For the Detroit Lions, this is an organizationally defining year for the quarterback position. Jared Goff is on the cusp of a pivotal season, and his future with the team will be determined by his ability to have success in 2022. While Goff is reasonably signed through the 2024 season, the guaranteed money in his contract drops significantly in 2023—down to just $10 million total—making it much easier to move on from him next offseason if the team decides to shift in another direction.
In addition to Goff, the Lions’ backup quarterback is even more unsettled. Ahead of this season, Detroit moved from both of their reserve quarterbacks—Tim Boyle and David Blough—and signed Nate Sudfeld to the roster, a move that appears to be a somewhat temporary solution.
So as Lions scouts compile their draft-eligible prospects lists, they will surely have plenty of quarterbacks on their schedules to evaluate. If the team moves on from Goff, they’ll potentially be in the market for a starting quarterback of the future. But even if they retain him, they could still be on the lookout for reserve options.
So with that in mind—and with the college football season ramping up this weekend—it’s a good idea to begin familiarizing ourselves with some of the top draft-eligible quarterbacks in college football.
Quarterback is the most volatile position in football, especially at the college level.
At this time last season, we identified the top-12 prospects draft analysts were talking about ahead of the season, but only six of them were drafted and the other half returned to school. In addition, there were nine quarterbacks selected in the 2022 draft, the six we identified, plus another three we did not, including the only quarterback to be selected in the first round: Kenny Pickett, who went No. 20 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
So while the quarterback watchlist has more than doubled in size this season, there will surely be some rising prospects no one is talking about right now that will play themselves into the conversation by season's end.
On the flip side, there will also be several quarterbacks who many analysts believe will take another step forward in their development, but instead, they will regress or potentially even implode under the pressure—that seemed to happen virtually every week last season.
So, while this list will separate quarterbacks into sections, it’s important to keep these lessons learned in mind and not be too rigid in projecting where they will land at season's end.
2023 quarterbacks and their schedules
We will dig into the details of the different quarterbacks throughout the season in our weekly Draft Watchlist articles, but for now, let’s take a look at the different categories of the 2023 quarterback draft class and what their schedules hold.
There are two players in this group, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young. Both players are big-time competitors on highly ranked programs with a plethora of talent at their disposal. Additionally, neither has an overly daunting schedule. Stroud only plays four opponents that were ranked on the preseason top-25 list, while Young faces just three, though, he does have two interesting matchups against unranked LSU and Texas.
Kentucky’s Will Levis is commonly thought of as the third-best quarterback in this draft cycle, but Stanford’s Tanner McKee is a name to know as well. Both players have an NFL frame, NFL arm talent, and could play themselves into, or solidify their spot, in the first round with a solid season.
The person typically challenging Levis in the third quarterback conversation is Florida’s Anthony Richardson, and the two will face off head-to-head in Week 2 of the college season, September 10 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Richardson fits into this category because he has only thrown 66 career passes in college and is getting hyped up because of his raw talent. Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke has more experience than Richardson, but he is still only scratching the surface and is largely being talked about because of his upside. Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei isn’t guaranteed to last the season as the starting quarterback, but the Tigers seemed primed for a bounce-back season, and if they make a run at the college football playoffs under his guidance, his stock will rise quickly. Washington State’s Cam Ward is the sleeper of the group, having just transferred from Incarnate Word, and while he is creative with the ball, he is also a non-traditional thrower—often throwing like a shortstop—and is in the process of cleaning up his mechanics.
Richardson and Uiagalelei will face off head-to-head on November 19, while Ward will take on Stanford and McKee on November 5.
The next Kenny Pickett?
This is a group of fourth, fifth, and sixth-year seniors who will be looking to prove they can still take big steps in their development, similarly to what Pickett did in his fifth year at Pittsburgh last season. The group is headlined by Boston College’s Phil Jurkovec but also features players who will turn 25 years old before the NFL draft, like Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker and BYU’s Jaren Hall.
This group will be tested quite a bit this season, and a couple of games to keep an eye on include, Jurkovec taking on Uiagalelei and Clemson on October 1, Hooker facing off against Young and Alabama on October 15, and Hall facing off against McKee and Stanford on November 26.
Will a transfer help them level up?
Last season, Spencer Rattler was the talk of the preseason, but he struggled to start the year, was benched, and eventually transferred to South Carolina. Still just a redshirt junior, Rattler has a daunting schedule ahead of him, facing off against top-25 teams like Arkansas, Georgia, and Texas A&M, as well as several head-to-head matchups with Levis, Richardson, Hooker, and Uiagalelei.
Others looking to expand their games after a transfer include Connor Bazelak (Indiana via Missouri), Jayden Daniels (LSU via Arizona State), Kedon Slovis (Pittsburgh via USC), and Bo Nix (Oregon via Auburn). Bazelak will draw Stroud and Ohio State on November 12, while Daniels gets Young and Alabama on November 5.
RPO/option wizards, but is there more?
The final two players to round out this watchlist are Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall and Louisville’s Malik Cunningham. Both players are truly electric and make college football so exciting to watch, but there are questions surrounding if they can expand their games to a level where pro scouts can sell their skill sets to an NFL front office.
McCall’s schedule is the easiest of all the quarterbacks on this list, which will help his highlight film but may end up being a detriment for his evaluation process. Meanwhile, Cunningham will face off against seven (!) other prospects on this list, the most of any quarterback—so there will be plenty of tape out there for scouts.
At-a-glance QB watch schedule reference guide
In order to assist readers looking for the best games to watch each week for quarterback evaluation, this is a quick reference guide featuring the top 25 prospects heading into the season: