NFL Pick: No. 1 Pick in 2023 Draft: C.J. Stroud (-250) at Bet365
We figured all along that the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL draft would be used on a quarterback. The Chicago Bears were not a great choice to stay with that pick, and sure enough, they traded it to the Carolina Panthers, who moved up from No. 9 by giving up a haul, including wide receiver D.J. Moore.
Does the change to Carolina holding the top pick change the odds of which quarterback goes first? It absolutely has as Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud (-250) is now the odds-on favorite to go No. 1 at many of the top-rated sportsbooks. He is followed by quarterbacks Bryce Young (+275), Anthony Richardson (+400), and Will Levis (+2500) as the four-highest odds for that No. 1 pick.
But who will it be on April 27? Let’s review each case.
Will Levis, Kentucky (+2500)
When the Panthers were sitting at No. 9, Kentucky’s Will Levis felt like a very realistic option for them as they could not go another season with the likes of Baker Mayfield, P.J. Walker, and Sam Darnold at that position.
But Levis has fallen out of favor to the No. 4 quarterback in this class now. A Penn State transfer, Levis only passed for 43 touchdowns in two seasons with Kentucky and lacks the high ceiling of the other quarterbacks in this class.
Still, there is a chance someone like Tampa Bay or Washington could move up in the draft and take him in April. But it will certainly not be Carolina at No. 1.
Anthony Richardson, Florida (+400)
Richardson has been flying up the draft charts, and some mock drafts have even moved him No. 1 to Carolina as we are now in free agency and wild rumor season. But would the Panthers really make such a bold trade from No. 9 to No. 1 to take the biggest project quarterback at the top of this draft? That seems unlikely.
Richardson ran the best 40 time at the combine among quarterbacks (4.43 seconds), and his athleticism is obvious. Still, he has consistency issues as a passer and is basically a one-year starter in college. He did flash with a couple of 400-yard passing games last year.
New Carolina head coach Frank Reich certainly wants a younger player at the position, but he has shown he can adjust to several different quarterbacks after having a new primary starter five years in a row with the Colts.
Richardson would be a shocking pick at No. 1, but it does not seem overly likely to happen right now.
Bryce Young, Alabama (+275)
For much of the last year, Alabama’s Bryce Young was the favorite to go No. 1 to the Houston Texans. Then the Texans beat the Colts in Week 18, Chicago claimed the No. 1 pick instead, and now it seems like people are mocking Young to Houston with the No. 2 pick.
Is Young vs. Stroud the new Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf? Time will tell, but parties are split on which quarterback is the best choice. They both had prolific college careers in great offenses at great schools.
Young threw 80 touchdowns to 12 interceptions while averaging 8.8 yards per attempt at Alabama. His improv skills do seem like they should serve him well in the NFL similar to a young Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson.
Young is a gamer. He only lost 4-of-34 games he played in, and even in defeat, he passed for 328, 369, 369, and 455 yards. He led Alabama to at least 31 points in 3-of-4 losses.
The good mobility with a pass-first mindset a la Patrick Mahomes is exactly what you want to see from a modern-day NFL quarterback. If the Panthers are not sold on Young, then Houston will probably be feeling fortunate to take him No. 2 after losing out on the No. 1 pick.
C.J. Stroud, Ohio State (-250)
After the Carolina trade for the No. 1 pick, most major mock drafts are in favor of C.J. Stroud going from Ohio State to Carolina. He is the odds-on favorite at this point, and it is not hard to see why the Panthers would be interested.
New coach Frank Reich probably did not want to take the job unless he was promised a young franchise quarterback. In Indianapolis, he went through five years of Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, and Matt Ryan. Two of those last three were immobile players, Wentz was a mess, and Brissett was thrown into a rough situation after Luck surprisingly retired.
Reich and the Panthers badly need a reset at the most important position after a few years of purgatory since the Cam Newton era ended poorly. The Panthers have not been to the playoffs since the 2017 season.
The Panthers Know What They Need
Carolina has also lost 50 straight games when trailing in the fourth quarter. This offense needs someone who can put points on the board, and Stroud did exactly that at Ohio State the last two years. The Buckeyes were No. 1 in scoring in the NCAA in 2021 and No. 2 in 2022.
In just two years, Stroud passed for 85 touchdowns to 12 interceptions while averaging 9.8 yards per attempt, a full yard better than Bryce Young.
Speaking of better measurements than Young, Stroud stands at 6’3” while Young is 5’10” or 5’11” if you are feeling most generous. Either way, Young is a much smaller quarterback and that does seem to be playing a big factor in how he is perceived as a prospect.
Stroud should not be compared to Newton, who was way more physical of a runner while Stroud is even more pass-first philosophically than Young. But this might fit Reich’s offense best as he expects plays to be run on time and in rhythm.
It is a tough choice for Carolina, but you have to figure they have a good read on which quarterback they want if they made this big of a trade to No. 1.
Conclusion: Which QB Goes No. 1?
Stroud likely will have had a better-supporting cast in college than in Carolina this year, but the same can be said about Young. The Panthers are going to have to beef up the receiving corps after trading away Moore to get this pick. Carolina already traded Christian McCaffrey last season after six games and he still finished second on the team with 33 catches.
This is a massive draft pick for this franchise as they are prepping this quarterback to be the savior. They have to make the right pick.
We should not ignore the heavy shift in the market towards Stroud going No. 1, or the difference in height and frame between Stroud and Young, or that Houston has always seemed more pro-Young than any team. With the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL draft, look for the Carolina Panthers to select C.J. Stroud.
NFL Pick: C.J. Stroud (-250) at Bet365