The Best Quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft Is…

We are about a month and a half away from the 2023 NFL Draft, which starts on Thursday April 27 in Kansas City. We’re past the Combine and the predictable explosion of hype over Underwear Olympics Champion Anthony Richardson, and we’ve already seen the Bears trade the #1 pick to the Panthers which means the QB-needy teams are jockeying for position towards the top of the draft.

Though there are at least 4, maybe 5 quarterbacks projected to go in the first round this year (only one went in the first round last year, by contrast–Kenny Pickett), this might be the most wide open the draft has been at the top in terms of quarterbacks.

Normally, we have a very good idea which quarterbacks are going where. In 2021, we all knew Trevor Lawrence was going #1 overall. Somehow, the teams behind Jacksonville overthought the second and third quarterbacks in the draft and it wound up that Justin Fields, the guy who had since high school been seemingly locked in as the clear-cut second best QB in the 2021 draft behind Lawrence, became the 4th quarterback off the board as the Jets and 49ers disastrously opted for Zach Wilson and Trey Lance, respectively. But the thing about 2021 is, once sentiment swung towards Wilson and Lance and away from Fields, the draft order was pretty much set in stone. We all knew Lawrence was going #1, Wilson was going #2, and then the 49ers were going to take either Trey Lance or Mac Jones (yeah, the league was taking crazy pills in 2021, I’m not sure what happened).

In 2020, there was no doubt the Bengals would be taking Joe Burrow #1 overall, although the media definitely tried to pretend like there was some uncertainty there with their whole “Would Burrow refuse to play for the Bengals because they’re such a dumpster fire of a franchise?!?!?” wild speculation. The only surprise in 2020 was Justin Herbert going a pick ahead of Tua, but we still knew it would be Burrow at #1, then the Chargers would be taking either Herbert or Tua, and then the Dolphins would take whichever guy the Chargers didn’t take.

This year, it feels like there are at least two, maybe three guys who could potentially go #1 overall. The only one that we’re pretty certain won’t go #1 overall is Will Levis, but then again, anything can happen over the next 45 or so days.

It’s been kind of a strange last few weeks in the draft speculation market, though. Bryce Young was the presumptive #1 overall pick from basically the end of the college football season up until last Friday, when the Panthers traded up to #1.

Then, suddenly, CJ Stroud became the strong favorite to go #1 overall to Carolina, and you can see here from the latest odds that he is -250, and Bryce Young isn’t even #2–Anthony Richardson is. Bryce Young is now considered the third-most likely to go #1 overall, all because the Panthers now have the pick:

What I don’t understand is, how was Bryce Young the favorite to go #1 overall when the Bears held the pick, but not when the Panthers hold the pick? Nobody thought the Bears were going to actually end up making a pick at #1 overall, and even if they did hold on to the pick, it would’ve been used on Will Anderson, not a quarterback. So were the betting odds reflecting the theory that a team like the Texans or the Colts would trade up to #1? That’s my best guess.

Those “In The Know” have been talking about how new Panthers head coach Frank Reich is enamored with big quarterbacks, and so the implication is that there’s no way he’d spend the pick on Bryce Young. I’m assuming that’s why even Anthony Richardson has vaulted ahead of Bryce Young despite the fact that Bryce Young is clearly a much more polished and capable football player than Richardson (by a mile, in my opinion): because Richardson is a big dude, and Bryce Young is smaller than Kyler Murray.

All this goes to show you how much parity there is at the top with these quarterbacks: there is no consensus or clear-cut #1 overall prospect; it really boils down to team preference. That’s what’s going to determine which guy goes where.

But even though the sportsbooks are more or less convinced that Stroud is the Panthers’ preference, there’s plenty of conflicting information out there:

So apparently CJ Stroud is Frank Reich’s choice, but the Panthers owner David Tepper prefers Bryce Young. No, wait, actually Frank Reich “loves” Anthony Richardson.

Obviously some of this is smokescreen, but the truth is somewhere in there, I think.

I absolutely do believe the Panthers owner David Tepper is enamored with Bryce Young. That seems like a very Pro Sports Team Owner-ish thing to do. Tepper probably watched a few Alabama games this year, saw Young’s escapability and playmaking, and it reminded him of Patrick Mahomes. Since every other owner in the league is looking for their own Mahomes, I could absolutely see David Tepper–a guy who desperately wants to win–trying to convince himself that Bryce Young is the next Patrick Mahomes. 100%. It reminds me a lot of when the Sacramento Kings owner convinced himself that Buddy Hield was the next Steph Curry and directed his front office to trade for him in 2017. Hield wasn’t the next Steph Curry, but the Kings owner was desperate to find the next Steph Curry, and since Hield was available at the time, Hield had to fit the billing. He just had to! Right? Right?

That’s how most of these owners operate, and it wouldn’t shock me if Tepper, a guy who has a Wall Street background and is best described as a fan with a ridiculous amount of money more than any sort of football expert, would delude himself into thinking Bryce Young is the next Mahomes, not because it’s true, but because Tepper simply wants it to be true. Bryce Young is, A. available, and B. the one available quarterback that most resembles Mahomes, and thus in Tepper’s eye he just has to be the next Mahomes. Tepper doesn’t want to hear about how probably none of these QBs in the draft are the next Mahomes, or there might not even be a “next Patrick Mahomes” since Mahomes is such a unique talent (i.e., has there ever been a next Tom Brady, or a next Peyton Manning?) Tepper wants the next Mahomes, and he wants him right now, and so I could see him wanting to force the issue with Bryce Young and ignore all the red flags that would suggest Young probably isn’t the next Mahomes.

