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Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud Are Top Candidates to Be the No. 1 Pick in the 2023 NFL Draft

Opening the mailbag to look at the Alabama and Ohio State QBs. Plus, when Jadeveon Clowney will sign, Justyn Ross going undrafted, the Patriots’ confusing draft and more.

The draft is over, and you’ve got questions. I have answers …

From Carbon (@FullyCarbonated): Early call on who goes number one next year—Stroud or Young—and who do you think that team will be?

First of all, on the second question—I don’t know that I want to answer in May who the worst team in football is going to be come December and January. You can figure out that part, and whether whatever team that is needs a quarterback or not.

But I can dive into the second part. You’re right to identify Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young. They’re the two out front right now, before scouts have really had the chance to dive in, study them on tape, see them in person, do the background and all of that. And to be sure, and to set expectations right, we’re not talking about Trevor Lawrence going into the 2020 season here.

That said, they each have a chance to grade out better with NFL teams than any of this year’s quarterbacks did. Or at least that’s the impression I’ve gotten asking around on them.


“Bryce is really, really good, but C.J.’s got the pro-ready body,” said one NFC exec. “C.J. has a lot of great traits—the ball comes out fast, he sees the field really well. As much as you can in that offense, you see him go through progressions; he looks like a proficient quarterback. He’s got really good touch. He just throws it really well, and he was awesome at their pro day. The ball really popped off his hand. And Bryce is really good now. He’s just so tiny.”

“The story with Bryce now is gonna be the same story next March—he’s small, he’s small, he’s small,” said an AFC exec. “But he’s really talented, too. He’s got excellent command, a great arm and he’s a good athlete. He’s just little, kind of in the Kyler [Murray] world. He plays a different game than Kyler. Kyler would run around and take bad plays; this guy doesn’t. But the size is similar. And he’s gonna go high, you just have to be comfortable with his size.

“I haven’t studied C.J. as much, but he’s good, too,” the AFC exec continued. “He probably doesn’t have the wow that [Justin] Fields did, but he’s way more of a natural passer. You’d watch some of Fields and wonder how he saw it. This kid plays like he’s moving very quickly upstairs.”

So that’s where it stands now. And obviously cases like Spencer Rattler’s, or even Sam Howell’s, color the danger in speaking in absolutes this early. But Stroud and Young have a chance, as do a few other names I was given when I asked around Monday (Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke, Kentucky’s Will Levis, Stanford’s Tanner McKee, and NC State’s Devin Leary).

From Max (@MaxxPrescott): Do teams actually pay PFF to get data from them? Last year they had Damien Harris with a better grade than Jonathan Taylor.

Max, most NFL teams subscribe to Pro Football Focus (and other analytics services), but it’s not for the player grades. They’d at most use those to crosscheck their own grades, and I don’t think it even gets to that very often. More often than not, teams want the objective, not subjective, data from PFF, because it allows them to be more efficient with their workforce (in cutting some of the menial work out).

That said, Cris Collinsworth’s crew does a nice job in a lot of ways. No one should take them as gospel, but it’s a good resource for people, and teams, to have.

From ZY (@zezzro): When does Clowney sign with the Panthers?

From Chris (@hanning_c): When does Clowney sign with the Browns?

ZY and Chris, I’m grouping your questions together because they match up nicely for our purposes. The Browns have been pretty confident that they’d get Jadeveon Clowney back, with the one caveat being that if a team in the South near where the South Carolina native grew up came calling, that could blow things up. So yeah, the Browns are in play and the Panthers probably would be too if they show real interest.

It’s also, worth mentioning that now that we’re past May 2, teams don’t have to worry about a signing like Clowney’s counting against them in the comp-pick formula. That really does matter for some GMs, and it’s often why older free agents wait until this point in the calendar to sign—because a more robust market of contenders can emerge. We’ll see if that happens for Clowney.

From Michael Marino (@MichaelMarino37): Saleh mentioned the Jets had Garrett Wilson above Drake London on their board. Is that legit or is he just saying that to excite fans?

I don’t think Robert Saleh is kidding. My understanding is that Wilson was the No. 1 receiver on the Jets’ board, and a big reason why, as I see it, is he has the sort of complete skill set that gives the ceiling to become a true No. 1 receiver. The Jets already have complementary pieces at the position, in Elijah Moore and Braxton Berrios, and this year’s 10th pick has a chance to grow into the type of threat that’ll open things up for them.

If you want to get excited, here are three comps for Wilson I’ve heard over the last few years: DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs, CeeDee Lamb. All of those guys are averaged-sized receivers with go-go gadget arms who play much bigger than they are, and can attack the defense on all three levels. To me, that’s who Wilson is, too.

From Omicron survivor (@MaazAAbbasiMD): Are you surprised that not one team would spare a seventh-rounder on Justyn Ross? Are they worried about the legal implication of further injury, knowing his previous spinal fusion?

Omicron, I’m not surprised. The medical piece of the equation is bigger than most people realize for teams, and in a case like Ross’s, unfortunately. And while there’s often a wider divide in medical opinion from one team to the next then you might think, this isn’t one of those cases. Ross was seen as high-risk by just about everyone—having undergone cervical spine and lower-back fusions since a star-studded freshman year at Clemson.

And I don’t know about the legal implications, but there’s certainly concern that if Ross takes the wrong kind of hit it could be catastrophic.

That’s why I think the best thing any of us can do is hope for good health going forward, whether he plays in the NFL for 10 years or 10 minutes. And if he has success in the league, that’s a bonus. Which is why the Chiefs’ signing of the hero of the 2019 CFP title game should be viewed pretty much strictly as a flier.

