NFL draft and free agency seasons get a simultaneous early start this week with the annual NFL Scouting Combine. Pro Football Network will have wall-to-wall on-the-ground cover in Indianapolis beginning Tuesday. But first, let’s set the stage with the five most pressing questions surrounding the NFL Scouting Combine.
Top 5 NFL Scouting Combine Storylines
After a relatively muted 2022 NFL Draft cycle, there’s no lack for drama this week at the NFL Scouting Combine. Quarterbacks are king, and they will dominate the discourse in the coming days — with free agency, trades, and the draft all avenues for teams looking for their QB1.
Stroud vs. Young vs. Levis — and Maybe Even Richardson
It’s hard to remember a more-wide open battle to be the NFL Draft’s No. 1 pick. Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young, Kentucky’s Will Levis and even Florida’s raw but gifted Anthony Richardson are all names in the mix.
For much of the college football season, the conventional wisdom was that either Stroud or Young would be the first quarterbacks off the board, but that assumption has proven premature.
Young is by far the most accomplished of the four, but all eyes will be on the 2021 Heisman Trophy Award winner’s measurements. Most believe he’ll be sub-6 feet and sub-200 pounds — which could be a red flag for teams after injuries to smallish QBs Lamar Jackson and Tua Tagovailoa ruined their respective teams’ seasons.
Richardson and Levis are both athletic gems who haven’t really developed into complete quarterbacks. And Stroud needs to prove that he has the mobility to escape when plays break down.
“Unlike last year, we’ve got some name-brand quarterbacks that people are familiar with that people have seen, that people have very strong opinions on,” said Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Media’s respected draft analyst. “I think the league is very split on those guys. . … I think this is a year where, again, you’re going to see some players that are 12 or 13 on one team’s board, and they might be 53 on another team’s board, which is — there’s a lot of variance of opinion.
“There’s going to be some — there’s going to be some fascinating storylines to follow as we go towards the draft.”
Will Chicago Bears Trade Pick No. 1 — or Justin Fields?
The animating force behind this year’s great drama is the fact that we have the perfect storm of speculation at the top of the draft. The Bears own the No. 1 pick and have a promising young quarterback in a year with a bunch of top QB prospects.
So the question Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles must answer in the next week is whether any of the top four QBs will make a better pro than Justin Fields, who took a big leap forward in Year 2.
Fields led the NFL in yards per carry (7.1) and had the second-most rushing yards by a quarterback in NFL history (1,143) in 2022, but still has a ways to go passing the ball. He completed just 60.4% of his passes with a 85.2 rating.
If the Bears believe Fields is on the right path, they will presumably trade the No. 1 overall pick to a quarterback-desperate team. And if they prefer one of these prospects, they’ll make the pick at 1 and deal Fields.
“We’re gonna do the same as we’ve always done,” Poles said last month. “We’re gonna evaluate the draft class, and I would say this: I would have to be absolutely blown away to make that type of decision.”
ESPN reported Monday that the Bears have already been approached by multiple teams that are interesting in trading up to 1, and the Bears are “leaning toward” moving the pick.
Who Will Be First Non-QB Taken?
If the Bears do indeed stick with Fields, the odds are relatively high they’ll be the team that drafts the first non-quarterback — either at 1 or if they trade down to 2 (Texans) or 4 (Colts).
Obviously, dropping to 4 would come with a bigger trade bonanza but would also mean running the risk of losing out on their top-rating player to the Cardinals, who pick third.
But it’s entirely possible that 2023 is a repeat of 2021, when quarterbacks went 1-2-3. The Cardinals seem sold on Kyler Murray, but a team might feel compelled to jump the Colts to land the guy they want.
In that scenario, whoever picks fourth is going to get a steal on the defensive line.
In the eyes of many, it’s a coin flip between Georgia’s Jalen Carter and Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. as to who is the best non-QB. On PFN’s consensus big board, Carter — who ESPN reports will not work out this week but will go through the medical and interview process — has the slight edge.
“At 6’3″, 300 pounds, Carter legitimately has all the tools to be a game-changing 3-tech, in a modern NFL where interior pressure is just as important, if not more important, than edge pressure,” wrote PFN draft analyst Ian Cummings.
“Carter is dense and well-leveraged, with high-end mass and proportional length. He explodes off the line like a cannon and exacts similar damage to blocks at initial contact. All the while, he can string together quick and violent hand moves, to deliver on his terrifying traits.”
Aaron Rodgers Drama, Again
Stop us if you’ve heard this before: The Green Bay Packers still don’t know for sure if Aaron Rodgers will be on their team this season.
It’s a long-running drama series that seems to repeat its plot each year. There has been a bit of a twist in 2023, with Rodgers going into seclusion recently to ponder his fate.
Rodgers has three options: Return to the Packers, force a trade, or retire from football. Picking Door No. 3 would cost him roughly $60 million this year alone, so that’s not going to happen.
If he forces a trade, the Jets and Raiders are among the teams to watch. It’ll be fascinating how much light Packers GM Brian Gutekunst sheds when he opens up two days of coaches/GMs news conferences Tuesday at 10 a.m.
More Quarterback Questions
On paper, the class of free agent quarterbacks is as impressive as it’s been in some time.
Granted, that list is inflated by the inclusion of the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson and the Giants’ Daniel Jones. Both will likely get the franchise tag ahead of next week’s deadline.
But a tag-and-trade for Jackson — whose contract demands have not been met by the Ravens and probably will not be — is certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Coach John Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta both speak Wednesday.
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