Okay, so this much I do believe to be true–I think it’s very likely that the Panthers owner has deluded himself into believing Bryce Young is the next Mahomes.

But then we’re still left with two seemingly conflicting statements: that Frank Reich’s “QB of choice” is CJ Stroud, but that he also “loves” Anthony Richardson. Those statements could both be true, however. I mean, he could “love” Richardson but also love Stroud even more. I love Italian food, but when I go out to dinner on Friday night, I could very well opt to go to a steakhouse. A report saying that Frank Reich “loves” Anthony Richardson is not the same as a report saying Frank Reich wants to draft Anthony Richardson. And Vegas is telling you just that with Stroud being the favorite to go #1.

I personally think Stroud is the best fit for the Panthers at #1, and I think they will take him. I just think Stroud fits well with Frank Reich. Reich strikes me as a very cerebral guy, and that’s how Stroud has been described as well. Stroud is big on faith and so is Frank Reich; it just seems like those two would get along well. Stroud is humble, mild-mannered almost to the point of being soft-spoken, and I just think he’d respond well to a coach like Reich. So Stroud at #1 seems like the move.

I’ve thought this since the playoff game against Georgia, and I placed a bet on Stroud to go #1 overall last month when he was +300 because I was convinced, and still am, he will eventually emerge as the top quarterback in the draft.

Yes, I know I only bet $5 on Stroud to go #1 and I’m kicking myself for not putting down like $50 or $100. I guess I figured I’d be able to get even better odds on Stroud after the media went into a predictable Combine frenzy over Anthony Richardson, but I just kind of forgot about the futures bets and then, boom, not long after the Combine, the Panthers made their move for the top pick and then all of the sudden Stroud was the favorite to go #1 overall.

(I have a lot of futures bets open but only two on the #1 overall pick in the draft: Stroud, and then Will Anderson was just kind of an insurance bet in case the Bears wound up not trading the #1 pick.)

But obviously I placed this bet before the Panthers made the trade, so what was my reasoning there?

Well, I just think Stroud is the best quarterback prospect in this draft in terms of the combination of size, arm talent and mobility, and so I think if you’re drafting at #1, you pretty much have to take him because of how many questions there are about the other QBs in this draft. Stroud isn’t a perfect prospect, and he’s not on the level of a Trevor Lawrence or maybe even a Joe Burrow, but I see him as a far safer prospect with a much higher floor than the other three top guys.

Is Stroud as big, as athletic and as freaky Richardson? No. Is he as mobile and creative and slippery as Young? No, he’s not. Does he have as strong of an arm as Levis? No, not quite.

But Stroud is the most well-rounded of the four, and I don’t even think it’s close. He just has the fewest red flags–the fewest potential downsides that would give me pause before drafting him.

I’m going to come back to Stroud and give a more in-depth explanation of why he’s my top QB in the draft, but before I do that, I’m going to go through the other three quarterbacks.

4. Will Levis

I’m gonna be honest with you here: I don’t know much about Will Levis. I’m not saying that automatically means he’s terrible or anything, but I consider myself a pretty hardcore college football junkie. I’ve always got two TVs going on game day, 12+ hours every Saturday.

Levis never really caught my eye. The one time I remember watching him was when Kentucky played Tennessee. That was the game where I was like, “Okay, time to see what this Levis guy is all about; he’s supposed to be a stud, a top draft prospect, etc. Let’s see if he can elevate his squad against a highly ranked team like Tennessee.” (Tennessee came into that game ranked #3, while Kentucky was #19).

Tennessee won the game 44-6, and Mr. Will Levis was 16/27 passing for just 98 yards with 3 picks.

I kind of stopped taking Levis seriously after that game. I know Kentucky was a very offensively-challenged team this year; I get it. But shouldn’t a guy who is getting buzz as the potential #1 overall pick in the draft have at least some impact on that? Shouldn’t he have been able to elevate them a little?

This dude Levis was at Penn State for his first two years of college but had to transfer out to Kentucky because he couldn’t beat out… Sean Clifford. That tells me a lot about Will Levis, and not in a good way, as Sean Clifford is not some superstar quarterback (to put it gently).

You might say, “Hey, Joe Burrow couldn’t beat out Dwayne Haskins!” And that’s a fair point. But Joe Burrow also broke his hand going into that QB competition with Haskins in the summer of 2017; Burrow never really had a chance at Ohio State. Different situation from Levis at Penn State.

Okay, so are there any positives with Will Levis? I mean, he can’t be a complete fugazi, right? He does kind of feel like the NFL draft equivalent of a Ponzi scheme, but there are some promising traits to latch on to here.

For one thing, he’s 6’4″ and 229lbs. Great size. If he could give Bryce Young just 2 inches of height and maybe 15lbs, that would be awesome, but alas.

Levis has a very strong arm, too. In some of his highlights, he can be seen flicking the ball down the field 60+ yards without much effort, and that’s the kind of thing that NFL teams salivate over. He definitely makes NFL-caliber throws; he just looks like an NFL quarterback in the pocket when you watch his game tape. I’ve seen people compare him to Matthew Stafford and I do see some flashes of Stafford in his game, but that’s a comparison that is going a little too far out over the skis, in my view. He’s not quite as much of a gunslinger as Stafford.

But he is great at hanging in there in the pocket and getting rid of the ball at the last second; that’s a valuable skill that you really can’t teach. He’s also really good around the goal line, which typically requires an ability to fit the ball into tight windows and have great anticipation. Again, he routinely makes NFL-caliber throws (endzone fades, back-shoulder throws, etc), and he just looks like an NFL-caliber quarterback in spite of the mid-tier statline he posted this past year (65.4% completion rate, 8.5 yards per attempt, 19 TDs vs. 10 INTs).

If you watch the highlight reel, Will Levis definitely looks like an NFL talent. But I just wonder how great he really is if his team only went 7-6 this year, and he never seemed to really elevate his teammates to a significant degree.

I don’t know, I’m just thinking here, if a guy is supposed to be a stud pro prospect, I expect him to display some traces of greatness, some “Wow Factor,” y’know?

I’m just not sure how high of a ceiling he has in the NFL. He could be really good if he lands in a great situation: great offensive-minded head coach, a defense that doesn’t force him into shootouts, stud pass-catchers and a great line. But then again, how many guys wouldn’t be great in a situation like that?

And, on the flip side, I’m not sure if any of the other QBs in this draft class would be able to succeed if they were thrown into an unfavorable situation. So it’s hard for me to hold it against Levis that I don’t see him as a franchise-changing player on the level of, say, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck or Joe Burrow (i.e. a guy who can take a bad team and turn it into a playoff team almost immediately).

The reason I have Levis as the 4th best QB prospect in this draft is because, while I like his size, I think he has a good arm, and I think he’s an underrated athlete, I just don’t see greatness in him, if that makes any sense. I don’t see that “Wow Factor” with him.

With Bryce Young, who I have third, I do see that “Wow Factor.” I see traces of greatness and specialness and brilliance. There are a lot of things that give me major pause about Bryce Young, but at a certain point, his greatness and brilliance becomes undeniable, and I just think I would rather roll the dice on Bryce Young than settle for a guy like Levis. Levis will be safer than Bryce Young just because of the size difference, but I don’t know how high his ceiling really is.

I don’t think Levis has that Josh Allen ceiling, but at the same time, I think the chances that he is bad n the NFL are pretty low. Like, at the very least, he’s going to be a Daniel Jones-level quarterback, and actually probably a bit better than that. He strikes me as Daniel Jones with a better arm, albeit not quite as good a runner.

You can win with that in the NFL; the Giants have shown it already under Brian Daboll. Shit, if you gave Daniel Jones some legit receivers, he might be able to get the Giants even further in the playoffs than he did this year.

So I’m not going to say Levis is comparable to Matthew Stafford. I’m going to stick with Daniel Jones with a better arm. I think Levis is a pretty safe pick, but I also think if you’re drafting a guy inside the top-5, you expect more upside than Levis offers.

3. Bryce Young

Bryce Young is an amazing football player.

But he’s also 5’10”, and his playing weight is probably around 190 pounds rather than the 204 he weighed in at last week at the Combine. That is tiny for an NFL quarterback, and I’m simply not using a top-5 draft pick on a quarterback that small no matter how sensational he was in college. I mean, damn, all the stuff people are saying about Bryce Young is also true of Johnny Manziel (although I don’t think Bryce Young has any of the character concerns Manziel had, in fairness). Johnny Manziel was even more elusive and made more incredible plays in college than Bryce Young, but Manziel was also undersized, and he just looked tiny out there on an NFL field–like he didn’t belong out there with those other players. (By the way, Manziel’s official combine measurements: 5’11 3/4″ and 208lbs, meaning he was more than an inch and a half taller than Young).

People compare Bryce Young to Kyler Murray, and they’re pretty close in terms of height, but Kyler has a lot more weight on his frame, plus Kyler is more athletic, dynamic and explosive than Young. People just think Young is a running quarterback, but he really isn’t that fast. I don’t recall him having too many long run plays at Alabama, where he really turned on the jets and ran away from defenders and got into open field. Young is more of a guy who will scramble to extend plays, pick up first downs when the play breaks down, and a guy who can roll out and make off-platform throws. He’s not a “running quarterback” like a Justin Fields or Lamar Jackson or even Kyler. Young is way more elusive than he is fast. I expect him to run in the 4.5s at his pro day, which would make him considerably slower than a guy like Kyler Murray. Kyler reportedly ran a hand-timed 4.38 back in 2017, and there’s even a video at that link of him beating Andy Isabella in a race, and Isabella ran a 4.31. Kyler Murray is fast fast. Bryce Young isn’t.

