Welcome to Combine week.
The world’s longest — and strangest — job interview is upon us. Over the next week, over 300 NFL draft hopefuls will descend upon Indianapolis, hoping to prove to NFL teams that they could be the difference between an early playoff exit, and a Super Bowl.
Typically, the quarterbacks draw the most attention during the Combine, and this season is no different. With a number of teams looking to find their next QB, and the Chicago Bears reportedly entertaining offers for the first-overall selection, the passers in Indianapolis have a chance to make themselves a lot of money over the next several days.
As we look ahead to the Combine, the NFL would has coalesced around four quarterbacks at the top of the board: Will Levis, Anthony Richardson, C.J. Stroud, and Bryce Young, in some order. While there might be outliers, and we will certainly spend the next few months yelling over what order they should be ranked, those four QBs seem like the top of the group.
How can they best boost their stock this week? Here is the most important place in Indianapolis for each of these quarterbacks.
Will Levis - Lucas Oil Stadium
The name most often associated with Levis is that of Josh Allen. Comparisons between the two have been flying around the NFL world since last summer, and show no signs of slowing down. And while Allen’s name will likely be brought up any time there is a draft quarterback with a big arm, who can move around in the pocket, and needs some refinement to develop, there are some parallels between Levis, and where Allen was as a prospect.
Parallels such as the easy arm talent, and the athleticism, on the positive side of the ledger. Then there is the tendency to lock on his first read, to fail to use his eyes the best he can, and inconsistent ball placement.
What likely helps Levis the most in Indianapolis is throwing during the workouts. Remind scouts and evaluators of that easy arm talent, and how every concept in the playbook — and even those the offensive coordinator has only dreamed of in the past — is available now with him under center. A strong throwing session in Indianapolis will go a long way towards convincing an NFL team, or NFL teams, that in the right setting he could become Allen 2.0.
Anthony Richardson - The whiteboard
Combine week began with the news that Richardson, the Florida quarterback, would be participating in both testing drills and the throwing portion of the workouts.
At first blush, one might think that the testing drills would be the most important place in Indianapolis for Richardson, who is an incredibly gifted athlete. After all, Richardson was named to The Athletic’s yearly college football “freaks list,” and here is what Bruce Feldman had to say about the Florida passer:
We never have many quarterbacks on this list, but this is a rare athlete. Richardson is a chiseled 6-4, 238 pounds with just 10 percent body fat and says he has run a 4.4 40 and can throw a football 75 yards. Football insiders eye-balling college quarterbacks at this summer’s Manning Passing Academy were wowed by Richardson’s physical tools, saying he and Kentucky’s Will Levis were well above and beyond every other quarterback there. Richardson cleans 325 pounds and squatted 500 this offseason.
“Anthony is physically built like an outside linebacker — tall, long, and chiseled out of stone,” said Florida strength coach Mark Hocke. “Has the athleticism (speed and agility) and bounce (plays above the rim) of a running back/wide receiver combined with a Jugs machine for an arm.”
However, we know Richardson is an athlete. The questions that linger focus on answering this: Is he an athlete playing quarterback, or is he a quarterback with athleticism?
From where I sit, he is a quarterback with athleticism. There is a narrative that Richardson is “raw,” and “needs two years” before he is ready to play at the next level. Studying him, however, I think he is much, much closer to being ready than he is given credit for. His eyes are usually right where they need to be, and he does a good job of using his eyes to move defenders in the secondary. To the latter point, watch this angle of his touchdown pass to Ricky Pearsall against Florida State:
Anthony Richardson saw something he liked, checked into this seam shot to Ricky Pearsall and the #Gators have retaken the lead, 21-14 over FSU.— Zach Goodall (@zach_goodall) November 26, 2022
That’s Richardson who runs through the end zone screaming at the end pic.twitter.com/CMDOs1ehDL
Richardson is not raw, he just needs more experience, more practice tying his eyes to his feet, and fixing some lower-body mechanical issues.
So when Richardson meets with teams, gets on the whiteboard, and walks them through reads, progressions, and how he uses his eyes on plays like this, teams are going to love what they hear.
And when he follows that up with a 4.4 40-yard dash?
C.J. Stroud - Lucas Oil Stadium
Perhaps it is just my perspective, but there is a strange vibe around these four quarterbacks as we look ahead to the Combine. Levis, Richardson, and Young are dominating the discussion, while Stroud is sort of lurking in the background. Not that the Ohio State quarterback is an afterthought, but perhaps the biggest question he was facing, was one that he answered in his final college football game.
Against Georgia, Stroud showed the ability to move around in the pocket, deliver high-level throws in the face of pressure, and create off of structure. Those types of plays were what was missing from a near-complete collegiate resume. Having that kind of performance, with those types of plays, against the Georgia defense was perhaps the ideal closing argument for Stroud.
How can he build on that? By highlighting more of that athleticism, and ability to throw well on the move, during his workout in Indianapolis.
Bryce Young - The scale
For Young, the Alabama quarterback and former Heisman Trophy winner, the most important place in Indianapolis is clear.
The question for Young boils down to this: Is he an outlier, or the outlier?
If Young comes into Indianapolis and measures in around 5’11” and 200 pounds, then he is an outlier, still somewhat undersized at the position but in the realm of recent first-overall selections such as Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield. Murray came in just over 5’10” and at 207 pounds, while Mayfield came in just over 6’, and weighing 215 pounds.
For reference, Murray’s height placed him in the 1st percentile among prospects at the quarterback position.
Young is likely to measure in at a level which would still make him an outlier at the position. But measurements in line with Mayfield, for example, would keep him in line with what we have seen from recent quarterbacks, and make it more likely a general manager would be willing to put their job on the line to trade up for the Alabama QB. And yes, there will be a different between Young’s Combine weight and his playing weight, but still, sometimes NFL teams are looking to check boxes during the pre-draft process, and Young’s size is a big box people are waiting to check.
But if Young comes in below expectations, and is instead the outlier? He might still go first overall in that scenario, but GMs might look at other options as “safer” moves.