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Tale of the Tape: Ohio State has a real quarterback competition on its hands

Both Kyle McCord and Devin Brown bring blue chip pedigree, but that won’t be enough to win the job

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud officially declared for the 2023 NFL Draft earlier this week. The Buckeyes now have a quarterback competition on their hands to find the next signal caller in the line of succession.

There are two likely candidates, the first of whom comes by way of the Philadelphia Catholic School League in now third-year QB Kyle McCord. McCord brings a five-star pedigree, two years of experience in Ryan Day’s system, and a relationship with Ohio State’s No. 1 receiving target Marvin Harrison Jr. that dates back to their days at St. Joseph’s (PA.) Preparatory Academy.

The second quarterback is Devin Brown, an early-enrollee just wrapping up his freshman season. Brown hails from Arizona, and originally played for Joe Germaine. After a tenuous end to his recruitment that changed on a dime with Clay Helton being fired from USC, Brown left his second high school in Corner Canyon (Utah) to push his chips into the middle of the table at Ohio State.

Both quarterbacks bring the arm-talent and competitive fire that is necessary when coming to play at a place like Ohio State. Neither quarterback wavered in their commitment to the school and the competition that would ensue after Stroud left. For the Buckeyes, they now have the Spring – and potentially summer – to decide on the player who will get the keys to the Ferrari come Week 1.

Ryan Day and Corey Dennis have been through this once together already. Just over two years ago, Justin Fields announced his decision to leave Ohio State for the NFL. The competition that ensued ended up being more talk than an actual competition, but this one already feels different. There is little gap between the talent levels of the McCord and Brown. McCord has an experience edge, but he has not played an otherworldly amount of snaps in relief duty.

Looking at the two side by side from their spring game performances and limited game action can give an initial look at the two players who will define the expectations of the 2023 Ohio State Buckeyes.

Kyle McCord’s skillset

McCord has one start under his belt. In that game against Akron in 2021, he flashed some tools that could translate to him being a serviceable starter. With Ryan Day keeping the harness on him for that game, there was no real look into the upside he potentially has, which takes us to the tools he has that makes him an interesting option at quarterback.

As a more pure pocket passer, McCord has enough athleticism to get out and throw on the move with designed rollouts. This keeps that dynamic in the Day offense, but that is not where McCord will make his money. McCord has shown a willingness to maneuver in the pocket in his limited opportunities, and has flashed excellent arm talent many quarterbacks couldn’t dream of.

Looking at the play below gives us a significant glimpse at what McCord is capable of as a passer. The timing shown here comes from understanding the concept, which starts with experience in the system. McCord looks off to the left at the start of the play, and knows if the safety stays in the middle there will be a huge window to hit the tight end up the field.

McCord uses his eyes to set up the safety, but makes a nuanced play in the pocket with his feet side stepping the rush. This allows him to stay on schedule and deliver a strike on time downfield with some mustard on the throw.

The arm-talent was on display in the previous play. In the next one, McCord works the pocket and delivers another nice throw.

McCord reads through his progressions, and knows where the open receiver is going to be based on the coverage. In this play, McCord has to maneuver in the pocket, and the slight shuffle to the left gives him the breathing room to throw. This play shows the timing and pocket presence that McCord developed in his first year at Ohio State.

The last Spring Game play here, McCord flashes the exact trait that made him such an appealing quarterback prospect. This throw wasn’t dropped into a bucket, but the ability to throw the ball 50 yards downfield with no wind up is impressive. McCord also throws this ball again with timing and delivers a strike.

For McCord, his two significant advantages in the competition are having another year in the program and a start under his belt. In that start, McCord was a point guard responsible for getting the ball in his elite players hands. This resulted in a lot of screens and pop-completions on jet sweeps, but he made a few throws that stood out.

After getting off to a rough start on the first few series, Day and company found some creative ways to get the ball moving downfield. With a few successful drives, McCord’s confidence grew as his play time went on.

