The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Quarterbacks — trades, standoffs and prospects — are the talk of the NFL

C.J. Stroud, left, speaks to Bryce Young at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in early March. (Darron Cummings/AP)
6 min

Plenty of quarterback-related maneuvering remains to be done around the NFL this week, even after the Green Bay Packers tentatively agreed Monday to trade four-time MVP Aaron Rodgers to the New York Jets. Four or five quarterbacks are likely to be selected during Thursday night’s opening round of the draft.

The long-awaited Rodgers deal still must be finalized and threatens to overshadow the draft, at least to some extent. There also is intrigue surrounding Lamar Jackson, the 2019 MVP who requested a trade from the Baltimore Ravens, and Ryan Tannehill, whom the Tennessee Titans reportedly could deal. Even so, a celebrated draft class led by Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Florida’s Anthony Richardson, Kentucky’s Will Levis and Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker will provide further quarterback drama Thursday.

“I do think four are certainly going in the first round,” former Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik, now an analyst for SiriusXM NFL Radio, said last week. “Four will go before the top 20 picks. I think probably all five are off the board by the 20th pick.”

The Carolina Panthers, who last month traded up to get the No. 1 pick from the Chicago Bears, are widely expected to select Young, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner. He’ll become the centerpiece of the franchise’s rebuilding project.

The No. 1 pick in the draft is a ‘dream.’ So is the chance to trade it.

There has been speculation that quarterbacks could be chosen with the first four selections. The Houston Texans have the second pick and remain in desperate need of a franchise quarterback; they’re one season removed from trading Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns. The Indianapolis Colts have the fourth choice and have been on a quarterback search since Andrew Luck’s abrupt retirement before the 2019 season. In between, the Arizona Cardinals have the third pick but could trade it to a quarterback-needy team.

More recently, however, there has been talk that the Texans could use the second selection on a pass rusher — Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. or Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson — rather than on a quarterback.

NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said last week that, earlier in the draft process, he didn’t think the Texans would pass on picking a quarterback. “I thought: ‘Okay, I think Bryce will go one. I think Stroud will end up going two.’ It just makes a lot of sense,” he added. “Those are clearly the top two quarterbacks in my opinion, and the Texans have a need. And then all of a sudden, the whispers started. … And now I think that whisper has kind of turned into a roar. There’s a lot of people around the league that believe that’s the case, that they aren’t going to take a quarterback.”

The Colts could benefit if Stroud falls to them. If not, they could be left choosing between Levis and Richardson. Any of those selections could halt Indianapolis’s revolving door at quarterback.

“Will Levis is further along in his journey and his development,” Jeremiah said. “He might not have as much upside as Richardson. But I think ... he’s going to be ahead of Anthony Richardson. Whereas Anthony Richardson, I think, has a little more distance to travel but with a way bigger upside. With this Colts roster where it is right now, there’s some pretty good veteran pieces in place. I think there’s some expectations there that you want this guy to be up and running sooner than later.”

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. called the top four quarterback prospects “so interchangeable,” depending on the traits a team emphasizes.

“If you say that height or size is a factor that eliminates a quarterback if he doesn’t fall within a certain parameter, then Bryce Young is out,” Kiper said. “If you say a quarterback needs to have a certain number of starts, then Anthony Richardson is out. If you say a quarterback has to finish strong and play well in that final year, then Will Levis is out because he was hurt. If you say a quarterback like C.J. Stroud had great talent around that assisted him … then you look at Stroud a little differently.

“So all these quarterbacks, you can find a reason not to take them. But … like Bill Walsh told me, he said: ‘Don’t go off what they can’t do. Tell me what they can do.’ ”

Kiper said he expects at least three of the top four quarterbacks — Young, Stroud, Richardson and Levis — to be chosen close to the top of the draft.

“And if one slides,” he added, “it may be Will Levis.”

Brewer: Ignore the absurd small talk. Bryce Young more than measures up.

Hooker, who is working his way back after tearing the ACL in his left knee in November, could make it five quarterbacks chosen in the first round. That would be quite a turnaround from last year’s draft, in which only one quarterback was taken in the opening round. That was Kenny Pickett, who went 20th to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yet even in such an eagerly anticipated class, none of these quarterbacks is regarded as being in the can’t-miss-prospect category.

“There’s so much risk-reward in some of these guys that I don’t think they’re going to go off the board one-two-three-four,” Dominik said. “... I think that the teams like these players. But I think there’s a little bit of pause in them.”

The Packers and Jets on Monday finally reached their tentative trade agreement involving Rodgers, nearly six weeks after he said he intended to play in New York. The deal changes Thursday’s first-round order, with the Packers moving up to 13th and the Jets dropping to 15th.

Jackson seems likely to stay put in Baltimore, especially after helping to convince wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to sign with the Ravens. But he has been free to negotiate an offer sheet with other teams after the Ravens used their nonexclusive franchise-player tag on him. And he did announce last month that he was seeking a trade. His contract impasse has not been resolved, leaving open at least a possibility of a stunning trade on draft night.