There’s been a lingering perception for a while that this is a good year to need a quarterback. At this point in the process there are four very solid prospects, ranging a wide gamut of skills and abilities from true pocket field generals to dual-threat phenoms. But as the process continues it’s now looking very dicey for any team wanting a QB after the No. 5 pick.
Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Levis, and Anthony Richardson are all looking to make an impact in Indianapolis this week, and there are solid arguments for any of them being the No. 1 overall pick when April rolls around. Beyond that, however, there’s increasing sentiment at the NFL Combine that all four quarterbacks will be selected in the Top-10, and three passers could be taken before the No. 5 pick rolls around. That’s a momentous shift from a month ago, when prevailing wisdom said Young and Stroud would go in the top-five, Levis would be taken anywhere from 5-to-10, with Richardson likely being selected before the 15th overall pick. This isn’t great news for teams that now have to start the process not just hoping a player might fall to them, but the possibility they’ll need to invest draft capital to move up.
Why is there no consensus on who is best, why isn’t there even an accepted pecking order, and who might need to trade up to find their guy?
Bryce Young is a big game stuck in a small body
The entire concept of height obsession goes way too far when it comes to quarterbacks, but even the most open-minded general manager has to take pause when it comes to Bryce Young. If he were a few inches taller and 20-30 pounds heavier there is absolutely no doubt Young would be the No. 1 overall pick. He has far and away the best feel for the game, an arm that can make all the throws, and every intangible a team could want — but it takes a leap of faith on his frame.
While we don’t know Young’s measurements yet, the assumption is that he’ll come up at around 5’10 and between 190 and 200 pounds. This is Kyler Murray height on a slighter frame, all carried by a QB who isn’t a running threat. He has the ability to escape pressure, but he’s not going to be ripping off 30 yard carries on the regular. Instead he’s more of a traditional pocket passer with improvisation skills, much more akin to Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers. With that come legitimate concerns whether his body can stand up to NFL pass rushers when he’s not protected by Alabama’s monster offensive line against college rushers.
This has led to a shakeup at the top, with the prevailing wisdom now being that Young is as much of a leap of faith as any of the prospects.
The rest of the Big 4
CJ Stroud: Kind of the jack of all trades, master of none in this class — Stroud has ideal size but some mechanical issues that need to be ironed out. There isn’t one element of his game that really blows you away, but he might be the safest of the top quarterbacks. Look no further than Joe Burrow, who was seen as a safe pick at No. 1, but without any amazing individual trait.
Will Levis: This is a leap of faith based on his arm and scheme. Levis did not have a great year at Kentucky, though people who like his game will say that’s more because of the talent at Kentucky than Levis. The boon for him is that his arm is already on par with the biggest passers in the NFL like Josh Allen, and he’s been working inside a pro-ready system making his transition to the NFL easy. If you believe he can put it all together then he’s worth the No. 1 pick, and if he doesn’t you just took Carson Wentz with the first pick.
Anthony Richardson: If you can develop and nurture Richardson as a quarterback you basically have Cam Newton in his prime. That’s the promise we’re talking about here, and why there’s growing buzz that the Florida QB could be the first off the board. Richardson has an amazing frame for his level of athleticism, a top-tier arm capable of making all the throws, with a superstar x-factor that nobody else in the draft has at the position. If you see his unicorn traits and believe you can smooth out the edges you might end up with one of the best quarterbacks in the entire league. However, like Levis, there’s a big risk of bust here too.
That’s what makes this process so complicated. There are major pros and cons to every quarterback, and unlike most years where you could have three or four teams all wanting one guy, then moving down the scouting board, you could have as many as eight or nine teams wanting one of these guys, with no way of knowing who wants who.
We’re hurtling towards a trade-fest
The focus is obviously on the Chicago Bears who hold the No. 1 pick and would love to get out of it. They need more draft capital and would happily move down, stock their shelves, and take an elite defensive player. The question of who jumps then becomes really murky.
The Colts have made no bones about wanting to jump up. Yes, this could all be Jim Irsay trying to blow smoke and play 4D chess — but there’s no doubt the Colts need a franchise quarterback badly. Now, the question becomes: Who do they want of the Big 4?
Young fits the mold of past franchise QBs like Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, but his size is an issue. You also have Shane Steichen who went to the Super Bowl with Jalen Hurts. Does that make Richardson a possibility here for his dual-threat potential?
Houston is in dire need of a quarterback too, and at No. 2 they’re going to pick one without trading up. DeMeco Ryans is going to be trusting his coaching job to whoever the team take, which lends itself more to a Young or Stroud pick, than rolling the dice on Levis or Richardson. Young seems like the most obvious choice here, especially if he doesn’t go No. 1 overall.
Next up is Carolina at No. 9, who have absolutely made it clear they’re taking a quarterback with their pick. The smokescreen they’re running here is meeting with Derek Carr, but nobody actually believes that’s happening — especially when they’re already back in talks with Sam Darnold as a bridge QB. The Panthers are a real wild card when it comes to their QB of choice. This team has built an incredible developmental staff for a rookie QB, which lends itself to the idea they’re best suited to gamble on the upside of Levis or Richardson than the proven reliability of Young or Stroud. The issue is that the Panthers would absolutely need to trade up to get any of them, and showing their hand early could drive the price up.
There are other QB-needy teams as well. We could absolutely see Washington, Tampa Bay, Tennessee or Las Vegas want a quarterback. You also have Arizona, Seattle and Detroit drafting in the Top 5, but all be willing to move back along with the Bears. This is the heart of the theory that all four QBs could go alarmingly early, especially if there’s a run on trades and everyone gets spooked by waiting too long.
There are wild cards to all this too
Factoring in the QB picture necessitates talking about Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. There’s more steam building behind the idea of the Ravens pulling the trigger, potentially with the Atlanta Falcons, and moving up into the Top 5. This would mean they’d be in the market for a quarterback as well, complicating things.
Aaron Rodgers is a factor as well. Up to this point all the discussion has been about Rodgers to the Jets, but he’s also said in the past that he wants to be closer to California. Would the Raiders in Vegas be close enough to satiate him and put him with Davante Adams again? That could shake up to the top of the draft as well, and if the Packers move up to No. 7, what does that do to the boards of teams potentially trading down?
Buckle up, because this ride is going to get wild
We are hurtling towards the most unpredictable draft in recent memory. More teams can be seen as “only a QB away” then there are passers available, which is destined to lead to a feeding frenzy at the top. The issue is: Nobody knows what anyone else is hunting for.
There’s a chance we could learn more the pecking order after the combine, but it’s more likely that everyone is going to be holding their cards so close to their chest that we really won’t get more solid information until days before the draft. That is going to make this an intense lead up to the draft.