Quarterbacks are the storyline entering the 2023 NFL Draft and atypical uncertainty at the top adds a layer of drama for the festivities in Kansas City on Thursday.
Carolina has been on the clock unofficially since executing a trade for the No. 1 pick with the Chicago Bears in March. The Panthers flooded pro day workouts of the top-ranked quarterbacks in the draft class and dined with each of the four passers thought to be worthy of consideration in the top 10.
"There is consensus," Panthers head coach Frank Reich said of Carolina's front office, coaching staff and ownership agreeing on which QB will be No. 1.
Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer are reportedly leaning toward Alabama's Bryce Young over Ohio State's C.J. Stroud, Kentucky's Will Levis and Florida's Anthony Richardson.
Media reports have purported each of those four to be in the mix in the top two picks since the scouting combine wrapped up in March.
As per annual tradition, teams are clamoring for the franchise centerpiece at the position with the Houston Texans (picks No. 2, 12), Indianapolis Colts (No. 4), Seattle Seahawks (No. 5), Detroit Lions (No. 6), Las Vegas Raiders (No. 7) and Atlanta Falcons (No. 8) in line to potentially draft a player at the position as their long-term solution.
Arizona owns the No. 3 pick and last year committed to Kyler Murray with a five-year extension that sets up the Cardinals with the option to wheel and deal to move down, or select one of the top defensive players: Alabama defensive end Will Anderson, Texas Tech defensive end Tyree Wilson or Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter.
"If a trade makes sense and it's the right decision for our team at the time, then we'll do it," said Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort, who took over the post from Steve Keim in January.
Recent history shows a warning label for teams certain this draft is the first step in a QB turnaround. Quarterbacks were drafted with the top three picks in 2021, when Trevor Lawrence went first to the Jaguars followed by Zach Wilson (Jets) and Trey Lance (49ers). Lawrence led Jacksonville to the playoffs last season, but Wilson and Lance are viewed as backups on their current team depth chart after failing to nail down the No. 1 job.
In 2021, 2018 and 2011, quarterbacks flavored the first round with at least four picks used on quarterbacks in the top 15.
Young would be the third first-round pick drafted out of Alabama since the Miami Dolphins started the run by selecting Tua Tagovailoa (fifth overall) in 2020.
If the Panthers pull a surprise, the Texans would likely consider Young with the second pick. New head coach DeMeco Ryans played at Alabama and general manager Nick Caserio was an undersized college quarterback before breaking into scouting with the New England Patriots.
Young's size -- 5 foot 10, and he weighed 204 at the combine -- isn't near the prototype or accepted standard in the NFL. Fitterer insists he doesn't care about height, weight or hand size as much as media types might imply. Fitterer was a member of the Seahawks' scouting staff when Seattle used a third-round pick on a 5-foot-11 quarterback from Wisconsin who turned out alright by franchise standards.
"When Russell Wilson came out, he had three balls batted down his senior year; Bryce had two," Fitterer said. "It doesn't seem to be an issue. When you grow up a shorter quarterback, you learn how to evolve your game and adapt and see the field, and he's done that."
Carter deals with no questions about his size. The enormous defensive tackle has light feet, quickness and rare power on the move, a package that helped elevate his status during his junior season with the Bulldogs. But off-the-field questions about maturity and accountability were amplified in February when an arrest warrant for drag racing caused him to leave the scouting combine.
Carter entered a "no contest" plea to charges related to the incident that involved the fatal crash of a teammate and Georgia staffer on Jan. 15. He also showed up to his pro day nine pounds heavier than his combine weight and opted out of multiple drills.
Seattle and Detroit, who both have multiple first-round picks Thursday, are rumored to be the two teams most likely to roll the dice on Carter's upside.
"Yeah, he came in and he did a nice job," Lions general manager Brad Holmes said. "Yeah, again, it's always case-by-case. (He) came in, enjoyed our time with him, he did a nice job. I'll say, even after we had our visit, I felt better on him."
Just 31 picks will be made Thursday during the first round, a result of the Miami Dolphins losing their pick as punishment for owner Stephen Ross tampering with coach and quarterback candidates who were under contract.
As a result of past trades, four other teams don't have a first-round pick in the draft: the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams.
--Field Level Media