Monday, February 6, 2023

2023 NFL Draft: Bryce Young stellar, C.J. Stroud and others shake off rust in initial quarterback stock watch

College football’s anticipated quarterback prospects took the field over the weekend. Some started slowly but the opening week is often an opportunity to shake off the rust. 

Through the course of the season, will be doing stock up and stock down for top NFL Draft quarterback prospects. The designations come with heavy context, however, because it is more of a weekly evaluation rather a reflection of actual draft prospects, which is based on each player’s collegiate body of work. 

Will Levis, Kentucky: Stock Down

Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello’s first game with the Wildcats was exactly what would be expected of a 49ers-style scheme. There was misdirection, use of a football and play designs working horizontally across the field. It was a natural fit for Levis’ skill set. He showed an ability to throw from different arm angles and was able to drive the football. 

The Penn State transfer is known for his arm strength and athleticism but there were moments where that arm strength was unnecessarily present. There were a few scoring opportunities left on the table because he threw too much heat in a moment that did not warrant it. There were a few occasions where he seemed to lock onto a target pre-snap and forced a throw into coverage. There were times where it looked as though he were doing too much. If he is able to settle down and take what the defense is giving him, then next week’s game against Florida could be a big performance. 

After losing offensive linemen Darian Kinnard, Luke Fortner and Dare Rosenthal to the NFL, Kentucky was trying out a new look offensive line that is still very much a work in progress as it relates to communicating stunts and twists. Levis is capable of more and that is where the ‘Stock Down’ comes from this week. His long-term prospects are not impacted by one game. 

Stat line (37-13 Win over Miami (Ohio): 21 of 32 passes completed, 303 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT; 7 rushes for -18 yards

Aidan O’Connell, Purdue: Stock Down

O’Connell was a prospect that impressed me during summer scouting but the debut did not reflect what he is capable of accomplishing. He has a slender frame but is really able to drive the ball. The Illinois native had happy feet in the pocket and that contributed to his 50% completion percentage. O’Connell was lucky to escape without any interceptions considering how often he threw into coverage, particularly in the first quarter when a pass went through the hands of Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. He could have done a better job of opening his hips to the target. 

There are a lot of slants baked into the offense but one throw, in particular, was impressive. The senior threw with good touch in the back of the end zone to wide receiver Charlie Jones towards the end of the third quarter.

Stat line (35-31 loss to Penn State): 29 of 58 passes completed, 356 yards, 1 TD; 2 rushes for -17 yards

Anthony Richardson, Florida: Stock Up

Richardson forces defenses to remain honest. The offensive scheme showed a willingness to target the boundary and the sophomore has more than enough arm strength to capitalize. Defenses are forced to cover every inch of the grass. Some quarterbacks have mobility to get a couple of yards when the play breaks down and others have game-breaking speed that must be accounted for in the defensive scheme. The Florida native falls into the latter category. He broke off a 45-yard touchdown run and has the quickness to shake defenders in space. 

Richardson’s athleticism has not been a secret in the draft community but everyone took a different approach to evaluating him early in the process. Some have already stuck their necks out in declaration that the Gator could be the top quarterback prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft and his performance in the opener against No. 7 Utah certainly has those evaluators looking smart. More impressive than Richardson’s ability is his commitment to the team. On a fumble return by the Utes, the quarterback chased the player down and pushed him out-of-bounds.

He did make some turnover-worthy plays by forcing throws into coverage. There is something to be said for living to play another down and that can be learned with more experience. 

Stat line (29-26 win over Utah): 17 of 24 passes completed, 168 yards; 11 rushes for 106 yards and three touchdowns

C.J. Stroud, Ohio State: Stock Down

Stroud had good command of the huddle and was able to move well in the pocket. Several of his throws were really low and he was locking onto his first read often, which was viewed as a weakness of Justin Fields coming out of that offense. The one play takeaway came late in the third quarter when Notre Dame brought pressure. On 3rd-and-11, Stroud stood tall under pressure and delivered a 24-yard touchdown on a skinny post to take a 14-10 lead. 

Stat line (21-10 win over Notre Dame): 24 of 34 passes completed, 223 yards, 2 TDs; 3 rushes for 1 yard

Bryce Young, Alabama: Stock Up

Level of competition has to be taken into consideration but Young was under control and surgical. He is calm in the pocket and shows good pocket mobility when the pressure collapses. The California native understands what he is seeing pre-snap and is able to get out of less than optimal plays or throw behind he direction of the blitz. His understanding of the game is on another level right now.

One concern that Young will never be able to shake is his lack of traditional size but that has not impacted his play thus far. He has good top end speed and is able to reach it quickly.

Stat line (55-0 win over Utah State): 18 of 28 passes completed, 195 yards, 5 TDs; 5 rushes for 100 yards, 1 TD

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