I was shocked to learn that Bryce Young only had 139 career carries for 162 rushing yards at Alabama. CJ Stroud, in contrast–a guy who is knocked for not running and not being mobile–had 80 rush attempts for 136 yards in his career at Ohio State. Young’s numbers feel wildly inaccurate, but I guess it’s true. ESPN shows the same thing. It might be skewed because in college, sack yards are taken out of your rushing total, but then that leads to another concern about Bryce Young: 57 sacks taken in 27 games as a starter. And that’s with an Alabama offensive line that is significantly better than any defensive front it faces other than when Bama plays against Georgia. 57 sacks in 27 games is a lot.

I also don’t think Bryce has that cannon of an arm like Kyler has, either. Don’t get me wrong, Bryce has an excellent arm–he’s accurate off-platform, he can throw on the run accurately, he leads his receivers, he can make unorthodox throws and all that stuff that reminds you of Mahomes. But Kyler can freaking launch it, and I don’t think Bryce has that elite-level arm strength.

So to be honest, I don’t really like the Kyler comparisons for Bryce Young. Kyler’s measurables are better than Young’s in every way. I know we don’t really know Young’s measurables, since he hasn’t run the 40 yet and he didn’t throw at the combine, but just from watching him, I don’t think he is as fast as Kyler nor does he have the arm strength Kyler has.

People are really grasping at that Kyler Murray comp for Bryce Young since Kyler is the only quarterback to be drafted highly in recent years that is as vertically challenged as Young, but the Young-Murray comp doesn’t really fit, in my opinion.

And so I wouldn’t be comfortable drafting Bryce Young with the top pick in the draft. It sounds mean, but honestly I might not even consider him in the top-10, and it’s because of his size. His size is such a glaring concern that I just would not be able to justify using a top-10 pick on him.

Top-10 picks are supposed to have minimal concerns. I talk about this all the time with the “Yeah, but” candidates. There are a lot of draft prospects that people talk about as great, lots to love, but there’s always a “Yeah, but…” response with them. “Bryce Young is mobile, elusive, clever, can make throws on the run, is a human highlight reel.” “Yeah, but he’s 5’10” and his playing weight is probably 192 tops.”

I am not taking a “Yeah, but…” guy in the top-10, much less #1 overall. I’m just not.

If I’m drafting in the top-5 or the top-10, I want slam dunk prospects. I’m going to get greedy if I’m drafting that highly: I want to have my cake and eat it, too. I don’t have to resign myself to drafting prospects with serious flaws and concerns if I have a top-5 or top-10 pick. I would feel entitled to drafting a guy that does not have any significant downsides or concerns.

People love Bryce Young because he reminds them of Patrick Mahomes, and I get it. He has a lot of that Mahomes Magic element to his game where he can make something out of nothing, and I know how valuable that is in today’s NFL.

But Patrick Mahomes is 6’2″ and 225lbs. He’s way bigger than Bryce Young.

I kind of feel bad for Bryce Young that he’s even being compared to Mahomes, because Mahomes is a 1 of 1 player. You’re not just going to find a Patrick Mahomes in the draft every year. Teams are so desperate to find the next Mahomes that they are latching on to any guy that even remotely reminds them of Mahomes and going overboard with the comparisons: “This guy is the next Mahomes!”

I’m sorry, but just because a bunch of teams out there are frantically searching for the next Mahomes doesn’t mean the guy in the draft that kind of reminds you of Mahomes is the next Mahomes. Stop putting those expectations onto Bryce Young because you’re desperate to find the next Mahomes. I feel like the draft commentary industry is setting Bryce Young up to fail by branding him as the next Patrick Mahomes when that’s essentially an impossible standard to live up to.

I really don’t know who Bryce Young’s comp is because we’ve not seen a quarterback prospect like him. He’s incredibly talented, and overall he’s just really good at football, but my fear is that, like with so many guys we’ve seen in the past, Bryce Young might just be a great college football player and that’s it. My gut is telling me he’s too small to play in the NFL.

Maybe a better comp would be Russell Wilson, but Russell Wilson has more thickness on his frame and is listed at 215lbs. Plus Wilson is an inch taller. This just goes to show you how uniquely small Bryce Young is: we’re looking at some of the shortest NFL quarterbacks and Young is smaller than all of them.

The only guy who really comes close to Bryce Young in terms of size is Doug Flutie, but I don’t want to be that bogus to Bryce so I’ll just chill on that.

I guess I would say the best case scenario for Bryce is Russell Wilson, but that’s still kind of iffy because Russ has a bigger frame than Bryce does.

I’m not saying Bryce has no chance of succeeding in the NFL. He’s a gamer and he could absolutely get in there and start making some plays. But I doubt he’ll be durable enough to have a long NFL career. There’s a very real chance he won’t be able to withstand the beating that’s coming for him in the NFL. As we went over above, he took a lot of sacks in college–way more than you’d probably expect for a Bama quarterback–and it’s not going to get easier in the NFL.

Justin Fields has already taken 91 sacks in 25 NFL starts. Joe Burrow has taken 124 sacks in 42 NFL starts, and already has a torn ACL on his record from his rookie year, which he sustained while taking a sack.

Even Jalen Hurts, who plays behind the best offensive line in the league, got sacked 38 times last season and has been sacked 77 times in 34 career starts.

