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NFL draft back to being all about QBs at the top

Quarterbacks are back on top in the NFL draft.

A year after the first 19 picks were non-QBs and Kenny Pickett was the only signal-caller selected in the first round, this draft class is loaded with potential franchise players.

Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud have been the center of attention since before last year’s draft even took place. They could become the ninth pair of QBs selected 1-2 in the Super Bowl era.

Anthony Richardson and Will Levis should make it four QBs in the top 15, which has happened only five times previously. If they all go in the top 10, it’ll be the second time ever.

Then there’s Hendon Hooker, who may end up being a late first-round pick despite his age and knee injury.

There’s no consensus at No. 1 this year like there was in 2021 when everyone knew Trevor Lawrence was going to Jacksonville but momentum has been building toward Young going first to Carolina. The 2021 Heisman Trophy winner at Alabama is an overwhelming favorite to go No. 1, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

The Panthers have been on the clock since they made a blockbuster trade with Chicago in March, leaping from No. 9 to have their choice of QBs.

“You go get the guy that you want,” Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said at the combine. “If you have conviction on a guy, you go get him. It’s pretty simple that way. If you don’t know and you’re going to give all these resources to go up and get it, you’re hurting your team in the long run. You better be right. You better have conviction if you do move up. But when you do that, you’re all-in.”

Young has all the tools. He excelled in a pro-style offense, can make the necessary throws, has strong pocket awareness and the ability to create off-schedule plays. The biggest concern surrounding Young is his size. He measured at 5-foot-9, 204 pounds at the combine.

No quarterback who weighed under 207 pounds at the combine has been drafted in the first round. But Young is too talented to slip beyond the Panthers or Houston Texans at No. 2.

“If you just looked at it analytically, how many guys at that size have (become) superstars as undersized quarterbacks?” Panthers coach Frank Reich said. “And there are some, like Drew Brees … and it all goes back to that recipe. How much are we going to weigh that? How important is that to us as an organization? And that’s the process that we go through. But, everything is a consideration. … It’s also a consideration (with) his playmaking ability, his accuracy, his leadership, his instincts. It’s the same thing with C.J., Levis, Richardson, all of those guys. You look at every single one of those things, and it’s a sliding scale on how you evaluate them.”

Stroud was a finalist for the Heisman the past two seasons at Ohio State. He has the prototypical size at 6-foot-3, 214 pounds and is a precision passer who makes smart decisions. He didn’t do too much outside the pocket but showed superior playmaking ability in a College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Georgia.

“The old scouting adage is if you can do it once, you can do it. So you know he does have that ability.” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “He is the purest thrower of the bunch. Just accurate. If you value decision-making, accuracy, as pretty much everybody does, C.J. Stroud is really, really solid in that.”

Levis has the size, 6-foot-4, 229 pounds, that teams desire and experience playing in a pro-style offense at Kentucky. He has a strong arm and he’s athletic but also showed a propensity for making poor decisions.

“He has the traits to do so many things that Young and Stroud can’t, but evaluators are wondering if he will be able to figure out the mechanics,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said.

Levis certainly doesn’t lack confidence.

“I want to be the greatest of all time. I think you’re crazy if you don’t think that way,” he said.

Richardson is the least experienced of the four, having started just one season at Florida. But many scouts feel he has the most potential of all the QBs in this class.

Richardson has elite dual-threat talent but needs time to develop. He could be the second or third quarterback selected.

“I know he hasn’t played a ton, but teams are starting to look at some of these quarterbacks as lottery tickets, and this one has the biggest payout,” Jeremiah said.

Hooker, the 25-year-old who played five seasons at Tennessee and Virginia Tech, is coming off surgery for a torn ACL in his left knee. Still, plenty of mock drafts expect him to come off the board later in the first round.

“I plan to be a sponge talking to vets and coaches, on and off the field, how to be a pro,” Hooker said.

“That’s the first thing I want to do. And then impart my character and the person that I am and build a trust within the organization.”

With teams investing so much money on QBs — even the Giants’ Daniel Jones is among the 10 who have an average annual salary of $40 million — finding the right one in the draft is imperative.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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