Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Alabama’s Bryce Young may be the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, but Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud is clearly college football’s best quarterback prospect for the 2023 NFL draft.
History has showed that collegiate hardware doesn’t automatically equate to future success. It’s happened more often than not as of late, but the likes of Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota and Baker Mayfield (so far) didn’t translate to the professional game and serve as warnings.
This isn’t to say that Young isn’t a quality prospect. But he can’t automatically be pushed above every other quarterback on draft boards based on what he’s done as part of the nation’s most successful football program.
Just the fact that Stroud and Young are even in the early conversation as top draft selections is a wonderful change of pace after this year’s group of signal-callers can be kindly described as the worst of this century.
“It was a really, really weak class,” an AFC personnel executive told Heavy’s Matt Lombardo. “Everyone knew it all along, but everyone tried to sell those guys to each other.”
As a result, some franchises in desperate need of an infusion of talent under center punted on the position with an eye toward next April. This could benefit the entire class. Kentucky’s Will Levis, Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke, Florida’s Anthony Richardson and Stanford’s Tanner McKee should all be in the first-round mix as well.
But Stroud should lead the way as the true premium talent with No. 1 overall potential.
Ultimately, the conversation will hinge on Young vs. Stroud because they’re the two most high-profile prospects playing for illustrious pipeline programs. They finished first and fourth, respectively, in Heisman voting last year. Their situations are now flipped slightly, with Stroud entering this season as the betting favorite for the award.
Stroud’s physical tools, skill set, production and growth potential place him atop this year’s crop.
Stroud’s and Young’s physical statures are night and day and will likely prove to be the biggest difference in their evaluations. The former is 6’3″ and 218 pounds, while the latter is 6’0″ and 194 pounds.
The 2021 Heisman Trophy finalists—from left to right: Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young. (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Young’s height is less of an issue that it once was. After all, offenses operate out of the shotgun on a regular basis, and shorter options have succeeded in the league as of late.
However, Young’s slight frame will be a major concern when it comes to taking an NFL pounding. Jim McMahon (6’1″, 195 lbs) in 1982 is the last first-round quarterback over the last 40 years to weigh fewer than 200 pounds. Guys like Mayfield (6’1″, 215 lbs), Kyler Murray (5’10”, 207 lbs) and Russell Wilson (5’11”, 215 lbs) are shorter quarterbacks, but they’re thickly built. They can create significant torque in their lower bodies and hips because of their squatty frames.
Prototypical NFL size standards aside, Stroud layers throws to all three levels. The 20-year-old passer is particularly adept when he drives the ball down the field. His pure arm strength may not reach Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes levels, but he should be considered among the next tier.
Deep passing is also a byproduct of timing and touch. According to Pro Football Focus, Stroud was college football’s most accurate deep passer going into bowl season. The reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year then dumped 573 yards and six touchdowns in a victory over the Utah Utes in the Rose Bowl.
It’s important to make the distinction between those two points to ensure the number wasn’t skewed because of that historic performance.
“I say with C.J., he really drops the ball in there. The best way to put it is like Russell Wilson,” former teammate and first-round wide receiver Garrett Wilson told the Big Ten Network last year (h/t The Lantern‘s Jacob Benge).
PFF also graded Stroud as the best Big Ten quarterback last season with a 67.6 percent accurate pass rate.
NFL evaluators will start to salivate over a quarterback who navigates the pocket, keeps his eyes downfield and consistently delivers the football with a smooth, compact delivery.
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Young isn’t a slouch either. He has a great feel for the game with excellent touch within the scheme and creativity outside of structure. But his stature will remain a sticking point.
Levis, meanwhile, brings the best combination of size (6’3″, 232 lbs) and raw arm talent, as well as two years of learning under current or former NFL offensive coordinators at Kentucky in Liam Coen and Rich Scangarello. Van Dyke lit up the second half of last season. He must repeat that performance over a full campaign. Richardson is a raw mound of elite athletic traits. Finally, McKee is a 6’6″ pro-style quarterback coming out of Stanford, and he must help the program rise from the malaise of the last three seasons.
To take the next step, Stroud simply needs to build on what he’s already done. Last season, the Ohio State starter became the only quarterback at the FBS level to finish top-five in completion percentage (71.9), passing yardage (4,435), passing touchdowns (44), yards per attempt (10.1) and quarterback rating (186.6).
