NFL Draft Daily: Continuing to take an early look at the 2023 quarterback class

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 345 days until the 2023 NFL Draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

Who is ready for part 2? I started my early look at the 2023 quarterback class Monday with my first 15 quarterbacks that I have started to evaluate heading into this 2022 college football season. There are still a lot of games to be played and a lot of work to be done before I am anywhere near ranking these players, but this has been a good way to start learning the names of the prospects that will make up this draft class.

As I have mentioned a few times, this is one of the deepest quarterback classes that I can remember. There are nearly three dozen quarterbacks currently on my watch list, which is simply outrageous. Not all of them will get drafted and there is a good chance many of them will return to school given the bonus year of eligibility granted to all NCAA athletes following the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of this to say, I will actually be dropping a part 3 to my watchlist on Wednesday. It’s been a busy week of watching film and I don’t want to shortchange any of these prospects by not taking at least a few minutes to get to know their game. With all of that in mind, let’s dive into this second batch of quarterbacks, featuring 11 more draft-eligible passers.

Phil Jurkovec, Boston College
One of the more intriguing prospects in this draft class, Jurkovec had some big-time draft buzz surrounding him before he got hurt and missed half the season. He began his college career at Notre Dame before transferring to BC in 2020. He turned a lot of heads that season, taking over the starting job and posting some solid numbers. He has a prototypical NFL body, listed at 6’5″, 214 pounds. However, he lacks elite arm strength, oftentimes leading to him throwing short or low to his intended target. His arm is good enough to make it in the pros though. He is a solid runner, with the ability to extend plays outside the pocket. You will see some really nice touch passes on his film. I want to see how he plays fully healthy, because he did not look right when he returned last season.

Brennan Armstrong, Virginia
Armstrong took a massive step forward in 2021, accounting for over 4,449 passing yards and 40 total touchdowns. He rewrote much of Virginia’s record book in doing so. While the numbers look nice, his throwing motion does not. It is elongated and a bit unorthodox. It definitely impacts his accuracy at times and limits his ability to throw on the run. He has decent arm strength with the ability to stretch the field. Additionally, he uses his legs well to extend plays and scramble for extra yards, even if he does not possess blazing speed. If he can shorten up his throwing motion and cut down on the interceptions a little bit, I think there will be some NFL teams interested.

Tanner McKee, Stanford
It is hard to miss the latest Stanford quarterback to garner attention from NFL draft scouts. That may have something to do with the fact that he is 6’6″ and 226 pounds. McKee is a long-levered passer with a strong arm who has some inconsistencies with his accuracy and ball placement. He flashes decent wiggle in the pocket and can scramble for some extra yards when the play breaks down. I’ve only watched one game of him so far, and nothing popped that made me think he is going to be a special player, but he does a lot of the little things well. I would love to see him put a little more touch on his throws. He has a chance to answer a lot of questions in his second year as the starter.

Sam Hartman, Wake Forest
If you are looking for a gunslinger, this might be your guy. Hartman excels in Wake Forest’s wide open vertical passing game. His 508 pass attempts in 2021 were the fifth most in the country. Unfortunately, he has a career completion percentage of 57.7, including a 58.9 mark this past year. That being said, Hartman looks like an NFL quarterback. He has great arm strength, a smooth release and plus athleticism for the position. However, he is a bit undersized and struggles a bit under pressure. I am looking forward to watching more of him this season.

Aidan O’Connell, Purdue
How about some love for the Big Ten? I haven’t had too many quarterbacks from the conference pop up on my watchlist yet. O’Connell is likely the most promising after CJ Stroud. He put up some impressive numbers in his senior season. 3,712 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and a 71.6 percent completion percentage was more than enough to turn some heads. He checks the box from a size perspective and has enough mobility to be effective. Watching him against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl, I like the zip he puts on his throws and his ball placement. It’s really impressive. This kid doesn’t have a ton of hype right now, but he should pick up some steam as people start watching his tape more.

