2023 NFL Draft Prospects: Under-the-Radar Quarterbacks
Going offense still feels like a shot in the dark. Going quarterback? Good luck.
With as robust a player evaluation infrastructure as there’s ever been, evaluating offensive talent has still proven to be a remarkably difficult task. Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold were selected before Josh Allen. Mayfield, Darnold and Josh Rosen were selected before Lamar Jackson. Kyle Lauletta went before Mike White. All in the same 2018 NFL Draft.
The year before that? Well, you know how that went. Nine players were selected before Patrick Mahomes, including Mitchell Trubisky. This year’s NFC Championship quarterbacks were selected in the second (Jalen Hurts, 2020) and seventh (Brock Purdy, 2022) rounds.
All that to say, we’re well past thinking any quarterback is a surefire franchise starter. We’re also well past assuming any draftable quarterback CAN’T do the job if put in the right system.
Here’s a list of a few quarterbacks who’ve impressed me over the last few days, weeks, months and years. It’s extremely unlikely any of them will hit even the second or third round in April. However, they could help a team win with enough time, development and the right system.
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Under the Radar 2023 NFL Draft Targets: Quarterbacks
Max Duggan (QB – TCU)
Let’s put the lopsided National Championship loss to Georgia aside for a minute. I am fully in the camp of “Wins are not QB stats.” However, in Max Duggan’s second-to-last college football game, a 51-45 win over Michigan, he willed TCU to that win. He was running all over the place, pretty much doing anything he needed to do to seal that game. Granted, it was far from a perfect performance – he threw two interceptions and completed fewer than half of his passes.
However, that game was full of moments that will make his highlight tapes. Check this one out:
Max Duggan to Taye Barber 🎯
TCU is ROLLING
(via @Big12Conference) pic.twitter.com/yXyrmyv03t
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 31, 2022
That’s one of the best examples of where Duggan shines. He uses his mobility and balance to avoid pressure and complete passes that should otherwise be throwaways.
Duggan reportedly impressed in Senior Bowl practices, even though he only threw nine passes in the game itself, completing four for 26 yards. Another thing Duggan has going for him is his age. He has a March birthday and will be 22 for the entire 2023-24 NFL season. Duggan is a project, and he’ll have plenty of time to develop.
He’s been drawing Gardner Minshew comparisons, and I totally see it. If he can develop for a few years under a solid mentor and coach, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Duggan be a bridge starter one day who makes some flashy highlights because of his propensity to move around.
Jake Haener (QB – Fresno State)
Was it something about that salty Gulf air down in Mobile, Ala.? Fresno State’s Jake Haener dominated from the moment he took the practice field until the very end of the Senior Bowl. His well-publicized good week of practice was capped off with a Senior Bowl MVP award last Saturday. He completed 12 of 19 attempts for 139 yards and a touchdown, leading his squad to a 17-point victory.
If Haener were six-foot-four, he’s a first-round pick. His poise, accuracy and college statistics are all impressive. He is, however, six-foot-nothing and 208 pounds. He’s been subjected to all the criticisms that come with those measurements. Haener’s lack of elite arm talent and top-tier college opponents will drive him down draft boards come draft day. I’d also be surprised if his combine numbers impress.
Now onto the good stuff.
Haener earned that “Gamer Haener” nickname. His college stats are impressive. At Fresno State, he averaged 311 yards per game in three full seasons (two and a half, counting the COVID-shortened 2020 season). He threw 68 touchdowns to 18 interceptions.
In 2022, Haener threw 20 touchdowns and just three picks. He’s also mobile in the pocket. No, he’s not a dual-threat quarterback, but he’s confident navigating a pocket. Check out this highlight reel throw:
Jake Haener might be a special QB in this draft class pic.twitter.com/TYqunLbNkc
— Alex 👋 (@Dubs408) January 31, 2023
I’m comparing Haener to Brock Purdy. Neither are popping off the charts physically, but there’s something to be said for a QB who doesn’t turn the ball over and excels as a prototypical game manager, regardless of how you feel about that term.
Holton Ahlers (QB – East Carolina)
Taysom Hill? Is that you?
East Carolina Pirates fans seem to think they have the NFL’s next offensive unicorn in Holton Ahlers. His large frame (6’4 230) combined with athleticism and a propensity to run into, around and through opposing defenders welcomes the comparisons to Hill. Their outspoken Christianity also encourages proponents of the Ahlers-Hill pipeline.
As the MVP of both the Hula Bowl and NFLPA Bowl, Ahlers is making a strong case that he’s more than a UDFA dart throw. Ahler’s Hill comparisons are in the limelight when he’s running the football, as you can bet he won’t be sliding or looking to skirt out of bounds.
Holton Ahlers is giving his all tonight!
Ahlers brings it in for his 4th total TD of the night!#AmericanFB x @ECUPiratesFB pic.twitter.com/GHaxGqMw5O
— American Football (@American_FB) December 28, 2022
Ahlers has also exhibited some moments of wizardry, like this throw here
HOW DID HOLTON AHLERS DO THIS 🎩 pic.twitter.com/F9bTAXb6CY
— The Transfer Portal CFB (@TPortalCFB) November 12, 2022
In five years at ECU, Ahlers struggled with accuracy. In his first four seasons, he never eclipsed a 62% completion percentage. However, he put up some solid senior season numbers, throwing for more than 3,700 yards on a 67% completion percentage with 28 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He also shined at the NFLPA Bowl, completing nine of 12 attempts for 189 yards and a touchdown. Ahlers averaged a rushing touchdown (roughly) every other game throughout his college career.
His recent passing success, coupled with his athleticism, could be enough to win over a team hoping they’ll land Taysom Hill 2.0 in the seventh round. I’ll bet the script has Sean Payton pulling the trigger on Ahlers as his first power (or confusing, depending on your opinion) move in Denver.
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