What to expect from the top four rookie QBs in 2023?

What can fans of the Panthers, Texans, Colts and Titans expect from the top 4 QBs taken in the 2023 draft during their rookie seasons? 

The 2022 draft class was a weak one for quarterbacks, with just one taken in the first round when the Pittsburgh Steelers selecting Kenny Pickett with the 20th selection a year ago. However, it was the QB taken with the last pick of the draft who had the biggest impact, as ‘Mr Irrelevant’ Brock Purdy led the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC Championship game before an elbow injury knocked the former Iowa State out for the game. 

This year, we saw a shift in momentum and focus, as a much stronger QB class was emerging from the collegiate ranks with some experts even predicting that 4 QBs would be taken inside the top 10, and while it didn’t quite pan out that way we still saw QB’s taken early. Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, and Anthony Richardson were all taken in the top five by the Panthers, Texans, and Colts respectively. 

Perhaps one of the bigger surprises on draft night was the falling of Kentucky’s Will Levis, scouted by many as a top 10 pick Levis watched on from the green room as he slid out the first round eventually being selected by the Titans early in the 2nd round 33rd overall. In what was maybe somewhat of a fallout from the Brock Purdy selection a year ago, we saw 11 QB’s taken in the first 150 selections a common draft-era record and 14 signal callers taken overall. 

But pivoting back to the top 4 guys selected, these are the players expected to make the biggest impacts with their new franchises, so let’s take a look at these players and the impact they could have in year one. 

Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers

In the final build-up to the draft Alabama’s Bryce Young quickly emerged as the front-runner to be taken by the Carolina Panthers’ who traded up 8 spots to obtain the first pick of the 2023 draft. Despite easily being the most talented of the QBs coming out this year, questions about the players’ size (Young came in at 5”10 204lbs at the combine) meant that some suggested Carolina would go in a different direction. 

Despite his combined weight being 204lbs it’s much more likely Young plays somewhere in the 195lbs range, these size issues coupled with Panthers’ head coach Frank Reich only deploying taller QBs meant many thought Ohio State’s CJ Stroud would be the pick. However, despite his better measurables, it was clear Young was the superior player and the Smart Selection. 

Most QB’s taken first overall are usually coming into situations that are less than ideal however this isn’t the case for Young. Despite being taken number one, the Panthers weren’t the NFL’s worst team in 2022, a 7-10 record saw the Panthers originally due to select 8th overall but a trade post-NFL combine saw the Panthers jump to #1. 

This meant that Young saw himself coming into a situation better than most rookies taken first in previous seasons. Carolina had arguably a top 12 offensive line a season ago, the addition of pro bowler Miles Sanders should improve a running attack that was one of the better in the league once Steve Wilks took over from the fired Matt Rhule

And while the WR corp lacks a true WR1 following the trade that saw DJ Moore sent to Chicago, the free agency additions of Adam Thielen and DJ Chark coupled with drafting Ole Miss’ Jonathon Mingo in the second round should allow Bryce Young to spread the ball around. Adding Hayden Hurst who has one of the league’s lowest drop percentages at TE gives Young a safe pair of hands at Tight End, a rookie QB forming a relationship with his TE is something Panthers’ fans are familiar with after seeing Cam Newton and Greg Olsen blossom in there time together in Charlotte. 

Already early in the offseason, Young has been impressing Panthers’ coached and the assembled media during OTA’s and minicamps and while expectations for a rookie QB should be tempered Young is entering a weak division with Derrick Carr currently being the most established QB in the NFC South. If Young hits the ground running, it’s distinctly positive he made himself hosting a playoff game in his rookie year.

CJ Stroud, Houston Texans

If it weren’t for a last-season prayer from Davis Mills giving the Texans a win over the Indianapolis Colts on the final day of the 2022 regular season, Bryce Young would likely be a Texan but with that win slipping Houston down to the 2nd pick coupled with Carolina jumping to #1 this took things out of Houston’s hands.

Despite not picking first overall last season, it’s hard to argue against Houston being the league’s worst team. CJ Stroud is joining an offence which was the league’s second-worst in terms of total yards per game, Stroud may be expected to deliver early considering in 2022 Houston rushed for just 86.8 yards per game best for 31st in the league. 

However, despite the bleak outlook on paper, there are some positives for Stroud and Texans’ new head coach DeMeco Ryans. Stroud has one of the best blindside protectors in Laremy Tunsill who is fresh off a contract extension. The team also acquired TE Dalton Schultz and WR Robert Woods in the offseason, they may also finally be able to call on the services of John Metchie III, the former Alabama star who was forced to sit out his entire rookie season after being diagnosed with leukaemia but has so far been a full participant this offseason. 


While we have certainly seen improvements in the Texans this offseason a first-year quarterback paired with a first-year head coach will always come with growing pains. I still expect the Texans to be picking in the top 5 next draft and this could give Houston the chance to pick one of the generational offensive talents in next year’s draft, such as Marvin Harrison JR or Brock Bowers. 

Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts

You’ll struggle to find a more compelling draft prospect at quarterback in recent years than Florida’s Anthony Richardson. Built like Cam Newton, with the speed of Lamar Jackson, with the arm strength of Josh Allen, he is the prototype of something that has been made in a factory somewhere. Surely someone with those comparisons is a sure-fire pick for number one?

But a combination of lack of starting experience and inconsistent tape saw Richardson available when the Colts took their pick 4th overall. Richardson arguably has the lowest floor and highest ceiling in this draft class, he could easily turn into a dominant quarterback but at the same time, a JaMarcus Russell-type bust could also be a possibility. 