Bryce Young, if he goes to the Texans (who are apparently trying to trade Laremy Tunsil) or some other team in the top-5 or 10 picks, is likely going to be playing behind a bad offensive line. I don’t know if he’ll get hit as many times as Burrow or Fields, but if he’s getting hit anywhere even remotely close to as much as those guys have gotten hit, he’s not going to last. I mean, it’s just simple physics: a guy who is 5’10 and barely 190lbs, if he keeps getting hit over and over by 6’5″ 260lb edge rushers, he’s going to get hurt at some point. Defenders are going to be, on average, 50-70lbs heavier than Bryce Young. There’s just no way Bryce Young will be able to withstand repeated hits from them.

The only way he’d be able to last in the league being as under-sized as he is, is if he plays like Tom Brady or Drew Brees and centers his game on getting the ball out very quickly, but that’s obviously not going to happen. That isn’t Bryce’s game at all, and he’s not going to just be able to completely change his playing style like that. Plus, if he did, it would be removing so much of what makes him a great football player in the first place.

Bottom line, I like Bryce Young’s game, I like the way he plays football, I think he’s a great kid, I really enjoyed watching him play at Alabama and I hope he succeeds in the NFL–I really do. But I just don’t see a guy as small as he is being able to cut it in the NFL.

Bryce reminds me more of guys who were sensational in college but ultimately were just not quite big enough to play in the NFL: former Heisman winners like Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield, Ty Detmer and Troy Smith come to mind.

I know we all really like Young and want him to work out in the NFL, but it just might not be a realistic expectation given his small stature. I remember back in the day, I loved watching Johnny Football, and Troy Smith before him. I wanted them both to work in the NFL so badly. My thought process with both of them was the same: “I don’t care how small he is, he’s really good at football and that’s all that matters. Someone should just take a chance on him and I know he’ll do well.”

But it usually doesn’t work that way. Some guys just aren’t big enough to play in the NFL.

The difference with Manziel is that he went late in the first round. Troy Smith didn’t get drafted until the 5th round. Manziel and Smith each got chances to play in the NFL, but they were never considered elite-level prospects who might be taken #1 overall. Bryce Young is different in that regard: people are talking about him as if he could be the first pick of the draft.

If this were 2007, when Smith got drafted, or even 2014 when Manziel got drafted, there is no way Bryce Young would’ve been getting buzz as the potential first overall pick. No chance at all. He would have immediately been disqualified as a first round pick because of his size.

Nowadays, the league doesn’t really worry about size as much. They’ll just say, “Well look at Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray. Size isn’t as important anymore. It’s about mobility now.”

It’s true to some degree. Quarterbacks have never been asked to be mobile more than they are today. The “oak tree QB planted in the pocket” model is already obsolete in today’s NFL and quarterbacks are pretty much required to have the ability to extend plays with their feet. There’s a basic level of athleticism expected out of quarterbacks that is higher than it was 20 and even 10 years ago.

But Bryce Young is smaller than all of those small guys I just listed, isn’t fast enough to be considered a “running quarterback”, and he takes a lot of sacks.

To me, it’s a recipe for disaster.

I still to this day have the image of Johnny Manziel’s first NFL game action burned into my mind, and what really stood out to me was just how small he looked out there. My first impression, just my initial instinct or gut read or whatever you want to call it, was that he just looked like he didn’t belong out there. He was so much smaller than everybody else, and you could tell the second he tried to scramble that he was not going to be able to run away from these NFL defenders the way he ran away from college defenders. It was like, “Oh… he ain’t built for this.”

My fear is that this is what’s going to happen with Bryce Young. I feel like he’s going to step out there onto an NFL field, and it’ll be obvious immediately that he’s in trouble. He’s going to look tiny out there–shockingly tiny.

You see Kyler Murray play, and obviously the first thing that sticks out is how small he is, but you can also see that Kyler has some thickness to him, and also you can see how shifty and athletic and fast he. So with Kyler it’s like, “Okay, he’s way smaller than everybody out there, but he can basically run away from anybody so he’s actually got a fighting chance out there against all those behemoths.”

Bryce Young is not as fast or athletic as Kyler Murray, he’s not as thick either, and I think people are going to be shocked by how out of place he looks on an NFL field. I really do. As soon as that camera pans out pre-snap, and you see how tall all the linemen are compared to him, it’ll really hit home. Like, “Damn, this dude is way too small.”

I know it’s going to sound insane because it goes against so much of the conventional draft wisdom, but I wouldn’t take Bryce in the first round. I would take a flyer on him in the third round or maybe the late second just because he’s genuinely a really good football player, he’s a gamer, he seems like a great kid.

But people are being blinded by this “next Mahomes” thing, and I think it’s because they want it to be true more than anything else. We have gone too far with the “Quarterback size isn’t important anymore” mentality, and I think in the years to come the pendulum will swing the other way towards the “QB size is actually super important” mentality in large part because of Bryce Young.

The concept is more commonplace in basketball than it is in football, but there are some players that–typically due to size–are just way more suited to the college game than the pro game (guys like Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft, Jimmer Fredette, Tyler Hansbrough, Luka Garza, Luke Harangody, the list goes on). These guys can be incredible college players, but their games don’t translate to the pros.

If Bryce Young was a prospect a decade ago, I think that would be the book on him: he’s a college player, not a pro player. Again, I hope I’m wrong and that he succeeds, but I just don’t see how he does.

