The idea that the Carolina Panthers were open to any of the top four quarterbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft was met with skepticism from attendees at the NFL Owners Meeting, according to Dan Graziano at ESPN. That skepticism dovetails well with reports from multiple reporters saying Carolina already has its quarterback pecking order figured out.
With that in mind, the Panthers have been consistent about their messaging, and head coach Frank Reich insisted that the four quarterbacks at the top of the draft — Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Florida’s Anthony Richardson, and Kentucky’s Will Levis — would all receive similar scrutiny and get their fair shake.
The Carolina Panthers Have Cast a Wide Net, but That Might Be an Illusion
All four quarterbacks are scheduled for visits with the Panthers, per The Athletic,’s Joe Person, and the Panthers have attended each of their pro days.
Reich recently brought up both Richardson and Young, mentioning that Richardson’s tape was “exciting” with throws that “screamed top pick,” while Young presents some potential concerns because his durability “is a consideration” given his size. “Also a consideration is his playmaking ability, his accuracy and his leadership, his instincts,” Reich added.
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That small snippet may make it seem like Reich and the Panthers are potentially leaning one way or another among the top four, but it’s worth noting that there has been additional reporting from ESPN’s David Newton that the race isn’t as close as it may appear.
As Newton reports, the Panthers didn’t trade up with a completely unbiased mind toward all four quarterbacks. The team has two preferred passers — Young and Stroud.
Carolina Panthers’ Preference for C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young Is Well-Reported
Newton’s reporting isn’t isolated.
Person came to the same conclusions, though there is some level of flexibility given that there has been an intentional ambiguity on quarterbacks between Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer, who has said that he won’t ask Reich about his preferred quarterback until a week before the draft.
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Fitterer told reporters at the Owners Meeting that there were appealing elements to all three of the quarterbacks whose pro days they had attended by then, saying, “They’re all very different. Will Levis probably had the strongest arm of the group. C.J. is very fluid in his motion. Bryce, the accuracy was just on point. He had a little bit better arm than we thought.”
Of course, with Richardson now done with his pro day, Carolina can add his superlatives to the conversation. The Florida QB’s complete athletic profile may attract them, and his arm can compete with Levis’ for the top spot.
The Carolina Panthers Are Smart To Keep Things Close to the Vest
These might all be smokescreens on smokescreens, though convergent reporting on the topic likely means something meaningful. Unlike most scenarios in which a team has the top pick, it’s materially beneficial for the Panthers to keep their preferences secret.
The Panthers have made no bones about their desire to potentially trade down a few spots after moving mountains to get to the first overall pick. Person reported that they’re open to another trade after moving up to No. 1, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter confirmed that report.
Should the Panthers make their preferences known, they could hurt their trade market. For example, if they like Levis the most but the Houston Texans aren’t enamored with the Kentucky passer, that’d result in one fewer team in the market to trade for the first overall pick.
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Even if the Panthers could convince the Texans to compete for the top spot in that scenario, the knowledge that Carolina might like Levis could encourage another team to trade up to Arizona’s spot at third overall to secure him before the Panthers have a chance to get their guy.
Here’s another example scenario: the Panthers prefer Will Levis and trade their pick to Las Vegas (seventh overall), who then selects C.J. Stroud, followed by the Texans picking Young. This could result in Arizona trading with a team like the Seattle Seahawks to give Seattle the opportunity to snatch Levis away from the Panthers.
Instead, keeping their preferences opaque gives Carolina options to explore trades without giving the game away.
Regardless, now that the team who controls the draft has finished its pro day circuit, we might finally get some level of clarity about how the rest of the draft plays out.