Every year, roughly 45 trillion words are written on the internet dedicated to the NFL Draft. Whether it's scouting reports, trade rumors or mock drafts, it's a never-ending supply of content. Of those 45 trillion words, roughly 35 trillion of them are about the quarterbacks in the class. No matter how strong or weak the class, it's the position that draws the most attention because it's the most critical position in football if not all of sport. So, every year the position is "overdrafted" because it's nearly impossible to win a Super Bowl without a franchise QB, and landing one changes the direction of franchises and lives.
It's also the most difficult position to project from the college level to the NFL level. The differences in offenses run across the country at the college level and the level of competition are just some of the variables one must consider. Plus, while physical talent is imperative, the QB position requires other intangibles to succeed -- some of which can be measured, many of which cannot.
So it becomes nearly impossible to determine which quarterbacks are bound for NFL success and which will enter the eternally expanding group of busts. But what if I told you I had cracked the code? What if I said that, for over a decade, I have been working on a formula that could determine which college QB is the most likely to move on and tear the league apart? Would that be of interest to you?
Of course it would! Unfortunately, I haven't done it. I've been working on the formula for years but have not cracked the code. However, while there is no clear answer, if my formula has shown promise in any area, it's identifying which QBs are highly unlikely to succeed.
While I won't get into specifics, I look at the statistical performance of QBs as passers in specific situations that correlate with what will be asked of them in the NFL. Those areas are against top-50 defense (using SP+), passes in third-and-long (7+ yards) and fourth-down situations and in the red zone. Generally speaking, if a college player doesn't perform well in these areas, he won't perform well in the NFL.
I then compile the scores of the draft class -- unfortunately, I can only do FBS QBs due to the lack of necessary data for FCS and below -- and compare them against their contemporaries to find a percentile score. I began doing this in 2012, and in that time, only two QBs who finished with a score below their class average have gone on to be successful NFL QBs: Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson. The jury remains out on players from last year's class, like Kenny Pickett, Desmond Ridder, Skylar Thompson and Matt Corral.
Before I go any further into the process and what it means, how about I show you the rankings for the 2023 class? That's what you came here for, right?
|Rank||Quarterback||School||Fornelli Rating||2022 Stats|
3,688 yards, 41 TD, 6 INT
3,328 yards, 32 TD, 5 INT
3,135 yards, 27 TD, 2 INT
4,127 yards, 27 TD, 7 INT
1,568 yards, 8 TD, 5 INT
3,169 yards, 27 TD, 10 INT
2,822 yards, 24 TD, 7 INT
3,490 yards, 22 TD, 13 INT
4,074 yards, 40 TD, 10 INT
2,896 yards, 20 TD, 3 INT
3,171 yards, 31 TD, 6 INT
2,406 yards, 19 TD, 10 INT
3,698 yards, 32 TD, 8 INT
2,947 yards, 13 TD, 8 INT
2,549 yards, 17 TD, 9 INT
1,261 yards, 6 TD, 1 INT
Of all the years I've done these rankings, this is the least surprised I've been by the top two names on the board. I mean, Jack Coan -- Jack Freaking Coan -- was No. 1 on the list last year, followed by D'Eriq King. There are always weird surprises when the formula spits out the final numbers, but this year, it spit out the two players nearly everyone considers to be the top two QBs in the class.
However, just because I wasn't surprised by the top two doesn't mean there wasn't a huge surprise in the scores. I grade each class compared to their peers in their current class because using raw numbers would skew results too far in favor of current players. College offenses have become much more QB-friendly over the last decade, so comparing what Bryce Young did at Alabama to what Stanford had Andrew Luck do wouldn't be fair. Considering the average score of each draft class has increased every season except one, this seems a wise decision. The average score leaped from 921.03 to 955.84 in 2021 (the class with Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields) before dropping back to 925.69 last season. While some of that was due to the depth of talent, I believe the COVID season also played a role.
The shocking part of the 2023 class is that C.J. Stroud's overall score of 4.09% ranks only 26th all-time. Jack Coan's score of 5.53% last season ranked 16th. Usually, at least one QB from each class cracks the top 10. I don't know what it means. It could mean this class isn't strong overall, or it could mean college offenses have become so "QB proof" that even the elite talents can't pull away from the above-average ones statistically. My eyes tell me it's the latter because watching guys like Stroud and Bryce Young play, it's hard for me to believe they aren't special.
