One of the bigger questions surrounding the 2023 NFL draft class is how the quarterbacks stack up. Four standouts could come off the board in any order in the top 10, and it’s still unclear how the rest of the signal-caller group will shake out. We have already spent a lot of time with each passer’s game tape, analyzing distinct strengths and weaknesses. But what happens when we compare those evaluations with statistics in a handful of key areas? Does it all match up?

We picked out nine of the top QBs in this class — Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Levis, Anthony Richardson, Hendon Hooker, Jake Haener, Tanner McKee, Max Duggan and Jaren Hall — and dove in on five key statistical areas. ESPN Stats & Information’s John Parolin pulled two telling stats from each quarterback’s 2022 season for each of those categories, including deep-ball prowess and production under duress. Then NFL draft analyst Todd McShay evaluated the numbers against what he sees on tape, with some additional context from Parolin.

What matches the film, and what doesn’t? Numbers can certainly complement evaluations, and sometimes they can even force a scout to go back to the tape and take another look from a different angle. What did we learn? Let’s dig in, starting with how the top signal-callers available in April’s draft handled pressure last season.

Jump to:
Pressure | Deep ball | Accuracy
Pocket | Out route

Who can extend plays under duress?

McShay: It’s the fourth year we’ve done this exercise, and I always look forward to it because it allows me to check my work. I obviously love when the numbers match up with what I see on tape, but it’s also very helpful to know where I need to take another look. Of all the categories we will run through, pressure stands out as the most important. The NFL game will speed these quarterbacks up, and the ones who thrive under pressure tend to have the most success in transitioning to the next level.

Parolin: No quarterback likes being pressured, and QBR (scaled 0-100) will almost always be low for a pressured QB. But Stroud (Ohio State) and Young (Alabama) earn their top-of-draft reputation here. Looking at the past decade (since 2013), here are the QBs drafted in the first two rounds with a career college QBR above 30 when pressured: Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray, Trevor Lawrence, Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones, Teddy Bridgewater, Mitch Trubisky, Dwayne Haskins and Sam Darnold. A single catch-all stat to predict quarterback success doesn’t exist, but this is solid company for Stroud and Young.

McShay: Yeah, I’m not surprised who leads the way. The interesting thing is how differently Young and Stroud handle pressure, too. Let’s start with Stroud, whom I consider the best pure passer in the class. He processes and reads it out so fast, knowing where to go with the ball. Stroud shows fast eyes, will take a hit when necessary and delivers strikes on time. And while Young joins Stroud as the fastest processors of the 2023 draft-eligible QBs, I think a lot of his success under pressure and against the blitz actually comes from his mobility. He has some Mahomes-esque traits here — he never panics and is comfortable using his feet to move around and avoid pass-rushers.

Parolin: That stands up against the blitz, too, where Young averaged 8.8 yards per attempt and threw 15 touchdown passes to zero interceptions last season. Eight of those touchdown throws were plays that gained 10 or more yards. Young would be the second quarterback in the past decade to throw 15-plus TD passes without an interception against the blitz in a college season and be drafted in the first two rounds. The other? Lawrence, the top pick in 2021.

McShay: Nothing fazes Young. The game just slows down for him no matter the circumstance. The pocket presence and ability to navigate pressure and still make the play just pop on tape, and the numbers fully back it up.

Parolin: Tennessee’s Hooker is one of the more interesting cases. Looking at QBs drafted in the first two rounds over the past 10 years, only Christian Hackenberg and Paxton Lynch registered a career QBR under pressure below 9. Hooker turned in a 7.8 last season, one year after having a 13.5. And after three straight years with 10-plus yards per attempt under pressure, he averaged just 5.4 last season. Oh, and 10 of his 23 sacks in those situations came on third or fourth down. Todd, what did you see from Hooker under pressure?

McShay: I do see poise in the pocket on tape, but we also need to look at Tennessee as a whole. The Vols schemed a lot of receivers open with wide splits and bunches, which helps spring targets into space but also leaves protection vulnerable. So Hooker might have some issues when pressure comes fast and the wideouts haven’t yet unraveled from coverage. He just doesn’t always sense it in time and needs to improve there.

But then look at the blitz number! It comes back to the scheme. If you want to blitz Hooker with all those wide sets — taking one more guy out of coverage — good luck. More pass-rushers just means the receivers can separate far more easily. I’m not blaming or crediting the Tennessee scheme for any of this, but it definitely fits with the numbers. If you wanted to speed Hooker up in 2022, you had to do it with three or four rushers.

Parolin: Against the blitz when defenses didn’t get pressure, Hooker completed 73% of his passes for 938 yards, 13 touchdowns and no picks. And six of those 13 TD passes went to receiver Jalin Hyatt, with an average gain of 36.7 yards. When the Volunteers’ offense was able to pick up the blitz and keep Hooker away from trouble, he was outstanding.