I’m putting him ahead of Will Levis out of respect, and because I think Bryce Young is the far better football player, but this is as high as I can put him.

I know I said I wouldn’t take him until the 3rd or 4th round, but it seems like he will almost certainly be taken in the top 3-4 picks. The league disagrees with me on Bryce Young, which I understand. And I also acknowledge that I could be completely wrong about Bryce–in fact, I hope I am.

But I am not drafting a guy who is 5’10” and 190lbs in the first round. Period.

2. Anthony Richardson

Anthony Richardson is like the anti-Bryce Young: whereas Bryce Young is really, really good at football yet does not possess the physical tools and traits to play in the NFL, Anthony Richardson is the polar opposite: he has the size, athleticism and physical tools to excel in the NFL, yet he wasn’t very great at football last season with Florida.

But let’s just quickly go through all the measurables for Anthony Richardson and see why people are flipping out over him:

  • Height: 6’4″
  • Weight: 244lbs
  • Hand size: 10.5″
  • 40 yard dash time: 4.43
  • Vertical jump: 40.5″
  • Broad jump: 10’9″
  • Athleticism score per 99 (ranked #1 in the 2023 draft class)

The dude is an absolute freak. He didn’t do the 3 cone drill, and he didn’t do the bench press, but the data we have on him shows the guy is clearly an extreme outlier in terms of athleticism at the quarterback position.

You compare him to Cam Newton, who measured in at 6’5″ and 248lbs–just a little bit bigger than Richardson–and Richardson is faster and more explosive. Cam’s 40 time was a 4.6, his vertical was 35″, and his broad jump was 10’9″. Richardson is probably a better athlete than Cam Newton, and honestly he’s probably a better physical specimen–when you consider everything he brings to the table–than just about any quarterback that has ever been drafted to the NFL.

So what’s the issue with Richardson, then? Why isn’t he the slam dunk #1 overall pick?

Because he didn’t have the on-field production.

Cam Newton won the Heisman and the National Championship in 2010 at Auburn and then went on to be the #1 pick in the draft. Anthony Richardson, on the other hand, went 6-7 this year at Florida.

Richardson only threw for 17 TDs vs. 9 INTs, and completed just 53.8% of his passes in 2022, averaging just 7.8 yards per attempt. He did have 654 rushing yards and 9 TDs on the ground.

Cam Newton’s 2010 stats at Auburn: 66.1% completion rate, 30-7 TD to INT ratio, 10.2 yards per attempt–oh, and he also had 1,473 rushing yards and 20 additional touchdowns on the ground.

Cam’s stats blow Richardson’s out of the water. Not even close.

When you watched Cam at Auburn, it was abundantly clear that the dude was extremely good at football. I still maintain to this day that Cam Newton is the greatest college football player I’ve ever seen in my life–better than Tebow, better than Manziel, better than anyone. He was so dominant. He basically carried Auburn to the National Championship that year.

Richardson accomplished nowhere close to what Cam Newton did. It’s almost bogus to Cam to even include Richardson in the same sentence as him.

Did Richardson win? No, not really. Did he produce, no, not really.

But there were some pretty spectacular flashes of brilliance with him. You can check out his highlight reel if you haven’t already; there’s something there with Richardson. There is potential:

His game against Utah at the start of the season, there were some incredible plays he made. I’m talking plays I’ve never seen quarterbacks make before. He completed 71% of his passes against Utah, 106 rush yards, 3 rushing TDs–he was great.

But then you just look at the next week against Kentucky: 14/35 passing for 143 yards, 2 INTs, 6 rushes for 4 yards. He was terrible. Straight up terrible.

Against Georgia, he was 18/37 passing for 271 yards. 11 runs for 19 yards.

Against Florida State, he was an abysmal 9/27 passing, although somehow for 198 yards (3 TDs and 1 pick). He had 10 carries for 41 yards.

His best game of the season statistically was against Tennessee’s porous secondary: 24/44 for 453 yards, 2 TDs and a pick, 17 carries for 62 yards and 2 TDs. Most of it was in garbage time as Florida was way behind most of the game, but Richardson almost brought them back towards the end.

I have no doubt in my mind that Richardson is big enough, strong enough, fast enough, and athletic enough to play in the NFL. That much nobody can deny.

He’s just nowhere close to polished enough as a passer to be a starting NFL quarterback.

Justin Fields was a way better passer than Richardson coming out of college.

I don’t know if I’ve seen a QB prospect as undeveloped as Richardson is, honestly. If you draft him, you are basically saying that you’re going to develop him into a legitimate passer. There’s no way he can come in and start from year one. He is not ready to be an NFL quarterback.

His arm strength flashed a few times during the 2022 season. The dude can easily flick the ball 55-60 yards without even stepping into the throw (check out his highlights against LSU). And he’s shown some pretty great accuracy on his deep passes as well, from time to time.

In comparison to a guy like Trey Lance, I would absolutely take Richardson over him if they were in the same draft, and I’m not just saying that with the benefit of hindsight with Lance. I never believed in Lance, he barely had any actual college game tape, and he played at North Dakota State. At least with Richardson he’s doing this in the SEC, going up against the best of the best at the college level. Anthony Richardson is, in my eyes, without a doubt a better quarterback prospect than Trey Lance.

