Let’s play the what-if game.
What if Arizona drafted Drew Brees with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2001 draft instead of Texas offensive lineman Leonard Davis? Brees was a three-year starter at a Big Ten school, Purdue, and finished his career with 11,792 yards passing, 90 touchdowns and 45 interceptions. He also rushed for 900 yards and 14 TDs, including 521-and-5 his senior year.
By comparison, Michael Vick, who went No. 1 overall that year, passed for 3,299 yards, 21 TDs and 11 INTs in two seasons as a starter at Virginia Tech, He also rushed for 1,299 yards rushing and 17 TDs before entering the draft after his redshirt sophomore season.
Brees, though, wasn’t drafted until the top of the second-round, when the then-San Diego Chargers took him.
You couldn’t blame it on size, as both were undersized for the position. Vick was measured at 6-feet, 210 pounds; Brees at a shade over 6-feet, 213 pounds.
So, why such a discrepancy between draft positions?
Speed. Vick’s 4.33-second 40 remains a Combine record for quarterbacks. And it was his dazzling athletic ability, especially when running the ball, that had teams salivating.
In hindsight, Brees should have gone much higher – maybe even as high as No. 2 overall behind Vick. He was clearly the better passer between the two, but Brees wasn’t on the same planet as Vick athletically.
Now, let’s play the what-if game again.
What if teams treat Alabama’s Bryce Young the same way they did Brees more than two decades ago?
What if teams look at his size – he measured 5-foot-10, 204-pounds – then look at the recent success of players his size and say, “no thanks?” After all, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Baker Mayfield and the 6-foot, 217-pound Tua Tagovailoa aren’t exactly lighting up the league. Kyler Murray, whose combine measurements of 5-foot-10, 207-pounds are almost identical to Young’s, had what Vick had going from him: speed. He never ran the 40 at the Combine, but the proof is in the pudding, as Murray has been among the league leaders in QB rushing yards since Arizona drafted him No. 1 overall in 2019.
And yet, there’s a large segment of Cardinals fans who are ready to move on from Murray.
So, again, what if Young falls out of the first round? He’s ahead of where Murray was at this stage as a passer, but Young isn’t nearly the athlete that Murray was coming out of college.
We’ve seen it before with Brees, and it worked out pretty well for the future Hall of Famer.
Then again, Brees probably should have gone in the first round, too.
Here’s what we know after the Combine
Alabama QB Bryce Young is very small. And he didn’t throw at the Combine.
Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud, in the running with Young to be QB-1, looked great. NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah called Stroud’s performance, “one of the best throwing sessions I’ve seen at the Combine,” while Nick Shook of NFL.com said Stroud “put on a throwing clinic during on-field work, coming about as close to perfect as possible.” He checked the boxes in terms of his measurables, too, at 6-foot-3, 214-pounds.
As good as Stroud was in throwing sessions, Florida QB Anthony Richardson had one of the best Combine performances of any QB in recent memory. Listed at 6-foot-4, 244-pounds, Richardson drew comparisons to former Florida QB Cam Newton for his size, then put on a show during the agility drills. First, he set a Combine record for quarterbacks with a 40.5-inch vertical. He then had the best broad jump ever for a QB at 10-feet, 9-inches. And finally, his 4.4 40 was the fourth-fastest among QBs in the history of the event.
The 6-foot-4, 229-pound Kentucky QB Will Levis told reporters at the Combine that he wanted to be the greatest of all time and had a cannon for arm. Levis then went out and backed up his words, at least in terms of arm strength, as he averaged 59 mph with his throws, the third-highest at the Combine since 2017, according to the NFL Network. He also impressed during team meetings.
Georgia TE Darnell Washington is huge at 6-foot-7, 264-pounds. He also caught the ball well during passing drills – did you see that one-handed catch?! – and looked fluid despite his size. Here’s more eye-popping stats: Washington’s hand size, 11 inches, is reportedly the second-largest for a tight end at the Combine, and his 83 3/4-inch wing span is the largest.
Following the same trend … Dawand Jones, the former right tackle for Ohio State, is even bigger at 6-foot-8, 374-pounds with an arm length of 36 3/8-inches and a hand size of 11 5/8-inches. All of those measurements were tops at the Combine, and his wingspan is the second-longest ever at the event, according to Marcus Mosher of Pro Football Focus.
