the Rams, Bagent (6-3 1/8, 213 pounds) completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 17,034 yards and ran for another 12 TDs. He had interest from Division I programs before his senior season. The son of arm wrestling legend Travis "The Beast" Bagent, Tyson ran a 4.79 40 with a 36-inch vertical at the combine. He has moxie and toughness. And he was another QB who excelled in the S2 Cognition test.
“It’ll be interesting to see what happens with [Bagent] if he gets in a system that lets him develop and (he) learns how to lift and (is put) on a nutrition plan and stuff like that,” an NFC quarterbacks coach said.
Said an AFC scout: “He does have a good arm. He’s got some tools that you’d like to work with. He’s just a little streaky. He’s got some gunslinger to him. You’ve probably got to tame him a little bit and corral him -- things he got away with at the D-II level, because he’s throwing all over the yard. He put up some unbelievable numbers. You’ve got to give him some credit for that. He’s probably more developmental. Somebody will take a flier on him and see if you get something, because there are enough flashes there.”
PROJECTED: Round 7/Priority Free Agent
A four-year starter, Duggan won the Davey O’Brien Award, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year honors and was the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2022 -- all after losing his job in fall camp. An injury to Chandler Morris in the season opener gave Duggan another chance, and the senior took advantage, throwing for 32 touchdowns and running for nine more while leading the Horned Frogs to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
“Love the makeup, the competitor and all that,” an NFC executive said. “I just don’t know as a passer how he’s going to get that done. He doesn’t fire me up that way. You love him being able to run around and make plays with his feet and all that. To me, the ceiling’s a backup, just because the physical tools are just average.”
Accuracy is the most common critique of Duggan, who completed 60.3 percent of his passes for 9,618 yards and 73 touchdowns against 28 interceptions.
“The biggest turnoff to me was being on the field (at the NFL Scouting Combine) watching [him] throw,” an AFC quarterbacks coach said. “Just seeing it come off his hand in that setting -- that was going to be really hard to overcome in my evaluation.”
Duggan is also on the smaller side (6-1 1/2, 207 pounds) with good-sized hands (9 7/8 inches). He ran a 4.52 40 at the combine -- second among QBs behind only Anthony Richardson and seventh-fastest ever by a QB. Duggan performed well on the S2 Cognition test. And he’s overcome a lot already in his career, including a heart abnormality doctors discovered during a routine exam in 2020, a foot injury that cost him two games in 2021 and the initial benching last year.
“He plays better when he’s out on the perimeter almost like a point guard, seeing the field, dishing it off, trying to make a play, trying to (be a) create-something-out-of-nothing kind of guy,” an NFC scout said. “He gets a little bit more in trouble when he tries to throw from the pocket because of timing, anticipation, having to be perfect with your footwork. He’s better when s---’s going haywire.”
Said an NFC quarterbacks coach: “He can turn it on in the game. I don’t know if he’ll complete a pass in a 7-on-7 drill in practice. (But) the kid’s been a winner. He found a way. He got benched a couple times in college and ended up sitting there to see if his name is called for the Heisman. You can’t discredit that.”
PROJECTED: Round 7/Priority Free Agent
One of the most experienced and prolific quarterbacks in this draft class, Cunningham figures to get an NFL shot.
“He’s a quarterback for a very specific offense,” an AFC quarterbacks coach said, before alluding to Lamar Jackson's NFL journey. “It’s a cheap and easy comparison because he’s from Louisville and he’s a good athlete, but it’s real: He would have to be in a Baltimore-style (offense) that really highlights the quarterback run game and doesn’t ask him to do much as a pocket passer. He can do some stuff throwing it. He’s just inconsistent.”
In 56 college games (47 starts) over five seasons, Cunningham completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 9,664 yards and 70 touchdowns with 29 interceptions -- and also ran for 3,184 yards and an incredible 50 scores, breaking Jackson's school record for total TDs (120 to Jackson’s 119). He’s one of just six players in FBS history to amass at least 9,000 passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards, a list that also includes Jackson, Jalen Hurts and Colin Kaepernick.
“I just don’t think he’s a very good quarterback, just from a touch, timing, accuracy [standpoint],” an NFC scout said. “There’s times he can get streaky in games and [complete] six or eight in a row, and there’s times there’s six or eight (passes) in row you’re just like, literally, 'What the f--- are you doing?' It’s just been such a rollercoaster with him.”
Cunningham is undersized (5-11 3/4, 192 pounds). He missed time in 2022 with a shoulder injury and a concussion and opted out of the Cardinals’ Fenway Bowl appearance to prepare for the draft. He played in both the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Senior Bowl. His 4.53 40-yard dash at the combine was the third-fastest among QBs. Cunningham's skill set is unique to such a degree that some scouts project him to other positions, perhaps moving around in a hybrid role. And Cunningham told teams during the pre-draft process that he's willing to do whatever it takes to get on the field and help a team win.
"I think he's a receiver. And the kid said he would do that through the process," an NFC executive said. "Stud of a kid. I just don't see quarterback out of him."
PROJECTED: Round 7/Priority Free Agent
A four-year starter and three-time captain at Nebraska who holds 16 Cornhuskers records, Martinez transferred to use his extra season of eligibility with the Wildcats, was named a captain again and earned All-Big 12 Honorable Mention honors.
"He's kind of unique," an NFC scout said. "He's athletic and can run and has been productive. People say good things about him. I think he tested really well (reported 40-yard dash in the mid-4.5s at his pro day). They say good things about the human being, and the ability is good enough."
In 49 career games (47 starts), Martinez completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 9,752 yards and 51 touchdowns against 31 picks, while rushing for another 2,928 yards and 45 more scores. He's the only player on this list that wasn't invited to the combine, but Martinez has had a number of meetings with teams since.
"Real up and down at Nebraska, but they thought he played better this year," another NFC scout said. "Great kid. Came in there (to Kansas State) and seized the job. Played a lot more consistent [last] year. He would be a guy I would think would probably get drafted that third day, for sure, probably down in that sixth, seventh round."