KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Quarterbacks dominated the first part of the NFL draft.
Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson were among the top four picks Thursday night, an expected result in a league where teams know finding a franchise QB is the quickest path to success.
The Carolina Panthers selected Young, the slender and dynamic Alabama quarterback, with the No. 1 pick, seven weeks after making a blockbuster trade with Chicago to move up to get their choice.
The Panthers chose the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner over Ohio State’s Stroud, Florida’s Richardson and Kentucky’s Will Levis. New coach Frank Reich said earlier in the week that the organization reached a consensus Monday after several weeks of deliberation.
Stroud didn’t have to wait long. He went No. 2 to the Houston Texans, who then made a blockbuster deal with Arizona to acquire the No. 3 pick and selected Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr.
Richardson then went at No. 4 to the Indianapolis Colts, who will begin a sixth straight season with a different starting QB.
Heading into the draft, there was no consensus beyond the No. 1 pick.
A dual-threat playmaker with a strong arm and an elite combination of instincts and intelligence, Young also possesses the intangibles and characteristics coaches desire, including leadership ability and a strong work ethic.
But the biggest question about Young is his size. He measured at 5-foot-10 1/8 and weighed 204 pounds at the combine. Though he dominated the SEC, some scouts and coaches fear Young may not be able to physically withstand all the hits in the NFL.
The Panthers couldn’t pass up his superior skills.
Kyler Murray, the No. 1 overall pick in 2019, is the only other QB since 2003 to be selected in the first round after weighing in at 207 pounds or less at the combine.
“I’m confident in my abilities,” Young said Wednesday. “I don’t know how to play the game another way. I’ve been this size relative to the people around me my entire life. I focus on what I control, and I can’t grow. That doesn’t fall into that category. I can’t get any taller. I focus on myself. I’m confident in myself with what I’ve been able to do and I’m excited for the work it’s going to take.”
The Panthers have sought an answer at quarterback since moving on from Cam Newton, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2011 and the NFL MVP in 2015 when he led the Panthers to a 15-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance.
Young had a spectacular career at Alabama and the Panthers are hoping he can deliver the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy. He played in a pro-style offense under offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, the former Texans head coach who has returned to the NFL to run New England’s offense.
Young threw for 4,872 yards with 47 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his first season starting as a sophomore in 2021. Last season, he had 3,328 yards passing with 32 TDs and five picks while playing with a new supporting cast.
Stroud’s stock had seemingly dropped after reports that he scored poorly in the S2 Cognition test surfaced recently. He told the AP earlier in the day he didn’t know where he would end up going, even saying it could be top 20.
Instead, Stroud, a finalist for the Heisman Trophy the past two seasons, goes to Houston to help the rebuilding Texans move past Deshaun Watson.
Richardson might have the most upside of all the QBs in this draft class but he has the least experience. Colts owner Jim Irsay is fond of Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts and Richardson has similar playmaking ability.
He’ll play for Shane Steichen, who was the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia when Hurts developed into an MVP runner-up.
Defense-needy Seattle took Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon at No. 5 and the Cardinals moved up to No. 6 to select Ohio State offensive lineman Paris Johnson. Las Vegas then chose Texas Tech edge Tyree Wilson and Atlanta made Bijan Robinson the first running back taken in the top 10 since Saquon Barkley went No. 2 to the Giants in 2018.
NFC champion Philadelphia moved up one spot to take troubled Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter at No. 9 and Chicago went with Tennessee offensive lineman Darnell Wright with the 10th pick.
At No. 11, the Titans passed on Levis for Northwestern offensive lineman Peter Skoronski. Levis and Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker could make it five QBs in the first round a year after Kenny Pickett (No. 20) was the only signal-caller to go in the first round.
Two months after the hometown Kansas City Chiefs celebrated another Super Bowl title with a downtown parade, a sea of red-clad fans lined up in the streets where the century-old Union Station served as the backdrop for the draft.
Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes and All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce walked on stage with the Vince Lombardi Trophy and riled up the crowd before turning it over to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Mahomes implored fans to scream louder — they did. Kelce asked if they wanted to trade up for the No. 1 pick.
But the Chiefs don’t need a QB. Carolina, Houston and Indianapolis did.