NFL News & Analysis

2023 Rookie Quarterback Tiers: Starters, high-end backups and career backups

Kansas City, MO, USA; Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson on stage after being selected by the Indianapolis Colts fourth overall in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft at Union Station. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

• Richardson, Young and Stroud unsurprisingly project as starters: All were top-four picks and are capable of big things in the NFL.

• Will Levis lands in the “career backup” bucket: We compared Levis in our 2023 NFL Draft Guide to another name familiar to Titans fans, Jake Locker.

• Hendon Hooker's college system hinders his projection: Pure projection of his traits and athleticism are what put him into the high-end backup tier.

Estimated Reading Time: 7 mins

Fourteen quarterbacks went off the board over the course of three days of the 2023 NFL Draft, with many more signing as undrafted free agents in the hours following. We’ll take a look at career projections for those 14 quarterbacks, from career backups to high-end starters.

In 2022, Brock Purdy was drafted as Mr. Irrelevant and almost made the Super Bowl. Is there a Purdy in this year’s draft? Let's dive in and find out.


Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts

While the Colts may have surprised some by selecting Richardson at No. 4 overall, it was the correct decision. Uber-athletic with promising tools for the position, Richardson is inexperienced but not raw. He’s first on this list not because of what he currently is, but what he can become. He needs to gain experience and improve his accuracy to become a franchise signal-caller, and we’ve seen in recent years that accuracy can be corrected with better mechanics, good coaching to tailor a system to the strengths of the quarterback and better timing and rhythm in an offense.

Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers

The Panthers traded a haul to draft Bryce Young, and he’s going to need to be special for that move to pay off. The biggest question mark for him is his ability to hold up to NFL size and physicality. Young posted elite grades and accuracy at Alabama as he peppered the field with big-time throws while limiting turnover-worthy plays. His 59 big-time throws over the past two seasons were the most in the FBS.

The Panthers have struggled to build a good roster in recent years, so a lot will rest on Young's shoulders early in his career.

C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans

Arguably the worst situation for a rookie quarterback, the Texans currently have a roster that leaves a lot to be desired. They proved aggressive in adding key players during the 2023 NFL Draft, but they gave up a future first-round pick to do so. Stroud has an uphill battle to make the Texans relevant, with the big challenge being his ability to elevate the talent around him. He possesses the talent to become a good starting quarterback with pinpoint accuracy and better athleticism than what he showed in college, but his capability to step up in big games and perform under pressure might limit his ceiling.

While he generally struggled against pressure at Ohio State, his performance under duress against Georgia in the College Football Playoff was promising for his NFL prospects. Stroud finished 5-for-11 with two big-time throws in such situations during that game.

High-end Backups

Jake Haener, New Orleans Saints

Haener might be on the smaller side, but we compared him to Taylor Heinicke in our 2023 NFL Draft Guide, which fits the bill. Haener has good instincts and decision-making, and he throws with great timing and anticipation. He posted an 86.2 passing grade in 2022. He missed several games with an injury, but Haener stepped up in big moments for Fresno State during his time there, including some big-time wins against Power Five competition.

Tanner McKee, Philadelphia Eagles

McKee fits the profile of a quarterback who sticks around the league for years, albeit in a backup role. Still, he has a few things going for him that get him into the high-end backup tier here. We’ve yet to see the best of McKee, as he was severely hampered by one of the worst supporting casts in college football, including playing behind the eighth-lowest-graded pass-blocking offensive line in the Power Five.

Despite that, McKee was able to complete more than 61% of his passes over the past two years and protect the ball at one of the best rates in college football, committing a turnover worth play on just 1.5% of dropbacks. McKee landed in one of the best situations possible for a rookie quarterback.

