The annual demand for quarterbacks is running high once again, and several teams could eventually look to trade up to secure their passer of choice.
GLENDALE, Ariz. – With Super Bowl 57 already receding into the desert horizon, the NFL’s offseason is officially here in force.
The annual quarterback carousel has already begun spinning amid Derek Carr’s release in Las Vegas, and the coming days will be flecked with talk of franchise tags and such. But the league’s annual scouting combine isn’t two weeks away – and that means the opening of draft season.
Naturally, that means mock drafts – even if these early iterations are inherently flawed by the lack of insight that free agency and trades will provide. But let’s not allow that to stop premature projections of how Round 1 of the 2023 draft will unfold (Note: The Miami Dolphins, who were scheduled to select 21st, forfeited their pick for illegally tampering with QB Tom Brady and coach Sean Payton when they were under contract with other clubs):
1. Chicago Bears – DT Jalen Carter, Georgia
A plethora of options here, and GM Ryan Poles has numerous needs to address. Pass rusher should most certainly be under consideration for a team that recorded a league-low 20 sacks. Offensive line would make sense given the Bears need to put more pieces (and protection) around QB Justin Fields. Trading down a few spots with a team in need of a franchise passer obviously is a viable path – though Poles didn’t completely rule out a quarterback for himself, and that would open up an entirely different can of worms. But let’s go with Carter to anchor a defense that surrendered the most points in the league and was the NFC’s worst against the run (157.3 yards allowed per game). The 6-3, 300-pounder’s sack numbers (3 last year) won’t wow you. But the All-American is cat quick, lines up at all points along the front, can push the pocket and gets exceptional penetration and is especially effective at swallowing running backs. Chicago coach Matt Eberflus, who previously ran the Colts defense, might see his new version of DeForest Buckner.
2. Houston Texans – QB Bryce Young, Alabama
He can sling it, never better than in 2021 when he won the Heisman Trophy. That season, Young finished with 4,872 yards and 47 TDs through the air. He’s accurate (66% completion rate in college) and his career 80-to-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio is indicative of solid decision-making. Young is highly mobile, though typically buys time to pass and does a nice job keeping his eyes downfield – a la peak Russell Wilson. The combine will officially determine whether he’s 6 feet and/or 200 pounds, either figure likely to concern his next team – especially since Young won’t be afforded the same level of protection he was at Alabama.
3. Arizona Cardinals – OLB Will Anderson Jr., Alabama
Schematically, he was probably a better fit with the 3-4 front the Cards had used in recent seasons. But you don’t say no when you get the chance to take someone with Anderson’s characteristics given his size (6-4, 243 pounds), burst and power. And given the success new head coach Jonathan Gannon had deploying LB Haason Reddick, who’s smaller than Anderson, on the edge in Philadelphia, there should be no issues here. The two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year was truly spectacular in 2021, when he led the country with 17½ sacks and 31 tackles for loss.
4. Indianapolis Colts – QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
After its 2022 crash and burn, time for this organization to reset under center with youth rather than continuing to play musical chairs with fading veterans. New HC Shane Steichen has been coordinating offenses since 2019 and been quite successful with a range of quarterbacks including Philip Rivers, Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts. Of that group, Stroud (6-3, 215 pounds) most closely resembles Herbert as he’s accurate (69.3% completion rate in college), productive (85 TD passes, 12 INTs, 182.4 passer rating over last two seasons) and athletic – but, like Herbert, more inclined to extend plays to throw rather than break the pocket. Stroud was on the losing end of both his starts against Michigan and in a 2023 College Football Playoff semifinal against Georgia – but he was spectacular in that final game, passing for 348 yards and four TDs against an awesome Bulldogs defense.
5. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver Broncos) – DE Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
Assuming QB Geno Smith re-signs, they won’t have to burn this valuable selection obtained in the Wilson trade on another passer – and most likely not on an already solid offense. But reinforcements for a defense that hasn’t ranked better than 22nd since 2018 are long overdue. Wilson, a 6-6, 275-pound edge rusher with 14 sacks and 27½ TFLs over the past two seasons, should provide needed pressure that would make a young group of cornerbacks shine even more.
6. Detroit Lions (from Los Angeles Rams) – CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
As satisfied as they seem with QB Jared Goff, this might be the Lions’ last best chance to take a young quarterback knowing Goff’s contract only runs two more seasons. But barring that, Detroit has to alter what was statistically the league’s worst defense in 2022. As disappointing as Jeff Okudah and these corners have generally been, Witherspoon makes perfect sense – and his willingness to tackle and mix it up behind the line of scrimmage while taking on runners seem to be a good fit for a Dan Campbell-coached team.
7. Las Vegas Raiders – OT Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
A number of directions they can go following the release of Carr, though the guess here is the Silver and Black will pursue a veteran replacement in free agency. A 28th-ranked defense is also in dire need of help. But with starting RT Jermaine Eluemunor unsigned, Skoronski could upgrade that spot opposite established Kolton Miller but also transition back to the left side down the road.
8. Atlanta Falcons – QB Anthony Richardson, Florida
Should be a fascinating offseason in the ATL, where the Falcons are positioned to make a splash in free agency and should challenge for the NFC South title in 2023. Yet, even though QB Desmond Ridder is coming off his rookie season, Atlanta – owner Arthur Blank had his team in the running for Deshaun Watson last year – will have a prime opportunity to reinvest at the position with a talent like Richardson. At 6-4, 232 pounds with a huge arm and the ability to bowl over or outrun defenders, the skill set is tantalizing. He could also clearly benefit from a season (or more) to marinate under HC Arthur Smith and work on his accuracy while the less physically gifted Ridder’s evaluation continues. But Smith’s penchant for extracting the most from his players and the prospect of Richardson eventually joining an offense with several promising young players could make him hard to bypass.
9. Carolina Panthers – QB Will Levis, Kentucky
Fairly or not – OK, not – the strong-armed, athletic, 6-3, 232-pounder is going to draw comparisons to the likes of Matthew Stafford and Josh Allen. But Levis needs to improve his consistency and footwork while recovering from the physical beating he endured in 2022. New HC Frank Reich might be the guy to help iron out those issues. Probably be a good idea to have a veteran on hand so Levis wouldn’t have to play before he’s ready for the NFL, however this team also appears ready to win provided it can stabilize the situation under center.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (from New Orleans Saints) – DT Bryan Bresee, Clemson
A guy who can play up and down the line, Bresee (6-5, 300 pounds) fits the profile of a Philly first-rounder – and especially in a year when the team’s defensive tackle depth will likely be decimated with Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox, Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph ticketed for free agency.