2023 NFL Draft: Anthony Richardson headlines next tier of quarterbacks beyond the big three

The college football regular season is almost over and bowl season is around the corner. It is still early in the evaluation process but it is time to take a moment and talk about the second-tier quarterbacks beyond Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s CJ Stroud and Kentucky’s Will Levis. The list has already changed significantly from the start of the season and that is discussed at the end of the article.

1. Anthony Richardson, Florida

Richardson’s projection is the most volatile on the list because he is a work in progress. He has great size, plus mobility and plus arm strength but he is still learning to go through his progressions and the patience to take his check down when nothing else is available. Defenses are blitzing on 33.7% of dropbacks, which ranks No. 10 among quarterbacks with at least 200, to force him into a quick, bad decision.

When comparing production and the technical components of the position, other prospects stack up more favorably right now but few have the potential to be a long-term starter. Richardson may never get there but his talent is enticing enough for a team to invest in a late Day 1, early Day 2 draft selection. He may ultimately decide to return to Gainesville with the hope of becoming a top-5 quarterback.

2. Tanner McKee, Stanford

McKee is a tall, linear-built quarterback with average mobility. He is never going to be the focal point of a quarterback run-designed offense but he has enough scrambling ability that defenses must respect him when the pocket collapses. The Stanford product has a good handle on the offense and thrives with quick decision-making where he carves defenses in the short to intermediate games. McKee’s sense of pressure in the pocket is not as natural as Young, for example. He is willing to step up in the pocket when pressure is coming off the edge but any interior pressure leads him to bring his eyes down rather than standing in and finding a late window. Downfield accuracy, specifically up the left sideline, has been consistently poor over the past few seasons.

He should be able to pick up an NFL offense quickly and that will add value for any team considering him. There has been a narrative that he does not have good talent around him. The Cardinal offensive line has allowed the eighth-most sacks (38) this season — McKee has contributed to that raw number as noted above — but the skill talent is very good.

3. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee

Hooker’s season came to an unfortunate end when it was announced that he suffered a torn ACL last week against South Carolina but he led the Volunteers to their best season in quite some time. The one-time Virginia Tech transfer was efficient throwing 27 touchdowns and two interceptions this season. The offense has traditionally asked him to make half-field reads, but Hooker’s confidence has grown in Year 2 of Josh Heupel’s offense. He is throwing with more touch and anticipation as evidenced by his 15 touchdown passes to wide receiver Jalin Hyatt this season; mostly on leading downfield targets.

Hooker has been empowered to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage. He has displayed strong leadership skills and resiliency on an indirect path to reach this point. His age will be a point of discussion leading up to the draft — 25 years old in January — but, how much will it really matter to talent evaluators? It would not be a surprise if he hung around the NFL for a long time as a spot starter and backup.

4. Michael Pratt, Tulane

Pratt has good size for the position and average mobility. His touchdown-to-interception ratio of 5:1 is very good. The Florida native should have had a third interception against Kansas State, who was the only Power 5 opponent he has faced this season, but the defender dropped it. He shows the ability to do everything that an NFL team would want but it is inconsistent. He throws in rhythm and with touch to all three levels of the field. Pratt throws a clean, catchable ball. One of the biggest reasons for his interceptions this season has been failing to see the linebacker drop into coverage underneath. There is starting potential in that 6-foot-3 frame.

5. Jake Haener, Fresno State

Haener will probably never be a long-term starter in the NFL but he is a player that could hang around for several years as a spot starter and backup. He is a gritty player who has competed through injury. The Washington transfer has overcome significant turnover throughout his career. The California native throws with touch and accuracy to all levels of the field. Haener has the 10th-highest passer rating among quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks, according to TruMedia.

When the season began, Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke, Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell and NC State’s Devin Leary likely would have had spots on the list. South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler would have made the list if he played the way he did against Tennessee all season. Finally, Oregon’s Bo Nix rising to a point of consideration is a development that could not have been seen coming. Talent evaluators will probably give Nix the benefit of the doubt for his time at Auburn due to all the dysfunction that has been in that program. Washington State’s Cam Ward is another that has high-level traits but has been unable to put it all together thus far.

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