After a down year at the quarterback position, the 2023 NFL Draft promises to possess many more prolific passers. While it’s very early in the process, and there’s an entire season of college football to help the cream rise to the top, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young project to be at the pinnacle.
In the latest episode of the PFN Premier NFL Draft Podcast, draft analysts Oliver Hodgkinson and Ian Cummings talked about how one prospect might already be in the front seat ahead of a pivotal campaign.
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Advantage C.J. Stroud in the race to be QB1 of the 2023 NFL Draft
Following sensational first seasons as starters for their respective programs, Stroud and Young enter the 2023 NFL Draft cycle viewed by many as the top two quarterbacks in the class. The two were both Heisman finalists less than six months ago, and both are among the top returning college football quarterbacks in terms of statistical production.
Alabama QB Young’s 4,872 passing yards leads all returning CFB quarterbacks, including Stroud. The same can be said for touchdowns, with Young throwing 47 passing scores to Stroud’s 44. The Ohio State QB has been in the shadow of his rival since their high school recruiting days.
Young was a five-star prospect and the No. 2 player in the 2020 recruiting class. Stroud, “just” a four-star recruit, was the 42nd-ranked recruit. Meanwhile, he was the No. 2 pro-style QB behind Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei.
However, as we barrel towards the college football season and scouting begins on the 2023 NFL Draft class, the Ohio State quarterback projects to be the top quarterback in the class. Although nationally considered a close contest, there may be a very clear contender for the QB1 crown already, according to PFN’s NFL Draft analysts.
“I don’t think it’s close, personally,” PFN Draft Analyst Ian Cummings opined during the May 17 episode of the PFN Premier NFL Draft podcast. “I think it’s C.J. Stroud, then Bryce Young, and everybody else. There’s definitely a lot of plays that stand out from this last season, especially down the stretch. The one thing you really want to see from a young player is that linear growth. C.J Stroud came out later in the season and really elevated his game.”
Stroud growing into the best QB in the nation ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft
This conversation would barely have been possible in the early throws of the last college football season. Stroud underwent a baptism of fire early in his Ohio State career. Playing despite injury during his first season under center, he was the scapegoat for some underwhelming Buckeyes performances and was ultimately benched.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and the young QB rebounded in style to finish the season second in yards per attempt (10.1). Furthermore, he finished third in yards per game (369.6) in the 2021 college football season. The statistics are impressive. However, it’s how Stroud compiled those numbers that is set to secure his ascent to the top of the 2023 NFL Draft quarterback class.
“Looking at what he does, looking at what you need to be a successful quarterback, C.J. Stroud has the size. He’s poised. He’s very good at navigating the pocket. That was something that really stood out. He’s very instinctive when it comes to knowing when to step up — when to evade. For his size, he’s an underrated athlete. He’s got the accuracy. Can he be that bona fide, Round 1 guy that this previous class lacked? Absolutely, yes.”
There’s no denying that Cummings’ final statement can relate to both Stroud and Young ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft. However, the Ohio State QB’s ability to throw with accuracy and elasticity combined with the size advantage (6’3″ vs. a listed 6’0″ for Young that is generous at best) and excellent processing gives Stroud a distinct advantage over his Alabama adversary in this upcoming class.