To be honest, I completely forgot about this weekly series in the wake of the Damar Hamlin situation. That’s really the only football-related story I’ve been paying attention to this week.
On top of that, I felt it would’ve been disrespectful to sort of “move on” and resume normal business as usual regarding the NFL. I don’t want to push Hamlin to the back-burner, so to speak. So I resolved that I wouldn’t talk about anything NFL-related until we get the news that Hamlin is going to be okay.
Thankfully, that news arrived on Thursday morning:
“Neurologically intact” is the key here: it means he did not suffer serious brain damage. Because his heart stopped and he was technically dead for a period of time, there were concerns about whether or not he’d have full brain function. When your heart stops pumping blood to your brain, parts of your brain will basically die and never recover the longer you remain without a pulse. But it appears that Hamlin’s brain did not suffer serious damage–in other words, he’s not going to be a vegetable. I hate to use that word because it sounds callous, but that was the main concern after the EMTs were able to revive him and get his heart beating again. Once it became clear he wasn’t going to die, the question then became whether or not his brain had been “dead” for too long to go back to working normally again.
Bills safety Kaiir Elam tweeted this out this morning:
Not out of the woods just yet, but things are trending in the right direction it seems.
The question now becomes, when or will this Bengals-Bills game get resumed?
As I see it, there are a few scenarios that are possible here:
- The game is simply canceled and ruled a “no contest”. This, in my view, is most likely the more time passes. In this case, the league will decide playoff seeding in the AFC based off of win percentage rather than pure record.
- The NFL schedules the Bills-Bengals regular season game for next weekend, meaning it is played on Wild Card weekend. In this scenario, all NFC playoff games will go as scheduled for Wild Card weekend, but the AFC playoff games would be pushed back a week. So while the NFC teams are playing their Divisional Round playoff games, the AFC would be playing their Wild Card round games. The AFC Championship game would be played during that off week before the Super Bowl, so the NFC Champion would get the two week break while the AFC Champion would not–they’d have to play in the Super Bowl the week after the AFC Championship game.
- In this scenario, I think it would be more fair to allow the AFC to “catch up” by pushing back the NFC divisional round games one week. So on the weekend of the 15th, the NFC Wild Card games would be played along with the Bills-Bengals regular season make-up game, and then the following weekend, only the AFC wild card games would be played, while the entire NFC would be inactive to allow the AFC to “catch up”. Then, the following weekend, the 22nd, both the AFC and NFC would play their divisional round games. In this scenario, neither conference champion would get the week off prior to the Super Bowl.
Ultimately, I think the NFL will just decide that the Bills-Bengals game will not be played. I think it’s going to be written off. It’s the simplest scenario, even though it will affect playoff seeding. I just think the best thing would be for those two teams to move forward and not have to worry about making that game up while still getting ready for the playoffs. It’s too unfair to everyone involved–and not involved, too, because it would impact every team in the AFC playoffs.
So that’s what I think will happen here. The Bills-Bengals game will just be written off as canceled, no contest.
As for how this affects the Bills, I think they obviously become “America’s Team” for these playoffs. Everyone will be pulling for them. And they themselves can go one of two ways: either they rally like no other from this and go on to win the Super Bowl, or they lose in the first round because, understandably, what happened to Damar Hamlin shook them all to their cores and they are just unable to focus on football.
I think given the promising news we’re hearing about Hamlin’s situation, the “Bills rally like no other” scenario is more likely, but you never know. We just have no idea how this is going to affect their team psyche and mentality going forward, because nothing like this has ever happened before.
Now we move to the tier rankings–the second to last of the regular season:
And now each team summarized in one sentence:
Bills: We’re all pulling for Buffalo to win the Super Bowl, right?
Chiefs: Lots of close games lately, but may end up being the beneficiaries of the (expected) cancelation of the Bills-Bengals game and steal the #1 seed.