Georgia pass rusher Nolan Smith isn’t particularly big at 6-foot-2, 238-pounds, but, man is he fast. Smith’s 40-time of 4.39 seconds is the second-fastest ever for an edge defender and his 10-yard split of 1.52 is a Combine record. But Smith was a number of pass rushers and defensive linemen who tested and/or ran well.
Here’s a fun fact: Dawand Jones, at 374 pounds, minus LSU Kayshon Boutte, at 195-pounds, equals Kansas State RB Deuce Vaughn, who weighed in at a respectable 179 pounds. Vaughn, the son of a Dallas Cowboys scout, was listed at 5-foot-5, the shortest player in Combine history.
Here’s what we think we know …
Northwestern offensive lineman Peter Skoronski (6-foot-4, 313 pounds) might not have the measurables to play tackle long-term, but he’s clearly the No. 1 offensive lineman in the 2023 draft.
It’s not a great year to draft a receiver, offensive lineman, linebacker, safety or defensive lineman. You could see as many as five OTs and two interior linemen go in the first round, but that’s more about supply and demand. There are some good pass rushers, but the dropoff is steep after the third round. Likewise, the quality at defensive tackle, outside the top two or three, is in the late second round and the third, but it’s really hit-and-miss after that. And as for the LB class, your team may skip the position all-together if it hasn’t drafted one by the third round. The safety class is hard to evaluate. You’ve got depth, but the highest ranked, Alabama’s Brian Branch, ran a slow 40 (4.58). But the rest are sort of bunched together – don’t be surprised if some Round 5 and 6 safeties wind up being considered “steals.” It’s a hard group to judge.
So, what does that leave? Start with the 2023 cornerback class. While the class lacks star power or even a consensus No. 1, as many as seven (!!) CBs could go on Day 1. It’s also an amazing year to draft a running back or tight end. It’s possible only one RB goes in Round 1, but that’s more about the devaluation of the position than it is about the group’s talent. Like the CB class, you can find a starting running back through Round 4 and maybe even the early parts of Round 5. And finally, you could see as many as four tight ends taken in the first round, although it’s more likely that two are drafted in the first round. This TE class could rival the 2002 class that was headlined by Jeremy Shockey and Jerramy Stevens. Twenty-four tight ends were drafted that year, the most taken since 1975 when 26 were taken (the draft was also 17 rounds back then).
It’s an average year for QBs. You’ve still got the top four, followed by a bunch who could go between Rounds 2 to 4. Then you’ll have some late Day 3 developmental types who are drafted mainly on their traits. You know, like most years.
Let’s face it, this just might be a “meh” draft. The only thing saving it right now is the sheer number of good cornerbacks in this draft. There are seven ranked in top 50 in the latest Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board, 15 in the top 100 and 37 who are ranked among the top 261 prospects, which takes you through the seventh round. Otherwise, the fact that this draft is also deep at tight end and running back doesn’t really move the needle for most teams. If you can still find a quality player, or even a starter, at either position on Day 3, then why take one early?
Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s decision to skip the 40 probably helped him, as the Ohio State receiver looked smooth in all other drills. (His 3.93-second 20-yard shuttle was the fastest by a receiver since 2013, and his 6.57-second 3-cone drill was the fastest at this year’s Combine.). The same can be said of TCU receiver Quentin Johnston’s decision to skip the 40. He had great measurables (6-foot-3, 208 pounds; arm length of 33 5/8-inches) and was terrific in agility drills (his 40.5-inch vertical was third-best among receivers, and his 11-2 broad jump was tied for second-best). But Jordan Addison was probably hurt by his decision to run the 40 after clocking a good-but-not-elite 40 time of 4.49. His measurements were less-than-ideal, too.
So, we’ve re-racked the Rigdon big board and are ready for a new take on Round 1 – with a surprise omission: Alabama’s Young. There’s been reports that say Houston may just focus on other positions this year, then chase after a QB in 2024.
What if Young fell to the Texans at pick No. 34?
1. Indianapolis Colts: QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
(trade with Chicago)
Stroud reminded everyone that over-evaluation is a real thing when it comes to the draft, because the longer a player is considered draftable, the more time analysts and scouts alike have to nitpick them to death. Stroud was clearly the best passer at the Combine and has perfect measurables and traits, and he shouldn’t be dinged for playing on a team full of NFL prospects. After all, he’s been the leader for one of the top programs in the country the past two seasons. Stop me when you find something that says he shouldn’t be the No. 1 overall pick.
