Aaron Rodgers has led a cast of quarterbacks on the NFL carousel to start the new league year, and while the four-time MVP waits for his New York Jets trade wish to be granted by the Green Bay Packers, the attention of the remaining 30 teams turns to the draft in less than six weeks.
And while so much groundwork has been done by each and every franchise to build their draft boards from top to bottom, there is still plenty of time and one big showcase for prospects to enhance or harm their place in the pecking order.
Each of the top quarterback prospects will get their final chance to shine on the field with the glaring eyes of the NFL's top brass looking at them – albeit without pads, helmets and defenders to worry about – when they hold their pro days over the next two weeks.
Three of the top four prospects will hold their pro days this week, with Ohio State star CJ Stroud first up on Wednesday. Alabama standout Bryce Young follows on Thursday, while Kentucky's Will Levis will show off his arm on Friday. Florida's eye-catching athletic phenom Anthony Richardson will be the last of this year's top-rated QB prospects to hold his pro day, which takes place on March 30.
The tape of their collegiate careers will speak for itself in terms of what they might be capable of at the professional level, but the pro days represent one of the few remaining chances for coaches and general managers to get a close eye on the top talents coming out this year ahead of the pivotal moment when names are written onto draft cards in Kansas City on April 27.
The number one pick
There is no doubt whatsoever about how this year's number one overall pick will be spent. "We wanted to be in position to get a quarterback," Carolina Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said after sealing a deal with the Chicago Bears to trade for the number one overall pick.
In that agreement, the Panthers sent the ninth overall pick this year and next year's first-round pick, plus second-round picks in 2023 and 2025 and wide receiver DJ Moore – representing a massive investment and a huge signal that they believe the guy to lead the franchise out of the doldrums is there for them at the top of the draft.
As to who that is, the Panthers are keeping their cards close to their chest, and Fitterer – at least publicly – says the team remains open-minded about what they will do.
"We have conviction on (multiple) players at the top that we feel good about," he said. "I'm not going to go into it, but we feel good about being in this position.
"We're still going through the process right now. Obviously, we have our ideas – you're not going to make a move like that without having that pretty much cemented – but now we're going through the process of talking to players and really getting to know them.
"We had a snapshot at the Combine where we had 18 minutes talking to them. But really, we want to get to know them, what drives them, who's supporting them, who's in their family, so this is an important time going through this process. But we do feel good about the group up top."
From the moment Kansas City Chiefs lifted the Lombardi Trophy in February, the spotlight on the prospects forecast to be taken at the top end of the first round has intensified with each passing day and week. At that time, Young, Stroud and Levis were seen as the three men in the conversation for teams desperate for a quarterback.
The wildcard in the mix is Richardson, who has rapidly risen up draft boards. By the accounts of all experts, he represents a big gamble with a potentially enormous payoff. "A low-floor/high-ceiling prospect," was how draft guru Daniel Jeremiah described him after the combine earlier this month.
So why is that the case? Well, his athletic prowess is incredible, standing at 6ft 4ins, 244lbs and running a 4.43 40-yard dash. He also set QB records for vertical jump and broad jump, blowing coaches' minds over the possibility of what he could be under centre if he fulfilled his potential.
There is a massive " but" here, though. He is raw; unrefined in the extreme with concerns over his decision-making and accuracy in the pocket – skills he must improve if he is to survive and thrive at the next level. His completion percentage last season was just 53.8 per cent, more than 10 per cent worse than each of his rivals for the status as the first quarterback taken.
However, what plays into Richardson's hands is there is no home-run QB prospect in this draft. It is a very solid class, but each man comes with significant question marks; there is no Joe Burrow or Trevor Lawrence in here, folks, making it one of the most intriguing draft processes in recent years, with genuine potential of a stunner being read aloud by commissioner Roger Goodell when the Panthers are on the clock.
The chances of that will surely increase if Richardson continues to inflate his stock at his pro day, and with his athletic gifts and immense arm strength, it is hard to imagine those in attendance not being wowed by his potential as a runner and a passer.
Young is the consensus top quarterback in the class. He is the top player in Jeremiah's overall rankings, while ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr has him third behind defensive standouts Jalen Carter and Will Anderson Jr. As a passer, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner's ability is not up for debate, throwing 79 touchdowns to 12 interceptions across the past two seasons.
All of the concern about the Crimson Tide hero relates to his height and weight. Standing 5ft 10 and weighing just over 200lbs, there are fears about his ability to see the field from the pocket due to the ever-increasing size of linemen in addition to being able to handle the beating he will inevitably receive from time to time from NFL defenders; he is not dissimilar in size to fellow Alabama alum Tua Tagavailoa,.
