We’re at the stage of the 2022 season where most 2023 NFL Draft prospects have already shown who they are. But that doesn’t mean we don’t learn new things about prospects each Saturday. Shrine Bowl Director Eric Galko is back this week, with a watchful eye on familiar and unfamiliar developments through the prospect lens.
Bo Nix Forcing Evaluators To Start From Scratch
The 2023 NFL Draft QB class remains a fascinating entity. We know C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young are the passers at the top of the pantheon. We know Will Levis is going to be a first-round pick, and at his current trajectory, that conversation may be had about Hendon Hooker as well.
There’s enough talent at the top to reassure NFL teams, especially after last year’s uncertain class. But after that, a familiar trepidation sets in.
In the summer, a declaration-drawing breakout was expected from at least one of Anthony Richardson, Cameron Ward, Tyler Van Dyke, and potentially DJ Uiagalelei as well. But instead, eight weeks in, it’s hard to tell if any of them would be well advised to leave school early.
With the shape of the 2023 QB class still yet to be solidified, there’s a potential opening for other signal-callers to rise up and make an impression. And one surprising name that’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore is Oregon QB Bo Nix.
Nix kicked off the 2022 season to familiar jeers, after throwing two interceptions and being largely ineffective in Week 1 against the vaunted Georgia Bulldogs. Since that outing, however, Nix has quietly been one of the most efficient, most productive quarterbacks in college football, with 1,636 yards, 17 touchdowns, and one interception on 75% completion.
Adding in his eight touchdowns on the ground, Nix’s name has entered the tail end of the Heisman race. After a performance against UCLA that saw him complete 22 of 28 passes for 283 yards and five scores, he’s earning new looks from draft evaluators as well — Galko included.
“That was one of the most complete and impressive QB performances on the year,” Galko said of Nix’s play against UCLA. “It’s important not to say ‘great performance, therefore great player.’ But Nix is a very talented player. And he showed a lot of — not just the athleticism as a runner, but the deep touch on multiple throws.
“Working in a moving pocket and working outside the pocket. Making progressions on triangle reads and high-low stuff, both in the pocket and on the move. I think for a lot of evaluators, who know the talent of Nix, the question is: Can he do that week over week? I think, in large part, he’s done that this year.”
In Galko’s own words, Nix’s performance against UCLA — a highly-ranked team with NFL talent on defense — was going to be a referendum no matter what, whether Nix was good, bad, or inconsistent. This game gave onlookers a chance to define Nix after his rebound from Week 1. With eyes on him, Nix was very good and a sole-driving force for Oregon’s statement win against the Bruins.
For Galko, Nix’s deep touch was especially impressive, as the veteran CFB starter connected with sophomore phenom Troy Franklin more than once downfield for big plays. Nix has always had the requisite arm talent and strength, but he was more controlled against UCLA, and it allowed him to convert with consistency.
“For strong-armed quarterbacks who are also good athletes like Nix, that deep touch can sometimes be difficult to use,” Galko explained. “It’s like trying to throw a 75-mph change-up when your fastball is 95. It’s hard to do sometimes.
“I think not many guys have that, and Nix showed in this game, against good defensive backs on UCLA, that he can do it. Those are ridiculous, perfect throws that not many guys that are built like him can make in the NFL. That’s a Russell Wilson moon ball that he’s throwing there. I think he deserves a lot of credit and attention for that.”
We sometimes think of throws as just throws, and we sometimes take for granted how important it is for quarterbacks to be able to adjust pace and trajectory when the situation calls for it. Nix showed that against UCLA.
But interestingly enough, one of the more exciting parts of Nix’s development — Galko says — is that he may be shedding the chaotic excitement that had come to define him in the past, for better and for worse. It’s a development that could help Nix maximize his natural talent.
“When a player has the ability to threaten horizontally as an athlete, threaten the middle of the field as a strong-armed post-route and dig thrower, and he can attack over the top, you start scheming against that as a defensive coach — it’s pretty hard to find the right way to stop that,” Galko went on.
“That, plus the composure. That was the thing I was most surprised to see. Nix has had inconsistent games in his college career, both at Auburn and at Oregon. But the way he managed that game in the pocket, made the quick throws, left the pocket, and kept his eyes downfield — drawing DBs and LBs up to hit guys over the middle. Nix showed he could be a game manager and not try too hard to manufacture big plays and let the offense come to him.”
All of this begs a bigger question — what can Nix be as a prospect? At Auburn, Nix sometimes felt like a punching bag in the national media — to the point where him being an NFL prospect wasn’t fathomable. Now, it is. Galko says that, while Nix has improved, there’s still a desire to see the full body of work at Oregon. But Galko also acknowledges that, with Nix, an adjustment of preconceived perception may be in order.
“It’s hard sometimes when you anchor on a QB. Sometimes you want to start from scratch and say, ‘You know what? Let’s see how this goes.’ I think for Bo, a lot of people are going to start from scratch a bit and say, ‘Let me just forget what I thought I knew, and go re-watch him again.’