Tyler Shough, Texas Tech
Yet another transfer quarterback, Shough started his career at Oregon before making the move to Texas Tech last year. His 2021 season got off to a solid start before it was cut short by a broken collar bone. Watching a little bit of him both at Texas Tech and Oregon, he runs a ton of RPOs and zone reads, but he actually does a decent job going through his progressions when asked. His arm is good, but not great. There are moments when he shows good zip on underneath or intermediate throws, but he is guilty of underthrowing deep balls on occasion. If he can stay healthy this season, I think he will be in the mix to be drafted this year.

Will Rogers, Mississippi State
Rogers is a tough evaluation. Only Bailey Zappe attempted more passes than him in 2021. However, Zappe averaged 8.7 yards per attempt while Rogers had only 6.9. And that was despite Rogers completing nearly four percent more of his attempts. Unquestionably, Rogers benefits from playing in Mike Leach’s pass-happy system often featuring four or five receivers. Many of his attempts are at or behind the line of scrimmage. That being said, he can get into a rhythm and pick apart defenses if they drop back into zone or give him too much time. He also has some decent zip on his throws and a quick release. He almost always knows where his safety net is and has no problem taking the short, easy completion. I would love to see him show off his arm a bit more regularly this season, but he already looks like a good fit for any NFL team that runs a West Coast style offense.

K.J. Jefferson, Arkansas
There are few players who made as big of a jump statistically in 2021 as Jefferson did. In very limited action through his first two seasons with Arkansas, he completed fewer than 50 percent of his pass attempts. In 2021, he completed 67.3 percent of his throws and posted a stellar 9.1 yards per attempt average, good for seventh in the country. I put on his Auburn tape, and it is kind of a mixed bag. He has some really nice throws down the field, but his ball placement is sporadic. He also seems to lack quickness. He is a good runner, but it takes him a bit to get up to speed and he is inconsistent when trying to throw on the run. I am going to need to see a lot more from him, especially playing without Treylon Burks this season.

Stetson Bennett, Georgia
I felt obligated to include Bennett even though I don’t think he has too much of a pro future. What else are you supposed to do with a player that just won the national championship and is returning to school with hopes of running it back? He does have moments of sheer brilliance on film. He is clearly a fairly smart player, willing to check it down and throw it away when it’s not there. He also showed is capable of uncorking an impressive deep ball on that throw to George Pickens in the national title game. I want to watch more of him, but my initial assessment is that he lacks elite NFL traits. I hope he proves me wrong.

Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland
This name should sound familiar. Unfortunately for Taulia, he is undersized as far as NFL quarterbacks go, much like his brother, Tua. The jury is still out on the elder Tagovailoa brother as a pro, but the Maryland quarterback has a chance to write his own story. He started off at Alabama, but transferred to Maryland in 2020 for a chance at more playing time. After some early struggles, he put together a much stronger 2021 season. Like many of the quarterbacks in this draft class, he benefits from a lot of short, quick throws. However, there are some flashes on film of impressive zip on intermediate routes downfield and even some solid deep throws. He is going to have to overcome the questions about his size, so I think there is a long road ahead for Tagovailoa. I wouldn’t be surprised if he returned to Maryland for his final year of eligibility.

Tanner Mordecai, SMU
A former Lincoln Riley recruit at Oklahoma, Mordecai has put up some impressive numbers in his first year at SMU. He threw for 39 touchdowns and 3,628 yards with a solid 67.8 completion percentage. My initial assessment of him on film is that he is still a bit rough around the edges. He does well to step up in the pocket and is not afraid to make plays with pressure coming. However, his footwork is a bit of a mess, which leads to some wayward passes. He has a decently strong arm, but his ball placement is a bit spotty. Plus, there are definitely moments where he rushes his mechanics to try to get the ball out quicker. As of now, I see him being a late-round project with some upside.

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NFL Draft Daily: Takeaways from Alabama and Georgia in the national championship game

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 106 days until the 2022 NFL draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

Georgia and Alabama put a bow on the 2021 college football season with Monday’s national championship game. The Bulldogs snapped a 41-year title drought as Kirby Smart finally beat his former boss and mentor Nick Saban.