McShay: There are a few other things I noticed. I was surprised that Fresno State’s Haener struggled against the blitz, especially because his pressured number was solid. I consider him the QB6 in the class, and he gets the ball out early and excels at improvising. McKee’s numbers make sense though. I watched him live against UCLA last season, and he just had no chance when pressure got on him. The offensive line struggled, the offense featured bigger receivers who didn’t get early separation and McKee lacks mobility. He’s a traditional pocket passer, and he didn’t have the talent around him at Stanford to find success when pass-rushers got on him.

Lastly, there’s Richardson, who wasn’t great against the blitz during his time at Florida. Nothing surprising here because he simply doesn’t have all the answers yet with just 13 career starts. Richardson is still figuring it all out but he has the traits to get there.

Who thrives when airing it out?

McShay: Haener stands out right away in this data set. He has a good-but-not-great arm, so he relies on timing and trajectory when throwing deep. He knows how to give his receivers a chance to make a play, even if it’s an underthrow. Remember, sometimes an underthrow can be effective because receivers look back to the quarterback before the defensive back does and can come back to the ball.

Parolin: His completion percentage is obviously outstanding, but I think you’d like to see more of it. Haener didn’t throw downfield often, as 25 deep attempts were the fewest in the sample. But he closed the season really well. From Oct. 29 on, Haener was 13-of-20 (65%) for three TD passes and zero interceptions on throws deeper than 20 yards downfield for Fresno State.

McShay: Really, a lot in this category matched the tape. Stroud can hit throws to every level of the field and had great receivers at Ohio State. Young’s ball placement was on display, but the completion percentage probably took a bit of a hit because he didn’t have elite targets at Alabama last season. Levis (Kentucky) and McKee have strong arms, but neither had enough time to deliver deep strikes behind lackluster offensive lines, and both offenses were speed deficient. And while Duggan has an OK arm, think about the supporting cast at TCU. Quentin Johnston and Taye Barber can stretch the field and Derius Davis was one of the fastest players in the nation.

Parolin: Duggan led this group with 66 deep attempts and 30 deep completions. But it’s a mixed bag looking at quarterbacks who were similarly effective on deep throws in college. For every Burrow and Josh Allen success story, there’s a Drew Lock or Johnny Manziel.

McShay: The one guy who really shocked me is Hooker. I saw good touch and trajectory on deep balls on tape, and he can drive the ball 50 yards with relative ease. Plus, Hooker had Hyatt, Cedric Tillman and Bru McCoy running routes at Tennessee. I might take another look at the tape there.

Which QB hits his spots the best?

McShay: I’m just mostly shocked by Stroud’s off-target percentages here, especially in the shorter range. That’s not something we see on tape, where he seems to always layer the ball perfectly. I’m surprised by that more than anything else we’re looking at in this exercise, and I’ll double back to Stroud’s tape to see why there’s such a discrepancy.

Young and Haener were the standouts in overall accuracy, and that does match up. They are really good at leading receivers into the catch by placing the ball in the perfect spot, allowing pass-catchers to pluck on run. Young and Haener showcase a quick release, good touch and the ability to take something off when it’s required.

Parolin: Young ranked second in the FBS last year in short-yardage off-target percentage, trailing only Central Michigan’s Daniel Richardson. And interestingly, Levis — despite ranking seventh out of nine QBs here in the short range — was second in the FBS in the intermediate-yardage number. He was behind only Arizona State’s Trenton Bourguet.

McShay: Levis threw a lot of balls into that intermediate range at Kentucky and didn’t miss much. He has the arm strength to drive the ball on a rope, even when he is forced off-platform. But cut that yardage down, and you see a lot of misses on layup throws. Levis is bulked up and strong in the upper body, but it impacts his touch on shorter passes. Richardson also lacks touch on the short throws, as he’s all power. They both need to learn how to set their feet and take heat off the ball.

What kind of QB are you looking for?

Parolin: Hall’s QBR in the pocket leads this group, and he averaged over 9 yards per attempt with 28 TD passes and five interceptions from there at BYU. Hall also had only seven sacks in the pocket all season and connected on 47 plays of 20-plus yards on throws out of the pocket. It’s clear he can produce with a clean protection, but he also produced the worst QBR of these nine QBs when pressured and was well below the FBS-average QBR when outside the pocket.

McShay: That inside-the-pocket number really jumped out! I saw a lot of inconsistencies on Hall’s tape overall, and BYU has a QB-friendly offense, but, man, that’s outstanding. There are plenty of throws on tape where you’re like, “Wow, he has it.” But too often his feet aren’t set, and he still has work to do with his mechanics.

I’m not surprised by Hooker and Stroud being up top from inside the pocket, nor Young leading the outside-pocket category. Young’s upper body just always stays the same, with his shoulders pointed the right direction. He really is special on second-reaction plays. With Stroud, the question remains whether he can consistently extend and create, though. The NFL demands that, and when things break down is he willing to do what he did against Georgia — when we saw flashes of mobility — regularly?

