Skip to main content

NFL Draft 2023: Breaking Down How the Top Seven Picks Could Play Out

Round 1 is bound to be unpredictable, but here’s what seems most likely to happen for the teams at the top.

More from Albert Breer: Inside Shane Steichen’s Plans to Build a Winning Culture With the Colts | Takeaways: Bill O’Brien Navigating a Challenging Situation With Mac Jones and Bill Belichick | Odell Beckham Jr. Going to the Ravens Doesn’t Mean There’s a Solution With Lamar Jackson | The NFL Must Look Into the Details in the Allegations Against Cardinals Owner Michael Bidwill

Teams are going into their last sets of draft meetings this week, there’s a week and a half left for all of them to host prospects on in-house 30 visits, and offseason programs are getting underway (for teams with new coaches) this week and (for everyone else) next.

Seventeen days left until the draft. We’re in the home stretch.

So I figured with my calls around set to ramp up in the coming days, now would be a good time to start setting the table for what’s brewing at the top of the draft order. Here’s a look, then, at some buzz from around the NFL on where the teams with the highest picks are looking with the clock ticking down on draft season.

Bryce Young walks off the field after a win with no helmet on

Will Young be the top pick? We still don’t know for sure.

• I don’t know whether the Panthers have made a final decision on which quarterback they’ll take with the first pick. I believe if they had to make that pick today, it would be Alabama QB Bryce Young—and breadcrumbs, at this point, are all over the trail Carolina has traveled.

While the Panthers did travel deep to the quarterback pro days, owners David and Nicole Tepper were on the ground for only the throwing sessions of Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud. Previous obligations kept them from seeing Will Levis throw live at Kentucky (they did make it to dinner with Levis the night before) or getting to Anthony Richardson’s pro day at Florida, which was right after the owners’ meetings. So read into that what you will.

Also, the Teppers, I’m told, spent a good amount of time with Young’s parents at the Alabama pro day, and my understanding is Young has acquitted himself incredibly well in his meetings with Panthers coach Frank Reich.

And then, there’s this one last puzzle piece: Young did really well on the S2 test, a cognitive assessment to measure processing speed that some teams put a lot of stock in when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks. (Joe Burrow and Justin Fields were high scorers on the test in recent years.) Close to half the NFL’s 32 teams subscribe to the test, the Panthers being one of them. Tepper is also said to be a believer in it.

Again, it’s not over yet. The Panthers will have the quarterbacks in for 30 visits this week, as well as into the beginning of next, to tie up every last loose end with each of them. But I think Young’s in good shape to go first.

• It’s tough to get a real read on what the Texans are doing at No. 2, but I’m less convinced it’ll be a quarterback than I was a month ago. If Young were to fall to them, then, yeah, I think Houston will take him. If not? It’s probably a little murkier.

The evidence I have comes down to Houston’s effort to go up to No. 1—at one point, the Texans and Bears were closing in on a deal that’d have the teams flipping spots, with Chicago then doing a deal with Carolina to drop from No. 2 to 9. Houston got a little uncomfortable with it in the end, and the Bears moved forward in doing their deal with the Panthers.

What can we take from that? Well, Houston’s willingness to go up to first tells us there’s a quarterback it likes enough to take there (otherwise, there’d be no reason to go up). But what if the Texans had only one quarterback they saw as worthy of a top-two pick? Add that to the fact that Houston GM Nick Caserio and coach DeMeco Ryans weren’t traveling all over kingdom come to quarterback pro days, and there’s definitely some mystery here.

If it’s not a quarterback, I’d expect Caserio to try to trade down. I still think it’ll wind up being one (likely Stroud, in particular), especially with ownership a little more involved this year. But I’m not 100% sure of it.

• It’s no secret that the Cardinals have put the third pick on the block. And I think if they have trouble moving it, it’ll be because (a) quarterbacks went 1–2, and (b) the league is very split on the quarterbacks after Young and Stroud. If Stroud or Young were to fall to them, then they’d get a haul from someone looking to leapfrog the Colts into the top three.

If not, and they get stuck, my guess would be that new GM Monti Ossenfort and coach Jonathan Gannon will look to park that pick right on the middle of the fairway. And Alabama pass rusher Will Anderson Jr. is that kind of safe pick to build a new program around.

So I’d guess this will be either Anderson or someone coming up for a quarterback.

Anthony Richardson winds up to throw a pass at the combine

Richardson is one of several QBs who could be under consideration with the fourth pick.

• The Colts’ investment in identifying their quarterback of the future, finally, nearly four years after Andrew Luck’s retirement, has been heavy. They held private workouts with Stroud and Young in California last Monday, BYU’s Jaren Hall in Utah on Tuesday, Richardson in Gainesville on Wednesday and Levis in Lexington on Thursday. They’ve already done a 30 visit with Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker (who’s recovering from a torn ACL and can’t work out for anyone yet) and will have the rest in on visits over the next 10 days.

That said, whether the Colts are completely locked in on taking a quarterback at No. 4 is harder to get a read on, even if it felt like a fait accompli a couple of months ago. And the reason why, again, for me, comes down to their interest in trading for the first pick—they didn’t have a ton, telling the Bears they just weren’t there yet with the quarterbacks, where they’d be comfortable taking a big swing and going up in the draft order to get one.

GM Chris Ballard is methodical, so it’s also certainly possible that he looked at the four quarterbacks, didn’t see a huge gap in mid-March, and was O.K. passing. Or maybe he looked at Lamar Jackson as a real postdraft option if he wasn’t comfortable with who was there. Either way, I know Ballard won’t be afraid to take on a player—at any position, really—who’s got traits and needs development (he was part of the Patrick Mahomes evaluation in Kansas City, remember), so someone like Levis shouldn’t be ruled out if Young and Stroud are gone at fourth.

• At No. 5, we know two things: The Seahawks have done all the outward work that a team would do before it takes a quarterback, and GM John Schneider is always open for business when it comes to trading down. And if the Seahawks stick, there are a number of high-end havoc wreakers who could fall in their lap. Maybe Anderson, maybe Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson or, intriguingly, Georgia’s Jalen Carter.

To me, that might be the most interesting thing about this spot the Seahawks are in. Carter would make a ton of football sense for Pete Carroll. Also, Carroll and Seattle have been willing to roll the dice on character risks in the past. Is it too much to do it with a commodity like the fifth pick? I can’t wait to find out.

• Both the Lions and Raiders, sitting at Nos. 6 and 7, could take a quarterback. And the Raiders did make a late run at moving up to the first pick, just before Chicago moved it to Carolina. And really, this turn, with these two teams, could be where the QBs start to tumble. There’s a wide variance in opinions on Levis. After talking to teams the last few weeks, it seems like Richardson could slide further. So having four teams in a row that could take a QB, from picks 4 to 7, passing on either or both, could be an indicator of a long night for one or both of them.

Similarly, in the back half of the top 10, and just past that, it’ll be interesting to see how the corners and tackles fall. Most teams I’ve spoken with up to this point see Illinois’s Devon Witherspoon and Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez as a cut above the next tier, which could put either or both in the top 10. And there are lots of questions about the offensive linemen. Is Peter Skoronski a tackle or guard (one comp I’ve gotten on him from multiple people is Zack Martin)? Is Paris Johnson Jr. strong enough? Is Broderick Jones long enough?

All of that should make for an unpredictable, and fun, Round 1.

Seventeen days to go.