What’s happening at the top of the 2023 draft

Go on draft websites or peruse ‘draft twitter’ and you see a rarely challenged consensus.

The top two quarterbacks are C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young. Barely anyone tries to offer a different take.

Slowly but surely, however, the tide is starting to change.

For starters, Mel Kiper listed Will Levis as his second ranked quarterback, behind Stroud. Now, there’s this report from Levis-sceptic Tony Pauline:

If you talk with scouts, it seems that Will Levis of Kentucky is the signal-caller they are most enamored with. He’s a Josh Allen type in the sense he’s big, athletic, and has a major league arm but will need proper coaching and development.

One league insider told me Bryce Young and CJ Stroud are rated higher on Draft Twitter than they are in the scouting community. Young’s size and lack of arm strength are a concern, and Stroud’s inconsistency in the short passing game has raised some red flags.

What has felt obvious for some time is finally developing into a new consensus.

Levis isn’t the perfect prospect and I’ve never tried to argue he is. I watched all of his 2021 games during the summer and I’ve watched (and written up) all of his 2022 games so far.

Clearly there are still some moments where his footwork becomes slightly lazy and it’s led to a couple of avoidable turnovers. There was a moment against Ole Miss last week where he saw a 1v1 in the red zone he liked, rushed the snap and a potential game-winning touchdown was taken off the board because one of his receivers didn’t have time to get set.

Yet Pauline’s report makes total sense.

I’m going to try not to keep repeating myself because it’ll become very dull and it’s only October 7th. We have months of debate ahead of us. However, this warrants a quick review.

Teams can easily turn on the Kentucky tape and see transferable pointers. They can see a player who is succeeding on a team that isn’t loaded with 5-star recruits. Levis plays behind a suspect offensive line and has been sacked 18 times in five games.

He’s facing adversity.

He played for Liam Coen last season, the current LA Rams offensive coordinator. This year he’s running Kyle Shanahan’s offense because Rich Scangarello replaced Coen. Within this scheme he takes snaps under center, he makes the reads and adjustments at the line, there is evidence of going through three progressions and he is functioning like a pro.

Then there are the traits. Levis is a burly 6-3 and 232lbs. He is an outstanding athlete. At SPARQ he jumped a 36 inch vertical, ran a 4.10 short shuttle and delivered a whopping total score of 123.27. He has a big arm and his throwing base — when he avoids the occasional lapse — is sound and secure with both feet on the turf, his shoulders square to the target and he can do all the fancy modern throws off-platform and on the run.

Plus, he has tremendous character and no red flags.

Everything here is factual and will be very appealing to NFL teams. Decision makers, when asked by their owner why they want to select Levis, can answer very easily.

He doesn’t have to have a flawless final season at Kentucky either. The basis for a high draft pick is not a Joe Burrow Heisman campaign, when he had the luxury of throwing to Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson at LSU.

Levis is getting it done and simply put, Stroud and Young cannot match any of the above.

That’s not to say they are bad players. They’re not bad players.

But look at Stroud. Here’s a player who gets to play behind a star-studded O-line, throwing to multiple first round receivers, with five-star running backs in the backfield. Before every snap, the coaches on the sideline make his reads for him and instruct him what to do.

That’s why you see interceptions like this:

You need to get off that target because nothing about the coverage says ‘throw the ball here’. When you’re essentially being told what to do pre-snap, however, this can happen.

Stroud doesn’t play in a pro-style offense. Ohio State has churned out a collection of very productive athletes at quarterback over the years and there’s a consistent trend that this environment is not transferable to NFL success. You don’t face any adversity and in the pro’s you have to make your reads, make the calls, lead the team and do it all behind a weaker offensive line with playmakers who aren’t going to win every 1v1.

Then there’s Bryce Young — a naturally talented passer and the Heisman winner from last season.

Yet he too benefits from the ‘Bama effect’. Aside from the games against Georgia — which are a fair contest — every other game he plays in, he’s playing an overmatched opponent. The line and skill players. The physicality and guidance. It’s all so far ahead of everyone else. It doesn’t make for an easy projection to the next level.