Anything close to or exceeding those numbers will cement Stroud’s status as not only the top quarterback prospect but also the leading candidate for the first overall pick (yes, even over Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. because of positional value).
The third-year signal-caller knows he must improve in certain areas, particularly in leading the offense and becoming a louder voice in the locker room.
“He’s speaking up. He’s more mature. He wants to win,” wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba told reporters. “You know, we’re all fired up. He’s a competitor, and no one wants to win more than him, and he wants to bring that to the whole team and spread it out.”
Head coach Ryan Day added: “I think that C.J. has really grown in terms of his leadership this year, and just has a much more, you know, wide perspective on everything that’s going on, not just his job. He sees it almost as a coach right now. I know his No. 1 thing is he wants to win, and everything else is secondary. And he’s practiced that way.”
A better understanding of and an increased comfortability within the offense should speed up Stroud’s process. Like most young quarterbacks, the one-year starter could be quicker to get off his first read and work his way through his progression to the point where it becomes far more natural in how he sees the field.
The Buckeyes’ current setup provides a significant task, with Stroud needing to grow mentally within the scheme while taking on more responsibility with a reworked supporting cast. He is now the focal point of the offense. Everything flows through him and how he distributes the ball.
Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba with a touchdown reception during the Buckeyes’ 48-45 Rose Bowl victory over the Utah Utes. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Ohio State remains extremely talented at receiver with Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr., Julian Fleming and Emeka Egbuka. But the group isn’t nearly as experienced as the one from last year, when two first rounders—Wilson and Chris Olave—flanked the formation. Essentially, the roles reversed, with Stroud set to make his targets into top-end prospects.
Stroud fits the prototype of a professional quarterback. His traits as a passer are evident. He’s playing at the highest level possible and producing against top competition. He has ample opportunity to build an already impressive resume. Maybe Stroud will even capture his own Heisman Trophy.
Either way, this season should serve as the coronation of Stroud as the nation’s best quarterback and top option in 2023 even if he doesn’t walk away with 45 pounds of Ed Smith-shaped cast bronze.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.
Panthers outlast Hurricanes in 4th OT in 6th-longest game in NHL history
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers seemed determined to keep playing. And playing. And playing.
The teams opened their Eastern Conference final playoff series with Florida’s 3-2 victory in four overtimes early Friday, with the game ranking as the sixth-longest game in NHL history.
Matthew Tkachuk’s goal came at the 19:47 mark of the fourth OT to end this one, which marked the 15th four-overtime game in NHL history and the longest game in franchise history for each team.
The longest game in NHL history came on March 24, 1936, when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Montreal Maroons 1-0 in the sixth overtime on Mud Bruneteau’s goal at 116 minutes, 30 seconds of extra play.
Florida’s previous record for longest game was 104:31 in Game 4 of the 1996 Stanley Cup final against Colorado. Carolina’s previous record was 114:47 for Game 3 of the 2002 Stanley Cup final.
The only good news for the teams is they had an extended break before this series began. Carolina closed out New Jersey exactly a week earlier, while Florida eliminated Toronto a day later.
But this game ended roughly six hours after Thursday night’s puck drop, and the teams have a Game 2 in less than 48 hours.
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Barcelona says probe found no evidence of corruption by club
MADRID (AP) — The investigation ordered by Barcelona into its controversial payments for refereeing reports found no evidence of corruption by the club, president Joan Laporta said Monday.
Laporta reiterated that the club’s payments over several years to the company owned by the vice president of Spain’s refereeing committee were only for technical reports and not to influence referees. He said he believed there were no ethics breach and that Barcelona was the victim of a campaign to hurt its reputation.
“This is one of the most ferocious attacks in our history,” Laporta said. “I ask FC Barcelona supporters to be as united as ever in defense of our crest, our essence, and our ownership model. No campaign to discredit us will prevent us from continuing to be an organization of reference in the world of sports that is beloved and admired by millions of Catalans and by many more millions of people around the world.”
It was the first time Laporta spoke at a news conference to give explanations after it became public that the club paid 7.3 million euros ($8 million) from 2001-18 to the company of then committee vice president José María Enríquez Negreira. Prosecutors have accused Barcelona of alleged corruption in sports, fraudulent management, and falsification of mercantile documentation.
