• Michael Penix affirming first-round projections: The Huskies quarterback is showing us once again that as long as he’s healthy, he’s an NFL talent.
• Quinn Ewers' improvement in two biggest areas: Ewers emerged victorious against Alabama, but the way he did it was most impressive.
• Shedeur Sanders solidifying cerebral status: Sanders has some of the most efficient passing numbers in football, both clean and under pressure.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
We’re two – technically three – weeks into the college football season. Though we’re not even a quarter of the way through, there are a handful of quarterback prospects who are already outplaying their preseason position on our initial big board.
Here are some early risers in the potential 2024 NFL Draft class, and why they are on the rise.
Michael Penix Jr., Washington
Health was Penix's only question mark, as he has been showing us he has the arm talent for the NFL since he was a redshirt sophomore, nearly upsetting Ohio State by throwing for 491 yards with five touchdowns on the road. Nonetheless, both before and after that game, Penix struggled to stay healthy. He had three season-ending injuries in a row from 2018-2020, including two ACL tears in 2018 and then in 2020.
He sought a fresh start at Washington, and since then, he has not only been healthy, but he's been incredible to watch in 2022 and to start this year. This season, he began as the No. 31 overall player on PFF’s initial big board but has continued to impress, slightly raising his stock. Through two games, he’s thrown for over 400 yards in back-to-back games, earning a 90.8 passing grade. He has three big-time throws and three turnover-worthy plays with an 82.6% adjusted completion percentage. He has not been pressured much this season (shout out to the Huskies offensive line) but has one big-time throw and a 100% adjusted completion percentage on his six pressured attempts.
Quinn Ewers, Texas
There was a ton of excitement around Ewers, who showed promise of NFL talent with incredible arm strength and the ability to get the ball out fast from a variety of arm angles and platforms even in his first season as a starter in 2022. He played well in the Longhorn’s game against Alabama last season before getting hurt, so many were excited to see him fully healthy for the rematch this season.
Ewers posted an elite 90.5 passing grade against the Tide in Tuscaloosa this past weekend, going 24-for-39 with 349 passing yards, three big-time throws and zero turnover-worthy plays. However, Ewers's ability to hit the deep ball consistently and play well under pressure, the two biggest question marks for him going into the season, were even more impressive. When throwing beyond 20 yards against Alabama, Ewers earned a 90.8 passing grade with 115 passing yards, two passing touchdowns and all three of those big-time throws. And when pressured, he recorded an 88.4 passing grade, his highest grade under pressure in any single game of his college career.
Ewers is evolving this season.
Shedeur Sanders, Colorado
Sanders has been putting on a show since his days at Jackson State. For that reason, we were all excited to see what he would do against the Power-Five competition. The answer: same cerebral Sanders.
Through two games, Sanders has been lethal with his accuracy. He has an 83% adjusted completion percentage, which is par for the course for him, as he earned adjusted completion percentage numbers of 76.7% and 81.4% in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Sanders has also shown incredible poise, earning an 81.6 passing grade when pressured, which is the highest mark in all the FBS. Sanders may not have the rocket arm we gravitate toward when it comes to NFL quarterback prospects, but his technique is top of the class right now.
He’ll be a lot higher on the next big board update.
J.J. McCarthy, Michigan
With all due respect to East Carolina and UNLV, McCarhty’s competition, to this point, has not been to his team’s level. Nonetheless, he has still been very impressive through his first two games.
He has not been pressured much, just nine dropbacks under pressure, but he has earned a 91.5 passing grade with one big-time throw, no turnover-worthy plays and an 87.3% adjusted completion percentage. His traits have also popped, displaying NFL arm talent. We’re waiting to see how he deals with pressure against some better competition, but even what we’ve seen so far looks like a much more poised and confident version of McCarthy from what we saw last year.
Michael Pratt, Tulane
It really is a shame we didn’t get to see Pratt face off against Ole Miss in Week 2 because what he did in Week 1 was jaw-dropping.
Against South Alabama to open the season, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound pocket passer went 14-for-15 with 293 passing yards, four passing touchdowns, five big-time throws, zero turnover-worthy plays and a 100% adjusted completion percentage (you read that correctly). His 98.5 passing grade was the highest mark of any quarterback in the FBS that week. His play under pressure also stood out to us, as that was the main area of improvement needed from him going into the season. In Week 1, he went 3-for-3 under pressure with two of those completions categorized as big-time throws.
He’s another quarterback who is charging toward first-round projections.