The word coming from scouts and executives throughout the fall was that this would not be the draft for a team to try to fix its quarterback problem. Not enough sure things. Too many questions lingering about all of these prospects.
Four quarterbacks in a row would be a unique way to start the draft, and it would have an unprecedented trickle-down effect on what ensues in the top 10. Though Young lacks prototypical size and weight, he produced plenty at Alabama against the best competition in the country, and it is considered something of a fait accompli in scouting circles that the Carolina Panthers moved up to first to select him.
If that’s the case, it might seem as if Ohio State’s Stroud is something of a lock to go to the Texans with the second pick. They had been tanking for years to get into this position, only to lose that selection to the Chicago Bears on the final day of the season; however, there have been rumblings in recent days about the Texans grabbing Alabama outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr. with the second pick.
“Maybe it’s a smokescreen — you never know this time of year — but I really believe the Texans don’t like Stroud,” said one longtime personnel executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak freely about other teams’ pending transactions. “I keep hearing it, and I’m inclined to believe it. The Titans are the team that really likes Stroud, and I don’t know if they would move all the way up [from the 11th pick to the second] to do it, but I’d keep an eye on that. The Texans could take Anderson or [Georgia defensive lineman Jalen] Carter, but I think they want to trade down more than anything else.”
It has also been no secret that the Indianapolis Colts covet Levis, the Kentucky quarterback. The assumption is whichever team moves to the No. 3 pick is going there for the right to select Richardson, whose otherworldly athletic talents have trumped his limited sample size; he started just 13 games in college. And with the Colts shunning a Lamar Jackson trade at this point, they could go ahead and grab Levis with the fourth selection in this scenario.
That would leave every defensive player eligible for this draft on the board for the defense-needy Seattle Seahawks at No. 5. Which other players have the best shot at rounding out the top 10? Executives I spoke with mentioned several names the most, and though there isn’t a consensus about how the rest of the top 10 will unfold, these players might round it out.
Alabama outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr.: If he isn’t the fifth pick, he won’t be waiting much longer. “Best pass rusher in the draft,” one veteran scout said, “but he doesn’t have the ideal speed to pop the way you’d like.” This isn’t as strong of a pass rush group as we’ve seen in past years, with three or four edge players able to make a viable case for the top five or the top 10. He stands out.
Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter: For all of the issues he has had since the end of the Bulldogs’ season, his talent is clear. One NFL executive said he thinks Carter will still be picked in the top 10. There is a lot of buzz about him going to the Seahawks.
Texas Tech outside linebacker Tyree Wilson: He has prototypical size and length for a pass rusher and has put plenty of production on film already. Teams are always lusting for special athletes who can affect the quarterback, and just about every team picking fifth to 10th could make the case for why Wilson is their guy. The Seahawks, Detroit Lions, Las Vegas Raiders, Atlanta Falcons and Bears could be fits, and the Philadelphia Eagles are getting long in the tooth up front on defense and have had some free agent defections. If not for the run on quarterbacks, Wilson might be a top-five pick.
Northwestern offensive lineman Peter Skoronski: He lacks ideal arm length — “He’s a guard for us,” one general manager said — but checks a lot of boxes. The Bears (picking ninth) have seen him up close, and Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald has strong ties to Halas Hall. Many executives figure at least one offensive lineman will go in the top 10, and perhaps it’ll end up being Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr., but I’m giving the nod to Skoronski because of his positional flexibility.
Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez: Maybe this is Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon, but either way a cornerback will be taken in the top 10. Gonzalez can beat up opponents in press coverage and also excels deep downfield when he has to flip and chase. Multiple executives believe a run on cornerbacks will begin in the back end of the top 10 and the best six will be gone by the 25th pick. “I think the first corner — Gonzalez or Witherspoon — is in play starting with Detroit” at No. 6, one veteran scout said. “The other one won’t be waiting too long to go, either.”
Texas running back Bijan Robinson: It has become taboo to even think about taking a running back this high. Any team that does would be courting disaster and be prime fodder for fans to pick apart. Look at the New York Giants and where they are with Saquon Barkley, the most recent running back to go in the top 10. Despite that, based on what I’m hearing, Robinson could round out the top 10. Maybe the Eagles will grab him at No. 10. Maybe a team will move up a smidgen to be able to land him. “You never have to take him off the football field,” one personnel executive said. “He makes your team better Day 1.” Given the scarcity of truly superlative players and the lack of pass rush, offensive line and wide receiver prospects compared with recent drafts, this may be the year for a special running back to buck the top-10 reticence.