“The ceiling for Nix, if you look at players with his body type and his athleticism and his arm talent — those guys can go early. Not all of them do, and that’s why you can’t solely rely on the arm talent, athleticism, and body type. But some of those guys do, especially when they’re productive. And he’s been efficient, too. There are signs that maybe Nix has changed his stripes and become a different QB.”
The book still isn’t completely written on Nix, who has to close out the year with more Pac-12 games on the horizon and postseason action after that. But if Nix does go on to exceed expectations as a prospect, it could be a lesson on how changes of scenery can help. Nix was forced under an immense amount of pressure right away at Auburn — playing where his father had been a QB, while Auburn transfer Malik Willis eventually emerged at Liberty.
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Above all, Galko emphasizes: “These kids are kids. If it’s not working out, it’s easy to get stuck in quicksand. Things are getting worse, and now I’m feeling pressure, and now I’m feeling worse. Sometimes, a fresh start — even just mentally — can make a big difference.”
That statement falls in lockstep with the shifting perception on the transfer portal itself. There was a time when transfers were, wrongfully, thought of as running away from adversity. But Nix’s success could be a testament to the fact that mere changes of scenery can make a difference. The Ducks’ offense is indeed talented, and Kenny Dillingham is doing great work with the scheme — but the move itself was the true catalyst.
“Five or six years ago, transfers were looked at like ‘what’s wrong?’ And now, it’s like, ‘This may be best for him.’ We’ve all changed our lens on what transfers mean, especially at the QB position. It’s no longer a question or concern. It’s a part of his journey.”
For Nix, in particular, the journey has led him up the 2023 NFL Draft Board. It’s hard to say where he’ll land right now. But after his showing against UCLA, it may be time to take Nix more seriously as a prospect.
Matthew Bergeron’s Performance Against Myles Murphy, Clemson
The top prospect matchup to watch on PFN’s board in Week 8 was Clemson edge rusher Myles Murphy vs. Syracuse offensive tackle Matthew Bergeron. Murphy is a known quantity — an arguable top-10 prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft. By extension, this was a big game for Bergeron, a talented prospect in his own right, who’s embarked on an impressive 2022 campaign.
Along with UCLA vs. Oregon, Clemson vs. Syracuse was another high-profile game that Galko watched closely, with Bergeron near the front of his focus. It wasn’t a perfect game from the Orange’s blindside blocker, but for Galko, it’s important to not lose sight of the context.
“It was a big test, and I think he had an up-and-down day,” Galko said. “It’s not easy going against edge rushers with that kind of talent. And also, Clemson’s able to rotate guys in a lot more than you can rotate an offensive tackle. If Bergeron’s not playing Myles Murphy or Xavier Thomas, he’s playing K.J. Henry.”
In Galko’s words, it’s important to remember how different it can be going up against a rotation, versus facing off against one singular edge rusher. While seeing Murphy on every snap is never an ideal situation, it can allow tackles to get into a rhythm going against the same player. The Tigers, however, sprinkled in Henry’s strength and Thomas’ speed alongside Murphy’s raw power and burst, keeping Bergeron on his toes.
Nevertheless, Bergeron did face Murphy on a sizable number of reps, and those reps were perhaps the most insightful on the day. As expected by Galko, Murphy’s bull rush gave Bergeron issues at times, and the Syracuse OT was also worked off-balance more than once by long-arm inside counters. Those flaws aren’t reasons to bury Bergeron, however. Rather, they’re opportunities to make him a better player.
“Bergeron showed a little bit of where he needs to get better and clean stuff up. But he was going up against defensive ends who’ll be giving NFL starting offensive tackles trouble as well,” Galko clarified. “So it’s important to keep perspective that a down game — giving up some of the inside rushes and getting bull-rushed a bit — that’s not a crazy problem to have.
“It’s notable, and maybe he’s not quite a slam-dunk pick because he couldn’t dominate the way Tyron Smith did in college. But I don’t think it’s going to hurt him. He’s shown enough this year, and he showed enough in this game.”
Going off of that, Galko is reassured that the issues are fixable with Bergeron and not derived from any physical limitations. Bergeron does have room to get a bit stronger, Galko says, but with most of his imperfections, a reasonable degree of future growth can be projected.
“I think a lot of it was technique, but that’s not a negative,” Galko emphasized. “It’s really difficult going against these guys. He lost some reps, and it’s going to happen against really talented teams. That was by far the best edge rusher group Bergeron faced this year. It wasn’t his best game, but I don’t think any scout left this game saying: ‘I was wrong about Bergeron — he’s not going to make it.’ It’s a learning experience. And nothing physically is way off with him.”
Andrei Iosvias an FCS prospect With True NFL Talent
Galko has eyes on plenty of college football action each week. But the director himself can only go to one setting in person. This past week, Galko traveled to Boston, Massachusetts, to watch Ivy League foes Harvard and Princeton do battle. Specifically, Galko had his eyes on one 2023 NFL Draft prospect: No. 9, Princeton WR Andrei Iosivas.