Then you have to account for his size. It’s long been confirmed, including by Todd McShay recently, that he’s a shade above 5-10 and around 185lbs. How do you project that to the next level? There isn’t anyone to compare to.

Let’s say he gets drafted by someone in the top-10 — presumably without a great supporting cast (or at least with a developing offense). Can he take the punishment that will come with playing on a bad team?

Only last week he suffered a shoulder injury. And look, injuries happen to big, physical quarterbacks too. But this question is going to linger with Young. You can’t blame teams for taking this into account when putting together the order on their draft board. They’d be negligent not to.

For all the good Young shows on tape (and there is a lot of good) there are also moments that seem all too familiar having watched a shorter quarterback playing in Seattle for some time. He bails on the pocket more often than people are noting. He had a horrendous interception on a needless scramble-and-heave a couple of weeks ago and the shoulder injury supposedly happened on a needless escape last week.

I’ve seen, every week, Levis stand in the pocket with pressure coming right at him. He’s stood tall, delivered a throw and taken a hit in the pocket. Some of his best throws have come in these situations this year.

That’s NFL football. That’s what teams want.

This is why when we get to April, we’re going to see a handful of teams fighting and clawing for Levis. It’s why he might end up going first overall. It’s why I think he’ll be QB1 on a lot of boards.

If the team picking first overall somehow doesn’t need a quarterback (which seems incredibly unlikely given the way the Jets and Jaguars are improving), there’ll be a scramble to move up and select him.

The Seahawks have the stock to make a move but whether it’s possible or not, we’ll see. I’m sure many people reading this — or speaking on Twitter — will determine it’s not worth it given the offensive performance so far. I would also remind people that Seattle’s offense feasted on a Lions defense as embarrassing as theirs. Before the Detroit game, the offense had produced three points in six second-half quarters. They were shut-out by the 49ers.

I’m not sure the Big-12 game last week was indicative of a team that no longer requires a long term answer at quarterback.

Let’s also not forget — Geno Smith isn’t even contracted to Seattle next year. Even this season, when he was presented with his only opportunity to start in the league, he delayed putting pen to paper because (presumably) he wasn’t totally satisfied with the terms. That signing took longer than most people expected.

NFL free agency starts in mid-March. Despite seemingly receiving very little interest elsewhere, these are the dates he officially signed with the team since initially joining in 2019:

2019 — May 15th
2020 — May 20th
2021 — April 22nd
2022 — April 22nd

So on two occasions he didn’t sign until two months after the league year started and on two occasions it was a month after. There may be other reasons for that (prioritising other positions ahead of backup QB) but it’s worth noting that even this year, it took until April 22nd to get a deal done.

As such, it might not be the easiest negotiation in the world if he continues to perform. It’s just something to remember. The ideal situation for this team remains having a talented young quarterback on a cheap contract with club-control for five years. We’ve seen how much that has benefited teams over the years.

Admittedly the Seahawks also have to get better on defense. Again, without wishing to repeat things I’ve already gone over a fair bit, the blue-chip defenders are simply not emerging within this draft class.

I would go as far to say that this might be the worst looking top-10 I’ve covered since starting the blog in 2008. You basically have Will Anderson who warrants a very high pick. The quarterbacks always get elevated. I’m not sure I’ve seen another player who warrants going that early.

I genuinely believe this is shaping up to be a draft where one very high pick (top-three) will be better than two firsts in the middle of round one. I don’t see a way to ‘fix’ this defense picking twice in an easily projectable 8-16 range.

I can’t see a single offensive lineman worthy of the top-10. The other defensive linemen are more 16-32 range types. There are no receivers playing well enough currently to warrant a top-10 pick. The top two cornerbacks for me (D.J. Turner & Kelee Ringo) aren’t being tested enough to pass judgement.

In 2020 you had Chase Young, Jeff Okudah, Andrew Thomas, Derrick Brown and Isaiah Simmons who were all big name college players who went, unsurprisingly, in the top-10. Then you had a handful of highly rated O-liners and some high-profile receivers follow shortly after. It enabled a Justin Herbert to trickle down to #6 overall. I suspect the same would happen in 2023 with C.J. Stroud if those types were in the draft next year. They aren’t, which increases the likelihood a QB-needy team will take him once Levis and Anderson are gone. Perhaps even before Anderson.