From Wade Breer (@bop8wbopper): Are we related?

If you have family from Michigan, California or the Harz Mountains in Germany (I think that’s where my great-great-grandfather immigrated to Los Angeles from) … maybe!


From Big Red (@RedimusPrime24): Do you see a similarity in the Justin Fields situation and the Sam Darnold situation with the Jets? GM and HC trade up for you, both are fired after rookie year. Now new regime is in charge. Will Fields be the long-term answer in Chicago since the new regime didn’t draft him?

Big Red, I can see where you’d draw the comparison. So really, I have two thoughts here.

The first is that, yes, Justin Fields came into the league on a roster that needed a teardown—a once great defense had aged—but playing for a regime that needed to hold the team together to try to save jobs. That didn’t work out, and the good news now is that new GM Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus aren’t hanging on to the past. They’re doing what needs to be done.

Which brings to the second thing, and it’s the bad news. The Bears are going to take their lumps in 2022. They’re carrying over $52 million in dead-cap money in ’22, which accounts for a staggering 25% of their cap for this year. This sort of strategy, to be sure, isn’t without precedent. The Bills took on $70.3 million in dead cap in ’18—roughly 40% (!) of that year’s cap—which made it tough to give then rookie QB Josh Allen much help. But when the Bills came out of that, they had clean books and the wherewithal to build aggressively.

That’s where the Bears are with Fields. He’s going to be, in Year 2, in a place similar to the one Allen was in as a rookie. And the hope is he can grow through it like Allen did, and then they can make splashier moves to help him next spring.

Does that mean he’s definitely the long-term answer? It obviously doesn’t, and as was the case with Darnold, it’s never great for a young quarterback when those who were most invested in his drafting wind up getting fired. But I do think Poles and Eberflus are going to give him a fair shake, and some rope to prove that he can be the long-term answer (and to be fair, Joe Douglas did give Darnold two years to do that too, before drafting Zach Wilson).

From GucciBucketHat (@GucciBucketHat0): Why Cole Strange and Tyquan Thornton?

Gucci, from a pure football standpoint, I think the answer on Strange is that he fit the Patriots’ profile for an interior lineman, and they needed one after losing Shaq Mason (via trade) and Ted Karras (via free agency) this offseason, having already lost Joe Thuney the offseason before. On Thompson, I think it’s about making an offense that played slowly last year faster, and finding weapons that will unlock Mac Jones’s ability to play point guard and use the whole field against defense. And I wouldn’t argue against any of that logic.

My issue, again, is with where they drafted them.

No one was taking Strange in the first round, and I think the number of teams that had him in the second round was relatively small. Most that I talked to—and remember, it’s important for teams to understand how the league as a whole views these guys—believed he’d be a late-second-rounder at best, and probably a third-rounder. So they probably could’ve gotten him at 54. And if not, the Patriots of all teams have shown that you can get guards then (Thuney was a third-rounder, Mason a fourth-rounder and Karras a sixth-rounder).

Same deal with Thornton. I wrote Monday that an area scout assigned to Baylor, one of the guys who’d know Thornton best, had him in the fifth round. I think he’d probably have gone in the fourth, because of his 40 time. No one else, as far as I can tell, had him in the second round.

This is why being able to value players from a league perspective is so important. Let’s say you get Strange at 54 and Thornton in the fourth round. Now, you’ve essentially freed up the first-rounder, at 29, while still getting two guys you really liked. Maybe then you take the plunge on a need at a premium position, by drafting a Trent McDuffie or Kaiir Elam. And if you really want to bring color to this, consider the Patriots drafted a quarterback, in Bailey Zappe, in the fourth round. So now, you’re trading off Zappe for McDuffie or Elam.

Remember, if things go to plan, Zappe will never see the field.

Add that up, and you have why rival teams were baffled by the Patriots’ draft weekend.

Now, maybe in five years, Strange and Thornton will be stars and Bill Belichick will look like a genius. It wouldn’t be the first time, and then, à la the Seahawks in 2012, you could applaud the conviction. I just can’t find anyone who thinks that’s how this will turn out.

From Jeremy Foster (@MauiAllDay): Why is the NFL schedule releasing later in the year than normal this year?

Jeremy, it used to be that the league wanted it out in April so the networks could have it for their upfronts (where they present what they’ve got coming in the fall for advertisers). COVID-19 wound up pushing the date back a couple of years ago, and I think the league saw the benefit in having the schedule release after the draft, allowing for end-of-the-process tweaking to build compelling draft-related story lines into the slate.

From Bobby Bacala III (@curtisbaccala55): It’s been reported the Dolphins are looking at Akiem Hicks and Carlos Dunlap, but is there any indication that Chris Grier is looking to add to the offensive line with names like J.C. Tretter still available?

Bobby, I wouldn’t rule anything out. The Dolphins have plenty of cap flexibility—they’re top-10 in the league in space available—and we’re past the deadline for moves to be counted toward the comp-pick formula for 2023. So adding veteran offensive lineman (especially a smart center to take calls off the quarterback, something Shanahan offenses generally have, to get the signal-caller playing faster) isn’t out of the question.

That said, I do know the hope was that acquiring Terron Armstead in March would allow for Miami’s younger linemen to fall into more natural roles. And it’s certainly possible that Mike McDaniel and his staff want to see how that looks in OTAs before taking more swings at veterans to put in front of Tua Tagovailoa.

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