Bengals: If not the Bills, then the Bengals are America’s team for how they handled the Hamlin situation on Monday night.
49ers: They’ve got to be the overwhelming favorites to come out of the NFC at this point, right?
Eagles: Injury after injury after injury after injury…
Vikings: Feels like they’re going to be one and done in the playoffs, and yet I can see them making a run.
Cowboys: You’re going to get Brady and the Bucs on the road, how does that make you feel, Dallas?
Chargers: Under the radar scary team if they get healthy for the playoffs.
Ravens: Lamar has not practiced in over a month–what the hell is going on here?
Jags: Win and you’re in.
Giants: Looks like we’re going to get a rematch against the Vikings in the first round of the playoffs, a game NYG almost won.
Packers: They were dead and nearly buried, and now all they need to do is beat the Lions and they’re in.
Lions: The NFL should’ve scheduled the Lions-Packers and Seahawks-Rams games at the same time, as the Lions vs. Packers game on Sunday Night is only win and in for the Lions if the Seahawks lose their 4:25 game against the Rams; the Lions will know prior to their kickoff whether or not they have been eliminated from the playoffs or still have the ability to get in.
Patriots: They need to win at Buffalo this Sunday to get into the playoffs, and I give them about a 3% chance to win.
Panthers: Officially eliminated now but they’ve fought hard for Steve Wilks–respect.
Dolphins: From 8-3 to 8-8; and we don’t know if Tua will even be back this year.
Bucs: Offensive line is getting healthy, Brady finally had a good game–are the Bucs getting scary?
Titans: They’ve collapsed massively this year, but still have a shot to get in if they beat the Jags this weekend.
Steelers: Mike Tomlin might just pull off the winning season after all; the Steelers are 7-2 when TJ Watt plays and 1-6 when he doesn’t play.
Jets: Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo?
Commanders: They’re already eliminated, so why not see what you have in Sam Howell?
Bears: I know they’re going to somehow get the #1 pick, get cute with the trades, and then miss out on either Will Anderson or Jalen Carter.
Texans: Did CJ Stroud’s incredible playoff performance against Georgia win the Texans over and convince them not to go with Bryce Young?
Raiders: Apparently they are going to make a big push for Tom Brady in the offseason.
Cardinals: A big mess, but at least they have a first round pick.
Falcons: Can’t wait for the Falcons to use yet another high first round draft pick on an elite offensive skill player when they need a quarterback more than anything else.
Rams: The Rams owe it to the Lions to go out there and beat the Seahawks.
Browns: Blowing that lead to the Jets earlier in the season really came back to bite them in the ass, huh?
Saints: Eliminated from the playoffs, don’t have a QB for the future, and the cap situation is a mess–and no first round pick.
Broncos: Looks like it’s going to be Denver vs. Carolina, and possibly Indianapolis, in the Jim Harbaugh bidding war.
Colts: The Colts have a good reason to tank this game against Houston because it will prevent Houston from getting the first overall pick, improve the Colts’ draft position, and give them the ability to trade up with the Bears to get the #1 pick and choose either Bryce Young or CJ Stroud.
Along those lines, I want to expand on the top of the draft order a little bit here.
Right now it looks like this:
If Houston beats Indy this weekend, then the Bears will get the number one pick. We’re assuming the Bears will lose because Justin Fields isn’t playing and they’re going up against the Vikings. We’re also going to assume the Cardinals will lose to the 49ers this weekend because the 49ers have playoff seeding to play for, and the Cardinals want to lose to improve their draft position.
The Chargers are rumored to be playing their backups in the week 18 game against the Broncos, assuming the Ravens lose to the Bengals. The Bengals-Ravens game will be played before the Chargers-Broncos game, and so if the Bengals win as expected, that will mean the Chargers are locked into the #5 seed no matter what, giving them no reason to play their starters.
The Broncos, on the other hand, don’t have their first round draft pick, and have every reason to play hard in that game.
