Riley Leonard needs to return to school. The Duke QB received some first-round 2024 NFL Draft hype over the summer as a tall, strong-armed quarterback with some exciting creativity on the ground. There were questions about the finer details concerning the position, but over the summer, the negatives can be set aside until the player is forced under the microscope of his draft-eligible season.
He turned 21 just this September and will be a senior in 2024. It is not a bad thing to acknowledge he needs more time. But Leonard is a shining example of why any rankings we see over the summer should be taken with a coarse grain of salt.
Riley Leonard’s Lost Confidence
Leonard was already having a somewhat forgettable season before the young quarterback injured his ankle against Notre Dame. The Blue Devils’ passing attack had been lackluster against less-than-stellar competition.
Leonard has all of the tools. He looks the part with a long, wiry frame. His arm is relatively elastic. Leonard proves that he can adjust arm angles and deliver passes. He also has the juice to push the ball from the opposite hash to the sideline. And his feet are a legitimate weapon.
But multiple issues have crept into his game. First, he has no confidence in the dropback game. He either does not trust the picture he’s given defensively, or he doesn’t trust his pass catchers to make the necessary plays. As he hits the apex of his drop, he is looking for an escape hatch somewhere.
Then, he can use his legs. But that’s not a good thing, despite his physical gifts.
Leonard is far too reckless as a runner. While we can all laugh about LSU QB Jayden Daniels watching too much Josh Allen despite weighing 50 pounds fewer, Leonard’s game is not dissimilar. He takes way too many unnecessary and devasting shots as a runner.
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His ankle can’t be 100 percent, but from a logical perspective, wouldn’t an ankle injury suggest leaning more on getting the ball out in the passing attack and less on scrambling ASAP?
Leonard and the Moral of Summer Scouting
Maybe Leonard was a massive 3-0 count meatball swing and miss. But we must look at the details of things like early scouting reports and podcast episodes to dig into how we felt about the player at the time.
Scouting in the summer isn’t about ignoring flaws but projecting what players could be if they can improve on them. It’s a time to bet on raw athletic traits like size, speed, and arm talent. It’s why players like Joe Milton and KJ Jefferson had some hype around them.
Leonard hasn’t been a top-five QB all season. But we shouldn’t think less of evaluators who had a vision for him at Duke in 2023, especially if their words were optimistic while discussing the concerns.
“Interestingly, Leonard is a very instinctive pocket navigator when it comes to space management, but maintaining mechanical congruence amidst pressure has proven challenging. Leonard’s mechanics in closing pockets can be volatile, and by extension, so too can his accuracy and precision. More experience may help strengthen his composure.”
That was a bit from Ian Cumming’s scouting report on Leonard from over the summer. We discussed him being in the top-five conversation, but it’s clear that he needs to take multiple steps next season before realizing his potential.
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