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How Panthers Trade to No.1 Could Clarify Colts QB Pick

By Andrew Moore,


After a massive trade between the Carolina Panthers and the Chicago Bears, the Indianapolis Colts will likely be down two options at quarterback.

Chris Ballard said at the NFL Scouting Combine that he was confident the Indianapolis Colts would get the best player in the draft despite only holding the No.4 overall pick.

"I think we'll get the best player in the draft to be quite honest with you," Ballard said. Why? "Because we're at four. I mean, that's a great position to be in."

The Colts' general manager better hope he is right because there is no longer a chance his team will pick at the top of the draft.

On Friday evening, the Carolina Panthers traded up with the Chicago Bears for the No.1 overall pick. The Panthers gave up their 2023 first-round pick (No.9 overall), a 2023 second-round pick (No.61), a 2024 first-round pick, a 2025 second-round pick, and their top wide receiver D.J. Moore to the Bears to move up to No.1.

The aggressive move by the Panthers was to ensure that they could select the quarterback of their choosing. The franchise has been in QB purgatory since the team parted ways with Cam Newton after the 2019 season.

With the Panthers moving to the top of the draft, and the Houston Texans expected to take a quarterback at No.2, the Colts could be looking at two quarterbacks off the board before they pick.

With that in mind, which quarterback will the Panthers and Texans choose? And who does that leave for the Colts?

It is time to empty the notebook and spill what I know, based on various reports and speaking to people in the industry I trust, about which quarterbacks will go where on April 27.

Reich Finally Gets His QB

The Panthers now have their pick of the litter, so to speak, on the 2023 NFL Draft class of quarterbacks.

There have been reports that while the Panthers have traded up to the top pick, they would consider trading back if they like more than one of the quarterbacks in this draft class.

That has a slim chance of happening. No team would give up that much draft capital to go up to No.1 if they did not already have a quarterback in mind. While it may not be finalized yet, the Panthers have a target for their quarterback position.

All signs point to that quarterback being C.J. Stroud out of Ohio State . Stroud has the prototypical size for an NFL quarterback at 6'3" and 214 pounds. He is the most accurate passer of the class, showcasing that in front of the Panthers' brass at the combine.

New Panthers head coach Frank Reich spoke about having an accurate passer at the combine just a couple of weeks ago.

"At some level, you got to be able to be an accurate passer," Reich said. "You got to have that toughness, you got to be a great leader, you got to be able to process information pretty quickly. At some level, you've got to be able to play from the pocket. I like all the movement stuff. There's guys that can move the launch point, get guys out of the pocket, but there's still that old school mentality of, 'Hey, there's going to be times in the game where you got to win from the pocket.'"

All of those things point to Stroud. Sources say that Reich was very impressed with Stroud at the combine, even going as far as saying Stroud is Reich's "QB of choice." Stroud met with the Panthers at the combine, which reportedly went very well.

Reich will finally get the chance to draft his franchise quarterback, something he never had the chance to do in Indy. My money is on Stroud being that guy.

© Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

A Bama Connection

With the Panthers likely taking Stroud at No.1, that brings us to the Texans at No.2. Even though the Panthers jumped the Texans in the draft, it seems like general manager Nick Caserio and new head coach DeMeco Ryans will still end up with their top choice.

From speaking with people at the combine, the Texans are all in on Bryce Young out of Alabama . The 2021 Heisman Trophy winner has almost everything you would want in a franchise quarterback. Young is accurate, can escape pressure and keep his eyes downfield, possesses an innate ability to create when the play breaks down, and has an incredible football IQ.

The knock on Young is his size. Young measured in at 5'10" and 204 pounds at the combine, smaller than any top quarterback prospect in years. While Young weighed in at 204 pounds, he is not expected to play at that weight and will likely be well under 200 pounds.

If Young were a couple of inches taller with a playing weight of around 210 pounds, he would be considered a Joe Burrow-level prospect coming into the NFL. However, teams have serious concerns about his size and whether or not he can withstand the beating an NFL quarterback goes through.