So let’s assume the Broncos beat the Chargers and improve to 5-12: that vaults Indianapolis, assuming they lose, up into the top-4 of the draft.
That should in theory give the Colts the ability to acquire either CJ Stroud or Bryce Young. Or, if they like Will Levis, they will absolutely be able to get him.
The Bears aren’t drafting a quarterback. The Cardinals aren’t drafting a quarterback.
The only teams in the top-5 currently who are likely to be drafting quarterbacks are the Texans and Colts, and maybe the Seahawks–that’s a question mark. I think they should, but they may want to stick with Geno. I’d say 65% the Seahawks will draft a quarterback with their high first round pick.
But only the Texans and Colts are truly desperate for a quarterback in the first round.
Indy wants Chicago to get the #1 pick, without a doubt. Because then Indy could trade up for it and have their choice between Young, Stroud and Levis.
If Houston gets the #1 pick, there’s no way they’d trade it to the Colts.
I am going to guess the draft looks like this after Sunday:
- Chicago, 3-14
- Houston, 3-13-1
- Arizona, 4-13
- Indianapolis, 4-12-1
- Denver, 5-12
- Lions, via Rams 5-12
The Bears would be thrilled if this were to happen because then they’d be able to offer the #1 pick to the Colts, who would definitely be interested in moving ahead of Houston.
Indy and Houston will take quarterbacks, Arizona will take either Will Anderson or Jalen Carter, and Chicago will take whichever one of those two Arizona doesn’t take.
Denver and Detroit won’t take quarterbacks. Denver is way too invested in Russell Wilson and Jared Goff seems like he’s become the guy up in Detroit.
So that will leave one of the quarterbacks–likely Levis, it could be any of the three–available at 7, where Atlanta, Las Vegas and Carolina will all be in the market for a QB.
If Vegas gets Tom Brady, then obviously they won’t be in the market for a QB and will probably draft either offensive line, a weapon for Brady, or shore up the defense.
So then it’ll be between Carolina and Atlanta for Levis (or possibly Stroud, or maybe even Bryce Young if he slides due to concerns about his size).
And that’s the next thing I want to talk about here: the top 3 quarterbacks in the 2023 draft.
How should they be ranked?
Conventional wisdom says it’s Young, Stroud and then Levis.
But I’m not so sure about that.
I would agree that Bryce is probably the best college football player of the bunch. He has tremendous escapability and mobility, he’s a winner, he has that dawg in him–but he’s tiny. And I mean tiny.
He’s listed at 6’0″ tall, but that’s obviously a lie. He was being interviewed after the Sugar Bowl game by Mark Ingram (don’t ask me why Mark Ingram was interviewing him because I don’t know, lol) and they looked about the same height:
Mark Ingram is listed at 5’9″. Bryce Young is wearing cleats here. Those boys are the same height.
This is a picture from 2020 where you can see the size difference between Young and Mac Jones:
I know Mac is standing in front of Bryce, but you cannot tell me that Bryce isn’t absolutely dwarfed by Mac Jones.
And Mac Jones is only listed at 6’3″, it’s not like he’s some giant.
Bryce Young is probably 5’10” tops. He is tiny. Todd McShay said he weighed 186 pounds, too.
It’s not like 5’10” is unheard of in the NFL for a QB. Kyler Murray went #1 overall and he’s 5’10”. But Kyler is also 207lbs. Kyler has some thickness to him.
In comparison to Kyler, I would say he’s not quite as fast or twitchy, he can’t throw the deep ball as well as Kyler, but he’s better when it comes to shorter and intermediate throws, and I think he’s more accurate overall. He’s so good at throwing the ball on the run–there’s a lot of Mahomes in him when it comes to off-platform or cross-body throws.
Look, Bryce Young has the skills to be an elite NFL quarterback, I think. His talent is undeniable. If he was 6’1″ or 6’2″, he would be the hands-down #1 overall pick without a doubt. Half the league would be tanking for him.
