As expected, quarterbacks continue to dominate first-round speculation in relation to the 2023 NFL Draft. Potential franchise signal-callers are expected to fly off the board swiftly. BetOnline has set the over/under at 4.5 quarterbacks drafted in the first round with a slight lean toward the under. I’m disagreeing with BetOnline and predicting that five quarterbacks will be taken during the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
The Carolina Panthers hold the cards at No. 1 overall. The Panthers are expected to draft one of Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud after acquiring the top selection from the Chicago Bears. Young-to-Carolina has been gaining traction in recent weeks. All indications are currently pointing that way.
The draft really starts when the Houston Texans come on the clock at No. 2. Would the Texans draft Stroud, or another quarterback like Anthony Richardson or Will Levis if Young, their rumored preferred target, is no longer on the board? The Texans have been linked to bypassing a quarterback in favor of EDGE Will Anderson Jr.
Whether Houston drafts a quarterback or not, an abundance of teams could begin attempting to execute a trade-up with the Arizona Cardinals to No. 3 overall to draft a falling signal-caller like Richardson or Levis. The Indianapolis Colts (No. 4 overall), Las Vegas Raiders (No. 7), Tennessee Titans (No. 11), and Minnesota Vikings (No. 24) are all candidates to move up for a QB.
Those four top-ranked quarterbacks will be drafted within the opening 32 selections. That topic isn’t up for debate. The outcome of this question really starts and ends with former Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Hendon Hooker. Hooker is the lone quarterback outside the top four with a chance to earn first-round status.
Hooker is experiencing a fascinating pre-draft process. Hooker enjoyed an outstanding campaign with the Volunteers in 2022, almost single-handedly dragging the Vols to relevance once again. But Hooker suffered a season-ending torn ACL in November. That, paired with his age (25) had folks questioning Hooker’s pre-draft value. Additional concerns over Hooker’s acclimation to the next level after overseeing Josh Heupel’s one-read offense also muddied his evaluation.
Despite being touted as a mid-round quarterback as late as January for the reasons outlined, Hooker has picked up top-32 steam in recent weeks. Write it off as a smokescreen at your own peril. It’s difficult to ignore the production Hooker put forth. League-wide executives agree Hooker is a terrific human being that possesses face-of-the-franchise qualities. That’s often an overlooked part of the process. It especially matters at quarterback, a position that leads by example.
Several franchises at the back end of the first round could consider drafting Hooker. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 19 overall are an underrated candidate. Teams crave the fifth-year contract option, especially at quarterback where second contracts are becoming increasingly expensive. For example, Jalen Hurts, who the Eagles did not have a fifth-year option on, signed a record-breaking extension on Monday.
General managers could tempt the Philadelphia Eagles (No. 30) or Kansas City Chiefs (No. 31) with trade-back possibilities toward the conclusion of the opening 31 selections. If the Texans, Raiders, or Titans don’t draft a first-round quarterback, they’d be candidates to aggressively position themselves to land Hooker.
Developmental quarterbacks like Jaren Hall, Jake Haener, and Tyson Bagent exist but aren’t expected to command first-round status. Tanner McKee is another tempting mid-round option. The four or five quarterbacks debate comes down to Hooker.
The 2023 NFL Draft is loaded with high-rated quarterbacks. As many as five signal-callers will be selected in the opening 32. Expect Hooker to be the deciding factor.
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