Parolin: Richardson’s best rank of the exercise comes on an 81 QBR outside the pocket, which encapsulates a lot of the high-ceiling tools he displays. He averaged 11.7 yards per rush when he took off from outside the pocket, forcing 24 missed tackles on those rushes (tied for fourth among quarterbacks). He also had six completions for 20-plus yards from outside the pocket and demonstrated a big arm on some of those throws. So much of Richardson’s prospect status is based on potential, and his inside/outside pocket splits are an interesting display of that.



Why Todd McShay thinks Anthony Richardson could be a ‘special talent’

Todd McShay explains why he moved quarterback Anthony Richardson to fourth overall in his mock draft after his impressive NFL combine.

McShay: I think Richardson is almost better when the play breaks down. His footwork is erratic and he doesn’t always know where to go with the ball, so he appears more comfortable in the scramble drill. That’s where he thrives, throwing off-platform and driving the ball with the flip of his wrist. But inside structure, it still looks like a fire drill for him as he continues to develop. If Richardson lands in the right place, he has elite potential. But he has a lot of work to do in refining his game.

Parolin: On the flip side, Levis really struggled outside the pocket. His QBR there wasn’t just last among these QBs; it was 118th out of 123 qualifying FBS quarterbacks. He completed 38% of his passes outside the pocket last season and averaged 5.5 yards per attempt. Questions about his 2022 campaign aside, including Levis’ 2021 numbers, don’t help his cause. Over the past two seasons, he’s still completing less than half his passes outside the pocket (49%) and averaging only 5.4 yards per attempt, with 5 touchdown passes, 3 interceptions and 3 sacks. Levis has shown mobility in his career, so why does he fare so poorly here?

McShay: He’s very mobile and a good runner, but when pressure comes, I see a lot of miscalculations on his tape. He will roll out to the wrong side or fade away when he shouldn’t. In other words, Levis puts himself in bad spots to make throws and hasn’t quite figured out how to maximize his mobility. When he starts to scramble, his eyes will drop. And I think he decides to run too early too often when things break down. I love that competitiveness, but Levis really needs to learn to keep his eyes downfield and be more patient.

What does the NFL out route show us?

Parolin: We focus on this throw in this exercise every year because it’s important and shows us a lot about a quarterback. On a 15-yard out route, a QB in the middle of the field is 80 feet from the sideline. That means a “15-yard out” throw actually travels over 30 yards into what can be a very tight window. So you can’t throw the rainbows on these, but underthrows can also lead to the ball going the other way.

McShay: I’m looking at ball velocity, anticipation, timing and the overall read. Quarterbacks have to release the ball before the break, drive it into the window and beat the defensive back. On a single throw, we can see a good snapshot of a quarterback’s arm strength, timing and instincts. But more talent on the outside and/or a savvy offensive scheme also mean there is more leeway, so context matters.

Hooker is the obvious standout here, and part of that comes back to the Tennessee scheme getting guys open outside. But he does have the arm to get the ball there and hits his spots very well.

Parolin: The sample factors in just as much as the percentages here, since not every college team asks its quarterback to deliver this type of throw. Hooker’s 80% is really just 8-for-10 last season. Building out his sample, Hooker was 30-of-52 (58%) on those throws in his 48-game college career. Levis was 3-for-7 on these throws last year, and over his 26-start career sample, he was 17-for-32 (53%).

McShay: Yeah, the career numbers are interesting, especially for Levis. We’ve already discussed it, but he has the big arm to drive the ball but lacks consistent ball placement. We’ll get one “wow” throw followed by a big miss.

Parolin: On the other hand, Stroud was 20-for-30 last year in 13 games played, the third-most attempts of anyone in the exercise. He had the same number of touchdown passes (four) on these as he did off-target throws. No drafted quarterback from the past five years of college football — a set that includes names like Burrow, Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts, Murray and Lawrence — completed two-thirds of his NFL out-route throws on 30-plus attempts in a season like Stroud just did in 2022.

McShay: Good arm. Great timing. Excellent ball placement. High-end timing and trajectory. Yeah, no surprise to me here. It’s yet another positive checkpoint for Stroud in this exercise. I also loved seeing Haener turn in a solid off-target percentage on 35 attempts, tied for the most of the group. And Young might not pop in completion percentage, but his off-target percentage was solid. He can still develop his lower-body strength, which will only improve his ability here.

Parolin: Overall, Young outright led four of the 10 statistical categories, twice as many as any other quarterback. These numbers give us results without the context of the process, but they suggest Young is accurate to each level of the field, is capable of producing both inside and outside the pocket and handles pressure and blitzes very well. There’s a lot to like.

McShay: We don’t draft based on statistics, but when applied in the right way, the numbers can be very helpful when sizing up a group of QBs. And there’s a reason Young and Stroud are right at the top of the board right now.

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