The 2023 NFL Combine begins on Monday, February 27, with prospects arriving in their positional groups. Over the first few days, players will get medical checks, meet with NFL teams, and take the podium to answer questions from the media. Then on Thursday, March 2, the league will start four days of televised coverage of on-field drills.
This is the first in a series of articles that will explore the participants at this year’s combine that the Detroit Lions should be keeping a close eye on during positional activities.
Up first: Quarterbacks.
Jared Goff is the clear starter for the Lions in 2023 but with his contract only running through 2024, it’s fair to speculate if Detroit will be looking for their quarterback of the future in this draft class. Even if they’re not looking to add one of the top quarterbacks, it’s always good practice to know the value of a quarterback class because it allows teams to better assess the trade value of their draft picks.
The Lions' interest will likely expand beyond the top quarterbacks as well because, at this time, they only have Goff under contract for the upcoming season. Finding a stable, young backup quarterback should be in the offseason plans.
What to watch for
When studying the quarterbacks at the combine, there are two main things to focus on: mechanics and social interaction.
Because the quarterbacks at the combine have likely not thrown to many (if any) of the skill players at the event, don’t worry about completions. Instead, focus on mechanics like footwork, balance, ball placement, confidence, and leadership skills.
Quarterback is a massive leadership position, so pay attention to what they’re doing when it’s not their turn to throw. How do they interact with others? Are they relaxed under the bright lights? Can they flip the switch with the ball in their hand? Do they want the ball—do they take extra reps? Social skills are a premium trait for this position.
Now on to the prospects.
Bryce Young, Alabama (5-foot-10, 192)
There will be teams who completely write Young off because of his size but he is a dynamic signal caller and should be in consideration for the top pick in this class. His ability to work from the pocket and off-platform is terrific, and he represents a lot of traits that fit perfectly in a modern NFL offense.
C.J. Stroud, Ohio State (6-foot-2 1/2, 207)
Throughout most of the season, Stroud has been a consistently accurate passer from the pocket but left analysts wanting more from him when the play breaks down. His game against Georgia in the playoffs answered a lot of questions about his ability to work under duress and illustrated how high his ceiling could reach.
Will Levis, Kentucky (6-foot-4, 230)
A size-speed athlete that has the frame of a modern-day NFL quarterback. The intangibles are there, which will raise his stock, but he needs to improve his consistency. With a pro style background and offensive coordinators that have previously worked in the NFL, Levis will be very tempting for teams in need of a player capable of starting in year one and are also confident they can clean up his bad habits.
Anthony Richardson, Florida (6-foot-4, 232)
The unicorn. With size, speed, arm strength, pocket presence, and accuracy, Richardson may have the highest upside of any quarterback in this draft class. At the same time, he is limited in his experience, which shows up in his decision-making, and his passing mechanics remain very unrefined, which makes him a potential bust candidate. Richardson is at least a year away from starting, which could be the perfect scenario for Detroit if they’re willing to spend a first-round pick on a lottery ticket.
The 2023 NFL Draft has it all. Big men with speed. Skilled men with power. Freaky guys and glue guys.— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) February 16, 2023
Only one QB who's been forged in fire, though.
Let's dive into Anthony Richardson: Perhaps this draft's most interesting man. New on @TheAthleticNFL https://t.co/j2DNfVWamm pic.twitter.com/zEKezoMS5d
Tanner McKee, Stanford (6-foot-5, 225)
A pocket passer with upside due to his accuracy, McKee is flying a bit under the radar after a down year. He entered the 2022 season with high expectations but Stanford's supporting cast was a disaster and a lot of the blame fell on McKee’s shoulders. McKee’s decision-making seemed to take a step back in 2022, but his ability to hit tight windows and west coast offense roots could make him a draft-and-develop fit for Detroit.
Hendon Hooker, Tennessee (6-foot-3 1/2, 208)
Tennessee’s passer-friendly offense did a lot of favors for Hooker, but he showed promise this season, executing the scheme to perfection and stepping up in big games. Hooker will need some time to transition to NFL offenses. Being 25 years old, he will need to speed up that learning curve. Additionally, an ACL injury in November puts his availability for the season in question. Both of those issues could push his draft stock down. Hooker is likely a Day 2 talent, and if he slides to Day 3, the Lions have shown they aren’t afraid to draft for value.
Aidan O’Connell, Purdue (6-foot-3, 215)
O’Connell isn’t your traditional gunslinger, as he lacks a power arm, but he carries that moxie and isn’t afraid to gamble, trusting his instincts, anticipation, and accuracy. He lacks the traditional traits of a starter but his processing skills will make him a reliable QB2.
Jake Haener, Fresno State (6-foot-0, 208)
The Senior Bowl MVP, Haener is willing to throw the ball around the field and has shown nice accuracy and timing during his college years. He is undersized, which is why he was overlooked by many of the top schools, but he has used that as motivation to overcome the odds. His accuracy and football intelligence should get him drafted, where he will have a chance to start as a QB3 and work his way up the depth chart.
Max Duggan, TCU (6-foot-1, 204)
Duggan’s toughness, athleticism, and playmaking ability were on display during the conference championship and college football playoffs. But he very much fits the mold of an above-average college quarterback trying to become more than just an average pro. He will no doubt fit the gritty mentality the Lions look for in their players, but his accuracy and processing skills need to be altered/improved at the next level. Still, there’s a Gardner Minshew-like mentality that teams are going to love, where his moxie elevates him above expectations.
Tyson Bagent, Shepard (6-foot-2 1/2, 213)
Baget won the 2021 Harlon Hill Trophy (DII’s version of the Heisman) as he dominated for Shepard during his career, setting multiple records. He has a powerful arm (his father is an arm wrestling champion) and has the legs to execute RPOs. But his Senior Bowl performance is indicative of where he is in his development—a work in progress. Still, the Lions sent a scout to his campus early in the season, and having an above-average athlete at QB3 can be a real tool for the scout team. So, if the Lions end up signing QB2 in free agency, a Day 3 flyer on Bagent would give Detroit an upside project quarterback that is worth developing.