QBASE 2023: Why Bryce Young Tops C.J. Stroud

Alabama Crimson Tide QB Bryce Young
Alabama Crimson Tide QB Bryce Young
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Draft - By Alex Olbrecht and Jeremy Rosen with Aaron Schatz

This year's NFL draft quarterback class is led by the highly touted Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson, and Will Levis, and it is considerably more exciting than the less inspired class of 2022. Yet even before the draft, the NFL quarterback carousel has already been running at full speed. Yesterday's Aaron Rodgers trade is only the latest domino to fall. The New Orleans Saints got it started by landing Derek Carr, the former face of the Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders then replaced Carr with Jimmy Garoppolo, whom the San Francisco 49ers had replaced with Sam Darnold (while their other young signal-callers, Brock Purdy and Trey Lance, are attempting to return from injuries).

Subsequently, Darnold's old team, the Carolina Panthers, sent a haul of draft choices plus wide receiver DJ Moore to the Chicago Bears in exchange for the first overall pick. With the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts drafting second and fourth respectively, there is a good chance that for the second time in three years, three quarterbacks will go in the top four picks. Ultimately, teams looking for a quarterback can either pay a premium for an established commodity, sign a journeyman veteran for a cheaper price (like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers replacing Tom Brady with Baker Mayfield), or spend draft capital on an unknown prospect. Therefore, a lot hinges on how teams evaluate this year's draft class.

With that in mind, we present the results of this year's QBASE 2.0 model, which combines Andrew Healy's original QBASE model (2015) with Jeremy Rosen and Alex Olbrecht's functional mobility model (2018). It does so by factoring in a quarterback's rushing ability while also using his adjusted college passing statistics and adjusted years started. The adjustments consider the quality of both the quarterback's teammates and opponents, and while they reward quarterbacks who have steadily improved over time, they penalize one-year wonders.

The quarterbacks below are listed in order of their Scouts Inc. ranking, and interpreting each quarterback's projection is straightforward. A value of zero Total Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement per Attempt (TDYAR/A) is replacement level, whereas any value over 1.5 is indicative of a Hall of Fame career. We run 50,000 simulations to provide a distribution that each quarterback falls within a particular range.

Here are our 2023 projections:

Bryce Young, Alabama

Scouts Inc.: 1

Mean Projection 0.33 TDYAR/A
Bust (< 0 TDYAR/A) 38.3%
Adequate Starter (0-0.75 TDYAR/A) 27.1%
Upper Tier (0.75-1.5 TDYAR/A) 20.5%
Elite (> 1.5 TDYAR/A) 14.1%

With his accuracy, playmaking ability, and 2021 Heisman Trophy, Young has QBASE 2.0's highest projection of 2023. Comparing Young to Alabama's previous quarterback, Mac Jones, QBASE 2.0 is more excited about Young because of his greater mobility. (QBASE was not very high on Jones despite his record-setting completion percentage.) The biggest area of concern for Young is his 5-foot-10 stature, though QBASE 2.0 does not penalize shorter quarterbacks due to the successes of Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray. It is also important to note that while Young's supporting cast was strong relative to most quarterbacks in this year's class, it was not nearly as strong as that of C.J. Stroud, nor that of his Alabama predecessors Jones and Tua Tagovailoa.

C.J. Stroud, Ohio State

Scouts Inc.: 3

Mean Projection 0.13 TDYAR/A
Bust (< 0 TDYAR/A) 45.4%
Adequate Starter (0-0.75 TDYAR/A) 26.0%
Upper Tier (0.75-1.5 TDYAR/A) 18.0%
Elite (> 1.5 TDYAR/A) 10.7%

Just like Young, QBASE 2.0 projects that there is a greater than 50% chance that Stroud will be an adequate starter or better in the NFL. However, Stroud's projection is lower than Young's for three reasons. First and foremost, Stroud was surrounded by a lot of talent at Ohio State. Scouts Inc. projects his left tackle Paris Johnson Jr. as a top-10 pick this year, and two of his receivers (Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka) may be top-10 picks next year. Second, although he produced a higher completion percentage last year than Young, Stroud had fewer rushing yards per attempt. And third, all reports that Stroud will be drafted after young. (Stroud, who at one point was the favorite to go first overall, is allegedly dropping down draft boards, which would make his final QBASE projection even lower than this.) That said, if his accuracy does not suffer from the NFL's tighter passing windows, and his claim that he is more athletic than he showed in college proves true, then Stroud could end up having a better career than Young.

Anthony Richardson, Florida

Scouts Inc.: 10

Mean Projection -0.95 TDYAR/A
Bust (< 0 TDYAR/A) 80.5%
Adequate Starter (0-0.75 TDYAR/A) 13.1%
Upper Tier (0.75-1.5 TDYAR/A) 4.9%
Elite (> 1.5 TDYAR/A) 1.5%

If Young and Stroud go first and second overall (or vice versa), they will be compared forever like other pairs of quarterbacks who have gone atop the draft, from Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf to Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. But the next two quarterbacks in this year's class will also be compared to each other going forward, especially due to their notable similarity to Josh Allen. Heading into the 2018 draft, many statistical models, including the original QBASE, did not like Allen due to his subpar college production. But it turned out that Allen's arm strength, mobility, and high ceiling were sufficient to make him into a star in the NFL.

