At the very beginning of the non-point-scoring season, I wrote about Bryce Young (here) and CJ Stroud (here). Since then, Anthony Richardson laid waste to the Scouting Combine (I wrote about that as well), and Will Levis took some bathroom selfies. Somehow I didn’t think to analyze that.
So now we need to recalibrate our expectations as these players prepare to enter the league at the end of the month. “Young has a Heisman and Stroud led the league in… well, everything… but did you see Richardson’s long jump!? Or Levis’ abs and perfectly clean bathroom mirror!?!?” That is not analysis that will serve us as we navigate the rookie class.
That’s not to say that Young and Stroud are can’t-miss superstars, or that Richardson and Levis are busts. It’s just critically important that we make those determinations on things that truly matter.
Here’s what actually matters: Draft capital. Period. The end.
What we have seen historically is that teams commit longer to QBs the earlier they are drafted. If they aren’t drafted in the first round, they may get a chance to start, but it’s going to be a short leash and they need to produce instantly. In fact, if they aren’t drafted in the top half of the first round, they will be lucky to get a full season to prove themselves. QBs drafted within the top 16 typically get between two and three seasons to earn a long-term job.
So the player’s athletic profile and combine results can matter, a little. But it isn’t enough to impress fantasy football players, it needs to be impressive to NFL coaches and scouts. And don’t fall into the landing spot trap; once a franchise drafts its QB of the future, the situation begins to change quickly and dramatically.
It’s fun to forecast these players ahead of the NFL Draft, but my proposal is that we forecast them the right way. Forget all of those distractions from the combine. Let’s forecast their draft capital, and the effect it could have on their superflex values.
Here are the quarterbacks headed for the draft capital we need, in the order they will likely be selected:
Bryce Young, Alabama
- Smooth, compact delivery, with accuracy all over the field and velocity down the field/into tight windows
- Great footwork and mobility to avoid the rush and extend the play, while keeping his eyes down the field, looking to create space to set his feet and make a throw
- Accuracy and velocity off-platform
- Intelligent; proficient at reading defenses and making pre-snap adjustments after running a pro-style offense at Alabama
- Calm and confident in the pocket, with a preternatural instinct for feeling and avoiding the rush
- Diminutive in stature. At the Combine, he measured at 5’10” and a manufactured 204 lbs (expect his playing weight to be closer to 180)
- Doesn’t demonstrate very much touch on his deep balls; generally tries to drive the ball down the field
- Rolls out to extend the play, rather than taking off and picking up positive yardage, even in short yardage situations
- Played behind a better offensive line in college than he is likely to get early in his pro career. His ability to adjust and overcome is more of an unknown than a weakness
NFL Draft Prediction: First Overall, Carolina Panthers
I fully expect Young to be the first overall pick, joining Frank Reich’s Carolina Panthers. This has been the pick for five years, and this is the pick the Panthers gave up two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and star WR DJ Moore to get. The Carolina war room will have to go based on film evaluations from his college days after he sat out the combine, but the film and the statistics tell a very compelling story. Young was the number two recruit overall – and top QB – in the country, and justified his blue-chip status in a college career that included a Heisman trophy. He is the slam dunk pick for a Carolina franchise that needs to justify a massive trade up to the first pick.
It’s a new system, an inferior offensive line, and the Panthers’ best receiving threat was traded to the Bears for the right to draft Young. Let’s just say the rookie learning curve still applies, even for a prospect as polished as he is. But this is dynasty; we aren’t drafting rookie QBs and expecting them to turn us into instant contenders. Young’s trajectory should look similar to that of Trevor Lawrence, minus the Urban Meyer setback, and I don’t believe anyone who took Lawrence first overall in a 2021 superflex rookie draft is regretting that move now. It would take a truly horrible landing spot for Bijan Robinson (Philadelphia! Baltimore! OMG, New England!!!) for Young to overtake him for rookie pick 1.01, but just like the Panthers, superflexers have an easy decision taking Young over the other QBs in the class.