With every win the Seahawks move further away from the top picks but also, it’s hard to see how they pivot to improving the defense. Which is why, right now, I’d probably make the case for trading up.

The only plausible scenario I can imagine where you don’t — or feel comfortable not doing so — is if Anthony Richardson declares. I’ve watched all of his games for Florida and I’m well aware of his inconsistencies and mistakes. I also see a player with the physical potential to be special. To do what Josh Allen did — be an error-strewn rough diamond in college, need a couple of years in the pro’s then emerge as a superstar.

Richardson has that potential.

Allen was the seventh pick in 2018, with Buffalo trading up from #12 to get him. If Richardson declares — the Seahawks could pull a similar move. Then you have a player you can work with to be your future without perhaps needing to use multiple first round picks to get into the top two or three.

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  1. cha

    I would be very curious to know why the NFL initially rejected Geno’s contract this spring.

    Probably the incentives needed to be reworked.

    But I’d think two pro organizations like the Seahawks and Geno’s agents would have been able to word things correctly in order to get the contract through and not need to re-do their homework.

  2. 805Hawk

    If we grab Richardson, what do you think it will cost to resign Geno for a year or will he even be willing to sign a one or even two year deal? If he continues at this level (great against bad defenses and serviceable otherwise), I would guess he’d demand 3 years at 20m/year. Although I realize that could change dramatically.

    • Rob Staton

      It’s too early to project that

      He’s playing a good defense on Sunday, things can change quickly

  3. God of Thunder

    For me it’s Levis, and maaaaybe Stroud — if he flashes in the next months. Richardson is a big question mark. Young is a firm no for me.

    Re: Levis again. “I’ve seen, every week, Levis stand in the pocket with pressure coming right at him. He’s stood tall, delivered a throw and taken a hit in the pocket. Some of his best throws have come in these situations this year.”

    I’m in the “don’t stand tall” unless the pass rusher coming at you is Bryce Young sized🤣

    Preserve your cranium and career. When I was younger I watched the great Steve Young take some hits he wouldn’t/shouldn’t in our day and age. But kudos for for Levis … I have no doubts about his toughness.

    • Rob Staton

      Standing tall, by the definition I’m referring to, just means staying where you are — not running yourself into an avoidable sack

  4. icb12

    I have major reservations that Levis might not even make it out of this college football season. There’s a strong possibility some defensive end gets tossed in jail for life for the premeditated murder of will Levi’s and the entirety of Kentucky’s online and the oline coach all get 25 years as accomplices.

    I also have major reservations that the Seahawks have the coaching staff with the capabilities to properly nurture and develop Anthony Richardson and help him become what he has the potential to be. To be fair- I think very few teams have those capabilities.

    • Peter


      The giants make sense. There coach did it with Allen.


      Since this is the year I’m writing sentences I could never have imagined…what if Waldron is actually a heck of a coach?

      Geno has sucked. Well and truly been terrible at every stop along the way. I’m not someone who is all aboard the Geno train. But what if getting a 68% passer, 24-27 tds and 8 ints out of Geno is simply putting a player in the best possible place to succeed by years end?

      I know to hear Pete say it they’ve got to clean things up, or it’s coming along, or it’s just the big plays (wtaf…btw) What if coaching is actually coaching and not talking, and Waldron is good at that…the coaching part? I don’t know yet but he’s doing something for geno this year.

      • Rob Staton

        They had three points in the second half, in three games, before playing the Lions — whose defense was a total and utter shambles

        Let’s pump the brakes a little on this particular ‘what if?’

        • Peter


          It’s not the what if you may think it is.

          The ‘what if,’ is my baseline based on everything I’ve seen prior is Geno was going to be rotten and somehow he’s not then the OC may have something to do with that.

          I fully realize the second half faults. And unlike some people also can see this team hasn’t beaten anyone ( yes, you denver) But I still have been impressed with how well Waldron has dialed up plays for geno.