Stroud and Levis are certainly part of the debate, too. The former starred for a blue-chip programme in Ohio State, leading his team to the College Football Playoff semi-finals where they were narrowly beaten by eventual champions Georgia. In that shootout, he starred with 348 yards and four touchdowns, and his performances at the collegiate level have earned him a place in the top 10 of most top analysts' big boards.
He has size and arm talent that coaches will covet, but he is not the dynamic athlete some will be searching for. And have NFL teams been burned by QB busts from Ohio State in the past? Only three have been drafted in the first round in the common draft era with the most recent Justin Fields showing signs that he could come good for the Bears.
Levis is a more divisive player, with unremarkable stats at Kentucky, but he has been marked up for having to play with a mediocre supporting cast and his eye-catching tape. Kiper describes the 6ft 4in 23-year-old's arm a "rocket launcher" and likens him to LA Rams star Matthew Stafford.
Jeremiah has a more sceptical view. "Levis is an inconsistent player on tape, but he possesses ideal size, arm strength and athleticism," he wrote. "He is gifted, but has some bad habits he needs to clean up in order to be a reliable NFL starter."
With a size traditionally coveted by NFL teams and experience in a pro-style offence, he is the kind of player who could be anywhere between first and fourth on teams' QBs boards depending on scheme and fit.
Teams in the hunt
Obviously, the Panthers lead the pack. With Frank Reich recently appointed as head coach, they are looking to marry the former Indianapolis Colts HC with a quarterback prospect to nurture, and there is just no way a team is mortgaging their future to leap from nine to one in the draft without using the pick on a signal-caller.
Who the Panthers take will dictate how the dominoes fall. The Houston Texans pick second, and they too are odds-on to take a QB, who will benefit greatly from fresh energy in the organisation with the arrival of new head coach DeMeco Ryans. After staying out of the free agent market, the Texans will likely want to give him the best chance of success by setting him up with a new quarterback for his offensive staff to nurture.
At three, the Cardinals are unlikely to be part of the conversation, having already committed their long-term future to Kyler Murray, even if he is on the long road back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and he is set to miss the start of the season. With so many holes in their roster, surely they will be happy to field trade offers to stockpile picks?
At four are the Colts, who are highly likely to end up with one of the aforementioned four top prospects. Their QB play was abject all season with old-school pocket passers Matt Ryan and Nick Foles and new HC Shane Steichen needs to have a new quarterback to build around as Indy try to bounce back from an awful season.
At five, Seattle have come up smelling of roses after trading Russell Wilson to Denver last off-season for a huge haul, including this pick. Geno Smith has inked a new three-year deal after an equally sensational and unexpected season in his ninth year in the league, so they are not in need of QB, but this feels like a dream landing spot for Richardson, where he will not be needed to play right away and he can hone his craft. The question is whether 71-year-old head coach Pete Carroll will be minded to make such a forward-thinking pick in the twilight of his coaching career?
At six, Jared Goff is worth persisting with for the Detroit Lions after a strong 2022, but behind them are two teams at seven and eight who will have close eyes on the quarterback options. The Las Vegas Raiders have snapped up Jimmy Garoppolo on a three-year contract in free agency, but is the former 49er really the guy head coach Josh McDaniels is looking for, particularly with his injury record in mind? Garoppolo could be the bridge QB to give a young talent plenty of time to develop.
Next are the Atlanta Falcons, who have Taylor Heinicke and Desmond Ridder as their quarterback options at the minute. Ridder, a third-round pick last year, threw just two touchdowns in four starts in his rookie season after taking over from the disappointing Marcus Mariota, while former Washington Commanders QB Heinicke is capable of game-winning moments, he doesn't look like a player to make a team a serious contender. The Falcons, absolutely, are in the quarterback mix in the draft.
The Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles at nine and 10 have their starting quarterbacks in place for next season, and by the time the Tennesse Titans pick at 11, the top four could all be gone. With a season of struggle on the cards for an ever-weakening roster, HC Mike Vrabel and GM Ran Carthon either have to get creative and aggressive to trade up this year or brace for the pain of a chastening season to possibly be in a position to take USC superstar Caleb Williams this time next year.
With each of their rivals in the AFC South set to be strengthened by Week One and several of the Titans' key players facing uncertain futures, that seems a distinct possibility.
For the rest, they could be looking at a Hendon Hooker (Tennessee) late in the first round as he recovers from a torn ACL suffered in November, or a hidden gem in rounds two through seven. Or someone like the Commanders or the Buccaneers come up with a blockbuster draft-night trade to leapfrog up the order.
It promises to be a fascinating process, and the pro days over the next two weeks are the next step on the road to the big night in Kansas City.