In the next play, we can see him starting to get into a rhythm. He goes through his progressions and the ball flies off his hand to Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

Last play on the day, the arm strength is really what separates McCord. From the pocket McCord can widen the field of play with his ability to throw sideline to sideline. The play below shows that even when the play takes forever to develop, he still has the arm to stretch the field and deliver throws. Sure, it was against Akron’s secondary, but that’s still a live opponent he completed passes against.

The Buckeyes used McCord in spot-duty this year, but never really allowed him to run the entire offense. Most throws he was tasked with were timing throws or quick game. He never really had an opportunity to stretch the field in 2022. That being said, he had moments of sharpness, but also had a few throws where it felt like he was pressing due to limited opportunity.

For McCord, showing he can move the chains and strike in key moments will be what separates him in the competition.

Devin Brown’s skillset

After committing to Ohio State, watching Devin Brown’s high school highlights gave me an immediate impression of a top-level starting quarterback. Moving to a more vertically inclined passing offense that has had its fair share of talented signal-callers make their way through, Brown showed an ability to layer the football few quarterbacks possess.

Adding to this is his ability to make plays off script and outside the pocket, which the Buckeyes did not get routinely with Stroud, and likely won’t get much of with McCord. If Day reels him in, the competition will come down to decision making, timing, and ability to distribute the ball effectively. If he doesn’t, then Brown has a skillset the Buckeyes might need with the offensive line questions.

The first play when looking at Brown was his throw on his first touchdown. This is a straight read. If the corner has leverage, the quarterback is going to throw it. With the coverage the defense was playing, the read was obvious, and Brown delivered the ball on time. This shows his arm strength and the raw ability that will be brought to the table.

With the cards down, Brown showed a willingness to run the ball in the Spring Game and in his limited opportunity in live game action. Coach Day probably will not go against his habits, opting to not run his quarterback. Brown still has the ability and is comfortable in read option situations.

There is no doubt this can be a significant part of the offense with Brown if he wins the job, and this adds another dimension as well as provides another play type for the Buckeye offense to help the young quarterback.

Brown’s best throw in the spring game was an incompletion later in the game. Brown takes his drop and scans the field until he finds a matchup with leverage. The receiver is able to beat the man guarding him and find space on the safety, and despite being in double coverage, Brown delivers a strike where only his receiver could catch it.

This is a tough catch which ends up not being made, but not many quarterbacks on the planet have the confidence – or arm talent – to make this throw.

Now Brown had a number of throws that flashed his arm strength in the spring game, but none of that fully translates to a real game. For Brown, he has to earn enough trust in the coaching staff that the lack of game experience does not matter. The talent is there, and the ceiling for Brown due to his athleticism in my eyes is higher, but that won’t matter if the consistency doesn’t match the upside.

Like with Stroud, this competition will come down to the player who gives the team the most reliable ability to keep the offense moving. Whichever quarterback wins the job will have definitely earned it.

Why each quarterback can win the job?

Both quarterbacks ran head first into a loaded quarterback room, and that says a lot about the two guys this will likely come down to.

McCord has the experience edge, and has been living with the two best receivers in the country entering next season since he got to school. The reps behind the scenes have to have added up by this point. Entering the Spring, McCord was the definitive back up last season, and that goes a long way in how he enters the offseason. If he can maintain his standing and have a strong showing early, he can keep this thing at an arms length.

On the other side, Brown brings in an uncanny ability to throw off-platform. He does all the fun stuff you want from a quarterback as a fan with his arm strength outside the pocket and on the run. If the offensive line isn’t up to the task, Brown might be the best option due to his escapability. If he can harness the wow throws and the brazen style of play, his ceiling to me is greater.

In a way, this battle will come down to consistency, as both players have the ability to lead the offense. With the differing skillsets, the design of the offense can be entirely different depending on who wins the job. For the first time in a while there’s a real quarterback competition at Ohio State. Both honest suitors for the role come in with high pedigree.

The winner is a long way from being decided, but I’m not one to limit the debate. Devin Brown, Kyle McCord — the chips are on the table. Let the games begin.