It is no secret that the Carolina Panthers will be entering the 2023 NFL Draft with their sights set firmly on a quarterback. They don’t just want another Matt Corral in the third round either, this team has an appetite for a surefire franchise quarterback. Any prospect who obviously meets that description is likely to be taken at the top of the draft.
The 2023 draft class features two quarterbacks consistently ranked at the top: CJ Stroud and Bryce Young. Then there is another tier of guys including Will Levis and Hendon Hooker whose rankings depend on the evaluator. One of those guys is going first overall, at least one more is likely to go in the subsequent three picks.
Carolina would hold the fifth pick in the 2023 NFL Draft if the season were to end today.
The rest of the top five is as follows:
1. Houston Texans;
2. Chicago Bears
3. Detroit Lions via the Los Angeles Rams
4. Seattle Seahawks via the Denver Broncos.
There is a lot to unpack here in determining what the quarterback market is going to look like, not to mention other teams currently in the top ten who could fall apart down the stretch or trade up in the offseason. The two most important considerations, however, are relatively simple. What are the schedules of the teams picking ahead of the Panthers and do they need a quarterback? Let’s take each team one at a time.
The Houston Texans
The Texans have a death grip on the first overall pick and are in desperate need of an upgrade over Davis Mills. It’s not that Mills is awful, more that he is a clear journeyman quarterback and the only logical move for the Texans with the first overall pick is to hitch their wagon to their favorite quarterback prospect.
Their remaining schedule is irrelevant. They could play themselves five times to close out the season and still walk away with a losing record.
The Chicago Bears
Justin Fields is in the middle of a breakout season. It’s OK. Jaycee Horn is just as impactful. The important thing about that is that Fields obviates any consideration of a quarterback for the Bears at the top of the draft. This is a possible trade-in spot for another team higher in the draft, but not a guaranteed one. The Bears should have plenty of interest on their own for a top tier edge rusher.
Their remaining games are against the Packers, Eagles, Bills, Lions, and Vikings. That is three likely losses, a Packers game, and a Lions game. The Bears are not going to substantially improve their record over the home stretch of the season, they will still likely pick in front of the Panthers.
The Detroit Lions and the Los Angeles Rams
The Lions hold the Rams first round pick this year as a result of last season’s Matt Stafford trade and they couldn’t be happier. Jared Goff has been an average quarterback for the Lions so far, but why settle for that when you have a shot at something better? The short answer here is that Detroit is expected to take a quarterback at the top of the draft.
The Rams schedule controls the destiny of this draft pick and is one of the lighter schedules of current teams picking in the top five. They have games left against the Seahawks (twice), Raiders, Packers, Broncos, and Chargers.
The Chargers and the Seahawks are the toughest challenges on that list, but the Rams have been questionable in their own right all season. I could easily see them going anywhere between 1-5 and 4-2 down the stretch. Their schedule is one to keep a close eye on for Panthers fans hoping to slide up in the draft.
Fortunately, the Rams beat the Panthers in Steve Wilks first game as head coach and thus the Panthers own the tiebreaker over the Rams if they end up with the same record.
The Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos
The Seahawks may be the biggest question mark at the top of the draft. They were long expected to be in the market for a quarterback this offseason after trading away Russell Wilson for a small fortune to Denver. Then Geno Smith stepped up and has done his damnedest to keep the team competitive. They are currently one game behind the 49ers in the hunt for the NFC West title.
Does Pete Carroll view Smith as an adequate reason not to take a chance on a top quarterback? We might not know until the draft.
The Broncos schedule will, unfortunately, likely keep their pick right at the top of the draft. They have remaining games against the Ravens, the Chiefs (twice), the Rams, the Chargers, and the Cardinals. That is one to two realistic opportunities for a win, but they likely won’t be favored in any more games this season. They also hold the tie breaker over the Panthers in the event that this pick comes down to a tied record.
The Carolina Panthers
What do you think, are the Panthers in the market for a Sam Darnold replacement?
Their remaining schedule is perhaps the easiest of anybody remaining in the top five. They play the Seahawks, the Steelers, the Lions, the Bucs, and the Saints. While two of those teams currently hold top five picks those picks do not, as we have discussed, depend on their own record.
The Seahawks are the only team on that schedule who should easily defeat this iteration of the Panthers. The Lions and the Steelers are both bad teams who occasionally punch above their weight and the Panthers have already beaten the Saints and the Bucs once apiece.
With the way the Panthers have been improving week over week competing with their generally poor level of talent at quarterback, they could be anywhere between 5-0 and 0-5 down the stretch.
The final draft order
With their schedule and recent trajectory, the Carolina Panthers are more likely to improve their record over the final weeks of the draft than the teams in front of them. Two of the four teams picking ahead of the Panthers as of now are likely to be in the market for a quarterback, while a third could well be. That is trouble in a draft that only has two consensus top prospects.
There are plenty of games left to be played and evaluations to be conducted on draftable players, but the current outlook is not favorable for the Panthers to easily select their favorite quarterback at the top of the 2023 NFL Draft.