4-Down Territory’s either/or: Young/Stroud, Johnston/Addison, Wilson/Murphy, Witherspoon/the field
Every week in “4-Down Territory,” Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar and Luke Easterling of Bucs Wire and Draft Wire go over the things you need to know about, and the things you need to watch, in the NFL right now. It’s all about draft prospects with the scouting combine a week away, so in this episode, Doug and Luke put their general manager hats on and go either-or with some major 2023 draft prospects.
00:00 – Intro
01:35 – Would you rather have Bryce Young, or C.J. Stroud to lead your team?
07:34 – Would you rather have TCU’s Quentin Johnston and USC’s Jordan Addison?
12:20 – Would you rather have Clemson’s Myles Murphy and Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson?
16:14 – Would you rather have, let’s go with Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon against the field?
You can watch this week’s episode of 4-Down Territory right here.
Which quarterback would you want: C.J. Stroud, or Bryce Young?
(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
Now that the scouting combine is right around the corner, it’s time for us to put on our imaginary general manager hats and make some personnel decisions with draft prospects. It’s Either/Or time! Let’s start with the game’s most important position. If you had the entire pool of prospects to choose from, and you needed a franchise quarterback, would you rather have C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young to lead your team?
Doug: If you asked me this question before Ohio State’s 42-41 loss to Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinal, I would have said Bryce Young, no question. Because at that point, while I liked a lot of Stroud’s attributes – accuracy, velocity, timing, and field vision – his relative lack of out-of-pocket movement and second-reaction ability had me a bit worried. I don’t think you can be a top-tier NFL quarterback in 2023 and beyond without some ability to evade pass-rushers with your legs, and Stroud just hadn’t shown that enough. Then, in that Georgia game, he was making brilliant throws all over the place on the run. I don’t know why he was hiding that before, and I don’t know why it took him until his final collegiate game to use it, but that functional mobility put him right at the top of my list.
Right now, it’s a push, and given Young’s size concerns (which don’t really worry me too much), were I pressed to take one quarterback or the other, I’d probably take Stroud – because he showed the one thing he hadn’t before, and he did so at a ridiculously high level, against the NCAA’s best defense.
Luke: Yeah, this is a tight one for me. I agree with just about everything you said, but I think what still gives Young the nod for me is his consistency over the last two seasons. Yes, I loved what we saw from Stroud against Georgia, and he picked the best possible time to have the best game of his career. But one of the reasons that performance was relieving in a way was because we went into that game still waiting to see Stroud answer some of those questions, right? It’s never been in doubt with Young, despite the lack of size. You know I hate pro comps, but a while back, you asked me if I had one for Young. The closest thing I can think of is Drew Brees, but with more athleticism and a better arm. He’s small, but he’s too good at literally everything else to let that be a deal-breaker.
Which receiver would you like to build your offense around: Quentin Johnston, or Jordan Addison?
(Johnston: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports/Addison: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
Let’s move to receiver.– if you could choose between TCU’s Quentin Johnston and USC’s Jordan Addison, who would be your guy?
Doug: When evaluating prospects, I am more prone at certain positions to err on the side of athletic potential over the prospect who is more developed as a player, but who might have a lower ceiling. Receiver is one of those positions, and so I have to go with Johnston here. I get that he’s not a route-complex guy – at TCU, he lived off hitches, slants, and go routes. And I get that he’s a body-catcher who has a fairly big problem with drops. But when you’re 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, and you can do the kind of stuff he can do on the field… well, I’ll deal with the technical issues and the route simplicity, and just spam NFL defenses with the things he can do over and over until somebody stops it.
Addison is a great prospect, and certainly a more nuanced receiver at this point, but like I said, there are positions where you bet on traits, and Johnston can be a nightmare for opposing defenses both in his ability to roll deep with frightening speed, and in his potential to take any short stuff to the house.
