By Alex Lauzon from the “Course of Life” podcast
The Annual QB Love Affair Commences
We’re about a month away from the 2023 NFL Draft, and just as it goes every other March this seems to be the month on the calendar where we over-fixate and fall madly in love with QB draft prospects. Despite the fact that this QB class in 2023 seems to be a bit “down” in scout’s eyes, that hasn’t slowed down the hype machine at all for over-anxious football fans in the height of the offseason.
In this quarterback-driven league, finding a serviceable to star-level signal-caller is everything, and if you can find that player on a rookie contract with about ¼ the cost of a bonafide superstar? Well, you shop at that store every time. With that, let’s get to the top of the draft board and overhype these rookie QBs like we love doing every year. Surely there are desperate teams at the top, and this year’s class is full enough to give any draft guru an arousal. Here’s the lowdown on the top crop of draftable quarterbacks, where they should land, and a few honorably mentioned sleepers I’m seeing for next month’s draft board.
The Top Crop
- Anthony Richardson – Do I think the Florida Gators QB is the top QB in the draft? No, but I do think he’ll get picked before anyone else solely on the upside and franchise match. The Panthers surely have already conjured up memories of drafting Cam Newton and what that did for their franchise. Richardson is essentially Cam Newton 2.0 but with more impressive measurables. He’s the perfect combine-friendly quarterback to go vaulting up the draft board this time of year. As soon as he jumped out of the gym in Indianapolis he has Carolina Panther written all over him shortly after they traded for pick #1.
Pick Projection: #1 – Carolina Panthers
- Bryce Young – It’s quite a funny spot for the former Alabama slinger. He probably would have been the overall pick in last year’s draft, and despite a lackluster 2022 campaign, he’s still right at the top of the board. One word – Alabama. This guy has played in enough big games and been coached up by the best for his time in Tuscaloosa, so there’s little doubt about how “NFL-ready” Young is this September. As for April and where he lands, the team picking second in Houston is a prime target and feels like a natural fit. Let’s face it – they would have kept Deshaun Watson forever if it weren’t for off-the-field transgressions, so if you look at the QB board and who’s most similar to what they lost, this is it.
Pick Projection: #2 – Houston Texans
- C.J. Stroud – If there’s any QB of this class that I would place a long-term futures bet on, it would be Stroud. I’m not sure there’s an immediate pop in his rookie year, but I have a feeling his game and brian will adjust well to NFL speed and playbooks. His playmaking ability late in 2022 was on full display and he peaked his game at the perfect time for the pre-draft love affair to begin amongst draft nerds. As for his fit, there’s a midwest franchise picking at #4 that just got rid of a failed Matt Ryan experiment, and there’s nothing but opportunity on the depth chart. The Colts have a history with pocket passers, but it feels like time for a switch-up in that franchise to grab a true playmaker at QB.
Pick Projection: #4 – Indianapolis Colts
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- Will Levis – Nothing against Levis, but he is the epitome of QB draft prospects that I despise. I know there’s a history with QBs like Rivers and Eli Manning that looked mediocre to poor on their college teams but had all the skills to get it done at the next level – that’s exactly what Will Levis is on this year’s board. He’s got the Ivy league parents and the wiz kid brain, and all the right looks and feels of an NFL Qb with a hose for an arm. However, is there anything to be said about his Kentucky team going 7-6 this season as his stats dropped off from the magical 2021 campaign? Levis is definitely the right look, but he’s the hardest bet to place at the top of the board.
Pick Projection: Washington Commanders (VIA TRADE)
Beyond the main cohort of QBs slated to go in the first round, there’s a gaggle of notable names entered in the 2023 draft. Even though there are some familiar faces for college football fans, these guys haven’t raced up the board as you would suspect but could be the ultimate value plays:
Hendon Hooker – This guy can sling it, and we saw that as he marched the Vols to some big-time SEC wins this season. Obviously, his torn ACL in November sets his draft stock back, but he appears to be recovering nicely this spring. He’s mocking in the 4th round but don’t be surprised if he gets nabbed on day two.
Jake Haener – My favorite prospect outside of round one, partially due to many won bets on Fresno State this past season. He hasn’t gotten much attention nationally but he’s a poised pocket passer that can move better than half of the QBs starting in the NFL. He’s definitely a sleeper pick that could pay huge dividends and should be off the board by round five.
Max Duggan – Remember the loveable ginger QB for TCU? That was Mad Max Duggan running around the field and producing miracles during TCU’s magical run to the CFP Championship game. He’s a bit raw but I like his moxie, so he’ll get drafted in the late rounds and have to prove his worth this summer in camp.
Stetson Bennett – Last but not least, the QB that has dominated college football for the past two seasons more than anyone in memory. A little bit of a “well that’s sad” vibe seeing him mocked as low as the 6th or 7th round, but I’ve seen a winner or two come from the late rounds in my days as a Patriots fan.
Don’t worry, the rookie QB love affair will only grow until the late April climax.