          I don’t really like what ifs much. But color me impressed with what someone is doing coaching wise to make Geno Smith much better than I ever thought was possible.

  5. pdway

    OK – so this pretty far off topic – so Rob feel free to tell me to take it elsewhere.

    But I’m assuming most of you have seen the Draymond Green practice punch of Jordan Poole? It really is a case of a picture telling a thousand words, b/c when I first heard about the incident, I thought nothing of it. Practice skirmishes happen all the time. But once I saw the video – and how vicious the punch actually was – it turned my head, I really could not believe he punched a teammate in that way.

    I raise it here out of curiosity, to a bunch of sane sports fans – b/c some friends I talked to about it, and plenty of people online, are saying things like, ‘if you shove someone, it’s on you for not being prepared for the punch”, etc., or, ‘that’s just how it is on a sports team when tempers flare.’ I kind of can’t believe that reaction, and think if he wasn’t such a long-term player for the Warriors a punch like that could well get you booted off the team.

    Curious to hear thoughts…

    • Peter

      See: Percy Harvin

      Not a long term player. Got booted from the team.

  6. Ok

    Trey Lance was an unproven player with potential. The 49ers had to trade it all to go up and get him. Might Richardson cost the same? As poorly as Lance has shown thus far, I’d still be in for Richardson. Half measures do not work, as evidenced by the defensive coaching/scheme quagmire.

    I really really really appreciate the steady hand from Rob, and some regular commenters: nfl fandom is commonly of the moment, and I guess there is some fun in that. The prisoner of the moment stuff is absolutely fed by the media machine, but goodness, some of these takes, without looking at the context are ridiculous. Might Geno continue to not be the main issue holding the hawks back? Sure. If we play the lions a bunch. We saw some of this fervor right before the Seahawks got punted out of the first round by the rams….

    • KD

      If we can walk it back just a tad, the 49rs gave up three 1st rounders for a Division 2 QB who only played one game that season and missed the rest due to injury (I think I got that right). Trey Lance is not a good comp when considering a QB in the SEC, in his 2nd year, and did not sit a year de to injury or otherwise.

      Richardson is one of the single biggest boom or bust prospects that I have ever seen. If the stars are aligning around Levis to go VERY high, then he may end up being out of range for the Hawks. If that is the case, then I’m willing to put all my chips in. Let’s do it.

      • KD

        …For Richardson that is

  7. KD

    Random Thoughts:

    I was chatting with a co-worker today about general football, and he asked a good question: Which team in the NFL is looking dominant this year? The only answer is no one. BUF and PHI are looking pretty good so far, but the start of this season has been defined by a lot of bumbling around to 2-2 records. Some lucky 3-1’s and some odd 1-3’s.

    What is going on here? This is just a side note random thought, but who is the obvious Heisman candidate right now? There is none. The Heisman should be an award given to a college player who is an unstoppable force of nature. A player who disregards an opponent’s strength through will and talent. I just don’t see THAT player so far. Let’s just give it to CJ Stroud right now because of his stats. Heisman will go to the player from a top ranked team with the best stats, and that’s CJ.

    • KD

      Also, I hate to be a spammer about this Rob, but would you be willing to take a look at Ivan Pace Jr? LB from CIN. He is on my watch list and he has been incredible so far. Both he, and his brother, Desmond, have some serious talent.

      If I have a draft crush at this point, it’s Ivan Pace. He’s damn good.

    • Peter

      Slow starts. Maybe it has to do with I think 8 teams not playing starters during preseason?

      Heisman. I think the Heisman has switched in the last decade and maybe a bit before to generally the qb with the best stats on the highest rated team like you mentioned. For some time now it hasn’t been the most dominant player in college. Sometimes those things align but not always.

      It’s like the map has just become a stat award. I mean I know tge caveat it with regular season but Kupp? Stafford? Burrow for getting the bengals out of tge hoke they’ve been in. Obviously Rodgers had a great season. But was he more valuable however subjective than burrows? Hard to say.

      • Peter

        Meant the mvp has become a stat award….