CJ Stroud, Ohio State
- At 6’3”, he has the ideal stature for an NFL QB
- Can make every throw. Accurately. Arguably the best pure passer in the class
- Arm strength to thread the needle or get the ball deep downfield, with plenty of touch on deep balls and fade routes
- Confident and decisive in making his reads, with calmness and comfort in the pocket
- Good pocket awareness and mobility; can extend plays and make platformed throws when his protection breaks down
- Slender build – could still be susceptible to injury
- Almost stubbornly uses his mobility to extend pass plays, rather than taking off and running, and rarely makes throws off-platform. He forces himself into set feet prior to throwing the ball
- Tendency to lock in on primary read and telegraph his throw
- After throwing to the best set of WRs possible at OSU (Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr., etc.), it remains to be seen how he will adapt to an offense lacking weapons
NFL Draft Prediction: Second Overall, Houston Texans
If there is one player who could potentially unseat Bryce Young as the top pick, it’s Stroud. His throwing session impressed the Carolina brass, and may even give them pause. But ultimately, Young goes first to Carolina and Stroud is right behind him, going second to Houston. Either way, these two players go first and second overall, with better weapons (currently) in Carolina and better protection in Houston. Stroud is actually the better fit for Houston, as he is the game manager that rookie head coach DeMeco Ryans needs as he builds his defense. And if the “Houston won’t deal with Deshaun Watson’s agent, who is also Stroud’s agent” narrative actually has legs, expect Houston to trade back and Stroud to land in Vegas or Atlanta. But just because they don’t want to make the pick doesn’t make it a pick that won’t be made.
If he goes first overall to Carolina, he should be considered at 1.02 in rookie drafts. Generally speaking, landing spots are of little consequence as situations change with fluidity. But it can be used as a tiebreaker between two very similar prospects with similar long-term outlooks. Carolina’s weapons include WRs Adam Thielen and DJ Chark, along with RB Miles Sanders, which makes the offense more fantasy fruitful in the short term. But assuming Stroud goes to Houston, he still warrants a top-three superflex rookie pick, and could see an influx of talent among his pass catchers as early as the 12th overall pick. In fact, Stroud could be reunited with Smith-Njigba in 2023 and Marvin Harrison in 2024, making the weapons-quality-college-versus-pros concern a moot point.
Will Levis, Kentucky
- Big-bodied and BIG-armed. He’s the prototypical size for a QB, and has deep ball power and velocity into tight windows. The Josh Allen comparison fits perfectly
- Experience running a pro-style offense, which should shorten the learning curve and get him on the field sooner
- Mobile and willing to take off and run; runs with power and picks up tough yardage
- Doesn’t give up much velocity when throwing on the run
- Accuracy. Plain and simple. Even the shorter timing routes are erratic and off-target
- Could be a check-down machine. Lacks confidence in pulling the trigger on more difficult/well-covered throws, which leads to a lot of fast-forwarding through his progressions straight to the safety valve.
- The deadly combination of poor decision-making and accuracy issues results in an alarming number of interceptions
NFL Draft Prediction: Fifth Overall, Las Vegas Raiders (trade w/ Seattle Seahawks)
This is where we get controversial, because most fantasy players really want to think that Anthony Richardson is not only a better prospect than Levis, but the best QB prospect in the class. But if we set aside the fantasy lens and look at this from the perspective of an NFL front office, we realize that Levis appears to be the safer prospect. While we’re getting weird with this prediction, let’s throw in a trade to go along with it: after the Indianapolis Colts surprisingly pass on the QBs, the Las Vegas Raiders pounce on the opportunity to trade up to the fifth overall pick, swapping with the Seattle Seahawks. With that fifth pick, Josh McDaniels opts for the big-armed, more experienced project QB over the raw, mobile QB.