Barcelona opened the probe to look into the actions of all the different presidential administrations that made payments over the years, including Laporta’s first at the club. The investigation was conducted by an external company.
The club said the probe found that “no conducts of a criminal nature associated to sporting corruption have been identified, nor are there any grounds to investigate any form of criminal activity associated to bribery.” It added there was “official documentation on the invoices and payments” for the services of “scouting and advice regarding referees, which are common practices in the professional sports sector.”
“Consulting on technical-refereeing issues does not constitute any type of illegal act,” Laporta said. “Consulting, as is done by the big clubs, that was carried out transparently, with the corresponding invoices, at least in my first mandate as president.”
The probe found 629 technical refereeing reports and 43 CDs that the club received over 18 years for what Laporta called “market price.” More reports were likely lost over time, he said.
“I reiterate with all my resolve, I am convinced that FC Barcelona has not committed any crime of sports-related corruption. I hope that sooner rather than later, it is fully exonerated,” he said. “Accusations must be proven. We live by the rule of law, which guarantees among its basic principles the presumption of innocence.”
He said that if there were any irregularities committed by Negreira, Barcelona would be a victim of them. He also said Negreira was not in a position to directly influence referees, and that it was Negreira’s son who actually produced the refereeing reports.
“I dare anyone to show an instance in which Barcelona was favored in a match because of these payments,” Laporta said. “We will allow the justice system to do its work and I’m sure that Barcelona will be cleared. I am fully convinced that FC Barcelona has never performed any act with the intention of altering the competition to gain an advantage.”
The Spanish league, Real Madrid and other clubs have been among those taking part in the legal proceedings against Barcelona. Laporta criticized league president Javier Tebas for making accusations against Barcelona, and also took a shot at rival Madrid.
“Everyone knows that Real Madrid is a club that is historically favored by refereeing mistakes,” he said.
Laporta said Barcelona has always been a club that takes pride in its values, and it would never want to win anything with outside help.
“Throughout its 123-year history, FC Barcelona has always been a model of fair play, both on and off the field,” he said. “If we have won for so many decades, it has undoubtedly been a result of effort, talent and knowledge.”
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Silicon Valley councilman indicted in 49ers report leak
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A Silicon Valley city councilman has been charged with perjury after he allegedly lied about leaking a grand jury report to the San Francisco 49ers last year that detailed a purportedly unethical relationship between the team and the city council, prosecutors said Friday.
Santa Clara City Councilmember Anthony Becker is accused of providing the secret report titled “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Santa Clara City Council” to the team’s former top spokesperson and a local media outlet in 2022, days ahead of its official release.
Becker then allegedly lied to the grand jury about the leak, prosecutors said, prompting the criminal charges.
The 49ers play in Levi’s Stadium in the city of Santa Clara, about 35 miles (56.33 kilometers) south of San Francisco. Santa Clara County is broadly considered home to Silicon Valley.
The city of Santa Clara owns the stadium and leases it to the team; fighting between the two groups has led to ethics complaints, legal disputes and years of bad blood.
Al Guido, the team’s president, and Larry MacNeil, the former CFO who worked extensively on the team’s stadium project, were named in the indictment as witnesses who spoke to the criminal grand jury for Becker’s indictment.
“The 49ers have cooperated fully with the District Attorney’s Office in their investigation, and will continue to do so,” team spokesperson Brian Brokaw said in a statement Friday. “However, because this is an ongoing legal matter, the organization is not able to make any further comment at this time.”
Prosecutors say the team has bankrolled Becker’s political career by spending $3.2 million through independent expenditure committees for his 2020 city council race, which he won, as well as his unsuccessful 2022 mayoral bid.
The “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” report alleged that Becker and four other councilmembers regularly voted “in a manner that is favorable to the 49ers” and would routinely meet with the team’s lobbyists but not disclose what was discussed.
Becker faces a felony charge of perjury under oath, as well as a misdemeanor charge of willful failure to perform duty. He is scheduled to be arraigned Monday.
Becker did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday, and it was not clear whether he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
“Councilmember Becker violated the public’s trust,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement. “That an elected official would commit perjury and lie under oath before the grand jury strikes at the very heart of our justice system and requires accountability.”
Representatives for the Santa Clara City Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.