QB1: CJ Stroud, Ohio State
My pick for the top quarterback in this class, Buckeyes passer CJ Stroud has a big year ahead of him if he wants to secure himself as QB1 in the draft. His Heisman award snub last year wasn’t exactly a near miss, considering he came in fourth place behind Kenny Pickett, Aidan Hutchinson, and eventual winner, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young. But for the NFL level, the potential is there for Stroud to really fit the professional style of game.
For starters, Stroud is a much sturdier passer than Young, who we’ll dive further into later. The southern California product showed passing acumen in all kinds of weather last season, especially playing in the wind tunnel that Ohio Stadium can turn into when it gets cold. Stroud might not be the athlete that some of the other quarterbacks in this class have the potential to become, but he makes up for it by being incredibly smart and poised. Once he settled down last year, Stroud showed elite levels of ball placement, especially while in the pocket, and Ohio State’s offense almost always looked completely under control.
Another thing I love about Stroud is how quick of a learner he is. Throughout his first season as a starter in 2021, Buckeyes fans watched Stroud go from some kid who was way in over his head, to grasping the offense in full after about two weeks. By season’s end he was a maestro, conducting an eleven-man orchestra of wildly-talented skill players. It only took twelve weeks to get to that point of full control, and Stroud still showed room for improvement. Let’s talk about what he can do better.
I fail to find many things within Stroud’s mental game that I can critique very hard at all. That’s great! But I wish he had a little more “oomph” on his arm. This isn’t to say that he has a weak arm, he can drive the ball when he so chooses, but he doesn’t wow me with his arm talent in any way. I just need a little bit more zip on those short and intermediate passes, and away you go.
QB2: Bryce Young, Alabama
Now we come to last year’s Heisman winner, and my clear-cut QB2 in this class. Young came up just short in last year’s National Championship game, and now he’s my second-ranked quarterback and I’m sure that’s the thing that’s really just eating him up inside. Thankfully, there’s a lot to like with Young, and there’s a good chance he could overtake Stroud as QB1 by the end of the year.
I love the general style with which Young plays the game of football. He plays quarterback how I personally believe quarterback should be played: under complete control and with feel for the game, but thriving in the off-schedule plays. Young can and will win you the game while doing stuff he’s not technically supposed to, but he makes it work. He’s especially great at making the opposing coach just throw his hands up and make that “well, what can you do?” face that you see on TV a lot. It’s fantastic, I really value that attribute in my quarterbacks. The more helpless you can make the opposing team feel, the better.
Young’s natural talent, coupled with his lightning-fast process speed and pinpoint accuracy, makes up the cocktail that allows him to play with his trademark suddenness. Young can hit any receiver, from anywhere, and put it right in their hands, every single time. He doesn’t always set his feet, but his throwing motion is so quick and repeatable that I can’t gripe on it too much. In every sense of the word, Young is an absolute natural at the position.
If Bryce Young were 6’2 and 230 pounds, the NFL world would be writing his name in permanent ink as the top pick in the 2023 draft. Alas, he’s a shade under 6’0 and about 190, there’s a little bit of doubt of his placement in the top three picks. Personally, I think that’s ridiculous, because… I mean, look at what he does on the field. But the numbers don’t lie, and they often spell disaster for sub-6’0 quarterbacks at the NFL level. Just something to keep in mind for draft season.
QB3: Anthony Richardson, Florida
You are either going to love Anthony Richardson, or absolutely hate him. I find it hard to see where they could be a gray area on this prospect.
The chief word that comes to mind when watching Richardson’s admittedly-small sample size of tape is “potential.” As perhaps the most physically gifted signal-caller in this draft class, Richardson’s 6’3, 235-pound frame and cannon arm separate him from the other top prospects in this quarterback class. The Gators were a flat-out fun offense with Richardson at the helm in 2021, absolutely whipping the football down the field for large chunk gains.
The other trait that I love when it comes to Richardson is that he doesn’t suffer from the same disregard for football IQ that other physically talented QBs seem to have. He plays with anticipation, and showed glimpses of throwing his receivers open as last season progressed. He progresses through his reads a bit better than you might give him credit for initially, and he is, above all else, a playmaker at the position.
However, I wish that his decision-making was a bit more polished. Richardson is a smart quarterback, but he’s also an inexperienced one when it comes to playing at higher levels. Multiple times in 2021 he would have routes jumped for incompletions and batted passes, and you could see that it was because he’s just not used to the speed of the college game yet. An offseason as the Gators’ top guy should help that quite a bit, and if he progresses this season just as much as he did in 2021, he’ll be a lock for an early first-round pick.