2023 NFL Draft: How Quarterbacks Performed Versus Top Defenses

Hendon Hooker is an older prospect with a torn ACL, but he excelled against tough defenses in 2022. How did other prospects in this year's class fare?

Entering the NFL Draft, there will be times where you have concerns around whether a quarterback was truly tested in college.

Easy schedules can lead to massive efficiency numbers. That's the nature of the beast when you have 131 teams in the FBS; not everybody can face the best of the best every weekend.

That's not a concern with the 2023 class.

Each of the top five prospects in this year's draft played in either the SEC or the Big 10 (or, if you're Will Levis, both!). Sure, you'll get some weak defenses filtered in there, but for the most part, these guys were not facing cupcakes.

The question, then, becomes: who thrived most in those spots? It's not going to be the be-all and end-all of our analysis, but it's certainly never a bad thing to feast against tough competition. A couple of the guys in this group did exactly that.

Today, we're going to dig into the schedules these players faced and outline how they performed when things got tough. As with our earlier look at each player's overall statistical résumé, we'll be focusing on just the five quarterbacks with a grade of 75 or higher at Scouts Inc: Levis, Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Anthony Richardson, and Hendon Hooker.

Above-Average Schedules

Before we look at performance, let's go back to the original point: these guys faced stiff competition.

Since 2010, 138 quarterbacks who played their final season at an FBS school have been drafted. On average, those quarterbacks had 47.8% of their final-season pass attempts come against top-50 defenses by Bill Connelly's SP+. The average ranking for opposing defenses was 60.1.

This year's group faced tougher roads almost across the board.

Quarterback Percentage of Attempts
vs. Top-50 Ds
D Rank
CJ Stroud 60.7% 47.8
Anthony Richardson 71.6% 47.9
Hendon Hooker 45.6% 51.6
Will Levis 61.8% 54.8
Bryce Young 60.8% 64.2

The only below-average marks there are Hooker's percentage of pass attempts against top-50 defenses and Young's average defensive ranking. But both were above average in the other metric. Nobody had an easy road.

Richardson's schedule, specifically, was brutal. Once he's drafted, his 71.6% of pass attempts against top-50 defenses will rank 15th among all drafted FBS quarterbacks since 2010, and he'll be 21st in average defensive ranking, as well (though he'll dip to 22nd if Aidan O'Connell is also drafted).

As outlined in our overall look, Richardson's efficiency marks were mediocre, and it's why he ranks in just the 36th percentile of my model. A lot of that is independent of his efficiency, so the schedule doesn't erase those concerns. It is, at least, a partial explanation for why he didn't light things up.

Stroud's average defensive rank is 47.8 in large part because he faced some absolute bangers. You know what he did in the national semifinal against Georgia, but that was only one of three games against SP+ top-10 defenses and four against top-15 defenses.

One of those was against Iowa, the top-ranked defense in the nation by SP+. All Stroud did was throw for 286 yards and 4 touchdowns with 1 pick on 30 attempts. So his Georgia flashiness was really just a continuation of what he had done all year against the solid foes.

But Stroud didn't lead this group in AY/A against top-50 defenses. That honor went to the lowest-ranked guy by the scouts in this group.

Performance Against Top-50 Defenses

Now that we know each player had a respectable sample against top-50 defenses, here's how they performed in that split.

The number listed is AY/A, or adjusted yards per attempt. It factors in touchdowns and interceptions for a yards-per-attempt-adjacent metric to measure efficiency.

Unlike QBR, it isn't adjusted for schedule, and it doesn't account for sacks or rushing. It's a flawed number, but it does at least give us a window into efficiency.

And Hendon Hooker lit it up.

Quarterback AY/A vs. Top-50 Ds
Hendon Hooker 10.6
CJ Stroud 9.7
Bryce Young 8.7
Will Levis 7.9
Anthony Richardson 7.1

Assuming he gets drafted, Hooker's 10.6 AY/A against top-50 defenses will rank 10th among all FBS QBs drafted since 2010 (he'll fall to 11th if Dorian Thompson-Robinson is also drafted, though DTR's mark came in a much smaller sample). It's a really good number.

Some of the names above Hooker on that list stand out, too. Of the current top 10, eight were first-round picks, and another -- Andy Dalton -- had a very solid career for a second-rounder. Typically, guys who put up Hooker's numbers against this level of competition grab the attention of NFL talent evaluators.

It's easy to understand why Hooker doesn't seem to be as high on draft boards. He's already 25 years old (half a year older than Jalen Hurts), coming off a torn ACL, and coming from an offense that pushed plenty of easy buttons. But Hooker deserves commendation for what he did not just in that system but also against these tougher foes.

That shouldn't fully overshadow Stroud's mark of 9.7. Assuming Hooker and Thompson-Robinson get drafted, Stroud will rank 22nd in AY/A against top-50 defenses. He had some lumps in there -- his efficiency dipped against both Maryland and Michigan -- but the overall body of work was impressive.

As for Young, it's important to note some context behind his AY/A of 8.7. Of his six games against top-50 defenses, four came consecutively right after he returned from a shoulder injury. AY/A also doesn't include some of the sicko stuff he did against Texas because it doesn't account for rushing or drops.

It's similar to the discussion we had when talking about Young's overall numbers: he might not quite be on Stroud's level in terms of efficiency, but he's still a rock-solid quarterback prospect in terms of his statistical profile.

The one guy we've yet to touch on is Levis, in large part because he's not an outlier in any of the schedule-related metrics. His efficiency numbers are also a bit difficult to parse.

One of Levis' better games came against Miami (OH), the 37th-ranked defense by SP+. It was his first game of the year -- before the injuries started to mount. You could craft a narrative saying that it was evidence that we should toss out Levis' 2022 and excuse him for the poor marks.

The problem is that it's not just the efficiency marks that ding him. He's older and less experienced after having to transfer, and even his 2021 stats weren't jaw-dropping. We can make excuses for the output for sure, but the numbers seem to tell us that Levis' odds of hitting -- although certainly not zero -- are lower than those of his classmates.