If you’ve been paying attention to college football or tracking draft prospects this year, you know there were a ton of future NFL players on the field in Indianapolis. Some won’t be eligible for this season, but my goodness, Saban and Smart continue to prove that they are among the elites when it comes to attracting and developing NFL-caliber talent. Saban has a better history than Smart on both sides of the ball, but there is no denying Smart’s prowess on defense.

Having had a chance to watch the game and work back through the film again, there was a lot to like when it comes to spotting future NFL players. Here are my biggest takeaways from Monday night.

Smart has landed a top-five recruiting class each of the past four seasons. (Wikimedia Commons)

Georgia’s defense is on another level

The Dawgs were led by their incredible defense all year long, not allowing more than 14 points against any opponent the entire regular season. They allowed 9.5 points per game, including the SEC Championship game where Alabama dropped 41 on them. That is 6.5 points per game less than Clemson, who allowed 15 points and finished with the second-best scoring defense.

As I mentioned above, Smart is the best recruiter and developer of defensive talent in the country right now. Georgia has future top-50 picks at every level of their defense and a handful of guys who will go in the mid to late rounds backing them up. By now, you likely know names like Nakobe Dean, Jordan Davis, Travon Walker and Derion Kendrick. However, guys like Devonte Wyatt, Nolan Smith and Lewis Cine (more on him later) are all potential top-50 selections as well. Then there are Quay Walker and Channing Tindall. Neither one was a featured player or even really a full-time starter for Georgia, and yet, it would not be a surprise to see both of them go later on Day 2. Robert Beal Jr., who had 6.5 sacks this season, doesn’t even get mentioned when talking about this defense most of the time.

The next wave of talent is exciting as well. Jalen Carter could be a future first-rounder. Kelee Ringo, who had the game-sealing pick-six, will be eligible next season and will certainly have opportunities to work his way into the top 50. He had a really strong performance that makes me excited to watch more of him in the future. Smael Mondon Jr., Nazir Stackhouse and MJ Sherman should all see more action next year as this next wave of talent heads to the NFL. The pipeline from Athens to the NFL is only growing stronger.

I was wrong about Stetson Bennett

I told coworkers, friends and my very patient wife who probably tuned me out because she was not quite as invested in Georgia’s starting quarterback situation as I was, that I really thought the Bulldogs needed to turn their offense over to J.T. Daniels for the College Football Playoff. Georgia was finally tested in the SEC title game and forced to play from behind. It seemed like Bennett was not cut out to keep up with Alabama if the Tide built an early lead again. He attempted just 287 passes across 13 games. That ranked 79th among quarterbacks in FBS this season. Bennett was never asked to be the guy, and I assumed that it meant he couldn’t fill that role.

Turns out, he was more than ready to lead the team when they desperately needed someone to step up, this time on an even bigger stage. Bennett went over 300 yards passing and had three touchdowns against a good Michigan defense in the Orange Bowl, securing a rematch with ‘Bama.

With Georgia’s run game looking incredibly sluggish in the first half. Then, Bennett was strip-sacked and Alabama took an 18-13 lead, and the pressure was really on. Over the final 10 minutes of the game, the former walk-on quarterback was flawless. He tossed two touchdowns to build a lead and the defense closed it out with a pick-six. Bennett had plenty of help, but he also showed that he was capable of leading this team at a time when it needed leading.

I don’t think this makes him an elite quarterback prospect or anything, but maybe this puts him on the radar as a seventh-round pick or preferred free agent, if he is even interested in going pro. He has the makings of a player who could succeed as a backup quarterback in the NFL. Teams like the Bengals, Chargers or Bills, who could all be in the market for a backup quarterback this year, make sense as potential landing spots for the championship-winning quarterback.

