Recent rumors have circulated saying the Texans won’t take a QB with the 2nd pick in the NFL Draft. If true, what would the Colts do?
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) April 17, 2023
‘The Colts have got to trade up to 1st overall spot in the 2023 NFL Draft to get their franchise Quarterback and end this QB purgatory they’ve endured since Andrew Luck’s shock retirement. I don’t care what Chicago’s price is, they’ve got to get it done.’
I’m sure you’ll all remember variations of this argument circling online in the early weeks of the offseason. Then, when Chicago did a deal with Carolina, the narrative from certain corners was that Chris Ballard and the Colts had blown it.
In the weeks since the Chicago and Carolina trade, it appeared as if the Colts’ QB choice had crystalized as being between Anthony Richardson and Will Levis. Many, this writer included, became very excited at the prospect of Richardson in Indianapolis. The expectation was that Stroud and Young would go 1 and 2 to Carolina and Houston, regardless of which order they went.
However, over the past week or so, a very different potential draft picture has emerged. It would appear that Bryce Young has crystalized as Carolina’s selection with the first overall pick in the draft, size concerns be dammed. At the same time, the assumption that the Texans would take Stroud at 2 in that scenario has been strongly challenged on multiple fronts.
Increasingly, the narrative has emerged that the Texans aren’t sold on any QB in this class not named Young. Therefore, speculation is rife that Houston will take edge rusher Will Anderson with the 2nd overall pick. GM Nick Caserio even admitted that they’re ‘listening’ to offers to trade down. This strongly suggests they’re confident the Panthers will take Young and aren’t sold on any other QB prospect.
"Indianapolis may be sitting there with its pick of the litter. Anthony Richardson, or Will Levis or C.J. Stroud. pic.twitter.com/BS3A1CjR14
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) April 17, 2023
While this news was initially a shock, it does make some sense when you consider the background of the Texans’ key staff. DeMeco Ryans is a defensive head coach. It makes sense his head would be turned by an elite edge rusher prospect. Especially when you consider the 49ers drafted Nick Bosa so highly in 2019 and got burned by trading up for Lance in 2021. Add in the fact that GM Nick Caserio comes from that New England Patriots background that very rarely drafts a QB with a top pick.
If the Texans don’t take a QB, the entire draft board changes for the Colts and all those teams picking after them. If this does happen, what could the Colts do? For the sake of argument, I’ll assume it’s Will Anderson Jr. who the Texans draft at 2, but it wouldn’t make much difference for this exercise if they drafted Tyree Wilson instead.
With Kyler Murray on a huge contract but also on the injured list, I think we can assume Arizona won’t be drafting a QB. Although I do expect them to be drafting Caleb Williams next year with the 1st overall pick after losing Hopkins and (Budda) Baker this offseason and having Murray sit out most or all of the season. If Anderson is off the board Arizona will likely attempt to trade down to increase their draft capital, although Jalen Carter could prove tempting for a team in desperate need of a pass rush.
What then do the Colts do at 4? Do they try and move up to 3, stay put, or even try and trade down themselves?
It all comes down to how they evaluate the 4 top Quarterbacks. Whether their rankings match those of the wider NFL bubble and how big they feel the gaps are between those prospects. Given the differing strengths and weaknesses of the 4 QBs, a lot will come down to which traits the Colts value most in their QBs.
Full disclosure, CJ Stroud is my favorite Quarterback in this class. Young is second, but his size would make me nervous. Richardson is third, but I’d be more excited if the Colts drafted Richardson than if they got Young. Levis is my 4th choice by some distance, but could still be a success in the NFL. I don’t think any of the other options like Hooker or McKee are viable.
The Texans passing on a QB at 2 would add an interesting dimension to the debate over whether the Colts should trade up to 3. For me, Stroud is more worthwhile moving up for because I think he’s the best QB in the class. On the other hand, the Colts would know they could stay put at 4 and be guaranteed the chance to draft either Stroud or Richardson. That’s a very different equation to two weeks ago when it looked like the Colts might have to trade up to 3 to avoid being left with the 4th choice QB in the draft.
It’s hard to know exactly what it would cost Indianapolis to trade with Arizona, but this NFL.com article from the start of this month suggests it would take their 3rd and 4th-round picks this year as well as their 2024 3rd-round pick. I’ve seen others float the Colts’ 2nd round pick this year and next year’s 3rd round pick as the cost of moving up to three.
The cost of trading up to 3 may well increase if there is a real chance Stroud is still on the board at that stage. Yet the trade may be less attractive to the Colts if they know Richardson would still be there at four. Which other teams might be interested in doing a deal with Arizona?
"My family sacrificed too much for me to not give everything to this game." 💪
— NFL (@NFL) April 19, 2023
The Seahawks and Lions both have the draft capital to move up to three, thanks to Denver and the Rams respectively. However, they both have Quarterbacks coming off successful seasons, while an inter-division trade between Seattle and Arizona seems particularly unlikely. I could see Seattle taking Richardson if he does fall to five. Richardson is a raw enough prospect you could justify having him sit for a year, especially behind a mentor like Geno Smith. Richardson’s ceiling is so high that Seattle could take a swing on him being their franchise QB, knowing that if he is a bust, it was Denver’s pick anyway.
