Sidelines: NFL Draft preview

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Alabama QB Bryce Young is the projected top pick in the draft. (Photo by Alika Jenner for Getty Images)

After three months of lead-up and constant conversation involving who was going to be the first pick, which QBs deserve more or less attention and whether someone who possibly could be involved as an accessory to a car crash with a death toll deserves to fall out of the top ten, the NFL Draft is here.

The top story is obviously the many QBs vying for Carolina’s top draft selection on Thursday. Bryce Young has been the leading candidate for the number one overall pick following his Heisman trophy victory in 2022. The highest-ranked QB recruit in the 2020 class blossomed in his two years as the starter at Alabama. After leading the Crimson Tide to a National Title appearance in 2022, he guided a severely weakened Alabama team to dominating victory in the 2023 Sugar Bowl over Kansas State. He is the most accurate and consistent prospect in the class, however, his main knock is his size standing at only 5’10.

Young’s dominance of the college game is contrasted by two of his three main competitors on draft day, Will Levis and Anthony Richardson. Levis and Richardson, both respective captains and QBs of, at best, middle-of-the-road SECs teams Kentucky and Florida, have flown up the draft board this past year due to their sheer size and athleticism. With both QBs standing over 6’3 and weighing over 235, hope for them stems not from their college track records but from the success that QB specimens Josh Allen, Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes have had at the NFL level. None of them truly had spectacular college careers and yet had the tools and arm strength to not only earn them a top 10 draft pick but also to have tremendous success at the NFL level.

CJ Stroud is the final QB in the conversation, barring the possibility that a GM goes insane and drafts 25-year-old Hendon Hooker coming off an ACL tear. Stroud, a two-year starter for Ohio State, threw for 85 touchdowns in his tenure. While he has always been touted as a surefire prospect, he never really had a chance to showcase the true extent of his talents, causing him to fall on draft boards, with some even accusing him of not trying. That was until the final game of his career, in the semi-final against Georgia, where Stroud finally demonstrated why people have called him a candidate for the first overall pick.

Other than the discussion over which QB will be the project of a bad team over the next five years, this draft is loaded with talent. Receivers like TCU’s Quentin Johnson, USC’s Jordan Addison and OSU’s Jaxon Smith Njigba highlight a strong pass catcher group while running backs Bijan Robinson of Texas and Jamir Gibbs of Alabama will dominate NFL linebackers. Finally, the trend of the Big Ten graduating top offensive line talent continues as Paris Johnson Jr. from Ohio State and Rashawn Slater’s replacement at Northwestern Peter Skoronski are mountains of men who will fit in on an NFL line right away.

Defensively, the line play in the SEC has been standout all season, with Alabama’s Will Anderson almost becoming the first defensive player since Charles Woodson in 1997 to win the Heisman trophy. Yet the talk of the defensive side of the ball has been Georgia’s Jalen Carter, who is almost undoubtedly the most talented athlete in the entire draft. However, he is falling on draft boards after the Athens police department issued a warrant for his arrest for reckless driving and street racing as part of an investigation into a car crash. Carter was racing a Georgia staff member on the streets of Athens when the latter crashed, killing herself and Carter’s teammate, who was also in the car. After getting community service, 12 months probation and a one thousand-dollar fine, Carter still has enough talent for an NFL team to take a chance on him, the question is will it be in the top ten? Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson and Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness have been less talked about alternatives on the edge that could prevent teams from risking a top-level pick on Carter.

Lastly, this might be one of the deepest drafts for defensive backs that the league has seen in a while with Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez, Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon and Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. all being talked about as players who could be taken with the first ten picks Thursday.

As the NFL Draft news cycle finally draws to a close, the main message you have to take away is that in the end, all of these pundits are idiots because no one is talking about Malik Hamm in the first round.