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The Curious Case of Pick One

CJ Bryce
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We are just a few weeks away from the 2023 NFL Draft. The Carolina Panthers are on the clock, and no one really knows who they are going to pick.

NFL teams, experts, and fans expect the Panthers to pick a quarterback with their first pick. After giving up the No. 9 and 61 picks this year and first and second-round picks next year, AND star receiver DJ Moore it’s hard to imagine Carolina isn’t trying to land their franchise QB.

Luckily for Carolina, the 2023 NFL Draft has several quarterback prospects seen as potential franchise saviors.

CJ Stroud

The former four-star recruit from Rancho Cucamonga, California could be any NFL GM’s dream quarterback. At the NFL Combine, he measured in at 6’3 and 214 pounds— an ideal frame for an NFL QB.

After sitting behind current Bears quarterback Justin Fields in 2020, CJ Stroud became the starter at Ohio State in 2021 and never looked back. In two seasons as the Buckeyes signal caller, Stroud threw 85 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. In his two seasons in Columbus, he accumulated 8,123 career passing yards, the only Buckeye to have more passing yards in a career; four-year starter JT Barrett.

Not only did Stroud put up near record-breaking numbers in Columbus, but he also led his team to wins and lots of them. During his two seasons as the starter, Ohio State accumulated a 22-4 record, including a Rose Bowl victory and College Football Playoff appearance. In Stroud’s lone CFP game against the eventual champion Georgia Bulldogs, he did what few quarterbacks could; excel.

In Stroud’s last college game, against one of college football’s greatest dynasties, he completed 23 of 34 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-41 loss.

One of the very few criticisms of Stroud is that he was made to look better because of the stellar wide receiver room at Ohio State, which could be true. In his time at Ohio State, Stroud was throwing to guys like Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Marvin Harrison Jr., and Jaxon Smith-Njigba to just name a few. Olave and Wilson have already found success in the NFL, and it seems like JSN and Harrison Jr. will follow in their footsteps. Personally, I do not see the logic in devaluing Stroud because he had great receivers around him. He still made the throws and did all the things great quarterbacks do. Plus, Stroud will have NFL talent around him in the NFL.

Stroud really seems like a slam dunk when it comes to quarterback prospects. This is why many sportsbooks have Stroud as the favorite to be selected first by the Panthers.

Bryce Young

I have no doubt that if Bryce Young wasn’t built like one of those boys that dance on TikTok, he would be the no-doubt first pick in this year’s NFL Draft.

Young has always been that guy, ever since his high school days at Mater Dei in California. Coming out of high school, he was a five-star recruit that decided to play for legendary coach Nick Saban at Alabama.

Like Stroud, Young sat a year before getting the starting quarterback job. Also like Stroud, he thrived. In his two seasons at Alabama, Young passed for 8,200 yards, 79 touchdowns, and just 12 interceptions. Young’s great play was rewarded in 2021 as he won the Heisman Trophy, the most prestigious award in college football.

He led the Tide to a 24-4 record while serving as the starting quarterback, including an SEC Championship, Sugar Bowl victory, and appearance in the national championship. Young has one of the most polished college football resumes of all time.

It is hard to find flaws about Young that aren’t about his frame. He’s a little guy, and luckily guys like Kyler Murray, Russ Wilson, and Drew Brees have paved the way for Young to find success in the NFL.

Another concern is that Young did deal with an injury in college. Last season, during a win over Arkansas, Young suffered an AC sprain. Young was able to overcome the injury and only missed one game.

The size and injury concerns are attempts to poke holes at a prospect that is simply incredible. Watching Bryce Young play quarterback is hypnotizing. The way he moves his feet in the pocket, evades defenders, and puts passes on the money is rare.

If he wasn’t considered small, Bryce Young would be the first pick, and he might get picked first despite it. I know if I was the GM of the Panthers, I wouldn’t let his stature affect that decision.

Two Ideal QB Projects

Stroud and Young are in a different category than all the other quarterbacks in this draft, in my opinion. They are both guys that seem as if they are ready to be plugged in and be the day-one starter for an NFL team, which the Panthers need.

In this next category are Anthony Richardson and Will Levis. I see both of these guys as projects in the NFL. Also, I was lucky enough to see both of these guys play while they were in college.

Will Levis

I saw Levis play on November 6, 2021 in Lexington, Kentucky against Tennessee. On that night, Levis completed 31-49 passes for 372 yards, 3 touchdowns, and one interception as Kentucky would lose to Tennessee 42-45.

I remember being impressed by Levis, but I didn’t think he was a guy that an NFL team would give up a ton of assets to build their franchise around.

Levis’ 2021 season was the high point of his college career. He completed 233 of 353 passes for 2,826 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.

In 2022, he completed 185 of 283 passes for 2,406 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions.

It does need to be noted in 2022, Levis’ offensive line was just simply bad, and his top weapon from the prior season, Wandale Robinson, had left UK for the NFL.

Despite Levis not having the best stats, he does have the perfect frame for an NFL quarterback as he stands at 6’4 and weighs 224 pounds. He also has a cannon for an arm.

Levis, as a prospect, is not everyone’s cup of coffee, probably because he puts mayo in his coffee. Yes, he actually does that.

A polarizing prospect, no doubt.

Anthony Richardson

Like Levis, Florida’s Anthony Richardson didn’t have the success that Stroud or Young had in college, but if an NFL GM could build a QB prospect they would look like Richardson.

I saw Richardson play on September 22, 2022, as his Gators played Tennessee in Knoxville. Richardson amazed me as he completed 24 of 44 passes for 453 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. He also rushed for 62 yards and two more touchdowns in the Gators’ loss.

Richardson was a victim of what seemed like a revolving door of coaches at Florida. Dan Mullen recruited Richardson but was fired after the 2021 season. This led to Richardson having to learn a new offense before the 2022 season after Florida hired Billy Napier.

While Richardson’s consistency in college might be a concern, his flashes plus his frame will make NFL teams forget about any incomplete pass or interception he might have thrown. Richardson stands at 6’4 and weighs 244 pounds. Oh yeah, he also ran a 4.43 40-yard dash. Richardson is a rare athlete, more than rare; a freak athlete.

I think both Richardson and Levis can be good NFL quarterbacks, but they will need time to sit and learn a system. Whatever franchise they are drafted by will need to develop them, which is not ideal for a number-one pick.

Anyone Else?

I really don’t think so. Yes, guys like Will Anderson or Jalen Carter, or even Jaxon Smith-Njigba may be the best players in this draft, but with the way the Panthers traded up, they will be picking a QB.

(I am personally a huge fan of JSN, and I think he might be the best player when all is said and done. So, I hope he slides to my Titans at pick 11.)

When all is said and done, with the number one pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers will either pick Bryce Young or CJ Stroud. I really don’t think they can go wrong with either of those guys. My personal preference is Young, but if I were a Panthers fan, I would be just as thrilled if Stroud was picked.

It’s a true win-win at pick one for Carolina if they select either of the clear-cut top two quarterbacks.

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