Scouting Notebook: Can Riley Leonard be QB3 in the 2024 NFL Draft Class?
By Rory Daniels
This week gave me my first opportunity to get eyes on some All-22 tape of Duke quarterback Riley Leonard. Over the summer, buzz on ‘Draft Twitter’ intensified about the Blue Devils junior signal-caller. So, it was only right to dive in and watch him against Boston College.
What's to like in Leonard's game?
Riley Leonard will go into his third year at Duke, his second as starter. He had an impressive 2022, throwing for 2778 yards, 20 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. The Boston College game in particular wasn’t his strongest. PFF gave him a passing grade of 63.2 with Leonard only throwing a single touchdown. But it still gives us a sense of what Leonard can offer.
The most striking positive for me was Leonard’s pocket movement and poise. He has excellent feet, shifting quickly and working to establish the optimum throwing lane. His awareness in the pocket allows him to extend plays and avoid pressure.
That movement ability extends outside the pocket. At 6’4, 209lbs, you wouldn’t expect Leonard to be particularly explosive as a runner. However, he demonstrates impressive speed and elusivity. That means when forced out of the pocket he is a threat not only to get the first down, but significant yardage (see below). His high-school background in track shows you that Leonard is a legitimate dual-threat.
The final point worth noting is Leonard’s fearlessness in the face of pressure. The level of bravery he displays staying in the pocket, waiting for an opening, is a major plus. Having an internal clock that isn’t sped up by pressure will be key to a long NFL career.
What's to work on?
So what’s the downside? Well, not much really and that’s why I would have Leonard in and around Michael Penix Jr competing for the QB3 ranking. The major thing that separates him, Caleb Williams and Drake Maye is the X-factor.
Williams is a star playmaker, a magician in terms of arm angles as well as being a jitterbug-style runner with crazy escapability. Maye, a really strong downfield thrower. With his big arm, great zip, regularly hitting passes all over the field.
Against Boston College Leonard didn’t have what PFF classifies as a ‘Big Time Throw’, so perhaps it isn’t the best reflection of his playmaking. However, over the season, Leonard’s average depth of target was 8.7, lower than both of the other two who hover around the 10 yard mark.
Right now, Leonard is an accurate, poised, steady pair of hands. While he may not possess some of the wow plays that Penix has on tape, he’s a much cleaner prospect in health terms. That said, another impressive year at Duke, where Leonard can show he has big-play ability and demonstrate his ability as a runner, will certainly have him climbing up big boards.
From a personal perspective, I will be digging into another couple of games when available but the early signs are promising for Duke and Leonard.
formerly writing for the inside zone, rory will be breaking down college tape and keeping you up-to-date with all things CFB for the touchdown. an avid bengals fan, you can also find some of rory’s work at stripehype.com.