Richardson resembles that too, except he may be a more extreme version. He completed just 53.8% of his passes in his one year as a college starter and threw 17 touchdowns to nine interceptions, numbers that would not ordinarily get a prospect drafted in the first round. Yet his arm strength is elite, and he rushed for a Cam Newton-esque 6.3 yards per attempt (though Newton had much better passing numbers in his one year starting for Auburn). Given Richardson's college statistics and non-top-five overall Scouts Inc. grade, QBASE 2.0's projection for him is low. But if he is drafted fourth overall, it will improve to -0.75, and regardless, there will be teams who think they can develop him into a franchise quarterback.

Will Levis, Kentucky

Scouts Inc.: 15

Mean Projection -0.52 TDYAR/A
Bust (< 0 TDYAR/A) 68.3%
Adequate Starter (0-0.75 TDYAR/A) 19.5%
Upper Tier (0.75-1.5 TDYAR/A) 9.1%
Elite (> 1.5 TDYAR/A) 3.2%

Levis may not be as polarizing a prospect as Richardson, but like Richardson, he also shares traits with Josh Allen. Specifically, Levis and Allen were both big, mobile quarterbacks with strong arms from schools that did not surround them with much, if any, NFL-level talent. They also both struggled with accuracy in college, which is a major reason why QBASE 2.0 likes Levis less than Young and Stroud. The other issue with Levis, which is unique to him, is that he was a much less effective runner in 2022 than 2021. This was in part due to a foot injury, but if Levis is to succeed in the NFL, he will need to regain his old rushing form. If Levis goes fourth overall, his projection will improve to -0.17 TDYAR/A. If he goes second overall, as is rumored by many, his projection improves to -0.07 TDYAR/A.

Hendon Hooker, Tennessee

Scouts Inc.: 33

Mean Projection -0.22 TDYAR/A
Bust (< 0 TDYAR/A) 58.0%
Adequate Starter (0-0.75 TDYAR/A) 23.3%
Upper Tier (0.75-1.5 TDYAR/A) 12.9%
Elite (> 1.5 TDYAR/A) 5.8%

In many ways the opposite of Richardson, Hooker has done almost everything QBASE 2.0 would want to see from a quarterback. In four seasons as a college starter (two for Virginia Tech and two for Tennessee), he has repeatedly completed 65% to 70% of his passes and rushed for about 4 yards per attempt. And despite having less surrounding talent last year than Stroud or even Young, he won nine out of his 11 starts playing in the SEC and led Tennessee to the Orange Bowl. However, he is already 25 years old, and his season ended with a torn ACL (his backup Joe Milton started in Tennessee's Orange Bowl victory). While QBASE 2.0 does not factor in the ACL tear, this year's model assigns a small, gradually increasing penalty to quarterbacks older than 24 to account for the lower success rate of older prospects since 2005. Despite the penalty, the main reason Hooker's projection is not higher is his non-first-round Scouts Inc. grade.

Jake Haener, Fresno State

Scouts Inc.: 86

Mean Projection -0.95 TDYAR/A
Bust (< 0 TDYAR/A) 80.6%
Adequate Starter (0-0.75 TDYAR/A) 13.1%
Upper Tier (0.75-1.5 TDYAR/A) 5.0%
Elite (> 1.5 TDYAR/A) 1.3%

Haener is a three-year college starter who completed 72.0% of his passes in 2022, which is higher than any other quarterback on this list. However, he lacks mobility, rushing for -2.7 yards per attempt in 2022 (in college, sacks count as negative rushing yards), which is the eighth-worst out of any quarterback drafted in the top 100 picks since 2005. And none of the other seven became NFL starters; the most successful of them is Chad Henne. Ultimately, in large part due to Haener's limited physical ability, QBASE 2.0 agrees with Scouts Inc. as well as most scouts that he is likely to be a backup-caliber quarterback at the NFL level.

Jeremy Rosen is a doctoral student of economics at Georgetown University. Alexandre Olbrecht is a professor of economics at Ramapo College of New Jersey and the Executive Director of the Eastern Economic Association. The views in this column are expressly our own and do not represent the views of Georgetown University, Ramapo College, the State of New Jersey, or the Eastern Economic Association.

An edited version of this article originally appeared on ESPN+.


6 comments, Last at 25 Apr 2023, 3:58pm

#1 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 25, 2023 - 10:50am

It's interesting to observe that Fields also did not run a ton in college, but has in the NFL. Stroud doesn't run to run, but he seemed pretty mobile against Georgia.

Points: 2

#2 by ImNewAroundThe… // Apr 25, 2023 - 11:31am

While QBASE 2.0 does not factor in the ACL tear, this year's model assigns a small, gradually increasing penalty to quarterbacks older than 24 to account for the lower success rate of older prospects since 2005.

Of course older prospect are rarely taken high, outside of Weeden. 24 is weird though. Just misses out on Levis who is and is considered old. 22 is usually the cutoff. 

Points: -3

#3 by andrew // Apr 25, 2023 - 12:55pm

Where did Tanner McKie rate?

Points: 1

#4 by Noahrk // Apr 25, 2023 - 1:14pm

For all that their supposed similarities, Matt Waldman loves Richardson and hates Levis. His film analysis is pretty convincing, too. I'm looking forward to seeing this play out.

Points: 1

#5 by ImNewAroundThe… // Apr 25, 2023 - 1:23pm

Similar but Richardson is more athletic and younger. Just less experienced which means Levis should be much farther ahead. But he isn't. 

Points: 1

#6 by Noahrk // Apr 25, 2023 - 3:58pm

That's one of the things Waldman mentioned, that Richardson was such a quick learner, while in his opinion Levis didn't put in the work, as could by seen by his lack of progress in certain things.

Points: 1

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