In 2023 NFL Draft QB evaluation, balance of upside and refinement is key

In the latest episode of the PFN Premier NFL Draft Podcast, Oli Hodgkinson and Ian Cummings explore the 2023 NFL Draft QB discourse.

Every year, the discussion of upside vs. refinement comes into play at the quarterback position. That’s no different in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle. With several passers possessing high-end tools and a need for refinement, how do you balance that trait relationship this far out from the main event next April? That’s what we discuss in the latest episode of the PFN Premier NFL Draft Podcast.

To listen to this podcast, click on the player below and keep scrolling to read more about what you’ll find in this episode. You can also find us on AppleSpotify, or your favorite podcast platform.

Quarterback evaluation is a fine balance of potential and polish

The summer scouting process is when most evaluators familiarize themselves with the talent in each coming draft class. It’s a time to learn and acquire knowledge. But there is a danger in over-hyping prospects with an abundance of talent and a relative lack of refinement. At the same time, however, prospect evaluation is ultimately projecting what players can be. So, where exactly does the line get drawn?

That’s a 2023 NFL Draft question that’s been a heavy topic of discussion in recent weeks. Thus, it’s a question that myself and Oli Hodgkinson decided to address on the latest episode of the PFN Premier NFL Draft Podcast. Spoiler alert: There’s no end-all, be-all solution to the talent vs. refinement debate. But we can seek to better understand that balance.

The quarterback position is different, but upside still matters

The quarterback position is unique in the amount of information that a player takes in at that spot and the sheer level of depth that it takes to play that position effectively. Arm talent and athleticism are the traits evaluators gravitate to, but things like processing, field vision, mechanics, accuracy, and other components can’t be overlooked. Hodgkinson says as much here:

“Whoever the decision-maker is, there’s a feeling that you can take an elite athlete or talent, and coach the refinement element of the game into them. It just isn’t the same with the quarterback position. We saw that come to the forefront with last year’s class. Processing, field vision, understanding coverages — those elements are incredibly important in terms of QB evaluation.”

However, at the same time, upside remains important. Because NFL teams view QBs through a lens of development. They alone have the resources to develop players. And they can distinguish whether a player is worth the investment.

“The NFL might look at a player and say ‘this guy’s got the tools, and we have the coaches to work with them’. That’s the important element that’s added in with the NFL, for a guy like Will Levis, too. There’s definitely some work to do with the field vision, the processing, and the progression work. But at the same time, if you’re an NFL coach, you know one — he’s only got one year as a starter under his belt, and two — if he’s shown flashes at the very least, we have the coaches to develop that.”

At the end of the day, there may not be a right answer. As an independent evaluator, you can prefer prospects with greater upside or greater refinement. Because it all matters at the end of the day.

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @IC_Draft.

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