Richardson had just 13 starts during his time in Gainesville and in his only season as a starter won only 6 games and completed just 53.8% of his passes as the Gators went 6-6. While Richardson was the victim of a depleted Florida WR core who struggled with drops there are certainly a lot of unknowns when it comes to the player and if his game will translate to the NFL. It’s hard to ignore the flashes of brilliance we saw from Richardson in Florida and it’s not hard to see why the Colts were willing to take the risk on the player. 

Richardson shot up draft boards following his incredible NFL combine, after coming in at 6”4 244lbs drawing comparisons to Cam Newton, he ran a 4.44s 40 best for the 4th fastest for a QB, he then proceeded to set both vertical and broad jump records for a QB with a 40.5” vertical and a 10’9” broad jump all while weighing over 240lbs. 

Some even predicted Richardson predicted to go 1st to Carolina, but after Carolina selected Bryce Young and Houston picked 2nd and 3rd taking CJ Stroud and Will Anderson JR, this saw Richardson fall right into the laps of the Colts who didn’t hesitate to submit the pick to commissioner Roger Goodell. This pick paired the raw QB prospect with new Colts HC Shane Steichen the former Eagles OC who was part of the turnaround of former 2nd-round pick Jalen Hurts. 

Despite his lofty selection, many expected Richardson to need a year to sit and learn how to play in the NFL akin to what we’d seen in the past with Patrick Mahomes, but all indications coming out of the Colts’ preseason camps suggest Richardson is taking the majority of the first team snaps ahead of veteran Gardener Minshew. 

If Richardson is the season starter it’s tough to see him hitting the ground running straight away, his lack of starting experience may mean his transition to the NFL is a tough one and we may see some very rough patches early on. But the Colts must stick with him through these as they will only aid his development, Richardson can lean on one of the league’s best rushers in Jonathon Taylor and a solid WR room featuring the likes of Michael Pitmann and rookie Josh Downs we may see some flashes early on.

Jacksonville should run away with the AFC South in 2024 but if Richardson translates his potential to on-field play Trevor Lawrence may have a battle in the future for more division success. 

Will Levis, Tennessee Titans

Following on from a QB who shot up the draft boards, the one who slid down rapidly was Kentucky’s Will Levis. Touted by many as a top 10 pick, the player had a 92% chance of being picked in the first round according to ESPN analytics. But as the picks contained to be read out, his name wasn’t called and as the camera continually panned to Levis and his close family watching in the draft green room it made for uncomfortable viewing. 

Levis would eventually slip out of the first round altogether before being taken with the second pick on day two 33rd overall by the Tennessee Titans meaning 3 of the top 4 QBs taken in this draft will be in the AFC South in 2024. Levis is joining what can only be described as an unusual quarterback situation in Nashville. 

The Titans seem determined to move on from starter Ryan Tannehill despite the fact the former Texas A&M man is set to count $36 million against the cap this season, but with Tannehill set to be a free agent next offseason, it seems head coach Mike Vrabel is ready to move on. The team drafted Malik Willis in the 3rd round a year ago, and despite the player showing flashes in college playing against weaker competition for Liberty showed his rookie season. 

With the team’s season on the line late in the season and Tannehill missing with an ankle injury the team chose to start Josh Dobbs ahead of Willis showing the lack of confidence the coaching staff has in Willis. These factors mean despite slipping on draft night Levis has a real chance to come in and start day one.

You can see from his measurables alone why Levis was touted as a top 10 pick, his big athletic frame with a cannon of an arm drew comparisons to Josh Allen, but his inconsistent tape looked more like Sam Darnold than Josh Allen, a slightly older prospect at 23 Levis has 5 years of college experience but after three years at Penn State, he failed to beat out Sean Clifford and transferred to Lexington. 

His first season at Kentucky was easily his best, playing in a pro-style offence under Liam Coen big things were expected in 2022 for Levis. But with Coen departing for an OC job at the LA Rams and Rich Scangarello being brought in we saw a stark regression from Levis, although he had some injuries issues as well as a weak offensive line, Levis still underperformed throwing for 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions compared to 24 scores and 13 picks a season before. 

Turnovers are Levis’ big issue with 23 picks in his two years as a starter, compare that to CJ Stroud and Byrce Young who both started 2 years at Alabama and Ohio State they threw just 24 combined picks across the two years. Levis has the ability to make all the throws at the next level but it’s whether he has the mental strength to play in the NFL which makes Darnold a perfect comparison. 

While the fact Levis has experience in a pro-style offence makes him an attractive prospect, some of the clips we’ve seen of Levis in minicamp so far don’t inspire confidence. The fact Levis doesn’t have the pressure of being a first-round pick may work in his favour, but this also means he has to make an impact early as he doesn’t have the luxury of the fifth-year option which comes from being a first-round pick. 

If Levis does get the start he can lean on one of the league’s most dominant rushers in Derrick Henry taking a lot of pressure off a rookie QB but the Titans have a weak WR room something which troubled Levis at Kentucky. As with the other three rookies in the AFC South, we will likely see growing pains early as Jacksonville runs away with the AFC South. 

Levis has all the attributes to succeed in the NFL but whether what he has between the ears is enough is another question, he has one of the league’s best coaches in Mike Vrabel and a weak division outside of Jacksonville may help speed up his transition to NFL starter.