It is easy to wax lyrical about the NFL Draft and how it is one of those odd things in sports that is more than the sum of its parts.
On the surface, it shouldn’t be that interesting but it is, of course, so much so that it has morphed over time from a meeting of suits in a conference room into a bona fide festival. It is its own thing, a critical part of the football calendar that doesn’t feature any actual football.
It is “just” a long series of administrative procedures, but as we know, much, much more.
The draft gets us going for plenty of reasons, one of the main ones being that it confers opportunity, firstly, to ambitious young men for whom the round and number of their selection will instantaneously become a permanent attachment to their story, no matter what happens later.
Those tales of hope and fulfillment in making it to the biggest league in American sports can melt even the most skeptical heart, but the dreaming extends to the fans too, especially those belonging to downtrodden franchises, who can cling to the belief that better times are just one man, and one inspired pick, away.
But if we’re being true to ourselves and our tastes in entertainment, an admission must be made that not all drafts are created equal, and that there is one key separator in how fervently any given draft week accelerates our sporting taste buds.
It would be possible to classify drafts in all sorts of ways, but the easiest and most accurate is to lump them into one of two camps. When late April rolls around, it has always been apparent whether the draft will be notable because of the quality and number of the quarterbacks … or less so because of the lack of the exact same thing.
Quarterbacks rule the show, because no position has more potential to be a franchise-shifter than the athletes who get the ball in their hands and try to make magic happen.
Which is why this year’s draft, now two weeks away on April 27, is one of those juicy ones where the anticipation starts early, and why years like 2004 and 1983 flex heavier in our memories than, hmm, last year?
There is no consensus top pick in 2023, which is part of the draw. Ohio State‘s C.J. Stroud and Alabama‘s Bryce Young have been the main guys to watch since even before their final year of college, Florida‘s Anthony Richardson has gained major traction in the past few months, while Kentucky‘s Will Levis is the maverick of the bunch, given that his cannon of an arm and prototypical size could push him as high as No. 3, while other projections have him much lower.
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One major mock went so far as to predict QBs for each of the first four choices, which would be the first time that has even happened and would almost certainly require a team to complete a trade-up with Arizona to claim the No. 3 spot. Carolina, at No. 1, Houston behind them, and Indianapolis at No.4 are all verifiably QB-needy.
Young’s limitless ability would likely have secured him an iron grip on the top position were it not for concerns over his height, a 5-foot-10 1/8th mark that became a talking point which he could do little about.
Edge rusher Will Anderson, Young’s Bama teammate, has legitimate claim to be the best player in the draft. However, the enormous potential financial lift to a franchise that can find a starting QB out of college – even the No. 1 pick this year is projected to make around $10 million a year in a market where four times that is now standard for a decent veteran QB – may be too tempting to resist.
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Stroud threw fancy numbers in college but truly showed himself in a glowing light on the big stage of the CFP semifinal against Georgia. Richardson wowed with his strength and physical attributes at his pro day despite a college career that was comparatively unspectacular.
You can bet that different teams have conflicting evaluations on the top four, and it would be no stretch to imagine a trade up situation or two from a team that senses the opportunity for value. The likes of the Washington Commanders and the Tennessee Titans have been frequently mooted as potential climbers willing to use some trade muscle.
Floating around the projections in the late first round of early second is also Hendon Hooker, the Tennessee QB and architect of the Vols wild win over Young’s Alabama last season, who would surely be higher on the board if not for the ACL injury he sustained as a senior and his age – he’s already 25.
Some years you just get QB-overload, where all the talk, all the time, is QBs. Even all the way down, probably as a flier in the seventh round, some team will probably have the chance to pick up a two-time national champion in Stetson Bennett, who must be worth a shot despite the Georgia man appearing on a paper to be a poor NFL fit. On paper, he wasn’t a particularly good elite college fit, either.
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In 2004, the draft boasted a handful of guys you’re loosely familiar with, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers, namely a pair of two-time Super Bowl champions and a guy with ironman longevity and reliability.
There were also 17 signal callers taken that year, meaning more than half the league thought they’d identified some real pigskin hurling potential, only for most to discover they actually, well, hadn’t.
Which is part of it, too, right? The boom or bust nature of the draft is what makes it compelling, which is why QB become such a part of the narrative, given that it’s the most all-or-nothing position there is.
It is time to talk QBs. It’s just one of those years.
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