Some of the same arguments apply to the Lions, although Goff is a few years younger than Smith. He therefore may be less pleased about Detroit drafting a rookie QB so highly. I could also envisage Detroit being more willing to take Stroud and have him start early on than I could Seattle. Either way, I can’t see either trading up to three to jump the Colts and take a QB.
Las Vegas or Atlanta could be trade-up contenders. I think it’s unlikely either trade up for Richardson or Levis, but could be convinced to move up if it’s to get Stroud. Vegas is paying Garoppolo, so would seem like an unlikely choice for a prospect like Young or Stroud who’d be looking to start immediately. They could make sense for Richardson or even Levis if they fall to seven, but are apparently only interested in Stroud or Young. But I can’t see them mortgaging their future to trade up to get one of them. Especially when they have so many other needs to address, including their Offensive Line.
Atlanta looks to be giving Desmond Ridder the chance to prove that he’s the guy and has a number of needs (especially their pass rush) they need to address. Again, they could take Richardson or Levis if they fall to eight, but I’d be surprised if they moved up to three to get either of them. Although if they think Stroud is the guy and division rivals Carolina pass on him, maybe that’s an opportunity that’s too good for them to pass up. Although in the cases of both Las Vegas and Atlanta, if they really loved Stroud, they could have outbid Carolina for the opportunity to draft him with the first overall pick.
Chicago and Philadelphia aren’t taking a QB in the first round, which leaves Tennessee as the last realistic contender to trade up to three. Unless a team like Tampa or Washington is feeling particularly aggressive. The Titans do look like they’ll be moving on from Tannehill in the next few years, whilst Malik Willis is clearly a long way from being a starting Quarterback in the NFL. Although they too have a lot of roster needs to address in the short term, especially on their O-Line.
I also think a lot of pundits and fans across the league are underestimating and/or downplaying the cost of trading up, especially into those top draft positions. If the cost of moving from four to three is enough to make us Colts fans hesitate, remember how much more expensive that trade gets from further down the draft board. Arizona can trade with the Colts and still get one of Tyree Wilson or Jalen Carter. If they trade down to eleven with the Titans, they can likely kiss goodbye to both; alongside probably most of the top CB and LT prospects this year.
For Tennessee to get the third overall pick would cost multiple 1st round picks and some change. That isn’t something any team does lightly, especially a rookie GM who doesn’t want to immediately ruin their job prospects. The Titans would have to really love Stroud to move up to get him, rather than waiting to see if Levis fell to them for example.
"I would think it's a no-brainer that they would to do it."
Daniel Jeremiah on the Arizona Cardinals trading out of the 3rd overall pick during a conference call.
Full quote: pic.twitter.com/71ksFsWzAv
— Bo Brack (@BoBrack) April 20, 2023
All this is a slightly round-about way of cautioning you against assuming that 5 teams will be knocking down Arizona’s door to move up to three if Stroud isn’t taken in the first two picks. And it is the demand from other teams for that pick that will largely determine the cost for the Colts to claim it.
As my favorite Quarterback in this class (Stroud) and a much surer bet than Richardson or Levis in my opinion, I would support Indianapolis trading with Arizona to take him at three. However, it all comes down to the cost of that trade and how the Colts view Stroud compared to Richardson or Levis. If Indianapolis does move up in the first round, we can get even more confident Ballard will trade down in the second to recoup draft capital. That could be a very satisfying outcome for Indianapolis, although obviously, they couldn’t trade down in the 2nd round if they’d already traded that pick away to trade up for Stroud.
I suspect that Chris Ballard will do what he’s been threatening to do for the past few months and will stay put at four. If he’s guaranteed either Stroud or Richardson, I certainly wouldn’t blame him. That hypothetically retained draft capital could allow the Colts to help keep their new Quarterback upright by drafting Torrence, Avila, or Mauch at RG in the second round.
While the Texans’ hiring of DeMeco Ryans could lead them away from taking a QB at two, the Colts hired Shane Steichen so he could develop whichever QB prospect they give him to mold. Anthony Richardson’s obvious strengths make him a natural candidate to shape into the next Jalen Hurts, but Steichen’s success with Herbert and Rivers with the Chargers will give Ballard confidence he could do great things with Stroud as well. Of course, a team could trade up to 3 and end up taking Will Levis or a defensive player like Wilson or Carter; leaving both Stroud and Richardson on the board at four. A fan can dream.
There is an unlikely scenario where I could be sold on Indianapolis trading down in the first round. I could only endorse this if both Stroud and Richardson were available at four and the Seahawks were willing to trade up from five. Even if the Lions were trying to trade up from six and you were confident they weren’t both going to take QBs, the Colts couldn’t take the risk. Chris Ballard certainly couldn’t take that risk, he may be fired before the 2nd round of the draft if he let both slip through his grasp (unless the organization really didn’t rate either or loved Levis).
If the Texans do take Will Anderson at two, I do still expect the Colts to stay put at four. But whatever they do, they’d be put in a far more advantageous position than we thought they’d be in a few weeks ago. They’d have options to decide exactly what they wanted to do and what they were willing to sacrifice. In many respects, what the Colts decide to do in that scenario, will largely determine how the rest of the first round falls.
It’s already shaping up to be a thrilling and vitally important draft for Indianapolis. If the Texans do pass on a Quarterback with their second pick, Thursday night will quickly get even more exciting for Colts fans. I for one can’t wait for it.