NFL News & Analysis

PFF News Mailbag: Top-5 QBs in 2023 NFL Draft, Patriots' offensive woes and more

Gainesville, Florida, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) is congratulated after he scores a touchdown against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the first quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

  • Top QBs in the 2023 NFL Draft: Florida’s Anthony Richardson has rebounded well after a tough two-game stretch early in the 2022 season.
  • Patriots miss Josh McDaniels: New England’s offense has gone from ninth in EPA per play last season to 29th in 2022.
  • Crowded backfields: The Miami Dolphins and New York Jets’ running back committees have settled, but the Los Angeles Rams’ situation remains a mystery.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Zero NFL teams have actually been eliminated from playoff contention, but as each week passes, more and more fanbases shift their attention from actual games to the offseason to see which players they can add through the draft and free agency.

It’s no surprise that this week’s mailbag kicks off with a question about quarterbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft.

@_jeffhancock: Doug, who are your top five QBs in the upcoming NFL Draft and where do you see being selected?

It’s so hard for me to concentrate fully on college football during the NFL season, so I personally get more caught up on draft prospects after the Super Bowl. I still watch every University of Washington game because I grew up in Seattle as a Huskies fan, so my favorite quarterback is Michael Penix Jr., but I’m biased. And from at least one scout I spoke to, he’s not expected to be a top prospect despite his gaudy stats.

PFF’s Michael Renner has Alabama’s Bryce Young, Kentucky’s Will Levis, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Stanford’s Tanner McKee and Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker as his top five QBs in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Asking around the league, it sounds like Florida’s Anthony Richardson belongs in the conversation, as well, as long as he declares after the season. He had a tough two-game stretch in Weeks 2 and 3, but he has a respectable 84.5 PFF grade from Week 4 and beyond with 11 big-time throws and just six turnover-worthy plays. He’s also one of college football’s most dynamic running QBs with 55 carries for 646 yards and nine rushing touchdowns this season at 6-foot-4, 232 pounds.

Including the first three weeks of the season, Richardson has a 76.5 grade on the season, which is significantly higher than Levis’ 67.1 mark but falls behind Hooker (91.0), Young (89.7) and Stroud (83.9). McKee has a 74.7 overall grade.

Hooker will be 25 years old in January and doesn’t play in an offense that’s expected to translate particularly well to the NFL, but he’s been one of college football’s most accurate deep throwers, and he’s one of the highest-graded running QBs in the FBS. It will be fascinating to see where he winds up going in the draft because opinions are split on whether or not he’s a first-rounder. I have heard that he’ll interview off the charts.

@joshhanson9: Are the Patriots looking at bringing in a legit offensive coordinator after this season? Follow up, is mac jones unhappy in New England and is he going to be requesting a trade out because of the poor OC issues?

I don’t know, and they might not even know at this point. It’s one of those “hypothetical” questions that New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick loves.

If the Patriots play as poorly on offense in the second half of the season as they did through the first nine weeks, then they should. New England currently ranks 29th in EPA (expected points added) per play at -0.110. The Patriots were ninth last season at 0.040, and they were sixth after their Week 14 bye.

There wasn’t very much turnover on the roster either. They lost guards Shaq Mason and Ted Karras and replaced them on the starting line with Michael Onwenu and first-round pick Cole Strange. They also lost running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Jakob Johnson, wide receiver Gunner Olszewski, tight end Devin Asiasi and offensive linemen Yasir Durant and Justin Herron but gained wide receivers DeVante Parker and Tyquan Thornton, among others, on offense.

The biggest difference on offense has been losing offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, wide receivers coach Mick Lombardi, offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo and assistant QBs coach Bo Hardegree to the Las Vegas Raiders and running backs coach Ivan Fears to retirement.

Matt Patricia has taken over as offensive line coach and play-caller while Joe Judge is now the quarterbacks coach. Troy Brown took over the wide receiver room with Ross Douglas' help, and Vinnie Sunseri took over with running backs.

Quarterback Mac Jones suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 3 but has seen his passing grade drop from 80.0 to 49.4, and the offensive line’s overall grade has dropped from 82.4 to 66.7. Overall, wide receiver (76.5 in 2021 to 68.1 in 2022) and tight end (67.9 in 2021 to 59.4 in 2022) grades are down, too. Running back grades have only dropped slightly from 90.6 in 2021 to 86.7 in 2022.

Patricia and Judge were getting a lot of credit for the way Bailey Zappe played at quarterback in Jones’ absence, but New England’s overall offensive performance is more than a little bit concerning compared to last year.

It’s nearly impossible to predict what the Patriots would do at offensive coordinator if Belichick elects to make a change. In the past, he has promoted from within when Charlie Weis and McDaniels (in 2008) left to take head coaching jobs. The next in command behind Patricia would be Judge, and then tight ends coach Nick Caley is the most experienced offensive coach on staff.

As far as Jones being so unhappy that he’d request a trade, I haven’t heard anything like that, and he personally also needs to play better. I do think there would be teams interested in Jones via trade. The New Orleans Saints attempted to trade up for Jones during the 2021 NFL Draft, so that would be a good place to start. Wherever Sean Payton lands would also be an interesting destination for Jones.

One more note on the Patriots: They’re currently first in EPA per play against. Belichick in addition to linebackers coaches Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo deserve credit for that, especially after the unit did lose key players over the offseason.

@bigkorb: Will these idiots ever employ some sort of sky judge?  Why is it so hard for the league to understand that having an official in the booth might be beneficial?

I agree that if replay reviews exist, then it only makes sense to expand them.

Being able to challenge a fumble but not a facemask that causes it is nonsensical.

Belichick spoke about it this week.

“I think that provided that the team has a challenge, that they should have the opportunity to challenge really any play,” he said. “Yeah, I'm on record on that, yeah.”

@PlayNicely91: What’s going on in the Rams, Dolphins and Jets backfields? Do we have full on committees or will a lead back emerge

Let’s go team by team here:

Los Angeles Rams

Over the last three weeks, Darrell Henderson has led running backs in snaps in each game, but he’s only been on the field for 29 total running plays in that span of time. Ronnie Rivers led running backs in carries in Week 8 but didn’t get an offensive snap in Weeks 9 or 10. Malcolm Brown was on the field for nine run snaps in Weeks 8 and 9 and now isn’t on the active roster. I expected big things out of rookie Kyren Williams in Week 10, but then he only played 16 snaps and took one carry. It seems like Henderson is the most reliable back, but Williams still probably has the most upside.

Miami Dolphins

Based on Week 10, Jeff Wilson is the back you want in Miami. He played 42 snaps to Raheem Mostert’s 19 and carried the ball 17 times to Mostert’s eight. I’m sure we’ll still see a split share of carries in Miami, but Wilson makes more sense as the early-down guy.

New York Jets

It’s tougher to tell what going on with the Jets, but James Robinson‘s snaps and carries increased significantly from Week 8 to 9. I think we probably wind up seeing Robinson settling in as the early-down back while Michael Carter takes on passing duties.

@Magic8Bill: Will you be seeing 80 for Brady?

Not a chance.

@Sarcasmcat24: Thoughts on Tua Tagovailoa?

Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa been significantly better than anyone has expected. And I honestly think that includes the biggest Dolphins and Tua fans. The leap he’s taken this season is astronomical. I wrote about him on Thursday and talked about him on Wednesday.


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