Last Friday, the Carolina Panthers made arguably the biggest swing in franchise history by trading up from No. 9 to No. 1 in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft.
The Panthers swapped picks with Chicago, also sending the Bears their 2024 first, a 2023 second, a 2025 second and receiver D.J. Moore to get the job done.
Some people might think Carolina gave up too much to leapfrog to the top of the draft, but this move was beyond necessary for a team that has been in quarterback limbo for the better part of the past several seasons.
Last year, the Panthers ranked 29th in passing yards per game (176.2). Three players — Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and P.J. Walker — combined to throw 16 touchdowns against 13 interceptions while fumbling the ball 10 times.
Without any sort of viable passing attack, Carolina limped to a 7-10 finish to the season. Rumors swirled over the first month of the offseason about whether or not the Panthers would try to make a play for the top five or stay put at No. 9 overall and hope a QB fell to them. Instead, they now how their pick of the litter of this year’s top throwers.
With the relatively hard part out of the way, the Panthers can spend the next several weeks scouting the top quarterbacks in this year’s class. Among the top names expected to come off the board early in the first round are Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Florida’s Anthony Richardson.
While none of the three are perfect prospects, each have interesting elements to their game that would make them an intriguing option at No. 1.
Despite Young’s size at 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, he is considered to be the top overall prospect in this year’s draft by several outlets. The former Heisman Trophy winner possesses many desirable traits for a quarterback, most notably his poise under pressure and command of the offense. The main thing working against Young is his size, as scouts have concerns about his durability with his slight frame. His believers will cite Drew Brees as a similar sized player who experienced extreme success at the NFL.
Stroud has the prototypical NFL body at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, and he has a cannon of an arm to go with it. The former Ohio State quarterback can regularly make throws to the opposite hash, and among his other strengths is his ability to diagnose what’s happening after a play begins and go through his reads before finding the right option.
Right now, Stroud is my clubhouse leader to be Carolina’s choice at No. 1. That said, he still has some things in his game to work out, including occasionally staring down his No. 1 read and forcing passes into double and triple coverage.
The true wildcard in this situation is Richardson, who is among the most polarizing prospects to come out in the past several seasons.
Believers of Richardson believe he can follow the mold of Josh Allen, a raw college prospect who has blossomed into one of the league’s best quarterbacks thanks to some pro coaching in Buffalo.
Richardson has an even bigger frame than Stroud at 6-foot-4 and 231 pounds. He’s also the only one of the three who is considered a true dual-threat. In his last season at Florida, Richardson ran for 654 yards and nine touchdowns. And recently at the NFL Combine, Richardson ran a 4.43 second 40-yard dash, faster than the 4.46 Justin Fields ran last year before being drafted by the Bears.
Richardson also has a cannon attached to his right arm. He might have the strongest arm in this class, but the key for whichever team drafts him will be dialing in his accuracy.
Last season, Richardson completed just 53.8% of his passes in 2022, the lowest of any top quarterback prospect in this year’s class.
The 2023 NFL Draft kicks off Apr. 27 from Kansas City. The Panthers own the No. 1 overall pick, as well as picks No. 39, No. 93, No. 114, No. 132 and No. 145 overall.
Sports Editor Jeremy Vernon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jbo_vernon.