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Peeking ahead at the 2023 quarterback class

Could the 2023 quarterback class live up to the hype?

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Albert Cesare / USA TODAY NETWORK

With the decision to decline the fifth-year option on Daniel Jones’ contract, the new leadership of the New York Giants sent a message, one that Giants fans themselves had been expecting.

The clock is ticking.

The third-year leap many were hoping to see from Jones never quite materialized last season, and now the quarterback enters what could be a lame-duck season as the starting quarterback for New York. Certainly, if Jones takes a huge step forward under new head coach Brian Daboll, the organization would find a way to retain him for next season under the franchise tag.

If he does not take that step, could the 2023 quarterback class offer an answer?

Many believe that the next group of passers will be a much better — and deeper — crop than the 2022 class, which saw just one quarterback drafted in the first two rounds. By now you probably know the names at the top, but just how deep is this group?

Let’s dive in.

The two at the top

NCAA Football: Ohio State Spring Game Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

By now, most of you have probably scanned a “way too early” 2023 mock draft.

If you have not, you can wait for the one I’ll be putting together to kick off Memorial Day Weekend.

But if you have taken a look at what next year offers, or if you watched college football a season ago, you know the two names at the top of most mock drafts and watch lists: C.J. Stroud from Ohio State and Bryce Young from Alabama. Right now those two quarterbacks lead every watch list, and are well inside the top five of most of the “way too early” mock drafts.

(We will revisit those mock drafts in a moment).

Thanks to NFL Mock Draft Database, we can see that Stroud and Young are currently ranked 1 and 2 on the “2023 Consensus Big Board,” created by analyzing all the mock drafts done to date. And with good reason. Young is your incumbent Heisman Trophy winner, having led Alabama to the title game in just his first year as a starter. Last season he completed 66.9% of his passes for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns, against just 7 interceptions. He is athletic, throws well on the move, accurate to all levels of the field and showed a command of Alabama’s offense early in the season.

Then there is Stroud who, like Young, stepped into the lineup to replace a quarterback who was drafted in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft. Taking over from Justin Fields, Stroud shrugged off a shaky first half in the season opener against Minnesota and performed at a lights-out pace the bulk of the season. Stroud completed 71.9 percent of his passes last year for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns, along with 6 interceptions. He had seven games with four touchdown passes or more, and a two-game stretch against Purdue and Michigan State where he completed 63 of 73 passing attempts for 793 yards and 11 touchdowns, without an interception.

In the eyes of many evaluators, either quarterback would have been QB1 had they come out in this draft cycle, especially Stroud. Young is going to take a knock in some minds due to his size, but with the league trending away from the battleship-style pocket passers of the past, Young is probably not going to fall too far down boards provided he produces at the same level next season.

Sitting here right now, if the Giants are in a spot to draft one of them next season, that likely means that the Jones Era has truly come to an end, and New York is at the top of the first round.

But what if the Jones Era does not come to a crashing end, but rather peters out in 2022, leaving the Giants picking later in the first round?

Here are some more names to know.

The next tier

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Thanks to draft-season rises from quarterbacks like Joe Burrow and Kenny Pickett, many evaluators spend time each summer trying to predict who the next quarterback riser will be.

That leads us to the next tier of quarterbacks. Those players who are getting some first-round buzz at the moment, and could in fact play themselves into the first round with solid seasons in 2022. The name atop such lists right now is Will Levis from Kentucky. The Penn State transfer put together a solid season in his first year as a starter for the Wildcats, completing 66 percent of his throws for 2,826 yards and 24 touchdowns. He did throw 13 interceptions, including three in a loss to Mississippi State, so whether he can limit mistakes this fall is something to keep in mind.

Another name getting a great deal of attention is Tyler Van Dyke, the Miami quarterback. There is a lot of excitement about the Hurricanes going into 2022, given that Mario Crristobal is taking over as head coach, but Van Dyke’s performance last season after stepping into the starting role is another reason for the preseason buzz. Van Dyke and the Hurricanes won five of their last six games, closing out the year with wins over Virginia Tech and Duke in their final two games. The young passer finished the year completing 62.3 percent of his passes for 2,931 yards and 25 touchdowns, against just six interceptions. Despite his inexperience, he throws with good anticipation, as he did on this touchdown against Pittsburgh:

Another quarterback from the Sunshine State generating some buzz this spring is Anthony Richardson from Florida. While Richardson split time last season with Emory Jones, he did show in a loss to LSU that he has true potential as a quarterback. That performance against the Tigers, where he threw for three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions coming on in relief of Jones, earned him a start the following week.

Unfortunately, that came against Georgia.

Still, many in the draft industrial complex view Richardson as a quarterback who could play his way into the first round.

If I were going to plant a flag on a QB to rise next fall, I would plant it in Chestnut Hill, Mass. That is where you will find Boston College, and Phil Jurkovec. During the summer scouting season a year ago, Jurkovec was the one quarterback I was looking forward to the most after studying him, thanks to throws like this one from 2020:

This is the kind of under-center, back-to-the-defense read and throw that NFL scouts just love to see.

Unfortunately, Jurkovec suffered a wrist injury last season that cost him a lot of time, and he is returning to college for another year. But if he builds on what we saw in 2020, he could be the QB that rises up boards next fall.

Other names to remember

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And now, the cautionary tale...

Recognize that quarterback? That’s Spencer Rattler, who at this time last year was, along with Sam Howell, atop many of the “way too early” mock drafts we saw a season ago.

Including my own.

But a rather curious thing happened after those mock drafts were published.

The games were played.

Howell saw himself fall all the way to the fifth round, despite a solid final season at UNC.

Rattler? He eventually lost his job, and is now enrolled at South Carolina.

Still, the talent is there, and Rattler is a name to watch in the fall. He is not alone. Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong and N.C. State’s Devin Leary are two quarterbacks from the ACC that you should be keeping an eye on. Two very intriguing players to watch are Cameron Ward and Grayson McCall. McCall is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in all of college football, but he gets the benefit of playing in a Coastal Carolina offense that gives him a lot of easy reads and throws. Ward, who transferred to Washington State after putting up huge numbers for Incarnate Word at the FCS level, could rise up boards if he duplicates those numbers at the FBS level.

Jake Haener is another undersized passer, but with big-time performances against Oregon and UCLA last season, he was a quarterback I was hoping would declare this past draft cycle, as he might have been able to capitalize on the down QB cycle we just saw. But he returned to Fresno State after contemplating a transfer, and if he produces more big time moments for the Bulldogs in the fall, he could also rise up boards.

Then there is Tanner McKee, the Stanford quarterback who has snuck into the first round of some of the “way too early” mocks we have seen in recent days. He, like Davis Mills before him, might get the benefit of the Stanford offense in the eyes of NFL scouts, given it’s “pro style” elements.

These are just some of the names that Giants fans should keep an eye on this fall. Hopefully, these become names associated with potential trades in the first round, as Jones finally takes that big leap forward New York fans have been waiting for.

But if not ... these names are a good starting point. Looking for more? This piece of mine from USA Today has a list of 24 names to satisfy your summer scouting hunger.