Thanks in part to the partnership with Pro Football Network and the East-West Shrine Bowl, readers can now go beyond the games on Saturdays and obtain a virtual look at the scouting process for the 2023 NFL Draft.
For some, the draft takes place in April. For those initiated, the 2023 NFL Draft has already begun with preparation, film study, analysis, and now live looks at some of the top players as Week 2 has come and gone.
Below are observations and analysis from Shrine Bowl Director Eric Galko from the previous week of action.
A scout’s eye: 2023 NFL Draft quarterbacks
As we get past the few weeks of the season and get into the meat of it, quarterbacks no longer have the excuse of rust and instead must show the natural anticipation and ball placement that matches the timing and rapport they (hopefully) built up over the offseason.
This week, we saw two top SEC quarterbacks win matchups against higher-ranked opponents, a dual-threat passer win with both his arm and legs, and a redshirt junior quarterback who put on a masterclass in spreading the ball around and composure downfield.
Hendon Hooker, Tennessee (vs. Pittsburgh)
Announced as this week’s Shrine Bowl Monday Morning Quarterback, Tennessee‘s Hendon Hooker showed why many believe he’s one of the most NFL-ready quarterbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft senior class. He was under pressure early and often, as the Pittsburgh defense had five sacks and limited draws and perimeter runs.
But Hooker made outstanding decisions from the pocket, stayed under control throughout pressure, and never put the ball in doubt. He worked off play action and finished in the short to mid-area.
Hooker made two outstanding deep ball “touchdowns,” one to Bru McCoy in the back of the end zone and the other to Cedric Tillman (that was eventually ruled down at the 1) in regulation to keep his team alive. In overtime, he found Tillman again after stepping up under pressure and finishing a 1-on-1 throw. Hooker’s efficiency and deep ball accuracy were staples of his 2021 success, and he’s shown through two weeks already that it was no fluke.
Malik Cunningham, Louisville (vs. UCF)
Malik Cunningham didn’t have a passing touchdown in Louisville’s win over UCF, but he still made multiple big-time plays that helped solidify the team’s win. Cunningham didn’t make any glaring poor decisions, and while he missed a few mid-field throws, he also dealt with pressure all game and three drops by teammates.
Still, Cunningham’s calm demeanor and composure as a pocket controller initially kept the talented and aggressive UCF defense at bay a bit in the second half. And his dynamic running ability (123 yards) made the difference in a surprisingly low-scoring game.
Cunningham’s running ability has transitioned from a necessity for him to function as a quarterback early in his career to a real threat that, in a low-scoring game where his defense continued to make plays, proved more successful than forcing passes and taking risks offensively.
Will Levis, Kentucky (vs. Florida)
In a high-pressure game against Florida (one Kentucky were notable underdogs in), Will Levis showed just how to be a game manager even with elite talent. Often for players with his arm talent, big matchups lead to taking big chances and striving to out-talent the other team, especially when facing an opponent with a talented offense with big-play ability.
With a younger receiving corps and an offensive line still getting used to each other, Levis was forced into two sacks and had a throw he’d want back in the first half. But while it wasn’t his most productive game, and the second half doesn’t have any throws that wowed, it was the poise, game control, and decision-making in the second half when his defense was getting the job done that showed the leadership and confidence he possesses.
A win is a win when it comes to road SEC games, and Levis did plenty in that game aside from the stat sheet that showed franchise QB potential.
Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland (vs. Charlotte)
While Taulia Tagovailoa isn’t immediately Shrine Bowl eligible (he’ll need to officially graduate in the Fall of 2022 and enter the draft), he has the ability to do so. And after a dominating performance against Charlotte, he deserved to be mentioned.
Tagovailoa was 7 for 8 on throws of 15+ yards (including two 40+ yard touchdowns) and completed passes to 12 different receivers in the game. His ability to spread the ball around and stay patient in the pocket reminds me of his brother Tua early in his Alabama career.
If he can continue to show this kind of patience, timing, vertical touch, and confidence in adjusting off his first and second read from the pocket, Taulia could follow his brother’s footsteps and develop into a real NFL starting-caliber quarterback prospect.
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