Ready for the NFL’s dog days of summer to be over? If you have fallen into this category and are currently suffering from football withdrawal, how about a splash into the pool entitled, “2023 NFL Draft”?
Over the next few weeks, we will be taking a brief look at the outlook of each primary position in the 2023 NFL Draft, breaking down the top prospects of note while also taking a look at the prospects who make the most sense for the Steelers. Today, we will begin with everyone’s favorite position to talk about: quarterback.
After a year in which we saw only one quarterback go in the first round, we could see five or more selected in the first round this year. While the 2023 class may not possess the depth that we saw in 2022, there is a much better pool of talent at the top, led by blue-blood leaders Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud. It is also worth mentioning that, in almost every draft, we see at least one quarterback that unexpectedly emerges into a first-round prospect. This year, that was the case with Kenny Pickett. In 2021, we had Zach Wilson and Mac Jones, and in 2020 we had Joe Burrow. Go beyond 2020, and you will find the same occurrence.
Although we may not know every first-round prospect at quarterback, a consensus has certainly developed throughout the spring on the prospects of note. We will begin with those players before transitioning to the quarterbacks who make the most sense for the Steelers specifically.
Let’s dive in!
1. Bryce Young | Alabama
Young is a talented dual-threat quarterback whose fluid stance and smooth throwing motion make his deep throws look effortless. What I like most about Young, however, is the fact that he is wise beyond his years when it comes to decision-making as a runner. If you have seen Young move, you can attest to his speed as a runner, but he does not abuse that ability. Rarely do you find Young looking to run the ball, as he always has his eyes downfield looking to make a play with his arm.
2. C.J. Stroud | Ohio State
Perhaps in a few months I will regret what I am about to say, but I do not understand the rankings of those who see Stroud as the top quarterback. There is no denying his progression throughout the 2021 season, but the inconsistency was still evident. He has lost two of his top three receivers to the NFL in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, but the best of the bunch may be Jaxson Smith-Njigba, who will still be with the Buckeyes this fall. I want to see him face adversity at some point during the season and see how he responds, as I believe that would be the best test as to whether or not he can live up to the billing of a top-five pick.
3. Anthony Richardson | Florida
Talk about a tantalizing talent. At 6’4”, 238 pounds, Richardson possesses a sturdy frame that can withstand hits inside the pocket, but he is much more than a big body. His arm strength may be the best of any quarterback in next year’s class, and his ability to spread the ball around to all areas of the field keeps defenses off balance. He also displays impressive speed as a runner, reportedly clocking in at 4.5 flat in the 40. Nonetheless, he goes through spurts of inaccuracy, likely due to his inexperience. He was also ticketed in April for driving over 100 miles per hour, which could cause NFL teams to question his maturity. At the end of the day, however, I do not see that as a long-term issue, and I am excited to see him take the next step in his game this fall.
4. Will Levis | Kentucky
Another dual-threat talent, Levis is a Penn State transfer who does a phenomenal job pushing the ball down the field. The most intriguing trait in Levis’ game, in my opinion, is his ability to make something out of nothing when the pocket collapses and he is forced to make a difficult throw on the run. He still lacks touch on short and intermediate passes, but with improvement in that area, he could firmly be in the top-ten-pick conversation next spring.
5. Tyler Van Dyke | Miami
Van Dyke is, in some ways, a poor man’s version of Anthony Richardson. While his mobility and arm talent may not be quite on the same level as Richardson’s, his effectiveness as a deep ball passer is good enough to keep the safeties high and passive. Although Van Dyke also lacks the speed of Richardson, he has more than enough mobility to navigate his way through the pocket, avoid pressure, and occasionally take off in open space to pick up positive yardage. The issue is that he is still maturing when it comes to getting through all his reads, as the majority of his playing career has been in RPO-heavy offenses where he is only making one read.
Finishing out the Top 10
6. Cameron Ward | Washington State
7. D.J. Uiagalelei | Clemson
8. Devin Leary | North Carolina State
9. Spencer Rattler | South Carolina
10. Jake Haener | Fresno State
Steelers Prospect to Watch
Devin Leary | North Carolina State
Leary has a wide range when it comes to draft projections. If all goes well and he shows growth in 2022, he could make his case to be selected in the first round. However, until we see that growth, I think the sweet spot for him is currently in the middle rounds of the draft. Coming off a year in which Leary recorded a 35-5 touchdown-to-interception radio, fans’ expectations could not be higher for the Wolf Pack quarterback entering the 2022 season.
One trait Leary possesses that could separate him from the rest of the pack in that second tier of quarterbacks is his field vision. One of his core strengths is his ability to process quickly, which has contributed to his ability to make smart, quick decisions with the football. He also throws a nice deep ball, and although his arm may not be elite, it seems to be more than sufficient for competitive play at the next level, at least first glance. If he can improve his pre-snap decision making and reads at the line of scrimmage, he will be able to clamp down on the turnovers even more, which would only allow him to shine brighter as a future draft prospect.
I am not fully aboard the Leary bandwagon just yet, but considering the fact that Mason Rudolph is likely gone at this time next year, the Steelers may want to bring in another quarterback behind Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky that can provide stability. For that reason alone, it would not shock me if Leary happens to be on the Steelers’ radar in the middle rounds come springtime.
Which quarterback in the 2023 draft do you have your eye on? Who do you think makes the most sense for the Steelers in the mid to late rounds of the draft? Be sure to light up the comment section below with your thoughts on this and all things Pittsburgh Steelers!