A few weeks ago, Shrine Bowl Director of College Scouting Shane Coughlin brought up Iosivas on the call. Iosivas is a 6’3″, 200-pound pass catcher with documented freak athleticism. He’s been recorded as having a 39″ vertical and has a confirmed 6.71 60-yard dash time, which easily converts to a sub 4.4 40-yard dash.
Size, speed, and field-stretching ability — that’s what Iosivas provides in spades. And in the latest win for the undefeated Princeton Tigers, Iosivas was once again a major factor. In a 37-10 victory over Harvard, Iosivas had nine catches for 176 yards and a score. He was also schemed two carries for 16 yards.
Iosivas’ production no doubt pops off the page and serves as a direct confirmation of Iosivas’ talent. But Galko, in his setting at the game this past weekend, was more impressed by how Iosivas’ pure talent dictated what Harvard did on defense.
“I think the really impressive thing with Andrei is that — I had a chance to be in the Harvard press box,” Galko recollected. “I’m sitting directly in front of the Harvard defensive coaches. And no exaggeration — in the press box for Harvard, they were calling out ‘Where’s 9? Where’s 9?’ every single snap.
“It’s very clear that their whole game plan revolved around stopping Andrei. And at the end of the day, what does Andrei do? He’s got nine catches for 176 yards and a touchdown and three big plays. It just goes to show that he’s — even at the FCS level, not only is he producing in this offense, but teams are doing everything they can to scheme for this guy.
“And he’s so physically gifted, developed as a route runner, versatile, able to make plays in traffic — he’s a complete playmaker in that offense. And even though Harvard did everything they could to stop him, they didn’t come close to slowing him down. That shows how impressive he is. He’s a dominant FCS receiver with legitimate speed and big play ability — a really dynamic player.”
As we’ve talked about on previous calls, when a team schemes for a lone prospect like Harvard schemed for Iosivas, it bears noting. And when that prospect still produces with everything being thrown his way, it’s impossible to look away. It speaks to the talent that Iosivas possesses, and why being selected next April is a definite possibility.
Week 9 Pits Hendon Hooker Against Will Levis in 2023 NFL Draft Standoff
Week 9 is on the horizon, and one of the easiest matchups to point out is Tennessee vs. Kentucky. That’s the game that brings 2023 NFL Draft QB prospects Will Levis and Hendon Hooker onto the same field. It’s a unique opportunity to juxtapose two talented players who are trending in different directions. Even though there’s enough tape to get a feel for these QBs, Galko says this week brings an equal chance to provide new information.
“Even when we invite certain quarterbacks and certain top players, I’m still going to go to these games in person and get as much information as possible,” Galko said. “Especially for QBs, every game and every situation means something different. So for this game, Tennessee is probably going to come out hot.
“For one, I want to see if Hendon can keep doing that in that offense, against a talented Kentucky pass rush and secondary. Kentucky has had two weeks to prepare, so can they do some creative things to get Hendon and his receivers off-balance early in the game? As an evaluator, it would be great to see Hendon off-balance, because he hasn’t been that way for most of the season. It’d be great to see how he reacts if he throws an interception on the first drive.”
It’s truly astonishing to think about how little Hooker has swayed over the course of the 2022 campaign. Galko’s statement rings true — seeing how a QB responds to adversity is a tremendous opportunity. It’s something we were able to see with Stroud this past week against Iowa. But Hooker so rarely makes mistakes, that rebounding isn’t often necessary. Against a talented Kentucky defense, however, that could change.
Hooker’s deadly brand of efficiency poses an equal challenge for Kentucky’s offense, which will be tasked to keep up. While both are talented, one could argue that Levis’ raw talent is superior to Hooker’s — but the fact is, Levis hasn’t been as consistent producing as Hooker has. Now facing Hooker 1-on-1, the pressure may be amped up on Levis’ side to make things happen when his team needs it.
“Assuming Tennessee comes out swinging, what can Will and that offense do — a team that hasn’t been putting up a lot of points early on in games?” Galko posited. “Are they going to be pressured to produce? Is Will going to force throws, or can Will manufacture long drives? The best way to stop that Tennessee offense is to have long drives, keep time of possession low, and make a few plays on defense.”
Above all, Galko wants to see these two quarterbacks face some kind of adversity on the field in Week 9. Adversity is the one constant across football situations in the NFL and in college, and seeing how QBs respond to it can be the final piece in deciding whether or not they have what it takes.
“Knowing what I think both teams want to do, I hope both teams lose what they want to do through adversity, so we can see how these quarterbacks react,” Galko went on. “Both have a lot of talent. Both are very different players, who’ll be viewed differently by teams. But make no mistake: Both of these guys are very, very likely — by Week 8 of the next NFL season — to be starting and maybe leading good teams, depending on where they go and the talent they have.”
Teams will be watching — that much is a guarantee at this point. The Texans and Lions — two teams currently on track to coach at the Shrine Bowl if the current draft order holds — are both arguably a QB away from making noise. Going down the list, there are many more potential QB-needy teams beyond that. This game could be a vital preview of the options they’ll have.
“Games like this are what NFL general managers want to see. Can this guy lead us if things go wrong, and can he make it right for us?”