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Black quarterbacks make NFL draft history, land in ‘ideal’ spots

Top 4 picks Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson shown faith by teams looking to them as future franchise leaders

After two Black quarterbacks last season faced off in the Super Bowl for the first time, three Black passers for only the second time were selected Thursday night during the opening round of the NFL draft in Kansas City, Missouri.

Former college stars Bryce Young (Carolina Panthers), C.J. Stroud (Houston Texans) and Anthony Richardson (Indianapolis Colts) joined the rapidly growing fraternity of young Black men whom NFL franchise owners have entrusted to lead their teams. As expected, Young was the draft’s first overall pick. Stroud went second and Richardson fourth.

Previously, the 1999 draft was the only one in which as many as three Black signal-callers were selected in the first round. That year, the Philadelphia Eagles took Donovan McNabb second overall. One pick later, the Cincinnati Bengals chose Akili Smith. Daunte Culpepper went 11th to the Minnesota Vikings.

This year, the pre-draft buzz about Young, Stroud and Richardson proved to be correct. First-round picks are the most precious commodity in roster construction. The Panthers, Texans and Colts each used theirs to acquire potential difference-makers who play the most important position in team sports.

ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid wasn’t surprised that Young, Stroud and Richardson were off the board within the draft’s first five picks.

“All three QBs land in an ideal spot with organizations that seem to have a plan for them,” Reid wrote in a text message. “Young goes to a team that’s desperately needed a face-of-the-franchise player.

“Stroud lands with [Houston coach] DeMeco Ryans as a key building block for the Texans’ turnaround. And Richardson goes to a perfect situation in Indianapolis where he can slowly develop under the tutelage of a proven QB developer in head coach Shane Steichen.”

Quarterback C.J. Stroud (left) with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (right) after being selected second overall by the Houston Texans during the first round of the 2023 NFL draft at Union Station on April 27 in Kansas City, Missouri.

David Eulitt/Getty Images

The racist myths about Black men supposedly lacking the intelligence and leadership skills to play quarterback in the NFL are on the scrap heap of history.

Now, Young, Stroud and Richardson begin their new journeys in hopes of one day joining the elite group of superstar Black passers that includes Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles. Mahomes and Hurts were the starters in last season’s groundbreaking Super Bowl. Moreover, Hurts was the runner-up to Mahomes in voting for the Associated Press NFL MVP Award and the AP All-Pro team.

As the 2023 draft’s first overall selection, Young figures to be the new group’s most scrutinized member.

The winner of the Heisman Trophy in 2021 while directing Alabama, Young is the sixth African American signal-caller to ascend to the top position in a draft. Even before the Carolina Panthers acquired the draft’s top pick in a trade with the Chicago Bears, Young was the first name on their draft board.

However, some NFL player-personnel officials have expressed concern about Young’s size. What happened at the NFL scouting combine didn’t allay it: Young was measured at only 5 feet, 10 1/8 inches, 204 pounds.

But Young’s impressive decision-making, pocket presence and passing touch served him well in college, scouts say, and many believe he’s the most prepared to handle the complexities of an NFL offense immediately. It’s also important to note that there’s no longer dogma regarding the prototypical size for an NFL signal-caller.

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 1/8. Both were selected No. 1 overall in their draft classes.

In the 2012 draft, 74 players were selected ahead of Russell Wilson (5-11), who was chosen by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round. Wilson, who now plays for the Denver Broncos, helped the Seahawks win a Super Bowl en route to becoming a future Hall of Famer.

The Panthers made Young the draft’s first pick because they expect him to measure up to the league’s best soon. Likewise, the Texans are counting on Stroud to deliver as well.

A two-year starter at Ohio State, Stroud possesses top-notch physical tools and his size isn’t at issue: During the combine, Stroud measured in at 6-3 and weighed 214 pounds. Only days before the draft, however, word emerged that Stroud scored poorly on a cognitive test used to assess how quickly a player processes information.

By using a top-two pick to acquire Stroud, Texans officials sent a message that they’re confident he possesses all the requirements needed to help them rebound after they went 11-38-1 the past three seasons.

Quarterback Anthony Richardson (left) with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (right) after being selected fourth overall by the Indianapolis Colts during the first round of the 2023 NFL draft at Union Station on April 27 in Kansas City, Missouri.

David Eulitt/Getty Images

Richardson is the most intriguing prospect of the bunch. To say he wowed club decision-makers at the combine would be an understatement.

The former Florida standout was clocked at 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash. That time marked the fourth fastest by a quarterback since 2000. But to truly grasp Richardson’s athleticism, context is required: He’s 6-4, 244 pounds. Being a quarterback, what Richardson accomplished in covering so much ground so quickly was unprecedented during the evaluation process.

Richardson also has a powerful passing arm, and people in Florida’s program rave about his smarts and his ability to command the huddle. The major criticism of Richardson is that he’s not accurate enough.

Last season, the only one in which Richardson started for the Gators, he completed 53.8% of his passes. Based on Richardson’s accuracy issues at Florida, the widespread belief among talent-evaluators and coaches is that he would be best served by being a backup during his rookie year with Indianapolis. In a phone interview recently, Smith, who spent four seasons with the Bengals, agrees that Richardson would benefit from being an understudy as a rookie.

“He really needs to sit,” said Smith, who has coached at the high school and college levels since his playing days ended.

“I went back and studied his [game video] at Florida and looked at what he did in high school. His completion percentage in high school and college was pretty much the same, mid-50s, and that has to improve. So, yeah, he needs to sit and develop.

“The problem is, you know what’s going to happen. When he’s on the [scout team] in practice, he’s gonna go wild and make plays on the defense. There are gonna be people who push to get him into games. There’s gonna be pressure. But he really needs to sit and learn and go from there.”

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.