Stetson Bennett, Los Angeles Rams

Speaking of perfect fits, the Rams might represent the best of any situation for the drafted quarterbacks. Bennett won back-to-back national titles for Georgia and looks to back up former Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford in Los Angeles. If there was one player who could follow in Brock Purdy’s footsteps, it’s Bennett. Posting an elite 90.1 grade in 2022, Bennett has sneaky good athleticism with an NFL-caliber arm that is accurate on deep attempts.

Hendon Hooker, Detroit Lions

Let’s be clear here: Very little of what Hooker did at Tennessee will be relevant in the NFL. It was so far removed from an NFL system that pure projection of his traits and athleticism are what put him into the high-end backup tier. Hooker’s grades improved each of the past three years en route to an elite 90.9 grade in 2022, and he provided Tennessee with national title hopes before his devastating ACL injury derailed the Volunteers' season. Hooker has an accurate deep ball and excelled at what he was asked to do. If he can replicate that in the NFL, he can flash.

Career Backups

Will Levis, Tennessee Titans

It's ironic that we at PFF compared Levis to another name familiar to Titans fans, Jake Locker, in our 2023 NFL Draft Guide. Like Locker, Levis has a cannon and oozes arm talent but doesn’t know how to use it. Levis flashes elite-level traits and ability, although he also brings with him a number of bad habits that often lead to trouble. He threw 23 interceptions over the past two seasons and made fewer big-time throws (2.3%) than turnover-worthy plays (3.6%) in 2022. If he can have time to develop proper footwork and learn to play within the offense, taking what the defense gives him, he could become a starter-level quarterback. But he likely has a long way to go to get there.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Cleveland Browns

Thompson-Robinson landed in an ideal spot to develop, and he complements Deshaun Watson in a number of ways. DTR is a true dual-threat at the position, gaining 741 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground to go along with a 69.3% completion percentage and more than 3,100 yards in the air in 2022. He struggles under pressure and put the ball in harm’s way too often, but he is one of the most experienced rookie passers coming into the NFL.

Aidan O’Connell, Las Vegas Raiders

O’Connell was at the forefront of some signature wins for Purdue and posted an elite 90.6 grade in 2021, but he followed up that excellent season with a disappointing 67.2 grade in 2022. He made more turnover-worthy plays than any other Power Five quarterback, which he'll need to clean up with better decision-making. Still, his boom-or-bust tendency could end up a boon in Vegas behind Jimmy Garoppolo.

Clayton Tune, Arizona Cardinals

Another solid candidate to replicate Brock Purdy’s path, Tune put up more than 7,500 yards and 70 touchdowns the past two seasons with back-to-back 90.0-plus grades for the Houston Cougars. He has the build, arm and experience, in addition to his 30 big-time throws and almost 700 yards on the ground in 2022. Tune's athleticism could lead to a long NFL career, but he’ll need to learn to take the easy wins in the league via checkdowns.

Sean Clifford, Green Bay Packers

Arguably the biggest surprise of the draft was that Clifford was selected and not signed as an undrafted free agent. He was a four-year starter for Penn State but struggled to put up good grades until this past year, when he finally cracked an 80.0 passing grade after three straight sub-70.0-graded seasons. Clifford is four months older than current Packers starter Jordan Love.

Max Duggan, Los Angeles Chargers

A four-year starter for TCU, Duggan catapulted into the national spotlight after leading the Horned Frogs to the national championship game in 2022. He might seem like an obvious pick to replicate Brock Purdy's path, as both were four-year starters for overachieving Big 12 teams, but Purdy displayed much stronger play in college than Duggan, even though the team success wasn’t on par. Duggan has good athleticism and knows how to distribute the ball, but his struggles from a clean pocket and under pressure are warning signs.

Jaren Hall, Minnesota Vikings

Hall put up solid grades and stats at BYU in replacing former No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson. Like Wilson, Hall had the luxury of seeing incredibly clean pockets with very little pressure in games. He has a solid release and good athleticism and mobility to make plays with his feet, but he’s already 25 years old and has spotty accuracy to the intermediate level of the field.


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