On Friday night, the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers dropped a bombshell on the rest of the NFL. The two teams agreed to a blockbuster trade that gave Carolina the first overall pick in April's draft.
Carolina is expected to use the pick to select one of the draft's top quarterback prospects. If they pick the right one, the Panthers could make a lot of noise in 2023 given what they showed at the end of this past season.
The Panthers went 5-3 to close out the 2022 season after at 2-7 start. Carolina's strong finish was spearheaded by a formidable running game, led by Chuba Hubbard, and solid play from Pro Bowler Brian Burns, cornerback Jaycee Horn and the rest of Carolina's defense.
While they are officially on the clock, here is our ranking of which quarterback the Panthers should select with the No. 1 overall pick.
1. C.J. Stroud
The former Ohio State standout checks off just about every box you'd want from a top quarterback prospect. He has ideal size at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds. Stroud was incredibly accurate at Ohio State while completing 69.3 percent of his passes. He was highly productive in throwing 85 touchdowns against just 12 interceptions during his time in Columbus.
Stroud is also a fierce competitor. Despite future first-round picks Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave sitting out, Stroud threw for 573 yards and six touchdowns in leading the Buckeyes to a thrilling come-from-behind win in the 2022 Rose Bowl.
Last fall, despite sustaining an injury in a late season game against Maryland, Stroud continued to play and play at a high level. In defeat, Stroud threw for nearly 350 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan. Facing the national champion Georgia a month later, Stroud threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns as Ohio State nearly pulled off the upset.
C.J. Stroud has a career passer rating of 139.2 with a clean pocket versus 83.2 without. Against CFB’s best defense in Georgia he silenced the doubters with 348 yards passing and 4 TDs. Still a very good chance Stroud ends up as the first QB off the board. pic.twitter.com/yEIVYUpjc5— Kyle Lindemann (@LuckIsMadeFF) January 26, 2023
The biggest knocks on Stroud at Ohio State was his 0-2 record against Michigan and his perceived unwillingness to run. Stroud played well in both games against Michigan, however, and any reservations regarding a possible unwillingness to run was likely due to protecting his body after getting hurt against Maryland.
2. Bryce Young
This wasn't an easy decision, but Stroud's size and slightly better accuracy gives him the nod over Young, who many feel will be the first player selected in the draft.
Young's size (he checked in at 5-foot-10 and 204 pounds at the NFL Combine) has been his biggest question mark leading up to the draft. Young, however, didn't let his size stop him from putting up gaudy numbers while at Alabama. The 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, Young completed nearly 66 percent of his passes while throwing 79 touchdowns and 12 picks during his final two years at Alabama.
Like Stroud, Young ended his college career on a high note. He threw five touchdowns while completing more than 71% of his throws during Alabama's Sugar Bowl win over Kansas State. Young finished his career with a 24-4 record as Alabama's starting quarterback.
Bryce Young in Sugar Bowl 🔥— Overtime (@overtime) December 31, 2022
5 TD pic.twitter.com/9tyebJBgre
Touted for having a high football IQ, Young also showed the ability to make every throw during his time in college. He also displayed impressive leadership skills that endeared himself to his teammates.
3. Will Levis
Some media members, including our own CBS Sports Senior NFL writer Pete Prisco, believe that Levis is the top quarterback prospect in the draft. Levis has ideal size at 6-foot-3 and 222 pounds. He has a cannon for a right arm that he is not afraid to test against any defense. He also has solid mobility that allowed him to make plays with his legs while at Kentucky.
60-yard bombs should not look this effortless. I get why people are enamored with Will Levis pic.twitter.com/M9iuIY4Tcc— Tyler Forness (@TheRealForno) February 18, 2023
Levis' question marks are pretty obvious. He threw 25 interceptions in college and fumbled the ball 17 times. Part of Levis' penchant for turnovers was due to his confidence. It could also be at least partially attributed to spotty pass protection and his rocket throws being deflected by his own receivers.
There's one reason why the Panthers may look past Levis' turnovers. The Panthers won the bulk of their games late last season by leaning on the running game and defense. That will probably continue to be their philosophy in 2023 regardless of who is under center. That being said, the Panthers can't completely hide their quarterback, so it would be up to Levis to take better care of the ball when given his opportunities to throw.