But there are just so many questions with him that I couldn’t take him #1. There’s no way. He’s just such a project that you cannot use a top pick on him.

Where I think he has the advantage over Bryce Young, however, is that Richardson can be coached up into a legitimate NFL quarterback. At the very least, he’ll be able to make plays with his legs.

Bryce Young, on the other hand, cannot be coached up into being 6’2″ tall.

In other words, Bryce Young’s flaws are not fixable–he’s not going to grow any taller.

But Richardson’s flaw are, in theory, fixable. He’ll just have to sit and develop for a few years, and learn from a veteran starter.

And that’s why, as much as I hate to say it, I think I’ve got to put Richardson ahead of Young on my QB rankings for 2023. I just can’t get over how small Bryce Young is.

Richardson needs to go to a team that can develop quarterbacks. I know it’s possible for it to happen.

I saw Jalen Hurts go from a guy who could barely throw the ball in college to one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. We’ve all witnessed this with our own eyes over the past 3 years. It can happen.

Does Richardson have the humility, the work ethic and the overall mental makeup to do it? That I don’t know. But that was a big part of the reason Jalen Hurts made as much progress as he did: because he worked his ass off and didn’t get it in his head that he was already good enough.

Here’s an interesting fit for Richardson: the Colts at 4. I personally think Richardson is a bit too raw to draft inside the top 5, but the Colts are desperate and teams typically reach for quarterbacks so it is what it is. What makes the Colts so interesting is that their head coach is now Shane Steichen, who was the Eagles offensive coordinator for the past two seasons. So Steichen was the OC who oversaw the development of Jalen Hurts as a passer. If Richardson goes to Indianapolis, and Steichen basically puts him through the Jalen Hurts passer development clinic, then things could really work out well.

It all depends on Richardson, though. Does he really, truly want to get better as a passer? Is he willing to admit to himself that despite all the hype, he’s got a long ways to go before he’s truly an NFL QB?

If Richardson is willing to put in the work, sit for a year or two–and if Indianapolis is patient enough to let him develop–then there’s loads of potential here.

But then again, do you really want to take a guy with the #4 pick knowing he probably can’t be your full time starter until, potentially, 2025? There is that element in play here; the Colts have a pretty good roster, and I know Irsay is an impatient owner, so I could see the Colts wanting to go for a quarterback that is capable of contributing a lot sooner than Richardson is.

It feels wrong to say that Richardson should be drafted higher than Bryce Young, because Bryce Young is obviously the superior football player. It feels unfair to Bryce that this guy, Richardson, who didn’t even accomplish a fraction of what Bryce accomplished, would be considered the better pro prospect.

But I just keep going back to what I said earlier: you can coach Richardson up into a being a legitimate NFL passer; you cannot coach Bryce Young up into being 6’2″.

1. CJ Stroud

The one thing that people rave about with Stroud is his accuracy and ball placement. You can find all the highlights from his time at Ohio State, he can put the ball anywhere. He can throw into tight windows, lead his receivers perfectly–he’s one of the more accurate quarterbacks I’ve ever seen come out of college, quite honestly.

I mean he made some absolutely incredible throws. Here’s just one of them:

He had some other excellent throws against Notre Dame as well, particularly the one at the 1:27 mark in this next video:

Just an absolute dime. And there were a lot of great throws on the run, too.

Stroud threw it about 64-65 yards in the air at the combine, so he’s got the arm strength to go deep:

When they were clocking the Combine QBs to see how hard they can throw it, Stroud came in at 59mph which was tied with Will Levis. The hardest thrower at the combine was UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a guy I like a lot in the later rounds, who hit 62mph. Anthony Richardson, who everyone considers the biggest freak of the bunch, clocked in at 60mph. So Stroud can put some nice velocity on the ball no doubt. I mean, if people rave about Will Levis’ ability to put zip on the ball, and Stroud threw it just as hard as Levis did, then that should tell you a lot about Stroud.

So Stroud, at 6’3″ and 214lbs, has basically prototypical NFL size.

He’s got an NFL arm–maybe the most accurate we’ve seen in the draft since Joe Burrow, honestly. I think Stroud’s arm is really, really good–much better than people are giving him credit for.

He’s got underrated mobility and the ability to throw on the run accurately.

And he was absolutely phenomenal against Georgia in the semifinal. If his kicker was accurate (or if Marvin Harrison Jr. didn’t get concussed), CJ Stroud would’ve led Ohio State to the National Championship. There’s no doubt in my mind they would’ve slaughtered TCU; that game against Georgia was the real National Title game, everybody knows it.

If the Ohio State kicker had made the kick and Ohio State goes on to win the National Championship, I think Stroud would be the hands-down #1 pick in the draft. Nobody would be doubting that at all. Stroud did enough to win that game, though. When he stepped off the field for the last time and the kicking unit came on, CJ Stroud had done enough to beat Georgia. The kicker just dropped the ball.

And I think people are sort of holding this against Stroud, although maybe not consciously. I feel like it’s one of those things where his hype would’ve exploded off the charts had Ohio State actually won the National Championship game. But since they didn’t, Stroud never really got his moment in the sun where he was the talk of the college football world. It’s not like people are actively saying, “He didn’t win the National Championship, no way he can be the top pick.” It’s more like because he didn’t win the National Championship he never got the chance to get the hype he deserves.

