In fantastic Friday news-dump fashion, the Carolina Panthers have agreed to a trade with the Chicago Bears for the top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Carolina must really like one of the quarterbacks in this draft class, but which one do they like more than the others? Will Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Levis, or Anthony Richardson be the QB in Carolina for the foreseeable future?
We’ll look at Frank Reich’s history with quarterbacks and discuss his offense to take our best guess, but it truly could be any of the QBs from the title.
Carolina Panthers Trade Up to Draft QB
Looking at Reich’s history first as a play-caller in San Diego, Philadelphia, and then as the head coach in Indianapolis, his archetype seems easy to hone in on. From the start, one QB felt like they were the best fit for Carolina and Reich, but he wasn’t necessarily a favorite to be the top pick in the NFL draft.
Reich’s offenses have valued heady quarterback play. That is why the Colts saw a merry-go-round of veteran passers over the last few seasons. Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz (which doesn’t totally fit the mold other than them having a prior relationship), and Matt Ryan all started for Reich over the past four seasons.
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He likes quarterbacks who can get the ball out quickly to the right spot with accuracy. Any sort of playmaking ability outside of structure is a bonus.
If I were a betting man, I’d place some decent coin on Stroud being the Panthers QB in 2023 and beyond.
Why C.J. Stroud Over Bryce Young, Anthony Richardson, and Will Levis?
The fit is perfect. Stroud certainly had his ups and downs as the quarterback at Ohio State. Many believed he wouldn’t be the top pick in the draft for some time because he seemed unwilling to use the athleticism bestowed upon him naturally to his greatest advantage.
But anyone who watched Stroud against Michigan and Georgia had to fall head over heels in love for him. In the biggest moments of his college career, he went on one of the greatest heaters I’ve ever seen from a QB prospect. He couldn’t miss, and he did that against a Georgia defense that allowed just 14.3 points per game in 2022 in the SEC.
Stroud is naturally accurate, and while you won’t confuse his velocity with Richardson or Levis, he has a good arm for an NFL QB. Most importantly, he already knows how to use it. Stroud understands throwing with different paces and trajectories to fit passing overtop and underneath defenders.
Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer seems to be a fan. During an interview with Kyle Bailey, he said, “I think he showed some mobility in that game. I think he makes a lot of throws that a lot of guys can’t make. He’s a natural passer back there in the pocket, and he sees the field.”
As an added bonus, Stroud is a nifty runner as well. In the bucket of statues (hardly exist anymore), pocket passers, creators, and runners, he’s in the pocket-passer bucket. But he has even more natural athleticism than most of his archetype.
Why Not Young?
In the end, it’s really difficult to bet the farm, in this case, in a nearly literal sense considering how much Carolina gave up in the trade for a complete size outlier. Hell, even Stroud, at 6-foot-3, would be the shortest quarterback Frank Reich has ever coached, dating back to Peyton Manning in 2009.
However, Reich had this to say during his media availability at the Combine regarding Young. “Highly intelligent, very fast processor, very poised, accurate passer, playmaker, and he checks a lot of boxes.” If Young were 6-foot-4, he’d probably be the pick. But he’s 5-foot-10, and although he weighed in at over 200 pounds at the Combine, it’s unlikely that was his playing weight.
He simply doesn’t make sense for that reason alone. While the NFL draft is certainly about acquiring the best talent, it’s also an exercise in risk mitigation, and there is no denying Young would be a massive exception to the rules for quarterback success. Russell Wilson is 220 pounds. Even Kyler Murray is thicker and still has had issues finishing seasons, although as a different style of QB.
Why Not Richardson?
Richardson is probably the second-most intriguing name, even if Young was the better college QB and more polished prospect. The narrative is slowly beginning to shift with regard to what is an NFL-ready QB. Richardson’s athleticism provides a pretty hard floor right about where we saw Justin Fields as a rookie.
Rushing ability for a quarterback is massive, especially while still growing as a passer. Daniel Jones was just paid $40 million annually because his rushing ability helped him produce a career year. Richardson has shown a capacity for running an offense. His process is there, he simply needs more snaps to iron things out and a darned good personal coach to fit his lower body.
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Things might be a little ugly early, like with Josh Allen early on. But imagine if Allen ran the way Richardson can, on top of the rest of his freaky athletic package. The reason they’d choose Stroud over Richardson is that Stroud’s game translates more immediately. And if he becomes more comfortable with carrying the football, he could unlock a level that is incredibly dangerous to the rest of the league.
Why Not Levis?
This would be the most hilarious outcome. That’s not to say that Levis is an awful prospect; there’s just nothing that most of us can see that would make him a more highly sought-after pick than Richardson. Maybe it could work out in the long run, but figuring out the process that went behind drafting Levis would be fascinating.
In the end, Levis would be the only pick of the four quarterbacks that would really leave me tilting my head like a confused Husky. Everything that was wrong with Wentz as a player in Indianapolis is evident at times in Levis’ film. Playing injured in 2022 certainly didn’t help, but even if we ignored that and looked just at 2021, what makes him a more palpable prospect than Richardson?