The only concern is his size. He might not be able to see over the line of scrimmage. He might be fragile–imagine him getting sacked by Chase Young or Aaron Donald or something. A guy that small, you have to be concerned about his durability when he’s going up against guys who are 6’4″, 265lbs and bigger.
He’s not going to be able to consistently run away from NFL defenders, he’s just not fast enough. But he will be able to extend plays and roll out of the pocket, and that’s extremely valuable in today’s NFL.
With CJ Stroud, he’s almost like the prototypical NFL QB of the modern era. He’s listed at 6’3″ and 218lbs, which is basically ideal size. He can make all the throws, he’s accurate and has underrated arm strength. He’s good against the blitz, he can extend plays with his feet and move the pocket when needed (although I don’t know if he likes to). He’s capable of fitting the ball into extremely tight windows, you can tell he has a ton of confidence in his arm, and rightly so. He’s made some absolutely ridiculous throws.
And Stroud really won over a lot of doubters with how well he played in the playoff game against Georgia, despite the loss. He really showed what he was made of in that game.
The only real question with Stroud is how he’ll fare without having an embarrassment of riches at wide receiver. Last season, he had Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. That’s just ridiculous. This year, he had Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming–not quite on the level of the 2021 trio he had, but still definitely the best receiver group in the nation this year. Is Stroud capable of elevating an offense that maybe doesn’t have an elite group of pass-catchers?
In fairness to Stroud, I’m not sure there’s a quarterback out there in the NFL that is lighting it up with no-name receivers, but the bottom line is that he’s not always going to have a dominant receiving corps once he gets to the NFL.
But the reason a team would take Stroud over Young is that there are no questions about Stroud’s arm talent, his size, or his ability to make the NFL throws. The only question is how much his receiving corps at Ohio State made him look good.
The questions about Stroud’s leadership, his demeanor, whether he has that dawg in him, whether he’s willing to tuck it and run–those have all been answered by his performance in the Georgia game. He did not crumble on the big stage, he rose to the occasion and played the best game of his career. To a large degree he really put the team on his back in that game. I think he’s made of the right stuff.
There’s always questions with every NFL quarterback just how much abuse he’ll be able to handle. Normally these young guys are thrust into bad situations–bad weapons, bad offensive lines, bad teams in general. So are they able to “take a lickin’ and keep on tickin'”? In other words, how will they handle being sacked 50, 60 times in a season. Will that kill their confidence and break their spirit? Will they be able to shake off throwing a bunch of picks as a rookie?
These are the big questions when it comes to quarterbacks from Alabama and Ohio State, like Bryce Young and CJ Stroud. Because in college, these guys were throwing to NFL receivers and playing behind the best offensive lines. Their receivers are almost always open and their offensive lines rarely allow them to be sacked. So it can be a system shock going to the NFL and having to throw to covered receivers, and having defenders in your face on every dropback.
CJ Stroud was only sacked 12 times this season, and 13 times last season.
Bryce Young was sacked 18 times in 2022 and 33 times in 2021.
These numbers are kind of expected. Stroud is great at getting the ball out quickly, while Bryce Young likes to extend the play–this typically leads to more sacks.
Young is going to get hit a lot in the NFL, if these numbers are any indication. That’s just his play style; he holds on to the ball for a long time. His offensive lines at Bama were pretty good, and he still took 51 sacks over the past two years. It’s a concern for sure with Young; there is no way this kid will be able to survive if he’s getting sacked 40, 50, 60 times in a year.
Stroud, on the other hand, has a combination of mobility and quick release, but he still benefitted a lot from having a great offensive line at Ohio State. You watch some of his highlights, he’s got the cleanest pocket you’ve ever seen. Even against Georgia, while he was sacked 4 times, his offensive line did a great job holding up against the Georgia pass rush most of the time. So I’m a bit concerned about how Stroud will be able to handle NFL pass rushes.