2. Las Vegas Raiders: QB Anthony Richardson, Florida
(trade with Arizona)
Yes, Richardson has a long way to go in terms of accuracy, decision-making and experience. So did Josh Allen and Cam Newton, two players of similar size and athleticism. As the Combine showed, you take a chance on special talents like that, then hope for the best. Fair or not, teams will likely see Richardson as less of a risk injury-wise than Alabama’s Young.
3. Carolina Panthers: QB Will Levis, Kentucky
(trade with Arizona)
Boom, boom, boom. Three picks, three QBs off the board. Don’t be surprised if something like this plays out. All these teams (Indianapolis, Las Vegas and Carolina) are desperate for a signal-caller. And they’re all within reach of trading up – unlike Washington, who may feel trading up from No. 16 is too cost-prohibitive.
4, Chicago Bears: Edge Will Anderson, Alabama
(trade with Indianapolis)
Chicago gets its guy after all and picks up a pick or two for moving down.
5. Seattle Seahawks (via DEN): DL Jalen Carter, Georgia
Carter’s “fall” didn’t last long.
6. Detroit Lions (via LAR): CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
Porter has great size and tested very well at the Combine.
7. Houston Texans: OT Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
(trade with Las Vegas)
Well, this answers the question of what position Skoronski plays if Houston takes him, as the Texans are pretty happy with their bookend OTs but desperately need help at guard.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Edge Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
The reason mock drafts keep sending the Red Raider to Atlanta is because the Falcons love athletic marvels – which pretty much sums up the 6-foot-6, 271-pound Wilson.
9. Arizona Cardinals: CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
(trade with Carolina)
Byron Murphy is probably gone, making cornerback a big priority.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (via NO): S Brian Branch, Alabama
Don’t be fooled by Branch’s relatively slow 40-time – he’s not going to be matched up against the opposing team’s fastest boundary receiver. He’s the type of prospect who could lead the team in tackles next season. You know, the team that had the No. 1 defense in 2022.
11. Tennessee Titans: OT Paris Johnson, Ohio State
Until this stops making sense, you’re going to continue to see Johnson mocked to Tennessee. Want to get really crazy? If the Titans moved Johnson to guard, then drafted RT Dawand Jones in the second and center Luke Wypler in the third, then four-fifths of their line would have played at Ohio State the past two seasons.
12. Houston Texans (via CLE): Edge Lukas Van Ness, Iowa
The guy’s nickname is “Hercules.” And he ran a 4.58 40 at the Combine at 6-foot-5, 272-pounds. Who cares if he never started a game in college?
13. Green Bay Packers: OT Broderick Jones
(trade with New York Jets for QB Aaron Rodgers)
The Jordan Love era is going to need lots of help along the offensive line.
14. New England Patriots: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman thinks JSN will go on to enjoy many 100-catch seasons at the next level.
15. Green Bay Packers: Edge Nolan Smith, Georgia
It’s tempting to go with Clemson’s Myles Murphy, who, like Tech’s Wilson is a physical specimen at 6-foot-5, 272-pounds, but the much-smaller, 6-foot-2, 238-pound Smith is a better scheme-fit and is incredibly fast. Plus, The Athletic’s Matt Schneidman had a good explanation Smith’s perceived lack of production at Georgia: “Smith … did a lot of reading in Georgia’s scheme and wasn’t asked to simply pin his ears back.” Smith also gets high marks for his explosiveness, flexibility, energy and leadership.
16. Washington Commanders: WR Quentin Johnston, TCU
A lot of analysts have Washington taking a cornerback – and, heck, Bryce Young is still available, for crying out loud. But with so many quality CBs in this draft, the Commanders came wait a round or two to address the position, but they won’t find a receiver as talented as Johnston on Day 2. And finding a true No. 2 to Terry McLaurin should be a priority, as rookie Jahan Dotson (523 yards) and Curtis Samuel (656 yards) combined for 1,179 yards, which was 12 fewer yards than McLaurin’s total. As for taking a QB here, doing so just doesn’t make a ton of sense for a team whose coach, Ron Rivera, may be on his way out after this season. Would the new coaching staff want a sub-6-foot QB?
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Brian Bresee, Clemson
Defensive end Larry Ogunjobi is unrestricted, Cam Heyward will turn 34 soon, and DeMarvin Leal, the team’s 2022 third-rounder, spent more time as a big linebacker than anywhere else last season.
