2023 N.F.L. Draft: Three Quarterbacks Go in the First Round, but One Must Wait

Quarterbacks, top-10 trades and a bull market for running backs headlined the first round of this year’s N.F.L. draft.

The Carolina Panthers chose Alabama quarterback Bryce Young at No. 1 overall, as expected, 12 years after drafting quarterback Cam Newton at that spot. The Houston Texans, who took Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud at No. 2, and the Indianapolis Colts, who picked Florida’s Anthony Richardson at No. 4, also sought to secure the new faces of their franchises under center.

Their selections marked the first time that three Black quarterbacks were drafted in the top 10, and came just a few months after the first Super Bowl with two Black starting quarterbacks, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts.

The top 10 was also enlivened by draft-night trades. After the Texans picked Stroud, they struck again, leaping from pick No. 12 to No. 3 to select Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. The first draft for Texans Coach DeMeco Ryans could not have gone much better than landing a new quarterback and a premier edge rusher within 10 minutes.

Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. celebrating with fans after being chosen by the Texans at No. 3.Credit…Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

In another high-profile trade, the Philadelphia Eagles moved up one spot to select defensive tackle Jalen Carter at No. 9. Carter, a standout performer on Georgia’s top-ranked defense, pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing last month, stemming from a car crash in January that killed two people, including a Georgia teammate.

One unexpected development was the move toward running backs, a position that has been devalued in the N.F.L. over the past several years. Texas’ Bijan Robinson, who was named college football’s best running back last season, went No. 8 overall to the Atlanta Falcons — becoming the first running back taken in the top 10 since the Giants’ Saquon Barkley in 2018.

An even bigger shock came just four picks later when the Detroit Lions — who signed the former Bears running back David Montgomery in free agency — selected Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs at No. 12. Coach Dan Campbell’s Lions, who a few picks later chose an inside linebacker, Jack Campbell, were not afraid to zig when the rest of the league is zagging.

In an another anachronistic turn, the first receiver did not come off the board until the Seahawks took Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba at No. 20. That sparked a run of four straight receivers — the longest first-round run for the position since the A.F.L. and N.F.L. drafts merged.

Meanwhile, Will Levis, the 6-foot-4 Kentucky quarterback who was projected to be among the top picks, did not hear his name called. He was on site at Union Station in Kansas City, Mo., enduring the agonizing wait in the green room that quarterbacks like Geno Smith and Lamar Jackson experienced during past drafts.

Kentucky quarterback Will Levis waited in the green room with his family.Credit…Doug Benc/Associated Press

Heading into Friday night, all eyes will be on Levis. ESPN said that its analytics department had pegged him as having a 92 percent chance to be selected in the top 10. But teams picked other quarterbacks or filled other needs, this year’s reminder that pre-draft speculation is just that.

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