OPINION: Stern: NFL quarterback market has uniqueness to it

Derek Carr, Anthony Richardson, Bryce Young
Photo credit Getty Images

In many cases in life, the outcome of Situation B is completely dependent on what happens with Situation A. One or more dominoes commonly need to fall before we can reach definitive conclusions. During the NFL's annual scouting combine this past weekend, speculating where quarterback prospects Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, and Anthony Richardson will be drafted in late April was a fun exercise. However, the possibilities won't become clear until the league's carousel of free agents and trade candidates comes to a screeching halt.

It remains to be seen whether Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers will reconcile after experiencing marital difficulties. And former Las Vegas Raiders leader Derek Carr is reportedly in no rush to decide his next landing spot, too. Lamar Jackson could say farewell to the Baltimore Ravens. Consequently, this change would leave Marcus Mariota, Sam Darnold, Ryan Tannehill, plus Daniel Jones as potential secondary plans for teams that miss out on a top-tier guy.

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NFL fans and analysts are partially licking their chops due to the lack of talent in last year's quarterback draft class. Kenny Pickett didn't come off the board until the Pittsburgh Steelers took him 20th overall. And that was the latest the first quarterback was selected in a draft since the New York Jets chose Chad Pennington in 2000 (18th overall). Oh, and some guy named Brady was taken in the sixth round of that draft as well.

"This is a much better group than last year's draft class, which was an outlier in terms of lacking top-end talent," NFL draft analyst Eric Edholm explained to CBS Sports Radio. "We talked ourselves into some of the guys from last year's group, Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett, and Matt Corral. This year, we've seen some guys who've flashed amazing skills, even though they may lack experience."

While Pickett looks like he could be the Steelers' starter, the two quarterbacks taken after him -- Matt Corral and Malik Willis -- haven't inspired the same level of optimism. Willis struggled in limited action for the Tennessee Titans in 2022 and Corral was sidelined the whole season due to a preseason Lisfranc injury.

The teams in last year's quarterback market largely went the veteran route, in hopes of reevaluating their options this offseason. That decision seems likely to pay dividends, as this spring's crop of Young, Stroud, Richardson, and Will Levis figures to be a lot deeper. And for those looking ahead, the 2024 class, headlined by Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, has promise too.

Although Young and Stroud represent the top-two options on this year's big board, Richardson did plenty to elevate his draft stock this past weekend in Indianapolis. In addition to posting a laudable 4.43 time in the 40-yard dash, he also set a quarterback record in the vertical jump (40.5 inches), the best leap for a signal-caller since Matt Jones in 2003.

Anthony Richardson
Photo credit Stacy Revere / Staff / Getty Images

"Each fanbase from the teams that are exploring taking quarterbacks watched his stock almost elevate by the hour,” Edholm said. "You can’t teach size, and [Richardson] has a ton of upside that you can’t ignore."

While Richardson may have the highest ceiling -- something that could propel him into the top-10 by draft time -- Young has been widely considered the top quarterback prospect. Stroud's been viewed as a relatively safe choice, while Levis' standing has become largely unknown. After Young, it seems as though the order that each quarterback is drafted may be interchangeable.

Suffice to say, the wild card in this conjecture is the appealing veteran market, which features plenty of talent. Some teams might sign a veteran quarterback and draft a young rookie, while others may push all their chips to the center of the table with either a proven starter or promising first-year player. Despite the rampant speculation that the first domino needs to drop in free agency before teams line up their draft boards, it's possible these two events don't influence one another as much as people may believe.

“There's definitely an effect but there may only be a team or two sniffing both the draft and free agency," Edholm explained. "Carolina has certainly kicked around its veteran options, but it depends entirely on fit. Teams have different leaderboards based on body type, experience, and potential.”

Even if the beginning of free agency doesn't necessarily impact the NFL Draft the same way many perceive it to, teams that select the top talent likely won't be in on a quarterback at the start of the first round. So in this sense, Rodgers and Carr will likely be the first two guys off the all-encompassing metaphorical draft boards.

Given the influx of talent, teams should have more options to choose from for the first time in years. In an era where long-term commitments at the league's most important position is harder to come by, the variety of options -- though partially overwhelming -- should be more welcome than draft day itself.

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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