The 2024 NFL Draft is still a ways away, but it’s fast approaching.
The New York Giants hold the sixth overall pick (and five picks in the first three rounds) and the quarterback class will be incredibly important for them. Not only will they define the draft board in the Top 10, but the Giants could also be in the market for a quarterback themselves.
With that in mind we’re going to take deep dives into this year’s top quarterback prospects, and we’re going to start with Oregon’s Bo Nix.
Games watched: vs. Alabama (2020 - Auburn), vs. Georgia (2021 - Auburn), vs. Georgia (2022 - Oregon), vs. Utah (2022), vs. Washington State (2023), vs. Washington (2023), vs. Utah (2023), vs. Oregon State (2023)
Bo Nix has a long and storied collegiate career, with incredible highs as well as some serious lows.
Nix, who will be 24 on draft day, has played in 61 games over five years as a collegiate starter. He was one of the top quarterbacks in the 2019 recruiting class, and was ranked second in the nation by ESPN and first by Rivals. He was heavily recruited for both his arm talent and his athleticism, and it was considered a coup when Nix decided to go to Auburn.
Nix’s freshman season established some sky-high expectations despite a 9-4 finish, thanks to a last-second 27-21 come-from-behind win over Justin Herbert and the Oregon Ducks in his very first game. That season culminated in a 48-45 win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Unfortunately, Nix wasn’t able to build on the promise of his freshman season and he remained inconsistent over the next two years. And while he still flashed the upside that made him a highly sought-after recruit, he also made his share of mistakes. Not only did Nix have misfires, he also had a tendency toward playing “hero ball” as he tried to elevate an often overmatched Auburn team.
Auburn hired Bryan Harsin prior to the start of the 2021 season, and that did not bode well for Nix. He was benched in favor of T.J. Finley in the fourth quarter of Auburn’s game against Georgia State and Nix would later describe the season as “miserable”. Nix’s season would end after just 10 games when he suffered a fractured ankle against Mississippi State.
Nix transferred to Oregon after the 2022 season and improved significantly over his remaining two years. Head coach Dan Lanning complemented Nix’s work ethic, saying “There’s probably not a more self-aware person in the world than Bo Nix. And he knows his strengths, he knows his weaknesses, he can identify his thoughts. He’s out there and is able to lead and communicate with other players on our team.”
Nix, and the Ducks, came close to the College Football Playoffs in 2023, but a pair of losses to the Washington Huskies kept them out. However, Nix still set an NCAA record for completion percentage and finished third in voting for the Heisman Trophy. Now his college career is finally over and he’ll embark on his journey in the NFL.
Weight: 218 pounds
Nix is at the bottom end of what the NFL likely considers “optimal” for height. He isn’t overly short, but he lacks the height of passers like Josh Allen or Justin Herbert (who are around 6-foot-5). That might cause some issues with his sight lines if he lands on a team with bigger interior linemen, but Nix is also almost the exact same size as Pat Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Stafford (all of whom are roughly 6-foot-2, 223 pounds).
Overall, he’s probably best described as “compact”. In particular, he sports a muscular lower body that enables his running, as well as gives him a good foundation for generating power from the ground up. He has also been a durable player, though he did suffer a fractured ankle to end his 2021 season — and his career at Auburn.
So much of what we focus on with quarterbacks is tangible — things like their height, weight, 40 time, or their ball velocity. However much of what makes a quarterback successful is intangible.
We can’t really measure things like mental processing, football IQ, leadership, or competitiveness, but we can see their effects.
Nix has a solid football IQ and shows a good command of the Oregon offense. He’s an active communicator during the pre-snap phase and has the freedom to identify pressure packages, make adjustments at the line of scrimmage, and check in and out of plays.
“His consistency, I mean, to not punt the ball in the first half speaks to his efficiency,” Oregon head coach Dan Lanning said after Oregon’s win over USC. “And not all of that was him necessarily throwing the ball. It’s him getting us into the right runs, checking us into proper place, just being efficient with the ball.”
Nix also has great situational awareness. He understands where his receivers are supposed to be at any given time, and also understands where his outlets are. He also shows an uncanny ability to feel pressure (likely based on his understanding of the blocking scheme and defensive play), navigate the pocket, and buy time to get his passes off. He also understands how to place the ball to protect the ball from defenders or to enable run-after catch opportunities.
While Oregon’s offense isn’t complicated, Nix does do a good job of navigating his reads as well as using eye discipline to manipulate defenders. He rarely locks on to his intended target and understands how to freeze — or look off — safeties and linebackers to maximize the catch window.
Nix has made a concerted effort to improve his decision making and not put the ball in danger. He’s developed a good internal clock and you can see it as he finishes his progression reads. Nix was first among college quarterbacks in turnover-worthy plays (per PFF), putting the ball at risk on just 1.02 percent of plays.
Nix can show some indecision at times. There are instances where he double-clutch before throwing. That can give defenders an opportunity to close on the ball and force an incompletion.
There’s evidence of Nix’s competitive toughness on tape, as well as in remarks from former teammates.
Nix is willing to hang in the pocket until the last possible instant and take hits when necessary. He’s also willing to test tight coverages and work his read progressions from deep to shallow.
He’s willing to take on contact as a runner, as well as extend plays to give his teammates a chance to get open.
The work he’s put in as a decision maker has obviously helped him be a more efficient quarterback. But it’s also lead him to being a little quick to check the ball down or throw it a way. As well as Nix played this year, he might have left some yards or points on the field had he been more consistently aggressive.
