College News & Analysis

Early 2023 NFL Draft Quarterback Rankings: Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud lead the way

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young throws a pass in the second half the Cotton Bowl Classic in the College Football Playoff national semifinal Dec. 31, 2021, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Syndication The Enquirer

Yes, the 2023 quarterback class is going to be better than the 2022 group. And that will likely be true in regard to both top-end talent and depth. As things stand, it’s a two-horse race at the top with a myriad of talented signal-callers looking to play their way into that mix. 

1. Bryce Young, Alabama (Junior | 6-0, 194 pounds)

If there's one word to describe why Young is QB1 at the moment despite his size being below almost every NFL threshold, it's this: gamer. Young does the unteachable little things at the quarterback position better than anyone in this draft class. And unlike most quarterbacks of smaller stature, Young has no problem working over the middle of the field. In fact, he trailed only Kenny Pickett in PFF passing grade (93.8) and only Bailey Zappe in total passing yards (2,642) on throws between the numbers last season. 

I feel so confident in this ranking because we’ve already seen Young perform well against the closest thing to an NFL defense that’s existed in college football over the past decade. On 109 dropbacks against Georgia last season, Young finished with the following stats: 

PFF Passing Grade 83.7
Completions 60
Attempts 101
Yards 781
YPA 7.7
TD 4
Big-Time Throws 8
Turnover-Worthy Plays 3

That’s inspired play on the biggest stage against the best competition. I’ll put stock in that far more than I will his substandard height-weight measurables. If Kyler Murray can be the No. 1 overall pick at his size, Young certainly can do the same.

2. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State (RS Sophomore | 6-3, 218 pounds)

Stroud ticks far more of the prototype boxes at the quarterback position than Bryce Young. He has the size, the compact release and the ability to operate from the pocket that NFL teams are looking for. Stroud broke the pocket on only 48 of his 466 dropbacks last year, compared to 87 for Young. 

Of course, it’s easy to sit and deliver from the pocket when one has the caliber of receiving corps Stroud did. His redshirt freshman tape will be thrown out in about eight months' time. No one is going to buy what he put on tape with what will likely end up as the highest-drafted collegiate receiving corps of all time if his 2022 tape falls short. He’ll have to show he can come off jammed-up first reads quicker and still produce with “lesser” talent (Ohio State will obviously reload, hence the quotes around lesser).

3. Tanner McKee, Stanford (Junior | 6-6, 226 pounds)

While technically a true junior for eligibility purposes, McKee spent two years prior to Stanford on an LDS mission. So if he were to declare in 2023, he’d be a 23-year-old rookie. He was a composite top-50 recruit by 247Sports in the same recruiting class as Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. In his first season as a starter last season, he showed a number of high-end NFL traits. Most impressive was McKee's footwork in the pocket. No returning quarterback in college football throws with a more consistent base — especially when forced past their first read.

He also has a live arm and already some of the best ball placement in the class, which is necessary given the surrounding talent he’s working with at Stanford. The Cardinal didn’t have a single offensive player drafted in 2022 and may not again in 2023 unless junior tight end Benjamin Yurosek declares early. Even still … he's a tight end. That’s the only NFL talent McKee is working with. He has to play the position completely different than the two guys above him on this list because of that, fitting the ball into windows like the one below routinely if he wants to generate big plays. 

Of course, McKee is not without things to improve on. Of his turnovers, most came in panicked situations under pressure. He’ll too often throw with anticipation even when a defender's leverage makes a route untenable. We’ll see if he can clean up those issues for a more productive 2022 season that could lock him into the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. 

4. Will Levis, Kentucky (RS Senior | 6-3, 232 pounds) 

Levis was one of the biggest risers in college football last season. He went from not even being able to beat out Sean Clifford at Penn State to the second-highest-graded quarterback in the SEC (90.6 overall). And he did it all in a pro-style offense under now-Rams offensive coordinator Liam Cohen.

Levis is one of the rare college quarterbacks whose PFF grade is actually better than his stats might suggest. That’s because he suffered from a rough case of turnover luck. He threw 13 interceptions last season but recorded only 11 turnover-worthy plays. That’s fewer than C.J. Stroud, who finished with just six interceptions.

Even with easy NFL-caliber arm talent, Levis still doesn’t tap into it enough. Some of that is because his happy feet in the pocket can lead to inconsistent throwing bases and shrink the areas of the field he can attack. He still looks more like an athlete playing quarterback than an actual technician, and it’s why he didn’t declare after last season. There are first-round tools here, but not quite first-round tape yet. 

5. Anthony Richardson, Florida (RS Sophomore | 6-4, 237 pounds)

The fifth spot on this list was hotly contested, with the likes of Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke, BYU’s Jaren Hall, South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler, Boston College’s Phil Jurkovec and North Carolina State’s Devin Leary all capable of climbing draft boards next season. Ultimately, Richardson’s all-around physical skill set trumps all of them. He stands out physically at the collegiate level in the way top recruits do at the high school level. 

Known for his pre-game backflips, Richardson brings his high-flying circus act to the real games, as well.

He’s unfairly gifted physically with not only his arms but also his legs. He can outrun defensive backs in the open field, as well as make defenders miss in tight quarters — all at 6-foot-4 and 237 pounds.

The key number for Richardson at the moment is 198. That’s the number of dropbacks he’s taken in his two seasons on campus for the Gators. He's not yet a polished passer. Richardson is a talent in need of a good deal of seasoning and is no safe bet to even declare after this fall. 

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