  8. 509 Chris

    I might change my mind bit I almost like Richardson more than Levis. He’s very unrefined, but my untrained eye sees something very special there. I love how Rob puts it, that he just can’t let him go. Levis is definitely the closest thing to a sure bet, and he is likely to have at least a decent career playing qb. But if Richardson can put everything together, it’s like Vick mobility with Marinos arm. I think the gods struck this man with a thunder bolt a berth. It’s a big IF (for all NFL qb’s) hoping that he will learn to read the field and go through progressions, but if he can it will be 10 or 15 years of guaranteed relevance for the club that drafts him. I’ve not seen any interviews with him, does he have much going on between the ears?

  9. Rob Staton

    Many of you will have noticed Talanoa Hufanga is starring for the Niners as a former fifth round pick.

    I had him graded as the top safety in 2021, with a second round grade…


    Of course they were never going to take him because, well, you know. That trade. The trade that cost them two 2021 picks, making the 2021 draft a virtual write-off for Seattle. And that top-10 pick they lost in 2022 was delightful too.

    Hufanga’s PFF grade this season is 84.6

    • HOUSE

      “That trade” just continues to kick us in the junk. I look at a previous trade with the Jets (Sheldon Richardson) after Malik McDowell (could’ve drafted TJ Watt instead) wrecked his ATV and used his head to stop. We don’t win our trades with the Jets. I don’t ever want to trade with them again! Getting rid of that guy is probably the right thing to do after this season.

      On a much more positive note, our trades with the Broncos in the past have yielded well, so I’m hoping the Russ trade continues to help us!

      I know you mentioned above that this draft class isn’t particularly good at the top path. Are there any safeties that we should be eyeballing that are jumping out at you this year?

      • Rob Staton

        There are few with day two and three games as noted in a recent article. Got a post coming this week which will talk about the one I’ve been most impressed with so far

    • TJ

      Speaking of safeties have you had a chance to watch Boise State’s JL Skinner? 6’4″, 220 lbs and very hits hard. Game announcers frequently comment that he will be playing on Sundays. I think that after Adams latest injury, there’s a good chance they let him go this offseason. Might Skinner be a potential replacement?

      • Rob Staton

        I’ll check him out

      • Seahawkwalt

        He looks like Kam out there. I wonder how his hips are…

  10. Sea Mode

    Hope he eventually does a video on Geno and the Seahawks’ offense as well as the QBs in next year’s draft. Doesn’t get much higher quality than this to understand what’s really going on out there on a play-design and execution level.

    Kurt Warner x QBConfidential

  11. Peter

    Rob or anyone,

    Any games this Saturday you’ll be keeping an eye on?

    Pretty weak slate but Utah v. UCLA has suddenly become interesting.

    • Rob Staton

      Just posting my article on what I’m watching

  12. Kenneth Trudeau

    I’m curious about Andre Carter, is he just hype or would he be an option for the Seattle?

  13. D-Mac


    I know you’ve alluded to him in the past, but I don’t recall having seen a deep dive on Hendon Hooker. I admittedly have not seen him play much, but he’s shown consistent year over year improvements in production. He’s a 6’4″ senior and takes care of the football and is now leading a top 10 team (against a low level competition schedule) and has looked good against LSU today.

    Any chance you see him as a dark horse candidate for the Hawks?

    • Rob Staton

      I’ve written about him a lot

      Scheme very favourable, has a lot of wide open throws, accuracy is patchy, good athlete, has some nice throws. I don’t see a starting NFL QB but I can imagine someone taking him in R3/4

  14. DJ 1/2 way

    Another great article. The content and insight is perfect for this target audience.

    When it comes to college qbs, I would say that Will Levis is the kind of guy I would want to marry one of my daughters and Richardson is the one I want to be the QB of the Seahawks.

    That speed and potential is too much to pass on. We can sign Geeno or whoever for a couple years while he figures it out. I say, if he is there go get him. If not-Try to get Wil or the next guy who emerges.

    You say trade up this year-if they can. If they cannot, then maybe trade down. I know that is obvious, but as it seems every year the second half of the first round is light and the second and third rounds are heavy.

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