Here’s the fourth story of our position-by-position NFL draft series. Today, we’ll look at the top quarterbacks.
The style of play in the NFL has evolved to the point where the dynamics of playing quarterback has changed.
For decades, players under 6 feet tall were frowned upon.
With teams using more shotgun formations, spreading players out over the field and providing several receiving options, smaller quarterbacks are able to thrive.
“I think Russell Wilson made these quarterbacks a lot of money that are coming into the draft at 5-10, 5-11, 6-feet,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “Proving that he can do it. Kyler Murray as well. Certainly, Drew Brees. Michael Vick was only 6 feet tall, 5-11 1/2, 6-feet. So, we have had successful quarterbacks that have won big in the NFL and won Super Bowls, like Russell (and Brees) did, that have been that size.”
In the coming draft, which is set for April 27-29 in Kansas City, Missouri, Alabama’s Bryce Young, who’s 5-foot-10¼ inches tall, is widely considered the top quarterback in the draft and could go No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers.
“Nobody cares anymore,” Kiper said. “Size went by the boards.”
At 194 pounds, Young is considered the ultimate outlier.
“In the lifetime of the common draft, we have never had a quarterback at his size, 5-10¼ who is probably going to play at 190 or 185, go in the first round, let alone No. 1 overall,” Kiper said. “Then you get to Stetson Bennett at Georgia, he won two national titles. Jake Haener, Fresno State, those quarterbacks that are getting a chance now because of the quarterbacks that were in the 6-foot range that made it big.”
Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson are considered the top four quarterbacks in the draft. Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker also is highly touted.
“I feel like I’m someone who pushes myself and prides myself on my preparation, processing and leading the offense,” Young said. “For me, I make sure that I do whatever I feel like is best for the team.”
Bennett, despite his success at Georgia, is a projected third-day pick.
“Bryce Young is the best pick,” ESPN’s Todd McShay said. “Stroud is probably the safer pick.”
McShay also is comfortable with Young’s stature.
“I’m not worried about height for Bryce Young, in terms of seeing the field and being able to locate receivers and all of that,” McShay said. “He has proven, like Drew Brees and several others, that he can maneuver in the pocket. He can locate receivers down the field.”
There is a long-term concern about Young’s durability.
“He had a shoulder (injury) this year,” McShay said. “They shut him down in practice for a few weeks and limited his throwing to help him recuperate. Other than that, he stayed healthy as a two-year starter at Alabama, but you project to a 17-game season in the NFL with those defensive linemen … I know the quarterbacks are protected now, but they are still taking a beating.”
Some point to how Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has struggled to stay on the field because of concussions.
“He was getting rag-dolled and thrown around, you worry about that a little bit,” McShay said. “Tua doesn’t have the mobility, the pocket presence and the feel for pressure and the escape-ability that Bryce Young has.”
Like Wilson, Young can extend plays and create things inside and outside of the pocket.
“He has the highest (QB rating) of all of these quarterbacks outside of the pocket because of his ability to feel pressure, know where it’s coming from, know when to bail,” McShay said. “(He) knows which side to bail to, knows how much time he has and the willingness and toughness to wait until the last second.”
Texas coach Steve Sarkisian recruited Young to play at Alabama.
“Bryce is unique,” Sarkisian said recently on SiriusXM NFL radio. “He’s not the most physically, imposing looking guy. But his feel in the pocket, his instincts for passing the football, his recognition of coverage, the anticipation he throws the ball with for a guy that can’t see, allegedly.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban also is a supporter.
“Hopefully he’ll be the first pick in the draft,” Saban said. “Nobody knows that for sure. I don’t think anybody disagrees that he’s one of the outstanding players in this draft. I guess it’s just about what your needs are or your particular feeling, maybe, about him.”
Saban sees the upside of Young’s talent.
“Just his production, his consistency in performance and his instinctive ability to play the position,” Saban said. “The kind of person he is in terms of how he prepares and what he does. There is really no negatives. The only negative that anybody could bring is what is his height.”
Saban also compared Young with Brees.
“There’s never been a more instinctive guy who’s played the quarterback position,” Saban said.
Stroud is taller at 6-foot-3.
“What C.J. does better, slightly better than Bryce, he has a stronger arm,” McShay said. “Inside the pocket he’s as good as there is in this class and the last couple of classes in terms of just processing quickly, getting the ball out with anticipation and being able to layer throws on all three levels with exceptional ball placement.”
Stroud is the more traditional prospect.
“C.J. is the best pure pocket-passer with a bigger build,” McShay said. “On paper, he’s built to last longer in the NFL versus (Young).”
Stroud is very selective about when he wants to run.
“You want to let your teammates know that you’re not always trying to be Superman, but when you need to make that play and you can extend that play, you can,” Stroud said. “You get a lot more respect from your teammates. So, those are just things I like to do. I’m a playmaker.”
Richardson dazzled pro scouts with his workout at the NFL scouting combine. However, teams would have to fit their offense to maximize his talents, much like the Eagles did for quarterback Jalen Hurts.
“He’s only going to be 21 as a rookie compared to Will Levis, who’s going to be 24, and Hendon Hooker, who’s going to turn 26 at the end of his rookie season,” McShay said. “You’ve got time to develop Richardson. (He) doesn’t have the game experience. There is a lot to work with, and game reps are going to be hard to replicate.”
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.