Luke: I’ve been high on Johnston for a couple of years now, and was really happy to see his name start to float to the top of this year’s receiver class throughout last offseason and into the 2022 campaign. Addison is the more polished route-runner at this point, and would have the higher floor, but if I’m making picks, I’ll trust my coaching staff to maximize those rare physical traits that Johnston brings to the table, and I’ll find a reliable route-runner elsewhere. It’s easier to find someone who can do what Addison does well. Johnston has some boom/bust risk, but I’m a swing-for-the-fences guy most of the time, and he’s a grand slam waiting to happen.
Which pass-rusher do you like more: Tyree Wilson, or Myles Murphy?
(Wilson: Annie Rice/Avalanche-Journal-USA TODAY NETWORK/Murphy: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)
For edge-rusher, let’s assume that Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. is off the board, and you can choose between Clemson’s Myles Murphy and Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson. Who are you picking to harass enemy quarterbacks for the next few years? .
Doug: Here’s another situation where you have the more developed player in Murphy and the prospect in Wilson who might need a bit more time to put it all together, right? And while edge is another position where I might bet on traits over nuance, I think Murphy is my guy here. Yes, Wilson is an absolute freak at 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds, but he’s got a lot to work on. He’s late off the snap a lot, he doesn’t have a lot of moves, and as much as he does get into the backfield a lot with his amazing athletic gifts, we’ve all seen too many ridiculously gifted edge defenders who need at least a year, if not more, to get that together.
Murphy is also impressively athletic at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, he’s already shown a nice array of techniques and counters, and you can kick him inside in the five-man fronts that have become ever more popular in the NFL today. Wilson reminds me of Aldon Smith; Murphy reminds me of Brandon Graham. I just don’t see the dropoff in athletic potential in Murphy’s case to make me think that I MUST go with Wilson over the more sure thing.
Luke: This might be the toughest one, but I’m gonna lean the same way I did in the receiver debate. I think it’s splitting hairs, but I’ll take the guy with the higher upside, and I think that’s Wilson. Murphy is obviously the more pro-ready player, but while I think he can be a great player for a long time, I think Wilson has a better chance of being one of those really rare, special playmakers off the edge. Similar to Johnston, there’s plenty of boom-or-bust here, but go big or go home, right?
And when it comes to cornerbacks, do you like Illinois' Devon Witherspoon, or the field?
(Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports)
Finally, since star outside cornerbacks are pretty important, let’s go with Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon against the field.
Doug: This seems like a tough one, but it isn’t for me. In the first Top 50 of the 2023 draft season I released last week, I had Witherspoon at CB1 and the fifth-best prospect in this class. I then had Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez at ninth overall, Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. at 11, South Carolina’s Cam Smith at 23, Alabama’s Brian Branch at 24, Mississippi State’s Emmanuel Forbes at 27, and on and on. There are cornerbacks I need to watch more who could vault up that board by the time 2.0 comes out after the combine, like Maryland’s Deonte Banks, who I have right below the first round at 35th overall.
But here’s one thing I don’t think will change for me between now and the draft: Witherspoon is the best cornerback in this class, and his combination of size, speed, short-area quickness, and smart aggression set him apart. Most taller, lankier cornerbacks don’t have Witherspoon’s ability to adjust to routes in short spaces, and most smaller cornerbacks can’t just erase a receiver like Witherspoon can. In the 2022 season, per Pro Football Focus, he allowed 22 receptions on 63 targets for 206 yards, 71 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, three interceptions, 14 pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 25.0. Which means that a quarterback facing Witherspoon was much better off chucking the ball out of the stadium than targeting him.
It’s a loaded cornerback class with all kinds of skills on display, but yes, I’d take Witherspoon over the field. Without a second thought. He’s my guy if I’m a general manager, because I can build my whole secondary around talent like that.
Luke: When I first dove into Witherspoon’s tape, I really didn’t expect to like him that much more than every other corner in this class, but I did. There just aren’t any flaws, man. He’s big enough, fast enough, twitchy enough, smart enough. He’s got the technique, the instincts, the timing, the toughness. He does everything at such a high level, you’re almost waiting for the catch at some point, but it never comes. My most recent big board had Witherspoon at No. 4 overall, trailing only Will Anderson, Jalen Carter, and Bijan Robinson. I LOVE the top of this corner class, too…I just think Witherspoon is still just that good, though.