But the Texans are not scared. Ryans and Young share an Alabama connection, with Ryans also playing with the Crimson Tide from 2002-2005. Former Alabama offensive coordinator and Texans head coach Bill O'Brien, now the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots , also worked with Caserio with the Patriots.

The Texans are poised to have the most intel on Young and what he brings to the table. While he may be small, the Texans love Young's polished play and what he can continue to do at the next level. It would be shocking at this point if Young was not a Texan.

© Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

What Will the Colts Do?

And that brings us to the Colts, who will likely pick the third quarterback in the draft.

Many thought the Colts would trade up to the top pick, jumping the division-rival Texans. However, the Colts never made a serious offer to the Bears about trading for the No.1 pick.

Knowing how much Ballard values draft capital, he was never going to give up the amount of picks it took the Panthers to move up. The Colts were also not going to part ways with their top wide receiver, Michael Pittman Jr. , as the Panthers did with Moore.

Ballard also mentioned earlier in the offseason he would move up only if he felt there was a quarterback that he felt could be the guy.

“Yes, I’d do whatever it takes," Ballard admitted. "If we thought there’s a player that we’re driven to get that makes the franchise and the team better that’s what we would do.”

His actions show the Colts do not feel there is a can't-miss prospect in this draft class. All of the quarterback prospects have flaws in their game that will need to be worked on when they enter the NFL.

The quarterback selection for the Colts will likely be between Anthony Richardson out of Florida and Will Levis out of Kentucky . Hendon Hooker out of Tennessee is another option, and while he will have a Top 30 visit with the Colts, sources indicate there is a considerable gap between how the Colts view Richardson and Levis compared to Hooker.

Richardson and Levis both possess great physical traits. Both players are big, strong athletes who have howitzers for arms. Both can extend plays with their legs and have a physical running style. However, both also struggle at times with their accuracy and ball placement and will need to work on cleaning up their mechanics at the next level.

While the evaluation process is still ongoing, and things could certainly change between now and draft day, the Colts are high on Richardson and have him ranked slightly higher on their draft board than Levis. Richardson's elite athleticism gives him an edge as the quarterback ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine while breaking the event record in the vertical (40.5 in.) and broad jump (10'9") for a quarterback. Ballard loves betting on traits and upside, and Richardson has the highest upside of any quarterback in this class.

Now there are some real concerns with Richardson's game. His inconsistent mechanics, combined with lapses in accuracy, are troubling. However, this is partly why the Colts brought in Shane Steichen as their new head coach. They wanted a coach who could help develop a young quarterback while tailoring an offense to his strengths.

“Yes, I think you can," Steichen said when asked if accuracy can be taught. "I think you can help accuracy, I definitely do, with mechanics and I think part of it too is the scheme you put him in. Don’t make them think too much sometimes and simplify the offense to build it around the quarterback.”

The question then becomes whether or not the Colts will need to trade up to No.3 with the Arizona Cardinals to secure their pick. No discussions have happened between the two teams yet, and if the Colts want to engage in those talks, it will likely not happen until their draft board is set closer to the draft.

The Las Vegas Raiders could also try to trade to No.3. The Raiders had discussions with the Bears about the No.1 pick before the Panthers trade. It remains to be seen whether the Raiders will be as aggressive to trade to No.3 since they will not have their pick of the group.

Regardless, the price to trade up to No.3 will not be nearly as steep as the price for No.1. The Colts would be more inclined to make a move if they feel their target is in jeopardy. Indy will likely not know that until draft day.

© Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There are 45 days until the NFL Draft, and the teams in the hunt for rookie quarterbacks are beginning to zero in on their targets. On April 27, I expect Stroud to be a Panther, Young to be a Texan, and Richardson to be a Colt.

But a lot can change in those 45 days. Buckle up.

Want more Colts content? Check out the latest episode of the Horseshoe Huddle Podcast !

Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMooreNFL .

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