C.J. Stroud, Bryce Young, and Will Levis all threw at their individual pro days this past week, with droves of NFL coaches, evaluators, and executives in attendance. How did each QB fare, and did we learn anything new about the 2023 NFL Draft‘s top passers?
How Did Each QB Perform at Their Pro Day?
The short answer to that last question is “no.” We didn’t learn anything new about the 2023 NFL Draft quarterbacks during the latest pro day circuit. But the question itself is a bit of a misnomer.
Pro days never reveal anything new about a QB. Every trait visible at a pro day is visible on tape. The pro day simply provides a confined, controlled environment through which to spotlight those traits.
It’s important to look at pro days within this context, and it’s important to use restraint when taking information from pro days. A pro day performance shouldn’t move a quarterback on your board if the process is sound. At the same time, pro days can help you cross-check the film and round out your evaluations, as you better understand a prospect.
With that being said, let’s take a look at how each QB performed at their respective pro days, and what takeaways we can glean from the process.
Considered by many to be the favorite to be the Carolina Panthers’ selection at No. 1 overall, Stroud did his part at the Ohio State Pro Day, putting together a phenomenal showing in front of Frank Reich, Josh McCown, and Thomas Brown.
Stroud’s accuracy and situational precision are major strong points on tape, and he stole the show with those traits again in Columbus. In a throwing script that had Stroud throw to multiple levels of the field, in rhythm and against simulated pressure, Stroud showed the most variability of the 2023 NFL Draft QB group.
Stroud is elite when it comes to layering velocity and touch on his passes. Like a video game slider, he can adjust the percentages of each quality on his throws, mixing trajectory and pace to fulfill the desired outcome. If it’s a boundary fade, Stroud can loft it up while maintaining drive. If it’s a short dump-off, he’ll whip it out quickly with surprising velocity.
There were a couple moments against simulated pressure where Stroud’s feet got a little frantic. That tracks with the tape, as Stroud could still become a more consistent creator when things go awry. But when he’s in-structure, no one is better than Stroud at situationally placing passes, leading his targets, and throwing his receivers open. And when he needs to put heat on it, he can.
Sandwiched between Stroud and Levis, Young was at a bit of a disadvantage. His arm is visibly the weakest of the top QB group in the 2023 NFL Draft. He can still generate good velocity but does so with a bit more strain.
Even so, Young had a good throwing session at his pro day regardless. Like Stroud, he’s one of the most accurate passers in the 2023 NFL Draft. But more than both Levis and Stroud, Young simply looks the most natural when it comes to playing quarterback.
That’s a vague observation on the surface, but it tracks when you zoom in on the finer details. While both Stroud and Levis had occasional mishaps with footwork, Young was incredibly consistent at getting himself into proper position, loading his hips, and carrying through his rotation.
Young has the quick twitch and corrective mechanical failsafe to reach the ideal alignment ahead of every throw — whether he’s in the pocket, evading pressure, rolling right, or left. That natural flow is what allows him to be such a prolific distributor, and that was on display during his pro day.
Questions will remain about Young’s size, and his pro day didn’t quell concerns. Young opted not to weigh in again after weighing at 204 pounds at the NFL Combine, only fueling concerns that his actual playing weight is considerably lighter. Past all the noise, however, Young is just a good, natural quarterback, and when it matters most, that’s important.
If you rank the top four quarterbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft, you’re usually going to see Levis listed as the fourth-best prospect. If you had to rank the top four arms in the 2023 QB class, however, Levis will probably be in the top two with Anthony Richardson.
Levis’ tape is polarizing, but there’s no denying his arm talent. There’s a case to be made that he has the strongest arm in the 2023 NFL Draft, and it’s also a very elastic arm. The pro day setting was perfect for Levis to show off that trait, along with his crisp release.
Stroud and Young are both superior QB prospects, but Levis’ arm strength popped on Friday. He generates velocity with uncommon ease and can push that velocity effortlessly to all ranges of the field. A flick of the wrist will send the football 40 yards, and as Levis showed on several sideline throws, his arm can push the ball into windows that other arms can’t.
Levis’ throwing script seemed more vertically-oriented, to accentuate his best trait in front of evaluators, but he also rolled out of the pocket, simulated pressure, and showed off his mobility and off-platform throwing ability. Just as he can generate velocity in the pocket, Levis can rip lasers off-platform, too. That’s an important quality in the modern NFL.
As expected, consistency is still a concern with Levis. At times, his footwork was a bit segmented at the top of his drop, and his accuracy and precision fluctuated in the intermediate and deep ranges. Levis is still erratic as a passer and sometimes struggles to deviate from his high-velocity default. But he truly has high-level tools, and his pro day was a reminder of that.
All Passers Appear To Be in Play for the Carolina Panthers
The Panthers control the board at No. 1 overall, and right now, they’re not tipping their hand as to who they desire with the first pick. QBs coach McCown knows Stroud personally and was friendly with Stroud at the Ohio State Pro Day — but Carolina is putting in major work to know each quarterback better before the time comes to decide.
After having dinner with Stroud and watching him throw at Ohio State’s Pro Day, Carolina’s staff went through the same routine with Young. Both passers were impressive, but Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer spoke particularly glowingly of Young.
“He held court,” Fitterer said, per Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk. “He was so well-spoken, so well thought out. When he talked about his preparation, when he talked about how he studies, how he sees the game, he’s at a different level. He’s already at that NFL level, which is great to see. Nothing’s too big for him.”
MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board
The it-factor is notoriously hard to describe and hard to characterize, but if anyone has it in the 2023 NFL Draft, it’s Young. And that’s something that could help him become the exception at 5’10”. That’s something Young understands — that if he controls what he can control, he can go far.
“I try to focus on what I can show,” Young said in the same article. “I try to let the meetings, the interviews, the film, and what I did today speak for itself.”
The Panthers were on hand for all three QB pro days — Young, Stroud, and Levis. Seeing each player throw was important, but even more important for these teams was meeting each prospect, spending time with them in person, and gauging their mentality off the field.
All of these quarterbacks are in the early first-round conversation. That’s been established. No pro day performance should vault a QB up or down. But the information gathering that comes with each pro day is vital. And there’s a good chance that this past week the Panthers received information that will help them make their final choice.
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