OPINION: Stern: 2023 NFL Draft surprises will be driven by QBs

Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Levis
Photo credit Todd KirklandKevin C. Cox, Douglas P. DeFelice / Getty Images

Any situation that contains an unknown variable results in widespread tension about what will occur next. For football fans, the anticipation surrounding who their beloved team will select in the NFL Draft lasts until league commissioner Roger Goodell steps up to the podium. And this spring, with no clarity beyond Alabama stud Bryce Young as the consensus first-overall pick to the Panthers, a number of shocking draft selections are bound to transpire.

To a large degree, developing an NFL mock draft is comparable to filling out a March Madness bracket. Much like the strength of each team, evaluations of players are largely subjective to interpretation. Media members and fanbases generally have different assessments of prospects, based on varying criteria. One person could view somebody as a sure-fire first-round pick, while others would be unwilling to touch that player until day three of the draft. So for that reason, there's often a wide range of outcomes for a prospect's landing spot.

This spring, there should be several surprises. Naturally, the draft pundits are fighting over who has the most exclusive information, with each assuring the public that their reporting is correct. Several so-called insiders have gone as far as saying that no quarterbacks will be selected between the top selection and when the Colts pick fourth overall. Only time will tell if they're correct, but movement atop the order should be expected with quarterbacks available.

The Texans, current owners of the No. 2 pick, have incumbent Davis Mills and recently signed journeyman Case Keenum on their roster. But the franchise is rumored to be seeking further stability at quarterback. It also seems inevitable that Indianapolis will select a signal-caller, but will they need to move up to do so? The Lions, Falcons, and Titans all appear to be candidates to trade up into the top-four if the board falls in their favor. Even if it doesn't, said teams -- and perhaps a darkhorse -- could sneak up in the round if their guy slides down.

Unlike last spring, when a quarterback wasn't taken until the Steelers selected Kenny Pickett at No. 20 overall, the 2023 crop of quarterbacks figures to be a lot more desirable. So much so, it's conceivable that five signal-callers are off the board by the time we reach the 20th pick this year. There's no consensus on whether Kentucky star Will Levis or Ohio State standout C.J. Stroud will be the second name off the board. While Florida star Anthony Richardson offers potential based purely off upside, Tennessee sensation Hendon Hooker is an intriguing option as well.

While NFL fans may have to wait until Thursday night to discover which jersey these aforementioned players will wear, movement to get these quarterbacks will have a direct impact on the rest of the draft. Several highly-graded players could slide down further than expected if a serious run on quarterbacks takes place as early as some expect it to.

Alabama defensive lineman Will Anderson Jr. and Texas Tech linebacker Tyree Wilson -- widely considered two of the top-three position players -- might be available to teams drafting outside of the top three. Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter could be in the mix too, and don't forget about Illinois defensive back Devon Witherspoon and Oregon defensive back Christian Gonzalez.

Although there's a craze around quarterbacks, NFL games can be won or lost in the trenches and in the secondary. And while the teams taking linemen and defensive backs should have more stability under center, being able to select one of the NFL Draft's top position players -- by way of a run at quarterback -- could greatly impact their fate for 2023.

It's hard to envision a season coming down to one singular play, but drafting a Day One impact player on defense can be huge -- especially since many units are a few playmakers away from massive improvement.

So, while the NFL Draft's focus will be on the game's most important position, and which teams will be in the mix, an emphasis should also be placed on the domino effect that squads moving up could have on strategies the rest of the way. And, as always, the draft winners will find a way to play the board to their advantage. How? By moving around based on trade partners' level of interest, while using the traffic surrounding them as a way to find future talent.

Jack Stern is a columnist, anchor, and associate producer for CBS Sports Radio. You can follow him on Twitter @J_Stern97.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Todd KirklandKevin C. Cox, Douglas P. DeFelice / Getty Images