Harris had 5.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2021. (Wikimedia Commons)

Christian Harris and Lewis Cine made themselves some money

Every year, there are a few players that cement their status or really capitalize on the increased attention on them to shoot up draft boards. If there are two players that I think did that better than anyone else on Monday, I would pick Alabama’s Christian Harris and Georgia’s Lewis Cine.

Let’s start with Harris. He started the year as a player many thought could go in the first round and possibly even be the first linebacker off the board. While far from an exact science and not at all indicative of how the league views him, the website NFL Mock Draft Database shows Harris dropping from the 20th ranked player overall in early October to 55th in the middle of December. He had an up and down season, struggling to sort through traffic and failing to read his keys. It was unfortunate to watch for such an instinctive and dynamic defensive playmaker.

Against Georgia, Harris showcased the incredible upside that makes him such an eye-catching prospect. He racked up three sacks and four tackles for loss and looked downright explosive. He still has a long way to go when it comes to gap discipline, but he should be in the mix in the late first round or early second round.

On the other side, Cine was seemingly everywhere for Georgia’s defense. He had seven tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass break up. Those counting stats are far from outstanding, but his play went well beyond the numbers. He made a number of key stops for the Bulldogs, which was something they could not do against the Tide in the SEC championship game. It was the type of game that I think will propel him into the top 50 conversation. With a number of teams picking at the backend of the first round or early in the second round, Cine could be in the running to be the second safety selected, following Kyle Hamilton.

Will Anderson Jr. will start the 2023 draft cycle as the No. 1 player on my big board

This guy is incredible. He showcased his full range of skills on Monday night. He batted a pass at the line, made opposing offensive linemen look silly in pass protection and set the edge against the run with authority. In my estimation, he should have won the Heisman this year. He had 34 tackles for loss in 15 games this season. That is 2.3 tackles for loss per game. Leo Chenal and Devin Lloyd tied for the second best average at 1.6. That came on top of 17.5 sacks, which was tops in the country, and trailed only Andre Carter II in terms of sacks per game. Reminder: this was playing in the SEC against some of the best college offensive linemen in the country.

His length, physicality and athleticism at one of the most coveted positions in college football make him one of the most exciting prospects in recent years. Put him in the same air as Chase Young and Myles Garrett. I am so excited to break down his film this summer.

Jameson Williams and John Metchie III should consider returning to school

This was the worst part of the game by far. Williams emerged as a legitimate contender to be the first receiver taken in the 2022 draft with his electric playmaking and field-stretching ability. The Ohio State transfer stepped into the void left by Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith and flourished. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL in the second quarter and will now miss the entire pre-draft process and potentially the beginning of the 2022 season.

While I don’t think any team will look at him as damaged goods or take him off their board because of the injury, it will almost definitely hurt his stock. He was someone who likely would have ran well at the combine and boosted his stock even further. Williams could very reasonably still go in the first round. There is something to be said for getting paid while you rehab your surgically repaired knee.

However, he will likely be losing out on some money in the process. I could realistically have seen him coming off the board as early as No. 10 to the Jets (hard to see any receivers going before that point, barring trades) before the injury. He will likely slide some. Even falling 11 spots to the Patriots (projected) at No. 21 would cost him $7.3 million over the course of his rookie deal. If he potentially drops further to the Chiefs (projected) at No. 29, it would be about $9.3 million less.

In the end, Williams will have to do whatever works best for him and his family. If he, God forbid, got hurt again after returning to school, he could cost himself a lot more money than that. There is certainly still a good amount of risk. That being said, there are worse situations than returning to Alabama to play with Bryce Young and potentially John Metchie III again. Metchie also suffered a torn ACL playing in the SEC title game. He was not projected to go quite as high as Williams and his injury could set up a return to Tuscaloosa. Those two back at school would only bolster a team that is already the favorite to win the national title in 2022. Williams could erase any doubt about the injury and find himself in the mix to go in the top 10 in 2023. Injuries are one of the harsh realities of football and will set up one of the most interesting decisions to watch when the deadline comes up Monday, January 17th.

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