I see by the calendar it’s Draft Month, T-minus 24 days from teams getting to open their offseason presents. Since the four marquee players—the first-round quarterbacks—have finished their Pro Days following the Anthony Richardson workout Thursday in Gainesville, I thought I’d tell you how the very top of the draft board stands from what I heard at the league meetings, with some info gleaned over the weekend.
Then we’ll get into some feistiness from Phoenix. The league meetings aren’t usually very feisty, but when the league tried to ramrod a short-sighted, anti-common-sense, anti-freight-paying-fans flex-scheduling proposal through the membership, 10 teams said, Hold on commissioner. This stinks. And good for them.
First, draft gossip. Team by team at the top, here’s what I’m hearing:
1. Carolina. Bryce Young has a lot of fans inside the Panthers.
“You’re the one who started that?” Panthers coach Frank Reich said to me at the league meetings, about this QB-height thing I wrote about in March: Reich’s been a QB coach, coordinator or head coach for 17 years, and in all but six of the games in those 17 years, his quarterback was 6-4 or taller. He told me height of the quarterback is not really a thing. So the 5-10 Bryce Young and 6-3 C.J. Stroud are both very much alive in the running for the first pick in the draft. And I believe him, absolutely.
But one longtime friend of Reich’s told me the height thing is legit with him, and though Reich hasn’t told him so, this friend would be surprised if Young were Reich’s top choice. Reich’s not saying. The other thing I hear is several influential voices in the organization favor Young. That doesn’t mean Young will be the pick—not at all. This will be a collaborative choice, and the Panthers still have organizational meetings ahead to set their draft board with finality. But before he took the Carolina quarterback-coach job, Josh McCown reportedly told friends he loved Young. What that means after he’s studied all of the passers, I don’t know.
I asked one coach who has studied the top quarterbacks and two top analysts who also have studied them how they have the top four rated after the pro-day circuit. The coach I gave anonymity. Todd McShay of ESPN is one analyst and Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network is the other. I did not tell any of the three any opinions of others. Each of the three has this order of the top three: Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson. Will Levis was four for McShay and Jeremiah, but the coach said he is not sold on Levis and believes he deserves a second-round grade.
The game has changed in how quarterbacks are viewed. Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, both height-challenged, have seen to that. Still, what’s notable to me is we’re talking about a 5-10 1/8, 198ish-pound quarterback without Kyler Murray speed possibly being the top quarterback picked in the draft, over a 6-3 quarterback, Stroud, who sliced and diced the national champ with by far the best defense (Georgia’s) in the college game. “Just watch Young,” the coach said. “When I watch tape, I don’t see size. He doesn’t play small.” This follows another team official who told me before the meetings Young’s height is not a disadvantage. Well, it is, but he still might be picked first on draft night, assuming Reich is on board. Last thing to note: Frank Reich is not one to brawl about players, even one as important as this one. He’s a consensus-seeker. I think he likes Young, and likes him a lot. I just don’t know if he likes him more than Stroud. But if he favors Stroud, and if the majority of the influencers inside the Panthers love Young, I believe Reich will be okay with picking him.
2. Houston. Texans have to pick a quarterback. Or do they?
We’re all operating under the belief the Texans will pick a quarterback that Carolina leaves for them. I’m 90 percent on board with that.
The Texans also pick 12th. With that pick and two first-round picks next year, is it impossible to think they’d take the cleanest prospect in this draft, Alabama pass-rusher Will Anderson, at two and get their quarterback slightly lower, somewhere around the fourth pick or after? I think the Texans are going to go quarterback at two. But in the last few days, I’ve heard this about Houston GM Nick Caserio: Very conservative. If he doesn’t love a quarterback at two, he’s not going to force it. He’d rather take this year’s sure edge thing, Anderson, the way Detroit took Aidan Hutchinson with the second pick last year. Detroit got rewarded handsomely with a great rookie year from Hutchinson.
“It’s a stretch, but I could see Nick taking Anderson, then using his second [first-round pick] and trading back up to get his quarterback,” one league personnel man said.
Maybe. I bet Indianapolis, at four, and Seattle, at five, would be okay with moving to 12 if it meant adding the better of the two Houston first-rounders next year (Houston has its own one next year and Cleveland’s one). But I still believe it’s far more likely Houston stays at two and gives its fans the long-term quarterback the franchise has been seeking since its inception in 2002. Owner Cal McNair will certainly want the quarterback at number two, and Texans fans will be deflated if the loser of the Young/Stroud stakes in Carolina isn’t the pick at two.
3. Arizona. DO NOT trade the pick till draft night, if at all.
The Cardinals, who might be 32nd in the league in talent, are in a good position here. If somehow Young or Stroud remains after the first two picks, a bevy of teams would want to trade up for whoever’s left. With possibly the least-talented roster in the league, Arizona needs quality volume out of this draft. The Cardinals sit at three and 34, and it’s worth passing on Will Anderson if it means picking four times in the top 50 of a good draft instead of two.
To that end, Arizona GM Monti Ossenfort needs to resist the temptation of trading early, if he has the chance. He’s not going to know for certain that Houston passes on a quarterback, or if Richardson, for instance, gets so hot before the draft that an aggressive team (Seattle at five, Vegas at seven, Tennessee at 11, Washington at 16, Tampa Bay at 19) makes a trade worth his while.
With a defensive head coach in Jonathan Gannon and a GM who fervently believes a quick way to contention is building a strong defense, the Cards wouldn’t be foolish to take Anderson. But I think they’re better off adding one or two strong prospects here—and they can do that best by waiting till draft night to deal.
4. Indianapolis. Colts are a mystery team right now.
Very big week for Indy. The Colts, who pick fourth and 35th in the top 50, are working out Young, Stroud, Richardson and Levis. By Saturday, they should have their list of quarterbacks in order—and coach Shane Steichen and GM Chris Ballard should know if Richardson or Levis is worth selecting here.
The Colts are in a good but not great spot. After going the last five seasons with five different starting quarterbacks, they need to get off the QB-go-round and settle on one long-term—but if they don’t believe in Richardson or Levis, they can’t force it. There may be the option of trading down or picking Hendon Hooker (the Tennessee quarterback is coming off ACL surgery and is likely to miss most of 2023), which would mean Gardner Minshew playing to start the season in a year that’s pretty important for Ballard after four straight years without a playoff win.
That brings us to Lamar Jackson. After Jackson tweeted last week that he’d asked to be traded, there was speculation the Colts would be interested, in part because of the desperation of owner Jim Irsay. And if the guarantees weren’t stupid, I think the Colts would be interested. My bet is the Ravens would take the fourth pick in the draft, solely, for Jackson. But I can’t see the Colts getting involved with Jackson having the injury history of the last two years (34 percent of the Ravens’ offensive snaps missed in ’21 and ’22, with Jackson starting and finishing one of Baltimore’s 12 December/January games in the last two years) and wanting a fully guaranteed contract. Rampant speculation, some fueled by Jackson, is that Baltimore has offered a three-year pact fully guaranteed and it wasn’t good enough.
in regards to my future plans. As of March 2nd I requested a trade from the Ravens organization for which the Ravens has not been interested in meeting my value, any and everyone that’s has met me or been around me know I love the game of football and my dream is to help a team
— Lamar Jackson (@Lj_era8) March 27, 2023
Re: a trade-down, it would help Ballard if Georgia’s Jalen Carter weren’t such a scarred prospect. Multiple teams would want to move up for Carter the player, but perhaps not Carter the person. So the Colts may not get a great offer at four—unless one of the QB-needy teams is dying to move up.
Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column