As for his leadership, former Auburn (and current Tennessee Titans) cornerback Roger McCreary said,
“He’s a great leader for everybody. He’s not a person that would sugar coat anything; he would just tell the truth and he would always want to push you. He’s always going to be vocal and he’s always going to be there for somebody when somebody needs his help. That’s the type of guy Bo was 24/7, he never had bad days.”
Nix is a good athlete for the quarterback position. He has good agility and short-area quickness, as well as the long speed to be dangerous as a runner. Running isn’t a big factor in Nix’s game, and he primarily uses his athleticism to facilitate his passing. He’s able — and willing — to escape the pocket and scramble to extend plays, however he’s the type to keep his eyes downfield and only run as a last resort.
His powerful lower body allows him to make would-be tacklers miss and survive poor tackle attempts in the backfield.
Nix is capable of executing zone read plays and has 143 carries for 744 yards (5.2 per carry) and 20 touchdowns over the last two years. He’s willing to take on contact as a runner, but is more likely to angle for the sideline and get out of bounds rather than take a big hit.
He isn’t an “elite” athlete by any means and isn’t as good a runner as Jalen Hurts or Lamar Jackson. He has enough speed to win the edge on off-tackle runs, but can also be caught from behind by athletic linebackers. Likewise, Nix can appear somewhat awkward when finishing runs. He seems to have some indecision between trying to pick up extra yardage or sliding to avoid hits. That can lead to Eli Manning-esque stumbling rolls that are out of step with the athleticism he shows elsewhere in his game.
Nix has always had a strong arm, which he matches with a tight, compact, repeatable throwing motion. He’s consistently able to align his feet with his target thanks to his quick feet and springy athleticism. He has also obviously put in the work to fine-tune his throwing motion and his completion percentage has improved in each of his five years as a starter.
He might not have a truly elite arm that matches up to Josh Allen or Lamar Jackson, but he’s got plenty of arm strength. He can generate velocity to challenge tight windows in the short to intermediate area, as well as drive the ball downfield.
Unlike many strong-armed quarterback prospects, Nix isn’t purely a fast-ball thrower. He has since learned to throw with touch when checking down or layering the ball over defenders downfield.
As mentioned above, Nix is an athletic quarterback. Not only is he able to scramble to extend plays, but he also has a flexible arm and is able to generate velocity from multiple arm slots. He’s able to throw on the move, as well as drop his arm angle to throw around defenders pressuring him. Most impressively, he’s very accurate when throwing on the move and delivers on-target passes when rolling to his left or right, even when throwing outside of the numbers.
The use of stats and analytics is changing how we view and analyze the game of football. However, just because we have masses of data points, doesn’t mean we automatically make better decisions. Data that’s misunderstood or poorly interpreted is the same as no data at all, and distracting noise at worst.
However, there are some stats and advanced analytics that do have predictive value. Some stats, such as sack rate, are “sticky” and can follow quarterbacks from college to the NFL, as well as from team to team.
For our purposes, we’ll be looking at completion percentage, yards per game, EPA, and ESPN’s QBR. Each of those stats have a moderately-strong to strong correlation coefficient between college and the NFL. None of them are definitive, but they’re another tool that can help provide a backstop to check bias as well as confirm what we did (or didn’t) see on tape. For reference, I’ll be listing their rank among top quarterback prospects in 2023.
Yards per game: 325.5 (1st)
Completion percentage: 78.6 (1st)
EPA: 96.2 (2nd)
QBR: 91.1 (2nd)
Sack rate: 1.2 percent (1st)
We mentioned Lanning’s comments on Nix’s drive to improve, and that shows up in his predictive stats. He’s improved each of them over the last five years, going from 195.5 yards per game to 325.5, from 57.6 percent completion to 78.6, outside of the Top 50 (and therefore not recorded) in EPA and QBR to 96.2 and 91.1 respectively, and from 6 percent sack rate to 1.2 percent.
There are almost two different players named “Bo Nix”. The first, who played for Auburn, is an intriguing and exciting, but ultimately disappointing, prospect. His ability to throw the ball and athleticism leap off the screen in any given game.
All it takes to get excited about him is one play where he escapes the back of the pocket, scrambles for 50 yards (all behind the line of scrimmage), finds a receiver open by the far sideline, and throws for an unlikely first down. But there are also plays where he tries to do too much, scrambles when he doesn’t need to, and throws a drive-killing incompletion or game-killing interception. “Auburn Bo” was a young and talented player who often tried to put an overmatched team on his back and too often dropped them.
Then there’s “Oregon Bo” who’s a more seasoned and poised passer. Oregon Bo learned from Auburn Bo’s mistakes and grown from them. He doesn’t try to win the game on every pass, nor does he put on his cape and play hero ball unless he absolutely needs to do so. Oregon Bo is a player who’s certainly in a better situation than Auburn Bo. But he’s also a player who’s in complete command of his offense and isn’t going to hurt his team. He’s got all the talent that Auburn Bo flashed, but it’s been tamed, harnessed, and polished.
There are two questions that will determine Nix’s draft stock.
The first is whether “Auburn Bo” is truly gone, or if he’ll rear his head again in the NFL. Does Nix need to be in a perfect situation to shine, or can he flourish in less than ideal circumstances without hurting his team?
The second is if “Oregon Bo” is here to say, just how good can he be? Has he reached his ceiling, or can he continue to improve with NFL coaching and become the kind of player who allows his teammates to play to the best of their abilities?
At his best, Nix is a player who has the traits to be drafted in the first round, and the play to make a GM feel good about that pick. How teams answer those questions will determine just how high he rises (or falls) on each team’s draft board.