18. Detroit Lions: TE Darnell Washington, Georgia
Why Washington over Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer? There are a lot of tight ends like the 6-foot-4, 249-pound Mayer. But there’s no one like the 6-foot-7, 264-pound Washington.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Edge Myles Murphy
Is he Clelin Ferrell 2.0 or Rashan Gary 2.0?
20. Seattle Seahawks: CB Deonte Banks, Maryland
Tariq Woolen was a huge find, but the Seahawks still need help in the secondary.
21. Miami FORFEITED
22. LA Chargers: WR Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee
Hyatt has officially moved ahead of USC’s Jordan Addison in many mock drafts, as he’s bigger and faster.
23. Baltimore Ravens: WR Jordan Addison, Baltimore
Rashod Bateman, the team’s 2021 first-rounder, might not have liked what GM Eric DeCosta said recently about his team’s not-so-great track record for drafting receivers. Fact is, DeCosta is right. According to ESPN, the Ravens’ receivers have the fewest receiving yards and second-fewest catches the past 12 seasons. And Baltimore also haven’t drafted a Pro Bowl since joining the league 27 years ago. Yikes. As for Bateman, a groin injury ended his rookie year after just five games, then season-ending foot surgery ended his season after six games this past season.
24. Minnesota Vikings: CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
At 5-foot-11, 181-pounds, Witherspoon is a bit smaller than ideal, but he remains an ascending prospect who could just as easily be the first cornerback drafted.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
Yes, the team franchise tagged Evan Engram. That means this is probably Evans’ last year in Jacksonville, with or without Engram. Frankly, it’s not a great time to be a free agent tight end due to the recent influx of young talent, both last year and in this draft.
26. NY Giants: RB Bijan Robinson, Texas
Let the Giants start a new trend: Draft a stud running back in the first round every five years, then repeat the cycle. You’d always get a young, inexpensive talent at that position …
27. Dallas Cowboys: Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
This scenario would really paint Dallas into a corner. Their top draft needs include receiver and cornerback, but the best ones are off the board. Does taking the No. 3 tight end in this draft make sense when you already have two-up-and-coming TEs entering their second season? This is way too high to take a 1-tech, another need. And taking a guard would force the team to make a decision on the Tyron Smith/Tyler Smith/Terence Steele trifecta. But owner and GM Jerry Jones has already come out and said that he’d like to add more offensive playmakers, and you don’t get much more explosive than Alabama’s Gibbs. He’ll form a fearsome 1-2 punch with the franchise tagged-Tony Pollard for a year, then will probably take over as the lead back if the team moves on from Pollard in 2024.
28. Buffalo Bills: G O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida
A solid pick at a position of need.
29. Cincinnati Bengals: LB Jack Campbell, Iowa
This is a tough one, because safeties Jessie Bates, Vonn Bell, cornerback Eli Apple and tight end Hayden Hurst are all currently unrestricted. And there are solid players at those positions who are still available. But Germaine Pratt is also unrestricted, and Campbell is an ascending prospect who will probably lead his team in tackles as a rookie.
30. New Orleans Saints (via SF): Calijah Kancey
New Orleans got its QB in Derek Carr, and the team has some pretty good weapons on offense along with a fairly solid offensive line. But holes remain. What’s the game plan for the impending Alvin Kamara suspension? Who’s the No. 2 receiver behind Chris Olave? Can you upgrade the defensive tackle position? In this case, New Orleans goes with the undersized but highly effective Kancey.
31. Philadelphia Eagles: LB Drew Sanders, Arkansas
Sanders put up Micah Parsons-like numbers last season and has Parsons-like size and athleticism.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: OT Dawand Jones, Ohio State
With right tackle Andrew Wylie already an unrestricted free agent, tackle was already a priority for the Chiefs. And if the team lets Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Brown leave via free agency? (BTW, that appears to be the direction the team is leaning.) Then don’t be surprised if Kansas City double-dips at the position and signs a veteran, albeit at a more cost-effective price. Taking the biggest human in the draft is a nice place to start.
Los Angeles Rams, second round: CB Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State
Cleveland Browns, second round: WR Zay Flowers, Boston College
Miami Dolphins, second round: RB Tyjae Spears, Tulane
Denver Broncos, third round: OT Tyler Steen, Alabama
San Francisco 49ers, third round: RB Kendre Miller, TCU
Jake Rigdon (@jrigdon73) covers the NFL draft for Fanspeak.com. His big board is updated at least once per week during the season and leading up to the draft. Message him on Twitter to receive $3 off your new Ultimate GM subscription.