NFL Mock Draft, Rumors, Quarterbacks: Latest on Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Levis, More

NFL Mock Draft, Rumors, Quarterbacks: Latest on Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Levis, More article feature image

Sean Gardner/Getty Images. Pictured: Bryce Young.

I’ve long compared to mocking Round 1 of the NFL Draft to building a puzzle.

When you take all of the pieces out of the box, you’re left with thousands of scattered pieces all over the table. Some are face down, and some fall off. But you don’t just pick up one piece and go from there.

For the NFL Draft, you don’t start at No. 1 and go to 32. The draft is unpredictable, and no one will have a perfect mock.

Like a complicated puzzle, though, there’s a way to build a strong mock. Once you flip all the pieces over and get them together, you see the bigger picture.

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This is the information gathering process of the NFL Draft. With two weeks to go, that’s where us mock nerds are. We’re trying to uncover every piece of relevant information from any legitimate source to help make the most informed decisions.

First, let’s find the edge pieces.

As of this writing, there are 20 players who I believe will be widely regarded as first-round prospects: four quarterbacks, one running back, one wide receiver, four offensive linemen, five defensive ends, one defensive tackle and four cornerbacks. I feel relatively comfortable with mocking those 20 in Round 1 right now.

The remaining 11 picks that will fill out Round 1 are considered “likely,” “maybe,” “unlikely” or “doubtful.” More on them later since they’re not our edge pieces.

First, let’s set the quarterbacks aside first. They’re the corner pieces of this puzzle. Identifying which teams need one is relatively easy, but finding matches for each is a prudent initial step to a mock.

Interestingly enough, this year’s draft class consists of four first-round quarterbacks.

Bryce Young (QB, Alabama)

Projected Range: Picks 1-2
Most Likely Landing Spots: Panthers (1), Texans (2)

Two weeks ago, C.J. Stroud was a heavy favorite (-330) to be selected with the first overall pick. This week, Young became a -330 favorite. The Young surge is too difficult to ignore, and he should accordingly be the presumed pick at this point. That said, we should leave open the possibility that this is a masterfully crafted smokescreen by the Panthers.

Here’s what we know:

1) The Houston Texans love Young, per Lance Zierlein, who is not only the best Texans draft source but arguably the most reliable inside source for any team.

2) Houston may have reservations about Stroud to the point where they bypass QB altogether if Young is taken first. This was first revealed by Zierlein and has since been corroborated by Adam Schefter and others.

3) Following Carolina’s massive trade to No. 1, Schefter immediately reported that Carolina may be interested in moving back from Pick 1 to Pick 2 if Carolina loves two quarterbacks. This was considered an incredibly odd and arguably dismissible report at the time, but it makes more sense now.

4) About three weeks before the draft, seemingly every media source, both local beats and national reporters, have all “heard” that Young is now the guy. So, either there is a massive “leak” somewhere in the building or the pipeline was intentionally busted.

These four facts beg the question: Would Carolina not use Houston’s known affinity for Young as leverage to flip picks? The stakes are incredibly high for Houston, and Carolina holds the cards with the first pick. Ultimately, Houston is left with two options: 1) Call Carolina’s bluff and hope they take Stroud instead of Young; or 2) fold its hand by giving up whatever pick it takes (within reason) to move up to Pick 1, but live to see a bright future with your coveted QB. In this situation, it’s possible that Houston is not inclined to call Carolina’s bluff. In other words, if Young is really the franchise changer, perhaps Houston swallows its pride and pays a price to secure Young.

Ultimately, it’s possible, and even likely, that Young is really Carolina’s decision after going through the draft process, but all of this is to say that we should not dismiss the smokescreen theory either. The signals are there. In any case, it is likely that the smoke will clear in either direction prior to the draft, even if it’s the night before the draft (see 2022 NBA Draft; 2021 NFL Draft regarding Mac Jones vs. Trey Lance).

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C.J. Stroud (QB, Ohio State)

Projected Range: Picks 1-4
Most Likely Landing Spots: Panthers (1), Colts (4), Titans (11)

Notes: As stated, last week Zierlein noted the hesitation that the organization may have with Stroud, citing the fact that Stroud has the same agent as Deshaun Watson and additional factors. Schefter supported this notion yesterday, admitting that he is unsure if the Texans would draft a QB if Young is taken by Carolina first.

Working under the assumption this is true, the question then becomes which team would make a move for Stroud.

The stars seem to be aligning for the Titans (11) to make an aggressive play up to No. 3. Ryan Tannehill has one year remaining on his contract, and the team has made it clear that there are no ties to Malik Willis, who was drafted by former GM Jon Robinson. Tennessee also could trade up for Richardson instead of Stroud.

The third pick is attractive because teams would want to jump the QB-needy Colts at No. 4 if Stroud is available. In fact, it would not be surprising if the Colts moved up to No. 3. Stroud definitely looks the part for Colts GM Chris Ballard.

So, if I think if Stroud is not selected first, then he should be taken at No. 3 or 4.

Anthony Richardson (QB, Florida)

Projected Range: Picks 3-7
Most Likely Landing Spots: Colts (4), Raiders (7), Titans (11)

Notes: I don’t believe the Cardinals (No. 3) will take him, but listing his range as 3-7 leaves open the possibility that a team trades up with Arizona to jump the Colts (No. 4). Perhaps the team that trades up to No. 3 is actually the Colts.

I’m chalking up Seattle’s interest in Richardson at No. 5 and this year’s quarterback class as a massive smokescreen. However, his elite athleticism and dual threat skill-set could have a team like Las Vegas (No. 7) or Tennessee (No. 11) salivating.

I tend to believe both teams will see how the Stroud/Young situation plays out, and possibly won’t even make the move up until the Colts pass on Richardson.

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Will Levis (QB – Kentucky)

Projected Range: Picks 4-19
Most Likely Landing Spots: Colts (4), Raiders (7), Titans (11), Texans (12), Buccaneers (19)

Notes: A month ago, Levis was seen as a consensus top-10 selection. Since then, several reports have portrayed him in a negative light. It’s tough to find a team that is rumored to love him. The fact that it’s all quiet along the Levis front is exceedingly rare, especially for a top quarterback prospect.

Oftentimes, similar silence is a sign of bad things to come, as top prospects who are not linked to or reportedly coveted by teams are the ones who tend to slide on draft night, at least this is my experience having addictively tracked Round 1 of the draft for more than a decade.

It’s certainly possible that the Colts are deciding between Levis and Richardson; Levis could go as high as No. 4 overall. Even if the Colts choose Richardson, Levis could end up in Las Vegas (No. 7). On the other hand, it’s possible that the QB-needy teams – like the Raiders (No. 7), Falcons (No. 8), Titans (No. 11) or Commanders (No. 15), to name a few – simply are not interested.

Levis has some positive traits. He purportedly scored highly on the S2 Cognition test and has a rocket arm. Clearly, he’s no stranger to the weight room either. However, I believe some things he has done have rubbed teams the wrong way, hence the tumble in nearly all popular draft pundit mocks in the last month.

The four corners of this puzzle are to be set accordingly (slotted to their respective teams first on a Mock Draft). Next, it’s time to lay out the other edge pieces. You can use the information about the edge pieces to help build the foundation for your mock or to make bets.

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