Other potential landing spots for Levis include Indianapolis with the fourth pick, Seattle with that fifth pick, and possibly (but not likely) the Detroit Lions with the sixth pick, while Atlanta (ninth overall) and Tennessee (11th overall) are in range to trade up for Levis as well.
Before you get too upset with me for the prediction that Levis is drafted ahead of Richardson, let’s put our fantasy hats back on and put this in perspective. It is highly unlikely that Levis is the better option than Richardson in superflex rookie drafts. Vegas may be the best landing spot, with both McDaniels and Jimmy Garoppolo there to groom him, as he throws to a wise group of veteran receivers. He could also be successful in Seattle or Tennessee, but the perfect landing spot currently does not exist for Levis… not when Brian Daboll is committed to Daniel Jones, rather than taking on a new Josh Allen-like project.
Levis certainly belongs behind Richardson for fantasy purposes, and he probably won’t even overtake Smith-Njigba at rookie pick 1.05. The best case scenario for Levis is 1.06 in superflex rookie drafts, and he is still susceptible to being leap-frogged by WRs like Jordan Addison and/or Zay Flowers if they get substantial draft capital, and RBs like Jahmyr Gibbs with a great landing spot. Levis could reasonably fall as far as 1.09, and the fall would be justified.
Anthony Richardson, Florida
- The only true dual-threat among the first-round QBs. Arm strength that rivals Levis, and a dangerous runner with speed, power, and elusiveness to break long runs
- Off the charts athleticism, which is made even more impressive by the fact that he measures in at 6’4”, 244 lbs
- Protects the ball and doesn’t force throws. Very clean; limits turnovers
- Smooth, mechanically sound throwing motion, particularly when his feet are set and he is standing tall in the pocket
- Feels pressure, with mobility to extend the play and power to break through arm tackles
- Inexperienced; 13 starts under his belt in college. This is more of a question mark than a weakness, but it’s the trait that will make NFL front offices nervous more than any other.
- Poor footwork often leads to inaccurate, uncatchable throws. Especially struggles with accuracy on the run.
- Pre-snap reads, going through progressions efficiently and effectively, gauging depth to determine touch vs. power, tracking/looking off coverages, anticipating breaks… these are all protocols that he struggles with, simply due to a lack of experience. All these things can be developed with time, but right now makes him a liability at the pro level.
NFL Draft Prediction: 16th Overall, Washington Commanders
I have a feeling that Richardson is going to fall a lot further than fantasy players expect. I believe he will be a first-round pick, but the prediction here is that he is not top five, top ten, or even top 15. The highest he gets drafted is 16th overall to the Washington Commanders, who could use a dynamic playmaker to balance out game manager Jacoby Brissett and YOLO baller Sam Howell. But if he isn’t taken by the Commanders, Seattle’s second pick (20th overall) could make some sense, and Minnesota at 23rd overall is a possibility as well (though fingers crossed that they take Bijan Robinson instead!).
In the worst-case scenario, a QB-needy team like Indianapolis, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Tennessee, or the LA Rams could trade up into the late 1st round to draft Richardson and secure a fifth-year option. For the sake of the exercise though, let’s send him to Washington with the 16th overall pick.
We can lock Richardson in as the QB3 in the class for fantasy purposes, and either rookie pick 1.04, or 1.05 if Smith-Njigba sneaks in ahead of him in a few leagues. Richardson is the least landing spot-dependent QB in the class (though again, landing spots are mostly immaterial for QBs anyways) as his new team instantly becomes an RPO offense that allows him to freestyle. He will run a LOT early in his career as he gets comfortable with the nuance of playing QB at the pro level.
This makes him a dangerous playmaker with a ton of rushing upside, and likely the highest floor AND ceiling in the class in year one. Over time, I fully expect Young and Stroud to surpass him as fantasy scorers. But in the short term, Richardson’s league-winning potential makes him an easy top-five superflex rookie pick.
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