But they aren’t the only two talented signal-callers in the upcoming class, which is loaded with talent at the position across several conferences. With this, it’s easy to get the sense that several passers could be selected in the early rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Here’s a look into 10 quarterbacks outside of Stroud and Young to keep a watch on this season, in no particular order:
one. Grayson McCallCoastal Carolina.
McCall could easily be a top-five quarterback in 2022 as he prepares to take the next step within one of college football’s most complicated offenses — one he’s shown incredible mastery of a short period of time. Within Coastal Carolina’s triple-option offense with RPOs, a quarterback must have a high football IQ and make quick decisions, both things McCall has shown that bode well for him when he goes on to the NFL.
The Chanticleers signal-caller showed solid anticipation on several difficult throws last season, maintaining a high level of accuracy at all levels of the field and moves well within the pocket, with the ability to make throws on the run and without his feet set. Questions have been raised about McCall’s arm strength at times, but he’s shown it’s non-issue on throws like the one below. McCall may not have a cannon for an arm and won’t rank as highly as some of the other quarterbacks on this list in that category, but it is adequate enough to get the job done.
In addition to being a reliable passer, McCall’s greatest “it” factor may lie in this gritty, electric type of mobility he brings to the table.
“I’m a quarterback but I’m also a football player,” McCall told me earlier this offseason. “I don’t mind the contact, sticking my nose in there and being tough. I like watching guys like Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers. Their toughness and their grit and the way they extend plays and the way they throw on the run. I don’t model my game off of anyone in particular, but I do like watching those guys.”
He will be up against the “small-school stigma” in a class that has appealing prospects from larger conferences, but quarterbacks should be judged based off of what they can do as an individual, and McCall checks a lot of boxes. It’s also worth noting that McCall very well could have entered the transfer portal and contended against tougher competition without issue, but his loyalty to Coastal Carolina and the new heights he’s helped the school reach are important to him and there’s nowhere else he’d want to finish out his career.
“Coastal Carolina kind of made me into who I am,” McCall said. “I started here and I want to finish here. I love this school and I love the people here. I love the program and the coaches. I’m right down the road from my family. I want to stay here and I want to leave a legacy here and give this school everything that I have.”
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound redshirt junior ended 2021 with a 73% completion percentage, 2,873 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and just three interceptions. While Stroud and Young hold firm on the QB1 and QB2 spots in preseason position rankings for now, it’s easy to get the sense McCall is among the strongest candidates to surpass one or both of them if any draft-eligible quarterback is able to.
2. Jake HaenerFresno State.
The Washington transfer Haener got off to one of the best starts among college football quarterbacks in 2021, throwing for 300 yards or more in his first six games of the season with a single-game high of 455 yards over that stretch. He ended the year with a 67.1% completion percentage, 4,096 passing yards, 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
One of Haener’s biggest moments of last season — the one he caught the most national attention for — was knocking off No. 13-ranked UCLA while gritting through a right hip injury.
“I have never been in that situation before, with that pain while trying to throw,” Haener said after the game. “I literally felt like I could barely throw the ball at that point, so that kind of sucked. That was really the first time that I’ve had to do that in that situation…I couldn’t really rotate. I was just trying to keep my balance so I could use whatever I had to get the ball out there and try to make something happen with whatever time we had left. You’ve just got to find a way at those points, and we made it happen.”
It was working though the injury that played a role into Haener not touching a 60% completion percentage in four of the games over the weeks 6-10 stretch.
“I was battling through some injuries and some things I needed to get over… I had some problems with my lower leg and my hip and stuff like that was kind of lingering and it was really an issue for me,” Haener told me. “I had to wear different cleats and do a bunch of things with my cleats and find ways to get out there and play and tough it through things. It was just a matter of responding. Even the best of players have bad games, everybody has bad games. You learn from your failures and try to be more successful down the road.”
It’s hard not to wonder just how much more buzz Haener could have gotten if it hadn’t had been for the injury issue as he was entering the conversation for one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Heading into 2022, though, he’ll be fully healthy and have a chance to answer that question. There’s a lot to like about Haener’s game — he couldn’t be stronger from an intangibles perspective, is a reliably accurate passer and remains poised in the pocket regardless of the situation at hand. He’s a quarterback who has shown the ability to make plays out of structure, puts the right amount of zip on his passes with the desired amount of arm strength and has made several difficult throws, though his overall ball placement could stand to improve a bit in 2022.
3. Devin LearyN.C. State.
Leary was hardly on anyone’s radar ahead of the 2021 season even with it being a so-called “weaker” quarterback class. But he earned his way into the conversation of being potentially the best quarterback in the ACC with his play last year. Leary finished out the season with a completion percentage of 65.7%, 3,433 passing yards, 35 touchdowns and five interceptions, showing notable improvement in taking care of the football and not forcing things that aren’t there. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Leary had the lowest rate of turnover-worthy plays among quarterbacks in 2021 (1.8%).
It’s easy to see why Leary broke into the late Heisman conversation, between an already impressive level of mental processing that it is ever-improving, his ability to make plays in unlikely situations between his overall talent as a passer, mobility and ability to evade pressure , the velocity he puts on his throws and from a broader perspective, the way his team is never truly out of the fight with Leary taking the snaps. He showcased that best when he threw two touchdown passes in 63 seconds to knock off in-state rival UNC, 34-30.
NC State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tim Beck has praised Leary for his leadership ability and his ability to pick things up now on his third offense of his college career. Leary continued to progress throughout the spring and should be expected to be getting the ball out faster in 2022.
“This spring, one thing we worked on was a quicker release,” Beck told me in April. “We do a lot of the RPO stuff and making the decision hasn’t always been the issue, sometimes it’s being a little bit longer, you’re trying to get your feet set, trying to be on platform, like the perfect throwing mechanics , right? Well, that doesn’t work all the time – he’s got a really strong arm and we’ve worked a lot on off-balance throws, different arm angles and I thought he really made a jump there. I really like what he did.”
4. Tyler Van DykeMiami.
The Mario Cristobal effect has taken root in Miami and will only get stronger as the team moves through the year. This could mean huge things for Van Dyke, who showed as in 2021 that he could rise to the occasion in the midst of adversity in place of D’Eriq King. He played in 10 games last season, completing 62.3% of his passes for 2,931 yards with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions. One of his best showings came against the No. 17-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers as he recorded a 76.2% completion percentage, passing for 426 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in a 38-34 win.
The third-year sophomore looks to have the best arm in the upcoming draft class and has a prototypical frame at 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds. Just about everything about his game last year was impressive considering he was a freshman first-year starter thrown into the fire. He’s an overall accurate passer with sound lower-body mechanics who throws with good anticipation and placement, unaffected by pressure. Another aspect of his game that’s not so talked about is mobility. He’s not Lamar Jackson, but he can move when he’s forced to leave the pocket.
When I spoke with Van Dyke during spring football, he noted studying defense more in-depth as an area he was focusing on and was pleased with his growth during the 2021 season.
“Last year, I feel like what I got better at was my decision-making, my poise in the pocket, when everything breaks down, just staying calm,” Van Dyke said. “Moving forward, I’m focused on watching more film, getting better at reading defenses, knowing where the defensive guys are going to be on each and every play will help me get to the next level.”
Moving forward, his pre-snap responsibilities will be somewhat different, as should be…