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Cat Scratch Reader selects Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud with the No. 1 overall pick

The CSR staff makes the final decision on which quarterback the Panthers will take in this draft in the 2023 SB Nation Writers Mock Draft.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Panthers are currently going through an exhaustive evaluation process, after trading up from the ninth overall pick to first overall, parting ways with the ninth pick and the 61st overall pick in the 2023 draft, a first rounder in the 2024 draft, a 2025 second-round pick, and wide receiver D.J. Moore. The Panthers sent an armada of executives to both C.J. Stroud’s and Bryce Young’s pro days, along with solid crews to see Anthony Richardson’s and Will Levis’s pro days.

While the Panthers are mum on who they want to take at No. 1 as of this writing, we believe they already have their minds made up, and that’s for former Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud. Stroud posted a stat line of 575 completions on 830 attempts for 8,123 passing yards and 85 touchdowns with only 12 interceptions as pretty much the consensus best pocket passer in this draft. One of the main concerns with Stroud pre-draft is making plays outside of structure and using his legs, however he demonstrated there’s more to his game there against Georgia in the Peach Bowl last season.

Stroud brings a high-level passing pedigree that Carolina has been looking for since parting ways with former franchise quarterback Cam Newton in 2020. The team has shown aggression in trying to find a quarterback since, having been in the mix for Matthew Stafford and Deshaun Watson, along with a trade to the New York Jets to acquire Sam Darnold in hopes of salvaging what made him a top pick.

In 2023, the Panthers brought in all sorts of veteran coaches who will help to mold Stroud, between former NFL QB Frank Reich, former head coach Jim Caldwell, and former QB Josh McCown, along with signing QB Andy Dalton to be their veteran quarterback/backup.

The Panthers have truly made their team an attractive landing spot for any of the top QBs and were aggressive in adding talent around them in free agency. They signed WRs Adam Thielen and DJ Chark, TE Hayden Hurst, and RB Miles Sanders, all to create a solid nucleus of talent. The coaching staff is now in position to groom Stroud as their franchise guy, and with his proven passing pedigree, we believe he is the best fit for what Carolina is trying to accomplish.

Now, if you want to bet on C.J. Stroud being the pick (or even pick someone else if you believe we are wrong), you can head over to DraftKings Sportsbook and make your pick as we move closer to the draft. DraftKings allows you to make prop bets for the NFL Draft, as well as bet on the NFL games throughout the season. The current prop for C.J. Stroud is -330, with Bryce Young at +225. So the bettors are in our favor, but a lot can happen between now and the draft.

Sound off below on what you think of the first pick in the 2023 SB Nation Writers Mock Draft! And stay tuned for more as each site makes their pick!