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Detroit Lions 2023 draft watch: Revisiting the top 6 QBs prospects on rivalry weekend

This Saturday’s Detroit Lions draft watch examines some of the team’s biggest projected needs this offseason.

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Alabama v Ole Miss Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

We opened the college football season by taking a look at the top 25 quarterbacks to watch in 2022, so as the regular season comes to a close (November 26), it’s time to revisit the quarterback class and look at some of the potential top prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft class.

If you missed any of our previous Detroit Lions draft watch installments, you can revisit them here:

  • September 10: Kentucky QB Will Levis, Florida QB Anthony Richardson, Baylor NT Siaki Ika
  • September 17: Georgia DT Jalen Carter, SCar DT Zacch Pickens, USC WR Jordan Addison
  • September 24: Clemson DE Myles Murphy, FLA DT Gervon Dexter, TAMU RB Devon Achane
  • October 1: Michigan RB Blake Corum, Iowa LB Jack Campbell, Alabama DB Brian Branch
  • October 8: Alabama EDGE Will Anderson, Utah CB Clark Phillips, TAMU S Antonio Anderson
  • October 15: Tennessee QB Henson Hooker, PSU CB Joey Porter, Michigan NT Mazi Smith
  • October 22: Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez, LB Noah Sewell, Clemson DT Bryan Bresee
  • October 27: Georgia CB Kelee Ringo, Michigan C Olusegun Oluwatimi
  • November 5: Georgia TE Darnell Washington, Alabama RB Jahmyr Gibbs, LSU WR Kayshon Boutte
  • November 12: Arkansas LB Drew Sanders, LSU EDGE B.J. Ojulari, Utah TE Dalton Kincaid
  • November 19: SCar CB Cam Smith, Illinois DB Quan Martin, Georgia DB Christopher Smith

As is typical this time of year, most draft analysts have a general idea of the players in the top tiers at their position groups, but the order in which prospects are ranked varies. For example, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler and CBS Sports have the same top 3 quarterbacks: Bryce Young (Alabama), then C.J. Stroud (Ohio State), followed by Will Levis (Kentucky). But, The Draft Network flips the top 2 and keeps Levis third. While Pro Football Focus has Young at the top, then Levis, and Stroud third.

Fortunately, The Athletic’s Diante Lee and Austin Mock have taken a page out of Arif Hasan’s playbook and created a Consensus Big Board ($ubscription required), compiling several draft experts' big boards into one universal list. For this look at the top quarterbacks, we will use this consensus big board to help set the table for the top prospects.

Alright, let’s take a closer look at some of the potential top quarterbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft class and who they will be playing on rivalry weekend.

C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State (redshirt sophomore)

6-foot-2, 218 pounds
Consensus ranking (via The Athletic): QB1 (No. 2 overall)
Opponent: Michigan (3) at 12:00 p.m. ET on FOX

A pure pocket passer, Stroud has some mobility to his game, but he would prefer to stay in the pocket and rely on his accuracy to move the football. His accuracy may be his best trait, as he consistently puts the football in tight windows at all three levels. When Stroud can maintain a rhythm, he will slice through defenses and rack up the stats.

My concerns with Stroud center around two issues: his lack of creativity when things get out of sync and his lack of composure under pressure. These are common flaws in a lot of NFL quarterbacks, so the real question will be, does he have the ability to overcome these issues, or will they plague him throughout his NFL career?

As a Lions fan, if those flaws remind you of Jared Goff, then you’re not alone. The Athletic’s draft expert Dane Brugler has been comparing Stroud to Goff recently:

At first, I hated the comp, but it’s hard not to see it when you watch Stroud.

Against Michigan, Stroud will face his toughest defense of the season. Michigan will bring pressure from a lot of different players from a lot of different positions. So, if Stroud can overcome what will be his most difficult task on the season, it’ll go a long way in helping his draft stock.

Bryce Young, QB, Alabama (junior)

5-foot-11, 194 pounds
Consensus ranking: QB2 (No. 4 overall)
Opponent: Auburn at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS

Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner is the king of intangibles. He is highly intelligent, poised in the pocket, processes plays rapidly, is very mobile, is able to create opportunities when things break down, and is accurate from the pocket and on the run. He is the definition of a quarterback with the “it” factor.

From a talent perspective, there are not many—if any—flaws in his game, but he does have one very glaring weakness: size.

Young is listed at 6-foot and 194 pounds and that seems incredibly generous. He will likely check in under six feet tall, which won’t be the end of the world, as other quarterbacks with elite intangibles (Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, etc.) have found success in that height range. And while it will make life a bit more challenging with the way Young creates off-platform, his height may not be that big of an obstacle. His weight, on the other hand, could come with durability issues and that surely has some teams concerned.

Against Auburn, Young will have to be conscious of their defensive line—most notably, Colby Wooden and Derick Hall, who could both be top-100 candidates—but he has shown countless times this season, he is never phased by the talent of the prospects trying to hunt him down, and always has a little magic up his sleeve.

