NFL Draft First-Round Quarterbacks: Year 1 Outlooks for Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson
Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images. Pictured: Bryce Young.
The first round of the 2023 NFL Draft is in the books, and three of the first four picks off the board were quarterbacks.
As expected, Bryce Young went first overall to the Carolina Panthers. The Houston Texans stayed put at No. 2 and grabbed C.J. Stroud. Two picks later, the Indianapolis Colts grabbed Anthony Richardson.
I wrote this week about the top quarterbacks in the draft and made that trio a clear top three. We also cashed our under 4.5 first-round QBs bet as both Will Levis and Hendon Hooker are still waiting to hear their names called entering Round 2.
Now let’s look at the new homes for Young, Stroud and Richardson. How does each QB fit in his new digs, and what’s the immediate and long-term outlook?
As bettors, we’re already thinking about division winners and team over/unders. These are also three of the four favorites for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
I’ve already thrown my hat into the ring for Falcons RB Bijan Robinson, but nine of the last 19 ROYs (47%) were QBs, with 15 of the last 19 (79%) top-12 picks, so these signal-callers are very real threats.
Let’s start at the top with the No. 1 overall pick.
Bryce Young, Panthers
Carolina gave up a haul to move up to No. 1 and got its man. Young should be a Day 1 starter ahead of Andy Dalton, but the Alabama product will have his work cut out for him.
The Panthers are a trendy sleeper to be this year’s worst-to-first division winner. They’re the third favorite, but odds are down to +330 at DraftKings already.
The offensive line is a work in progress. The Panthers improved from 30th in my offensive line rankings two years ago to 23rd entering last season; they’re nearing league average now. Sophomore Ikem Ekwonu moves to left tackle and is still learning how to pass block, and both guards begin the year injured. That could make for a rocky start to the season. Young has handled pressure well, but he isn’t built to take big hits.
The weapons surrounding Young leave plenty to be desired. There’s no more Christian McCaffrey or D.J. Moore. Instead, D.J. Chark is one of the league’s worst WR1s, though Adam Thielen and Hayden Hurst should be reliable security blankets. There’s not much to attack down field, and we saw Young struggle a bit at Alabama with lesser weapons and protection.
A reliable run game should help. The line is better at run blocking and did well late last season even without McCaffrey; a combo of Miles Sanders and Chuba Hubbard should be solid. Carolina would be wise to skew to a run-heavy approach early to ease Young in. The defense should also be good, so that helps.
I’m not sure I see a lot of early success for Young. I worry about his O-line, and this is a full rebuild so Young will need help to come. The long-term outlook is positive under new Panthers coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, but they too will take some time to settle in.
I’m not too excited to invest in Young or the Panthers this season, but you have to buy long-term stock for a No. 1 pick with Reich and a franchise set to build around him.
C.J. Stroud, Texans
I ranked Stroud first in my QB scouting report, but he’s the one I’m most worried about.
As the most accurate quarterback in the draft, Stroud has the highest floor of this trio. When you give him a clean pocket and time to make a read, he delivers the ball with precision and accuracy.
The biggest questions for Stroud are twofold. The first is whether he has high-end upside — like win-a-game-on-your-own, face-of-a-franchise, top-five-QB upside. I’m not sure he does, and for a Texans roster bereft of talent, I’d rather take a swing on a high-upside guy than a safe floor. Better to strike out and be back at the top of the draft again than raise the floor to mediocre.
The second question is more worrying: Can Stroud perform under pressure, or when the situation is not ideal? The numbers were not kind when Stroud was under pressure, but it didn’t happen often at Ohio State, where he had great protection and an absurd collection of receivers (Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Marvin Harrison Jr.).
With the Texans, Stroud steps into one of the worst situations in the NFL.
The offensive line is poor, possibly bottom five in the league. LT Laremy Tunsil is a stud, but the interior line is a disaster. Stroud has struggled under pressure, and he’s going to see a ton of it with the Texans.
He won’t have much talent around him either. Robert Woods is a steady veteran WR, but he leaves plenty to be desired as a top option, and Nico Collins and John Metchie are unproven. New signing Dalton Schultz could be a real security blanket and lead the team in catches. The run game should be solid with sophomore RB Dameon Pierce and free-agent addition Devin Singletary, but the cupboard is mostly bare.
And don’t forget, the Texans made a blockbuster trade immediately after picking Stroud. Many franchises would use that as an opportunity to add a star blocker or stud receiver to help its new QB, but Houston grabbed a defender for DeMeco Ryans. That leaves them short on opportunities to add high-end talent around Stroud both this year and next, and it could make for a long and difficult rebuild.
For Stroud to be successful this season and going forward, he may have to be a superstar who elevates his teammates in a subpar team environment. His lack of upside to do exactly that was the main criticism levied against him. I’m worried.
Anthony Richardson, Colts
I like Richardson’s landing spot the best of the three, and that’s a good thing because he’s the rawest prospect by a wide margin and will need the most help.
The Colts offensive line entered the last many seasons in my top 10. They struggled through injuries in recent years, but still have a lot of upside if Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly can stay healthy, and LT Bernhard Raimann continues to improve. There’s still a top-10 line in there, and the run blocking will be helped by a strong, mobile QB.
Expect the Colts rushing attack to be about as good as anyone’s. Jonathan Taylor may be the league’s most talented back, and Richardson will add a rushing dimension we’ve never seen from an athlete of this caliber, further opening up the attack. A run-heavy offense makes things much easier on a young QB.
The receivers are big, and that should help a quarterback with a lot of accuracy issues. Michael Pittman is underrated and developing into a true WR1 while sophomore Alec Pierce got going late. Those two and TE Mo-Alie Cox are big targets who can help snag a loose ball when Richardson is not on the money.
It’s also hard to find a more perfect marriage of talent and coaching than Richardson and new Colts head coach Shane Steichen. He helped develop both Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts.
Herbert had to play much earlier than expected as a rookie but was good from the jump, throwing almost 600 times for 4,336 yards and 31 TDs with only 10 interceptions en route to winning Rookie of the Year. Hurts wasn’t as great his first full year as a starter, when Steichen joined the staff as OC, but he was solid with 3,144 yards and 16 TDs and only 9 interceptions.
Hurts and Herbert saw their accuracy and turnover problems reined in under Stiechen. Both were also utilized in the run game. Herbert ran for five scores as a rookie, and Hurts nearly led the league in rushing TDs last season and was unstoppable on sneaks.
None of this will happen overnight. It’s hard to think of many recent first-round QBs less ready for immediate action. Don’t be surprised if Gardner Minshew starts for at least part of the season, with Richardson utilized in special packages. When Richardson does play, expect flashes and highlights mixed in with some ugly games where he turns it over three times. This will take time.
Richardson has Rookie of the Year upside if he starts early, especially since the award is typically about stats over winning. He may someday run for 1,000 yards and double-digit TDs.
It will be a long learning and development curve with plenty of losing and lumps along the way, but Richardson steps into the perfect long-term situation. If he’s going to hit his upside, Indianapolis is the place to do it.
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