The Indianapolis Colts sit at No. 4 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft and have a glaring need at quarterback. It would be a stunner if general manager Chris Ballard didn’t take a signal-caller of the future, but the looming Lamar Jackson decision could always throw a wrench in things.
Indianapolis Colts: 5 First-Round Targets in the 2023 NFL Draft
With a clear top four names in consensus quarterback rankings, it is no surprise who compiles the majority of the list. However, one prospect could be too talented to pass up… more on that in just a bit. Here are the five most realistic first-round targets for the Colts.
1. CJ Stroud (Ohio State)
All things being equal, no prospect fits what Chris Ballard and Co. look for in a franchise cornerstone better than CJ Stroud. Boasting the best accuracy and precision in the class, the Buckeye star regularly lit up Big Ten defenses, posting some spectacular numbers and qualifying as a Heisman finalist twice in his collegiate career.
Stroud possesses the ideal size for a pocket passer in the league and has top-end traits in spades. He can make every throw necessary to run the Shane Steichen system as a rookie. The Colts must clean up the offensive line to maximize Stroud’s potential, as he can struggle under pressure.
I expect former Colts head coach Frank Reich to take Stroud at No. 1 overall, but if he remains on the board until Indy hits the podium, this pairing is a no-brainer.
2. Bryce Young (Alabama)
My top-rated quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft is Alabama’s, Bryce Young. The 2021 Heisman trophy winner is a rare prospect, standing at 5-foot-10 and weighing 204 pounds, making him the smallest starting quarterback in the league if he wins the role as a rookie. While this concern could scare Ballard off, as he typically values prototypical physical traits, Young offers very few red flags elsewhere.
He is refined as a field general, showing the ability to read defenses pre-snap and call audibles at the line. The Tide quarterback exhibits special poise, no matter the situation. Young’s pulse remains steady from the first snap of the game to the last and this results in supreme confidence in crunch time.
His arm is plenty accurate and is strong enough to push the ball downfield. If I was making the selection, and I saw Young available, I’d dance the card to the podium.
3. Will Anderson Jr. (Alabama)
Let’s stay in Alabama for a moment and switch things up. For the sake of the conversation, we will say the Colts pull off the blockbuster of all blockbusters… AFTER the 2023 NFL Draft. Instead of pulling the trigger on a Lamar Jackson deal right now or opting for a less proven option via the draft, Ballard pulls the ultimate chess move by taking the No. 1 player in the class.
Will Anderson is the best pass rusher I have ever graded and should be a force from the moment he takes the field. He brings a pass-rushing upside the roster currently lacks, with Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo showing flashes but failing to take over games.
The risk of Baltimore matching a deal after the draft and leaving the Colts empty-handed will likely keep Ballard from rolling the dice, but if the Colts could load the roster up at the draft, and offer a contract to Jackson that the Ravens are unwilling to match, it would be a franchise-altering swing.
4. Anthony Richardson (Florida)
The most likely option as things currently stand is Florida’s Anthony Richardson. Young and Stroud have seemingly separated from the “other” two first-round quarterback prospects, but all four have the potential to be top-tier starters in the league. For Richardson, and the next entry on the list, the path to reach their ceiling is a longer journey than the first two.
Richardson is extremely raw in terms of mechanics. His arm slot is inconsistent, and his footwork is nothing short of a mess. The Florida signal-caller struggled with touch in college, often putting too much air under the ball or too much velocity on it. Finding the middle ground will be the key to his development.
The upside with Richardson is tantalizing. He can throw the ball to the moon, run at a high level from day one, and offers more polish as a passer than credited with. Richardson shows impressive eye manipulation when working through his progressions, disguising his intended target until the last moment.
It will take some work to put everything together, but if Steichen can run a variation of the system he ran with Jalen Hurts, don’t be surprised if Richardson winds up the best quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft. He looks like a Ballard kind of guy.
5. Will Levis (Kentucky)
The final name on the list happens to be the most polarizing prospect in quite some time. Will Levis boasts outstanding arm talent, and the type of leadership NFL teams covet from a franchise player. He can make any throw asked of him and shows the ability to create something out of nothing when a play breaks down.
These scenarios result in big gains but also present the most concerning part of Levis’ game — his ‘hero ball’ tendencies. In 2021, with Kentucky, Levis was surrounded by adequate talent and had Liam Coen, a Sean McVay protege, calling the plays. The time with Coen allowed Levis to run a slew of pro-style sets, lining up under center and utilizing heavy play action to free up the passing game.
In 2022, Coen departed, and so did several players. This loss of talent forced Levis into a tough position, as he tried to do too much to keep his team above water. On top of that, Levis dealt with injuries the entire season and gutted out several games that many would have been unable to complete.
I have Levis rated as a fringe day-one player, but his upside is so high I wouldn’t blame a team for taking a shot inside the top 10. If the Colts are that team, it will be important for Steichen to save Levis from himself and not ask him to do too much as a rookie.
With time, Levis can become a free-wheeling player, but he has much to learn with his lower-body mechanics and feel in the pocket. There’s a chance the Wildcat superstar wins over the front office in interviews, earning the chance to prove his doubters wrong and fill the footsteps of Andrew Luck at long last.