Will Levis, QB, Kentucky (redshirt senior)

6-foot-4, 230 pounds
Consensus ranking: QB3 (No. 14 overall)
Opponent: Louisville (25) 3 p.m. ET on SECN

With NFL size, arm strength, a quick release, and mobility, Levis is going to get a lot of Josh Allen comparisons this offseason, but that’s a dangerous game as Allen is the exception, not the rule. That being said, there are a lot of appealing traits that NFL teams are going to fall in love with.

Levis’ intangibles are going to have NFL offensive coordinators and quarterbacks coaches working to convince head coaches and general managers that they can “fix” his accuracy issues and consistency flaws, leaning on the temptation of finding the next Allen. The question most general managers are going to have: is Levis capable of developing past some of the glaring issues?

Working in his favor is that Kentucky’s last two offensive coordinators are either currently in the NFL (Liam Coen, Rams offensive coordinator) or used to be (Rich Scangarello is Kentucky’s OC and former Denver Broncos OC) and Levis has been able to absorb their NFL style playbooks with ease. That will make his transition to the NFL very smooth and he is considered by many as “Pro Ready.”

Kentucky has had a disappointing season and will be facing a ranked Louisville team this Saturday. They are quarterbacked by Malik Cunningham, who could be a Day 3 draft pick and will surely be in an NFL camp next fall. Levis needs to out-duel Cunningham, even if it’s in a loss, if he wants to maintain his top-tier quarterback status.

Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee (6th year senior)

6-foot-3, 221 pounds
Consensus ranking: QB4 (No. 42 overall)
Opponent: None, suffered ACL Injury last Saturday and is done for the season

Hooker will not play this week after tearing his ACL last Saturday, and it could significantly impact his draft stock this offseason.

Hooker became an instant Heisman candidate after elevating Tennessee over Alabama and putting them in the college football playoff conversation. He simply doesn’t make many mistakes, and he puts his teammates in positions to make plays. He is accurate at all three levels and has the mobility to pick up yards when scrambling out of the pocket. He’ll get a lot of Geno Smith (Seahawks version) comparisons.

But transitioning to the NFL will have its fair share of obstacles for Hooker, even beyond the ACL recovery likely keeping him out, at least, some of his rookie season. At 25 years old, Hooker will be one of the oldest prospects in this draft cycle and for an NFL team investing a high pick in a player, that has an impact on their decision-making. For comparison, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert is only 24 and in his third NFL season. Hooker will also have his stats and ability to adjust to an NFL playbook brought into question, as Tennessee’s offense is very quarterback friendly, and he is not asked to do many of the things NFL quarterbacks do—like make multiple reads and cycle through progressions.

With the ACL, age, and questions surrounding how quickly he can work through a learning curve, Hooker’s stock could slip—certainly from where he sits in the current consensus rankings—and he could end up being a great value for a team willing to take the risk.

Tanner McKee, QB, Stanford (redshirt sophomore)

6-foot-5, 225 pounds
Consensus ranking: QB5 (No. 44 overall)
Opponent: BYU at 11 p.m. ET on FS1

McKee’s stock is all over the map: PFF has him at No. 17, Brugler at No. 46, while the Draft Network has him all the way down at No. 185 overall. A two-year starter at Stanford, McKee still has enough eligibility to return to school, but he is already 22 years old—he did a two-year mission in Brazil—has legitimate NFL talent, and may consider making the jump to the NFL.

Like Levis, McKee has NFL size and arm strength, but he is also part of a roster that is not deep in talent and has been inconsistent as a team the past two seasons. McKee lacks Levis’ mobility, but he is consistently more accurate and shows the ability to see all of the field. McKee has also shown evidence of development, despite the issues facing Stanford, which will go a long way for scouts pitching him to their general manager.

He’s going to get compared to David Mills (current Texans quarterback), as he replaced him as Stanford’s starter, but he has the potential to reach a higher ceiling and could be had for a Day 2 pick.

Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida (redshirt sophomore)

6-foot-4, 240 pounds
Consensus ranking: QB6 (No. 45 overall)
Opponent: Lost to Florida State (16) on Friday night

Richardson could end up being the wild card in this draft cycle.

Still very, very raw, Richardson’s intangibles will have offensive coaches drooling at the chance to mold him into the next great dual-threat quarterback. Blessed with natural athleticism, Richardson has a cannon for an arm and he can throw it all over the field. He is fluid with his technique and isn’t scared to hold in the pocket in order to let the deep ball fly.

What makes Richardson truly unique is what he’s able to do outside the pocket. He’s big enough to run defenders over, yet silky enough to make them miss and possesses the speed to just run past people.

Florida didn’t push him too much early in the season—his first as a starter—but they started to unleash him a bit as the season wore on with mixed results. If Richardson returns to school, he will be firmly in the mix among the top (3?) quarterbacks in the 2024 draft class, but he is still far away from the Cam Newton comparison some people were expecting him to be this season.

Still, the Newton-level of talent is there—albeit with some developmental projection—and if he declares for the NFL, he could find a suitor earlier than the consensus board projects.