A leg injury and a bout with COVID-19 tested Devin Leary’s perseverance, but he never wavered — on or off the field. After a record-setting 2021 season, the NC State QB now finds himself on many NFL draft radars. But is Leary’s 2023 NFL Draft scouting report worthy of recognition in a class full of potential?
Note: NC State announced Leary will miss the rest of the 2022 season with a torn pectoral. We wish Leary a speedy recovery and hope to see him on the field soon.
Devin Leary NFL draft profile
While Leary has recently received national attention, New Jersey knew all about the 6’1″ and 215-pound passer. He finished his career at Timber Creek High School with the most all-time passing yards (9,672) and touchdowns (117) in the state. Thus, he received a four-star rating and was listed as the No. 16 QB in the country. Following a stellar junior season capped off by a New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year selection, Leary committed to NC State and honored that commitment throughout his senior year.
Four collegiate seasons, one devasting injury, and one spell with COVID-19 later, Leary is still rewriting history books. He ranks seventh in school history with 5,542 career passing yards, sixth with 51 touchdowns, third with 230.9 passing yards per game, and first with a 0.23 interception avoidance mark. Oh, and he was a Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award finalist in 2021 after breaking NC State’s single-season record for passing TDs (35).
What make’s Leary’s achievements even more impressive is he played under three different offensive coordinators and quarterback coaches in his first three years in Wake County. That’s Alex Smith levels of discontinuity. And in 2020, Leary broke his left fibula and underwent a “TightRope” surgery on his left ankle — the same producer made famous by Tua Tagovailoa. The multi-month recovery process proved mentally challenging, but it provided Leary with much-needed perspective:
“When I saw what an injury could take away, it was like it didn’t matter what I thought in the past. Like, I’m here today. I get to practice today. I’m going to enjoy this. … If I can embrace that every day, I’m not going to have any regrets.”
- Position: Quarterback
- School: North Carolina State
- Current Year: Redshirt Junior
- Height/Weight: 6’1″, 215 pounds
Devin Leary scouting report
Leading up to the 2022 college football season, Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren called Leary the best quarterback in the country. While that may be a stretch, it’s not a Bikram Yoga stretch.
OC and QBs coach Tim Beck has praised his signal-caller for his leadership and ability to pick things up quickly. This offseason, Beck stated, “We’ve worked a lot on off-balance throws, different arm angles, and I thought he really made a jump there. I really like what he did.”
But will Leary’s internal appreciation lead to external accolades? Let’s dive into his scouting report to find out.
Where Leary wins
Leary is an advanced passer compared to many of his peers. He can go through progressions, reading high to low, and has no problem hitting his checkdown. As evidenced by his five INTs in 2021, Leary also takes care of the football. The NC State QB won’t force passes he isn’t comfortable with and will throw it out of bounds to avoid drive-killing sacks.
Leary is swift in his decisions and keeps the offense on schedule. Although no one will mistake him for Lamar Jackson, Leary can work out of structure and keep his eyes downfield on the move. His accuracy doesn’t take a massive dip out of the pocket, as his shoulders stay level and aimed at his target. Even when facing pressure, Leary remains composed and delivers strikes while receiving a strike of his own.
Consistency is the name of the game for pro passers, and the NC State QB fits the mold. He offers excellent ball placement, accuracy, and touch down in and down out. He knows when to rocket passes over the middle and leave some air under them downfield. Transferring weight from his back hip to front is effortless and provides a stable stream of accurate throws. Leary can separate his locked-and-loaded upper body and athletic yet stable base. This creates a consistent platform to throw from, no matter the situation.
Leary keeps his front shoulder closed and aimed at his target, forcing his release to stay inside his frame and his arm to reach extension. He has flashed NFL-level passes in tight windows, back shoulders, and between zones. Leary’s timing and velocity underneath and in the intermediate areas of the field are exquisite.