Still, against Georgia, Stroud was 23/34 for 348 yards, 4 TDs and no picks, 10.2 yards per attempt and a 94.1 QBR. If you watch the highlights, you can see Stroud sidestepping defenders, buying time in the pocket, throwing on the run, keeping his eyes down field, and running for first downs when needed. Every box you need a quarterback to check, Stroud checked in that Georgia game.

There were concerns about whether Stroud actually had the stones to get out there and win a big game against an elite opponent, and he silenced all of that.

Again, the main thing he showed in that game was avoiding pressure in the pocket, keeping his eyes down field and delivering an accurate throw despite being forced to relocate. People knock Stroud for his perceived unwillingness to run, but in the NFL, what they’re really looking for is the ability to escape and then throw–way more than the ability to escape and then run. Both are desirable skills, but the NFL demands quarterbacks be able to buy time and then throw it, and Stroud is great at this.

The only real concerns you can have with Stroud is just how much he benefitted from being in this Ryan Day Ohio State offensive system, because every quarterback in it puts up huge numbers. Ryan Day is an elite playcaller. Ohio State’s offensive line protected him extremely well. And the past two years Stroud has had the best wide receiver corps in America: Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and JSN last year, Marvin Harrison and Emeka Egbuka this year. Probably when all is said and done, at least 4 of the 5 receivers that Stroud threw to as his primary targets will have been drafted in the first round. If Egbuka develops a bit more next year, it’ll be 5 out of 5.

But then again, Joe Burrow was throwing to Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall, and nobody really held that against him and said his wide receivers made him look better than he was.

When Stroud gets drafted at the end of April, Ryan Day will then be 3 for 3 in terms of producing first round NFL draft picks. He was the offensive coordinator with Haskins when he set all the Big Ten records in 2018 and got drafted in the first round. Then next up was Justin Fields, who went 11th overall in 2021. And now Stroud has a great chance of going #1 overall.

So people might wonder, “Well, is it just the system at Ohio State that makes these guys look good? Because Haskins (RIP) didn’t have a great NFL career, and Fields, while he’s taken strides, still has a ways to go as an NFL quarterback.”

None of this should be held against Stroud, though. His arm is legit. He’s the real deal. He’s one of the most accurate NFL draft prospects I’ve seen in a while. The throws he makes are just insane. You can separate these skills out from “the system”. Stroud’s arm shines through on its own.

And so this is why I think CJ Stroud has to be the top QB prospect in the 2023 draft: yes, there are valid and legitimate concerns about him being a product of the Ohio State system, but these concerns pale in comparison to those concerns about the other QBs in the draft. Stroud is way bigger than Bryce Young (and, also, there are perfectly legitimate concerns about whether or not Alabama quarterbacks can succeed in the NFL, and whether they’re products of a system, just like Ohio State). Stroud has a way better track record of Actually Being Good At Football and winning games at a high level, unlike Anthony Richardson and Will Levis.

Stroud is not as physically gifted as Anthony Richardson, but he’s got good size and underrated athleticism and mobility. He’s not the strongest arm in the draft but he’s strong enough. And I think his accuracy and ball placement is elite.

Stroud is the most well-rounded prospect in the draft, and it’s not very close, either. He doesn’t have the fatal flaws that Richardson and Young have. He’s more dynamic than Levis is as a passer.

He is by far the best passer in the draft. It’s not even close. Reading defenses, delivering a catchable ball, form, reacting and processing quickly, decision-making–it’s all stellar with CJ Stroud. None of the other QBs in the draft are on his level as a passer. He’s in a class of his own as a passer. Isn’t that what drafting a quarterback is all about?

And so this is the reason I like Stroud the most. If feel like he’s the most optimal combination of being low risk while also having close to the highest upside. The only guy with a higher upside is Richardson, but then again, how likely is it that Richardson actually hits that ceiling and realizes that upside? I would say not super likely.

People describe Bryce Young as a miniature Patrick Mahomes, which is fair, but at the same time, how likely is it that we see any quarterback come along that turns out to be the next Mahomes? Mahomes is a 1 of 1 talent, and so the idea that there even is a “next Mahomes” in this draft is pretty far-fetched. Add on to that the serious concerns about how small Bryce Young is, and I just can’t really get on board with the hype over him.

So I think Stroud is the most logical choice to go #1 overall.

I’m not saying Stroud is a failproof pick because no football player is. I’m most concerned about the prospect of him going to Carolina, honestly (same with Richardson). Whoever gets drafted by Carolina is pretty much screwed for 2 years: they just traded away the best receiver they have, DJ Moore, and they gave away all their best draft picks for the future. On top of that, they’ve already traded away Christian McCaffrey to the 49ers, so the quarterback for the Panthers next year is going to be in a terrible, terrible situation. Does Stroud (or Richardson) have the mental toughness to overcome what will almost certainly be two years of misery and dysfunction in Carolina?

Maybe, maybe not. But it’s not going to be fun to be the Panthers quarterback for the foreseeable future.

This is my biggest concern with not only Stroud but whichever one of these guys gets drafted with the top pick: that dude is about to be walking into an utter mess. Whomever it is might even be dead on arrival, unfortunately.

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