For only the second time in the history of the NFL draft, three African American quarterbacks are expected to be selected in the first round: Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson.
What’s more, there’s pre-draft buzz that Young, Stroud and Richardson will all be picked among the top 10 selections in the three-day process that begins April 27 in Kansas City, Missouri. That many Black signal-callers have never been chosen so high in a single draft.
After two Black quarterbacks faced off in the Super Bowl for the first time, the standing of Young, Stroud and Richardson entering the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis this week is yet another example of the rise of Black quarterbacks in the NFL.
When Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith and Daunte Culpepper were selected in the opening round of the 1999 draft, it marked the first time three Black quarterbacks were first-rounders. That seminal event signaled to the world that Black passers had finally overcome a narrative that never fit the facts: That they supposedly weren’t smart enough, tough enough or courageous enough to lead.
Now, African American passers are among the most celebrated players in the NFL, and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the face of pro sports’ most powerful and successful league. Young, Stroud and Richardson are eager to join it.
ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid is high on all three. Reid believes they’re the best players available at quarterback in this year’s draft.
“They’re my top three guys right now. I have it Young, Stroud and Richardson,” Reid said on the phone the other day. “And, yeah, if they all [are drafted in the first round], it would be something that hasn’t happened in quite a long time.”
In 1999, the Philadelphia Eagles used the second overall pick to selected Donovan McNabb, who starred at Syracuse. One pick later, the Cincinnati Bengals chose Smith, who was a standout at Oregon. Culpepper, who emerged as a top NFL prospect while at Central Florida, went 11th overall to the Minnesota Vikings.
In this draft class, Young has the look of a future NFL star, Reid believes. As a sophomore at Alabama, Young was the runaway winner in voting for the Heisman Trophy.
“There aren’t really a whole bunch of concerns with him as far as just playing the position,” Reid said. “He was a fantastic leader and Alabama, which [last season] wasn’t what it normally is from a personnel standpoint. They didn’t have that first-round receiver like we’ve seen in years past, and the offensive line was inconsistent. He was really good at kind of uplifting all of those guys.”
At Alabama, however, Young was listed at only 6 feet. There was a time in the NFL when a quarterback of Young’s height wouldn’t have been drafted in the first round, let alone potentially among the first few picks.
In the 2012 draft, 74 players were selected ahead of Russell Wilson (5-foot-11) whom the Seattle Seahawks selected in the third round. But then Wilson helped the Seahawks win a Super Bowl en route to becoming a future Hall of Famer, and, well, NFL decision-makers began reevaluating their anachronistic thoughts about the prototypical size for the position.
At the 2018 combine, quarterback Baker Mayfield measured at 6-feet, 5/8 inch. During the 2019 combine, quarterback Kyler Murray measured at 5-10. Both were selected No. 1 overall in their draft classes.
For Reid, Young is his QB1 in the 2023 draft regardless of Young’s measurements at the combine.
“Even if he’s 5-10 and a half, 5-11, I think he’ll be fine,” Reid said. “He did it [played at the highest level] in the SEC. We’re talking about the best of the best in the country. For me, that eliminates a lot of the size concerns.”
Likewise, Reid sees a whole lot to like in Stroud (6-3, 218 pounds), who shone at Ohio State. In college, Stroud mastered the art of playing quarterback, Reid said.
“You talk about somebody who’s just a natural at playing the position,” said Reid, who was a recording-setting quarterback at North Carolina Central University. “The best way I can put it is when you watch him, it’s like going to a baseball game and watching the ace pitcher, the No. 1 pitcher, go to work.
“The way he plays the position is exactly how you want it to be played. From a mechanics standpoint, he does everything you want to see. The footwork, the arm angles, everything he does in the pocket, he’s just very sound with all of it. And he’s also able to layer the ball to all three levels of the field [short, midrange and deep].”
Then there’s Richardson, who at Florida was listed at 6-4, 236 pounds and is one of the most intriguing prospects at the combine regardless of position. According to Reid, with Richardson, there’s a huge upside.
“There’s always a stigma with athletic Black quarterbacks, and a lot of [draft analysts] don’t go to the film to watch him,” Reid said. “He’s much more polished than what people are saying about him. You’re going to hear that he’s a raw prospect, that he isn’t accurate and things like that. But I just think that’s all from inexperience. I don’t even count the 2021 season with him because he was going back and forth each series with [another] quarterback.
“He didn’t even know who was gonna start a certain series in games. I don’t count that against him. Last season was really his first as a starter. He wasn’t accurate. That’s true. But he’s very natural at playing the position. He just hasn’t been exposed to a bunch of in-game reps. Also, he wasn’t playing with a lot of guys at Florida. The personnel around him wasn’t great. He just needs more in-game reps. For him, it’s all about getting that experience.”
This draft figures to provide a springboard for Young, Stroud and Richardson to begin gaining experience in the NFL. And if the process goes as well as expected for them, they could party like it’s 1999.