The 2022 football season could not have started much better for 6-foot-4 sophomore Riley Leonard. Throwing for 1,176 yards through five games, the signal caller from Fairhope, Ala., has led the team to four wins, surpassing expectations from analysts across the board. In the rebirth era of Duke football, his dual-threat style of play has electrified fans as the ultimate on-field product. Not only does Leonard possess the ability to amaze the Wade Wackos, but he checks all the boxes to be a potential NFL draft pick.
When evaluating quarterbacks for the next level, scouts look at accuracy first. This season, Leonard has been masterful at finding the open target; he has a 72% completion rate, ranking him eighth in the country for the stat and second best for a sophomore quarterback, only behind Michigan's J.J. McCarthy. The Fairhope product fully displayed his impeccable accuracy when late against Kansas, he tossed a perfect back shoulder dot to Jalon Calhoun, placing the ball where only the wide receiver could get it. The pitch and catch made it a one score game and allowed Duke the chance to complete the comeback. Accuracy is at a premium in the NFL, and completion percentage is one of the few stats that has a positive correlation to success in the league, increasing his value.
Leonard’s ability to read the defense and see the play develop also makes him a desirable draft prospect. Although vision is a hard metric to measure statistically, he has limited turnovers this year, with no fumbles and just two interceptions, which has been key to helping Duke win the turnover battle in every game thus far. Leonard displayed his vision in the red zone against the Cavaliers Saturday, deploying a slight pump fake to try and open Calhoun on the wheel route. The defender bit, which opened the perfect window to drop a pass into the Blue Devil wideout's arms before the free safety got there.
Lastly, Leonard’s pocket presence and running ability is exactly what NFL teams covet. His athleticism is highly underrated; in high school, he was one of the top basketball prospects in the state of Alabama and threw down 360-degree dunks in games with ease. Charles Power, a scout from 247Sports, wrote that Leonard "transfers his basketball athleticism over to the football field and uses his long stride to pick up yards as a runner," and Duke fans have certainly seen that come to fruition this year.
The Blue Devil starter currently has 260 rushing yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. He runs effective run-pass options, as shown in his galloping 56-yard TD run against North Carolina A&T. Duke also has only allowed five sacks all year, partially thanks to his ability to escape pressure. At second-and-10 against Virginia, the pocket collapsed, but he picked up first down yardage while making a few men miss along the way. Leonard himself even views himself as a "runner" rather than a pure pocket passer. His fleetness combined with his natural passing talent makes him all the more appealing.
In a time when mobile quarterbacks are all the rage, Leonard fits the mold of a dual-threat signal caller. His accuracy, vision and mobility reveal flashes of what could make an excellent QB at the next level. Through four games, he was on pace to pass for more than 3,000 yards in a single season, which is more than current New York Giants starting QB Daniel Jones did in his Duke career. And Leonard is only a sophomore.
Give him another two years of tinkering with mechanics, improving reads and making quick in-game decisions—and the ceiling could be even higher. Did former Duke head coach David Cutcliffe discover another NFL talent? Only time will tell.
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