Accuracy is a bit of a polarizing topic. Can it be coached? I think so … to an extent. It is the ability to deliver attempts to the correct location. You can adjust mechanics to generate consistency, but the rest is innate know-how. Leary can layer throws where he wants them with ease, rarely tossing an uncatchable ball. His pocket presence is also a plus, as he feels pressure and moves up or around until he has to take off.
As a former baseball player, Leary knows how to manipulate arm angles to fit throws around defenders. Additionally, he can tilt his frontside shoulder to give passes an upward trajectory when needed. Leary also throws with anticipation, releasing the ball before his receiver has left his break.
Those are the physical traits, but what about the intangibles? Leary is a clear leader on the field. If he is steady, the offense is steady. If he is pressing, the offense is pressing. His unit goes where he goes. He showcased as much when he led the Wolfpack on two touchdown drives in 63 seconds to defeat in-state rival North Carolina in Week 13. Leary is the type of QB that stays poised as he carries his team’s hopes late in contests.
Lastly, Leary has shown high-level quarterback skills. He understands leverage and which routes in the concepts should come open. He reads the field and makes the right decision, even if that is a throwaway. It’s better to live to see another down than to play hero ball and try to force a downfield or tight-window pass. Furthermore, Leary can look off single-high safeties before snapping to the other side of the field.
Leary’s areas for improvement
Many consider Leary a top QB in the nation — and for good reason. However, his areas for improvement cause concern for his NFL ceiling.
Notably, Leary is an average athlete with average size. There is nothing about his physical tools that screams NFL. That isn’t the be-all-end-all, but in today’s league that favors dual-threat — or at the very least, mobile — quarterbacks, Leary is a step behind. He doesn’t have the athleticism to escape pressure, which is compounded by an occasional delay in seeing incoming defenders.
On the run, Leary takes short choppy steps, gaining less ground and allowing NFL edge rushers to track him down. Additionally, his arm strength and velocity are routinely called into question. Some deep balls can die too soon, requiring receivers to stop and return to the ball. Although some mechanical amendments can improve the issue, the NC State QB simply doesn’t own an elite arm.
The Wolfpack’s offense is RPO-heavy with a few deep shots thrown in. While NFL offenses are incorporating more RPOs, progression concepts are still king. Leary has shown to go through reads, but he can stick to his No. 1 option for far too long, even when it’s apparent they won’t free themselves in time to be viable.
In a similar vein, the NC State QB sometimes holds onto the ball and waits for WRs to become open instead of throwing them open or anticipating their breaks. Leary could also push his left foot toward where he wants to lead his receiver for yards after the catch more consistently. Too often, his foot points at where his target is prior to the throw, causing them to reach behind for the ball by the time it gets there.
Moreover, the New Jersey native is a bit of a rhythm passer. All QBs are, but it can take time for Leary to hit his receivers with the accuracy we’ve grown accustomed to.
Mechanically, Leary is an astounding prospect. However, there’s always room for growth. At times, he pops his hip up rather than rotating it through, causing passes to sail or lose velocity on deep shots.
Also, he can bring the ball up and back rather than down and around in a looping motion to quicken his release. I’d also like to see Leary maintain proper weight distribution while in the pocket. QBs should pre-load their weight onto their back leg at the top of their drops so they can instantly fire when it’s time to throw.
Current draft projection for North Carolina State QB Devin Leary
Leary doesn’t have the arm strength to throw it 70 yards downfield, and he won’t gain more than five yards scampering out of the pocket. But he delivers accurate passes with velocity, takes care of the ball, and displays sought-after processing speed. His middling physical tools cap his ceiling, but that ceiling is still as a starting NFL QB.
It will take another historic season to receive Day 2 or even Day 1 capital from teams searching for a new franchise signal-caller. Currently, I view the NC State QB as a Round 4/5 prospect. Nevertheless, Leary isn’t someone I’m counting out. He’s the type of player that will have a long career in the league, even if it ultimately results in a backup role.