Bottom line, there are concerns about the transition to the NFL for both CJ Stroud and Bryce Young, albeit for different reasons.
Now let’s move to the other quarterback, Will Levis.
He’s become somewhat of a meme on football Twitter, because so many of the “Draft experts” have been hyping him up despite the fact that his numbers were very pedestrian: 185 completions on 283 attempts, 2,406 yards, 19 TDs, 10 INTs. Against Tennessee, he only threw for 98 yards. His high passing yards against a Power Five team this year was just 230 yards against Mississippi State.
The running joke was that the worse he played the higher his draft stock went.
However, what scouts like about him is that he’s big (6’3″ 232lbs) and has a great arm:
And let’s be real here: he played at Kentucky, not Alabama or Ohio State. So he was throwing to much lesser receivers and playing behind a much lesser offensive line.
Plus, the offensive system he was in at Kentucky was basically the Iowa of the SEC. Kentucky’s whole game plan is to take the air out of the ball, control the clock with running, and limit the number of possessions the opponent has. Will Levis played in almost the polar opposite style of offense that CJ Stroud played in. CJ Stroud was in a quick strike offense that sought to built up 31-7 halftime leads and win games 52-20.
Kentucky, on the other hand, wants to win every game 20-13. Will Levis was not playing in a system conducive to putting up eye-popping QB numbers. So with Levis we have to evaluate him differently than we do Stroud and Young.
I see great arm strength and size with Levis, but he’s also got good touch which is a rare combination. People compare him to Josh Allen, but he’s not quite as big as Josh Allen nor do I think he’s anywhere near as athletic. However, I think he may be more accurate than Allen. The most impressive thing with Levis is definitely how easy he makes it look on a lot of his deep throws–he can just flick it and it’ll go 40-50 yards in the air. Not quite to Joe Milton’s level in terms of just being able to flick it all over the yard, but it’s definitely impressive.
I just don’t know how much “special” there is with Will Levis, you know? There really isn’t that wow factor with him, where I’m just in awe of him in every game. My gut tells me he’ll end up being a career backup, because here’s the thing: almost every quarterback that gets drafted to the NFL has “NFL size” and “an NFL arm.” I mean, obviously. And honestly his name just sounds like the name of a backup QB to me for some reason.
With Bryce Young, I can see the special–he has the wow factor.
Stroud has the wow factor, too, although to a lesser extent than Bryce Young.
It’s tough for me to decide between these three quarterbacks. Bryce Young to me has the highest bust potential, and on top of that, due to his size, I really don’t know how high his ceiling is–plus I think his injury risk is really high.
CJ Stroud probably won’t be a bust, but I do sort of worry about his ability to really carry a team and take the abuse of NFL defenses.
Levis, I could see being good if he’s on a team with a lot of talent. He’d win the Super Bowl if he somehow went to San Fran. But I don’t really know how high his upside is, either. I like him more as a talent than, say, Mac Jones coming out of college, but I’m not so sure how much more.
I think by default I’d have to say CJ Stroud has the highest ceiling because he has the fewest red flags. He has the size you’re looking for, he has the arm strength, he has great accuracy and can make all the throws, and he’s able to move around. I just don’t know if he has that “it” factor.
I like Bryce Young a lot, I just wish he was bigger, you know? He is such a baller that I think he deserves to be drafted highly. I think it’s worth taking a chance on him, but I just don’t know good he can really be at his size.
I could see any of these quarterbacks being drafted #1 overall, honestly. Levis would be a bit of a surprise, but maybe NFL teams see him differently than I do.
Young, I wouldn’t be surprised if he falls a bit in the draft.
Stroud I see as a surefire top-5 pick. It’s hard for me to envision him sliding in the draft, but anything is possible. I think NFL teams really started to take him seriously after that Georgia game, though.