Here are the top 20 scores of all time since I began putting this formula into practice in 2012.
Now let's ask ourselves some questions and dive a little deeper.
Why should I care about any of this?
Well, you don't have to! These numbers won't tell you who will be good and who will be bad, but they do provide some useful information. As I wrote early, only Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson have finished with below-average scores among their class and have gone on to be Pro Bowl-level (hell, MVP-level) players in the NFL. When you look at that list of the top 20 all-time, though, there are plenty of misses.
But, if you look closer, you'll see that of the 20 names on that list at least eight will likely be starting for an NFL team in 2023. Possibly as many as 11 will start a game next season. Very few college QBs will go on to become NFL starters, so the fact 55% of this top 20 may do so next season isn't something we should ignore.
Are the scores for C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young worrisome?
No, not really. While I thought they'd be higher, they don't change my opinion of either player. If Young were a few inches taller and 15 pounds heavier, he would be the No. 1 pick in the draft without question. He's an incredibly talented player with everything you want from a QB outside his size concerns.
With Stroud, while he has limitations, there are few smoother passers out there. Yes, he struggles when there's pressure in front of him, but nearly every QB does. Have you ever tried throwing a football with a 285-pound man running after you? It can't be fun.
If I were an NFL front office, I'd have Young first on my board, followed by Stroud.
Were you surprised by Hendon Hooker and Stetson Bennett?
Nope! I have been a vocal supporter of both players on The Cover 3 Podcast for the last two seasons. I don't know that either has the potential to be a plus-value starter at the next level, but Hooker's accuracy and decision-making make him interesting. He has a chance to be a good starter, but I believe he's got an excellent chance of being one of the best backups for which you can ask.
As for Bennett, his size will always limit him in the eyes of many, as will the fact he was a walk-on. Teams also have concerns about his maturity and decisions off the field. But on the field? He's a gamer who, like Hooker, could prove to be a valuable backup.
So, uh, Anthony Richardson's score isn't good
That's not a question, but I'll allow it. Yeah, it's not. In fact, it's the 16th-worst score I've recorded (Adrian Martinez's score is the 6th-worst, and I'll have more on him in a bit). But it's not surprising. Nobody is dreaming of drafting Anthony Richardson for who he was at Florida. They want to draft him for what they believe he has the potential to be.
Like I said, drafting a franchise QB changes everything for an NFL team, and for all the concerns, Richardson's ceiling is NFL Franchise QB. Those prospects are rare. Unfortunately, the history of these ratings suggests it's not likely to happen. While I mentioned Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson finished with below-average scores, Allen's score was -1.65% and Lamar's was -2.92%. Neither were good, but they were far better than Richardson's -5.28%.
That said, Richardson also played fewer snaps at the college level than either Allen or Jackson. You can't rule out the possibility he'll improve with reps. That's why somebody will take a shot on him, and I won't blame them for doing it.
What did you want to tell us about Adrian Martinez?
I mentioned that the formula scores players in three areas: against top-50 defenses, third-and-long and fourth-down situations and the red zone. Martinez's red-zone score was the worst I've ever recorded -- by a lot. If he has a professional future, I don't believe it's as an NFL QB. Maybe in another league or a different position, but not the NFL.
Why was Will Levis so low?
In short? Decision-making. In this class, Levis' completion rate in third- and- fourth-down situations and inside the red zone was reasonable, ranking eighth and third, respectively. That gives you an idea of the accuracy and arm strength since he was forcing balls into tight windows in the red zone. The problem Levis had was making throws he shouldn't.
His interception rate ranked 14th against top-50 defenses and was last in the other two situations. Levis had a 4.55% interception rate in the red zone, and nobody else in the class was worse than 3.76% (Adrian Martinez. Levis had an INT% of 8.59 in third-and-long/fourth-down situations. Nobody else was worse than 5.41% (Clayton Tune). So, if you can get Levis to stop making stupid throws in those situations, you might have something.
It's also possible those numbers weren't helped by playing behind an atrocious offensive line last season. Levis developed a bad habit of chucking some YOLO balls just to keep from getting creamed by pass-rushers for four hours every Saturday.